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The Professor & the Unicorn

The Professor & the Unicorn

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Published by e4unity
S.H.Hutchens, a senior editor for Touchstone Magazine, explores the difference between the Biblical reality and reasoned logic that can move into speculation. This is "the essence of sectarianism", he insists.
S.H.Hutchens, a senior editor for Touchstone Magazine, explores the difference between the Biblical reality and reasoned logic that can move into speculation. This is "the essence of sectarianism", he insists.

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Published by: e4unity on Jun 27, 2009
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02/18/2011

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The Professor & the Unicorn
 Reality, Revelation & the Seductions of Abstract Thought by
 S. M. Hutchens
In
 
a recent series of 
Touchstone
articles and editorials Patrick Henry Reardon and I werecalled upon to respond to arguments, historical and theological, for the accession of women to church offices traditionally held only by men (see
Touchstone,
Fall 1992,
 
Winter and Spring 1993 issues). For those who are as weary of this topic as we are, letme say at the outset that this article is not about women’s ordination, but the way of thinking that makes this institution and many others conceivable. One might say itconcerns the line between reality and imagination, which, translated into the language of theology, has to do with the difference between revelation and speculation. It is a very old problem that needs to be reconsidered by every generation.It seemed to Fr. Reardon and me that we were tilting with the unicorn—writing againstthings conceivable but imaginary. He was dealing mostly with imagined history, and Iwas speaking against a contrived theology, but we were both speaking to mindsabstracted from the reality of the Christian faith as described in its apostolic constitutionand lived by the Church. Reardon was confronted with a history of Christian priestesseshaving so little evidential substance that no reasonable person could consider it anything but a creature of imagination—and yet the imagined idea was strong enough to blind anintellectual giant to Church history as it apparently was, and draw a bishopess (surely kinto the unicorness) out of the catacombs. I faced a theological argument that advancedfrom Christian premises to non-Christian conclusions on the strength of a concept of equality that defeated history, tradition, and St. Paul’s explicit directives for the role of women in the churches.We are disposed to shape the world to our desire by elevating notions over verity. This isa corruption of the gift that made
homo faber 
in the image of God. Man who was made toimagine and create within the defined infinity of Truth now makes images of what cannot be. The world is full of his idols, weighted to their own destruction by their inability toanswer to reality as it comes from the hand of God. The religious feminist, in the spirit of Antiochus and Pompey, invades the sanctuary and there—aided by the homosexual whoalso profits from the trivialization of gender distinctions—sets up her egalitarian idea.Those who bow before it finally find themselves in a war against God and nature theycannot win. The same elevation of idea over reality happens when the scientist distorts or ignores the book of nature in favor of his theory, or a nation is molested by politicalidealists and social architects.My own experience as a student of theology, in conservative and liberal schools, amongProtestants and Catholics, has largely been that of studying ideas about God, his wordand will for mankind. The basic material in all cases, even among the most vehementmodernists, has been extracted from the biblical mine. But very quickly the idea,separated from the revelational milieu that limits and controls it, takes root and grows onits own. One truth hypertrophies, others atrophy in response, and the school or the sect is born, each with its characteristic preoccupation and error. One segment of Christendom becomes controlled by the idea of bringing the kingdom of God to earth. In others,attributes of God, such as his sovereignty or kindness, or some aspect of the person of Jesus or his Mother, become ground-principles that control the vision of those who adoptthem. Distended over revelational boundaries, these ideas are eventually used to attack revelation itself. The phenomenon is the same in all instances—an idea, a generality, notin itself wrong, but given undue license, overcomes the particularity of the Given andconforms everything in its path to its own shape, leaving confusion and schism in its
 
wake.
Conditions on the Western Front
Eastern Orthodox friends tell me that Western theology’s proclivity to err comes from thishabit of mind. The difference, they say, between Western theology, shared by Protestantsand Catholics, and their own is that here we begin our thinking about God in terms of oneof these preoccupations of which I have spoken: an ancient, but non-Judeo-Christianconcept of God as Pure or Absolute Being, reflected in the
 filioque
of the Western versionof the Nicene Creed and enshrined in our theology by Thomas Aquinas and ProtestantScholasticism. In Eastern Christendom, they tell me, God is contemplated in the revealedmystery of his personhood, of the relation of the Persons of the Holy Trinity to each other and to creation. Once this alleged difference didn’t matter very much to me, since I couldnot regard the Western theological conversation I had been privy to, considered as awhole, consistent enough to be controlled by any axiology, faulty or otherwise. As aresult of my controversy with feminism, however, I have been forced to consider thecharge more carefully.My conclusion is that the Orthodox cannot be blamed too much for generalizing as theydo about our understanding of God in the West, but there is something about the inner lifeof the Catholic and Protestant churches I would like them to appreciate more. It is nottrue that Christians in the West have devoted themselves to a divine abstraction, that our conception of God is ultimately that of numinous being—and hence a malleable idea— instead of a revealed person. This, rather, has been a driving tendency of our scholastictradition to which many countercurrents have answered. The history of theology in theWest is that of a battleground between the abstract and particular God, the God of Judeo-Christian revelation and the God of speculative reconceptualization. It can be analyzed interms of 
ideas
of God, set forth in academies that arose as the churches divided—whichhave always been religious, especially when they claim to be secular—answered by personalistic antitheses that find most of their support beyond their walls.If we use an analogy derived from C. S. Lewis’s
The Abolition of Man
, a book with avoice far older than that of its author, we could say we are speaking here of the invidioustendency of the head, abetted by the pride and prejudice of the schools it has created, torebel against the heart—which has reasons, as Pascal said, of which the head knowsnothing. If the heart (Lewis here juxtaposes the Platonic
 sophia
and the Hebrew
lev
) iswhere reason and affection are combined by the superior and ultimately mysteriousagency of the person himself, we are speaking of a case where the Western head has ahistory of identifying the heart as mere belly to discredit it and assert control. Visceralfaith is present here in force, but not every reaction against the sin of the intellect is adescent into enthusiasm. Sometimes it is the healthy soul’s insistence, which is also foundhere in the West, that the abstractive, ratiocinative faculty is not qualified to rule the manand must itself be brought under a higher authority in the service of truth.Those whose studies concentrate on theological literature rather than the actual life of thechurches are apt to see the history of Western theology through the eyes of academictheologians, historians of dogma, and the church offices they influence, an ascendancy

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