Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Hans Boersma -- Heavenly Participation

I’d like to recommend Hans Boersma's Heavenly Participation to any one trained in western thought (that’s about everyone who will read this). He presents a look at the mystery of what Eastern Orthodox Christians understand as an iconic view of all creation. That is, Orthodox Christians understand all creation to reveal God. As one of the Fathers said (St. Anthony the Great, I think), “Creation is the Word of God written in very large letters.”

I must confess also that Boersma's exploration of the western tradition’s resources for this “sacramental ontology” has caused me to rethink some of my own harsh criticism of western Late-Medieval and Reformation theology. In many ways, I have been guilty of the very excess of which I have accused Protestants. That is, I have thrown the baby out with the bathwater. For example, although I have acknowledged what seems to be the very great personal piety in Thomas Aquinas, I have completely rejected his Summa for the pivotal role it has played in the development of western theology as it moved away from a spiritual, iconic understanding of creation. Boersma points out that although Aquinas' “(This worldly) Aristotelianism did bring about a change in theological ethos,” one of the most often quoted Father in Aquinas’s work is St. Dyonisius the Areopogite. That is, perhaps, the problem with Aquinas has more to do with how he has been read and interpreted, and less to do with what he actually wrote. Or to put it another way, perhaps there can be an Orthodox reading of Aquinas.

I don’t know if this is possible. I will never have the time to read Aquinas. And as Boersma points out, there are matters of “ethos” that would need to be attended to. Nevertheless, within Aquinas a Christian in the western tradition may indeed find resources to acquire a mind more in harmony with Eastern Orthodox Christianity than I had thought possible.

My point here is a matter of my own repentance. I am not recommending Aquinas to Orthodox Christians. Rather, I am repenting of disparaging too much the western tradition. Perhaps, as Boersma shows, there may be a way back for western Christians to the great consensus of the first thousand years of the Church.

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