God is experienced and in which God has le ‘indica-tions’ - not proofs - of his existence.
The Diculty of the Task at Hand
As you would imagine, the task of theology is con-siderably a dicult one: not only does the breadth ofsuch a study seem impossible to follow but we are atthe same time essentially trying to become familiarwith the Trinitarian God. How is God known? Can Godreally be known? If so, how? In the New Testament, forexample, we read that “
no one has ever seen God
” (1Jn4:12) since God alone “
has immortality and dwells in un-approachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see
”(1Tim 6:16). Many fathers of the Church expressed thesame idea: St Gregory the Theologian (4th century),for example, noted: “
to speak of God is impossible and toknow him even more impossible
” and several centurieslater St John of Damascus (7th century) epigrammati-cally wrote: “
the divine is beyond understanding and theonly thing that can be understood about the Godhead is thefact that it is beyond understanding.
” And yet, as we shallsee, since God has revealed himself, not only throughhis Son, Jesus Christ, but also to the world generally,we are able to know him, experience him and subse-quently speak about him. Consequently, in studyingand becoming familiar with the world in general thatGod created, with his Son whom He sent into the worldtogether with his abiding presence in the Holy Spiritwe can indeed come to know God in the hope of par-ticipating in his beatitude. And so, from the outset itis important to remember that it is only through God’sgrace and providence that we are able, indeed have theaudacity, to speak about God, namely to theologize.
Theology - an ‘encounter [συνάντησις]’of another order
From all the above, we would expect theology tobe focused upon seeking answers to questions suchas: “what do we believe about God?” or “can God infact be known?”, “If so, how is God known?” And insome sense this is correct; theology does indeed seekto reect upon the mysteries of God [τά περί Θεοῦμυστήρια]. Theology does in fact seek to present, as wenoted above, the most basic or fundamental principlesof faith in such a way that they can be approached, as-similated and accepted.
theology is essentially an encoun-ter [συνάντησις]; indeed one of anentirely dierent order
However, far more than simply coming to an under-standing of some basic truths that make up the contentsof the Christian faith - namely far more than an intellec-tual pursuit or simply ‘faith seeking understanding [
-des quaerens intellectum
]’ according to the classic deni-tion of Anselm of Canterbury (12th century) - theologyis essentially an ‘encounter’ [συνάντησις]; indeed oneof an entirely other order - namely,
humanity’sencounter with the
God. Now, in order to ap-preciate the signicance of this simple statement as anexplanation of what theology is all about, one needsto analyze briey the etymology of the term ‘encoun-ter’ in the Greek. The word ‘συνάντησις’ is made upof the proposition ‘σύν’ meaning
and the noun‘ἐναντίον’ for
. In other words, an encounter,according to its Greek etymology is a coming togetherof two parties which are entirely dierent or oppositeto one another [not necessarily against each other as theEnglish etymology of encounter might suggest - com-ing from Old French noun ‘l’ encontre’ which signiesadversary or confrontation].Approached from the perspective of an encoun-ter, theology is essentially understood in terms of anexperience or meeting of
human beings - whoare perishable, circumscribable, limited etc - with the
God who is eternal, uncircumscribable andbeyond any limits. The beauty of such a depiction - oreven denition - for theology is not only its broadnessincluding the experience of the entire created realmwith God, but more importantly its existential charac-ter highlighting that theology is ultimately a meeting inwhich one comes to experience the indwelling presenceof God and subsequently comes to trust and believe inGod - something innitely greater than mere intellectu-al understanding of certain propositional truths aboutGod.Reecting a lile further, we would say that theologyis the study of the Church’s experience of communionwith God which subsequently leads the faithful withinthe Church to aempt to give expression to and pres-ent their experience of communion with God. Beforeproceeding any further, however, something must besaid of the word ‘experience’ as it is oen used but lileunderstood. On a popular level, the word ‘experience’has come to refer to a person’s inner feelings and emo-tions. Indeed, in the 19th century an entire philosophi-cal movement emerged, known as existentialism andexemplied in philosophers such as Soren Kierkegaard(1813-1855) and Martin Heidegger (1888-1976) whichemphasised the importance of immediate, real-life hu-man experiences. Those who principally object to an ex-periential aspect to theology do so on the grounds that‘experience’ is something vague, almost impossible toverify and dicult to identify its distinctive features [cf.George Lindbeck,
Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theol-ogy in a Postliberal Age
].However, according to the Eastern Orthodox tradi-tion, theology devoid of experience properly under-stood is impoverished; yet this experience must be in-terpreted within the context of the Church otherwise itmay simply be a projection of our idealized conceptionof what we think God must be like but not the real God.And it is precisely the Church which holds the interpre-tative framework. A classic example highlighting theneed for experience to be interpreted within the contextof the Church since it alone is the proper interpretativeframework for our human experiences is the following:if we were to take a journey back for a moment to the