What makes Christian faith distinctly Christian? From the most ancient times, Jews knew that God’s reign is eternal, God’s steadfast love endures forever. Jhwh keeps his covenant with Israel through all vicissitudes. God is with us: Immanu-el. Christian faith might seem little different from this, but for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
During his journey from Anglican to the Roman Church, Cardinal Newman first thought he would find a clear basis for faith in the teachings and practices of the ancient church. But the more one studies the ancient church, the more one might question whether it had a coherent understanding; how much Jewish and Gentile Christians had in common during the time of Paul. The more Newman studied it, the more diversity he found. Knowing these things, he was driven to conclude that the authoritative thing is the Church in and of itself.
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There is nothing specifically Christian about theological curiosity. Before there was Gospel there were Greek, Jewish, and more exotic writings about the gods. The first recognizably Christian theology was anti-theology, the five books of Irenaeus, Against Heresies; attacking what he called vain speculation and superstition. The first constructive Christian theology, Origen’s De pricipiis (On First Principles), was greeted with profound distrust, and branded with the same epithet: speculation. To this day, the best Christian theology does not begin with positive theistic assertions, but starts with a stringent critique of human understanding, to expose errors and groundless pretensions. So it has been since Moses’ interview with the Unnamable at the burning bush.
Most Christians think of theology as a discourse whose purpose is to support religion and religious programs, in which some measure of power is at stake in order to be effective and constructive; the moral and political ends of sound belief. Old King Old King Numa had it right from the beginning. According to him, the purpose of religion is to make society cohere. There need be no distinction between that and politics.
Continue reading “Moral Imperatives”