06 February 2017

A Little on Paul's Law of the Mind and the Demands of Doing Theology

[[I was informed that a hermit colleague has been blessed with a spiritual gift, a spiritual phenomenon.  I am rejoicing over this news!  This particular hermit has in the past has seemed more leaning to the laws of minds; thus I have been praying for some time for the Holy Spirit to reach into the hermit's soul and inflame it with a touch of God's law of love, of the supernatural realities which soften us and remind us that the temporal is passing but the realm of the Spirit is eternal. . .]] cf.,. . . Hermit Rejoices for entire post.

I always gratefully accept prayer on my behalf and thus count on others to hold me in prayer. Beyond that it is always good to hear that my life has brightened someone's day in some small way. Still I admit I am stunned when someone presumes to pronounce on the state of my soul and though this occurs much less rarely, I am surprised when anyone's spirituality involves anti-intellectualism. When they misinterpret my own definite intellectual bent as being somehow opposed to a vital spiritual life which is relatively untouched by God's "law of love" even as they try to justify these errors in religious terms my surprise is compounded. What I sincerely hope readers recognize is that such anti-intellectualism is incapable of dealing adequately  with reality. This is so precisely because it is incapable of loving in the "shrewd but gentle" and compassionate way the Gospel calls for! That is especially true when St Paul is misread in the process -- as the above post does and as its author has consistently done in the past when commenting on Paul's "law of the mind" or his teaching on law and Gospel.

What is the Law of the Mind according to Paul?

Paul refers to the law of the mind in Romans, but we must be very clear that it is 1) in the singular (it is not "laws of the mind" or laws made up by human minds!) and 2) that it is not something Paul criticizes. It is, in fact, an enemy of the law of sin: [[For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my  members.]] (Romans 7:22-23) The law of the mind which Paul refers to is that deepest and truest reality within us that says we are made for God. It is the truest inner moral compass and drive which contends with the more superficial law of sin dwelling in our members. Together with the will it is that dimension of our existence deep within us that is linked to our natural impulse to love God. As Paul says above, it is the "law of the mind" that actually delights in the law of God because, of course, it delights in truth and meaning and beauty! It is this fascination by and delight in truth, beauty, and meaning which opens each of us to fuller expressions of the law of God, the law of Love.

It used to be kind of faddish in spirituality to encourage people to "get out of (their) heads and into (their) hearts." (Let me be clear: there were and are excellent reasons for this too, but it was sometimes encouraged by directors whose strongest function was not their intellect and who may even have distrusted it to some extent.) Because my own intellect is an especially intensely pivotal dimension of the way I relate to God and his entire created reality I am very fortunate to have a director who understands the importance of a strong intellectual life and knows full well what it means to have God reveal Godself via a person's intellectual life.

Consequently, one of the most important truths I have had reaffirmed throughout the inner work I have done over the past 8 months or so (I am in the 9th month of that work) is the fact that my intellect is a precious gift of God and the faculty through which God most often graces and has graced me with his self-revelation. Does my mind require the love of God to truly function well? Of course! It is MADE FOR the love of God! It is empowered to function rightly through the grace of God! So of course my intellect and the law of the mind is God's good gift to me (indeed, to all of us) and it has been a source of awesome nourishment to me --- and to those I minister to.
Trusting the Process and Doing Theology:

That said I should also emphasize that of course our intellects are not the whole of the way we relate to God or receive God's revelation of Godself. The law of love is imprinted on intellect, will, spirit and sensibility --- all of them. And all of them are meant to function together accordingly in what constitutes what the NT calls a purity or singleness of heart. I have reported here that quite often in these last months my director has encouraged me to "trust the process". Trusting the process did not mean the intellectual pieces of things could be demeaned or ignored -- nor did this ever happen ---but that in some things it takes the intellect time to catch up with the other pivotal centers of human functioning and that can be challenging for me. More, the intellect needs to build on human experience and be grounded in it while human experience needs to be rendered articulate in the various ways this occurs and to the extent this is possible, through the work of the intellect.  While all this can be challenging for one who depends on a strong intellect anti-intellectualism is ruled out of court.

The bottom line here is that far from being something that draws me away from God it is and has always been the activity of "doing theology" --- and here I mainly mean academic and systematic theology --- which most often brings these three dimensions of my being together; it is thus the "place" where I am most profoundly touched by the Word of God or the presence of the God who speaks to my heart from within. Many people fail to understand that doing theology in a serious way is never "merely" an intellectual exercise. That is true because doing theology means being a person of prayer as well as of study, a person of compassion as well as of the capacity for intellectual insight and systematization, a person of heart as well as mind. It means being a person who loves God and the mystery of God's creation, being fascinated with these realities, concerned for them and in fact responsible for the struggle to understand and to articulate their truth for those who need it. It also means knowing from the very first day one walks into a theology class (and possibly before one even does this) that one's efforts will always fall short and quite often fail very badly.

On the Holocaust and Doing Theology:

This was brought home to me in my first introductory course in theology. Not only were we faced with the rock bottom theological datum of a literally incomprehensible and ineffable God (the infinitely fascinating and awesome Mystery around whom we literally cannot get our minds and hearts) but our professor pointed out emphatically that anyone wishing to do serious theology needed their work to be capable of doing justice to the tremendum we call the Holocaust or their theology was, at best, unworthy of the name. In this latter case we cannot do this unless theology engages and depends on one working with their whole self! Moreover it will not happen unless our theology is profoundly historical and critical, not only in our reading of Scripture but in our approaches to doctrine, law, and anthropology as well. Again, our approach to theological and spiritual realities must be informed by both our hearts and our intellects. Jesus, of course, said the same thing when he counseled us to be gentle as doves and shrewd as serpents. And yet again, we know that our efforts will ultimately fail because of the incomprehensible Mystery which is the focus of our efforts and the finite nature of our own minds and hearts. This does not mean we are relieved of the necessity of doing theology; instead it spurs theologians to humility in an enterprise they are summoned and even impelled by God himself to undertake for the sake of his People but also for the sake of his entire Creation.

Paul's "law of the mind," again, is that deep and dynamic reality which delights in and is profoundly fascinated by the law of God. It does not in the least allow the kind of anti-intellectualism present in the post cited above. Faith requires both our heads and our hearts together; it cannot exist otherwise precisely because as Paul Tillich insightfully characterized it, it is a centered act of the whole person and a state of being grasped by an ultimate concern. Such a state of being grasped means being taken hold of in our entire being so that every locus and focus of human functioning (intellect, will, spirit and sensibility) is empowered by and responsive to the God who demands our whole self and promises us everything we need for the completion we and our world are made for.

N.B., The painting (print) above is one I got for Christmas this year. It is Brother Mickey McGrath's, Madonna of the Holocaust and is something that moved me profoundly not only because of conversations I had with Brother Mickey on the Theology of the Cross while he was here on sabbatical in November, but because of the story I told above about my intro to NT course and the challenges of doing serious theology. I think it is an awesome symbol of an historical-critical theology which is a matter of both heart and mind.