There has been quite a bit, lately, of going down rabbit holes, and not in a good way, perhaps most noticeable when some folk start alerting us to conspiracy theories filled with misinformation (some of it quite dangerous, Ivermectin anyone?) and before you know it, leaders and media in our country are "Wanted" for a Nuremburg style trial, all because malevolent folk interviewing their laptops have started digging rabbit holes for the gullible to descend into.
But there are other rabbit holes, of arguably a warmer, and healthier nature, in which one thing leads to another, and eventually one might find something rather good. Obviously, here on ADU I am speaking about theological quests (such as each week, me seeking an idea for a post!). Here goes for this week.
"Salvation is Unity with Humanity in Christ."
I love that phrase, which Bowman put as an opening statement at the head of a comment to last week's post. It captures pretty much the whole thesis of Anglican Down Under.
Now, naturally, that leads me to the Anglican Primates' Meeting held last week which, I suggest, represented a modest triumph for the ABC. As reported here, most of the Communion's Primates showed up, in fact only three Primates (Nigeria, Uganda, Rwanda) did not show up to the meeting (in person or on Zoom). While those three provinces represent a significant numerical proportion of global Anglicans, and if their bishops (and others, e.g. from Australia, Kenya) do not attend Lambeth (for reasons other than Covid-related), there will be a significant number of bishops missing due to disagreement about That Topic, it looks like some 39 of 42 Anglican provinces will be represented at the forthcoming Lambeth Conference. That is, I suggest, a sign of some hope for "salvation is unity with humanity in Christ."
So far so good, but what is "unity with humanity in Christ"?
Well, it (at the least) has something to do with some rather large (or far reaching) but somewhat arcane debates in global theology.
So, on Saturday, looking at the sidebar of this blog, where Edward Fese resides, I noticed that he had posted with an intriguing title, On Hart's Post-Christian Pantheism, and that led me to a book review by Feser (on another site) of a recent book (previously unknown to me) by well known Eastern Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart, titled You Are Gods: On Nature and Supernature (University of Notre Dame Press, 2022).
Fortunately, or unfortunately, that took me further down an intriguing rabbit hole, because Feser's review leads the reader into a significant debate (some say the most significant debate of the 20th century) between the nouvelle theologians (think, especially, de Lubac) and the Thomists (think, especially Garrigou-Lagrange) over (in my words) the role of God in our salvation, that is, whether God reaches from the supernatural into our natural mode of life to save us, or whether God has so created nature (including ourselves) that (if we could remove all distractions) our pure natures - our pure souls - by design are intent on union with the divine. Thomists (including Feser today) argue the former, and when holding sway in the inner counsels of the papacy in the 1950s led to de Lubac etc receiving a fierce theological rap over the knuckles, i.e. inhibition as teachers of the faith. The nouvelle theologians argue the latter and eventually come to new prominence in the Roman church as the Vatican 2 conference unfolded. Much later, de Lubac would receive a cardinal's hat.
This intra-Roman debate has immense implications for all the rest of Christianity because on the matters Thomists are keen on herein, Protestantism more or less falls in line; and the theology of de Lubac and co has some significant alignments with Eastern Orthodoxy's interest in theosis (or, our becoming participants in the divine nature as God transforms our lives, 2 Peter 1:4), to say nothing with interests of (e.g.) Ramon Pannikar who has sensitively explored the interface between Hinduism and Christianity.
The latter name came up in correspondence as I shared the review of Feser with a colleague who has had a strong interest in "Vedantic Christianity" (to pick up a phrase in the review).
Another colleague over the weekend pointed out that John Milbank sorted everything out (or did he? I've seen an interesting review, or two!) when he wrote The Suspended Middle: Henri de Lubac and the Debate Concerning the Supernatural and argued therein for a way forward beyond the kind of Feser/Thomist, goodies and baddies of theology approach. (Incidentally, I have purchased the book on Kindle for $21, but that link advertises the paperback version at US$296!!!!!!!). I have started reading the book - it is very complicated.
Our unity as humanity in Christ is illuminated by the kind of work Aquinas, de Lubac, Feser, Pannikar and Milbank engage in because they explore who we are as creatures in relation to the purpose of the Creator in making us and the role of Christ in redeeming or, we could say, re-making us.
So, there is at least another post for this blog coming, via Milbank on de Lubac, but in the meantime, we can perhaps ponder that behind, beyond and within the wonderful statement, "Salvation is Unity with Humanity in Christ." there lies a lot to think about, informed by some sharp, if complicated theologians who make my brain hurt. In the deepest part of a rabbit hole there is not always as much oxygen as we would like.