It has been said a number of times by a number of people in our current storm that much of the turmoil stems from the failure to articulate a theology concerning same-sex relationships prior to authorizing them, or electing a bishop who happens to live in one.
This seems to me, in addition to reflecting the difference between an idealist and a realist mentality that I sketched out in an earlier post, to place too high a premium on the value of theology — to treat it as primary rather than secondary. (I leave for another time the question of whether this is even properly speaking a theological issue rather than an ethical or moral one. And this is not to deny that I think a good case can be made, and should be made.)
But even in other areas of our life in Christ, I would like to suggest that it is not theology that lies at the heart of the Church, but faith. Faith comes first. Theology then succeeds as an effort to rationalize and understand that which is admittedly beyond our full comprehension. Theology is always asymptotic.
Faith bears a relationship to theology similar to that which exists between π and its enumeration in digital form. To develop the analogy: consider π as standing in for God as God is, and the enumeration in digital form (3.1415...) as the work of theology. π is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. That is what it is — or rather, that is a description of what it is. But its value transcends our capacity to enumerate. Nor can it be constructed with a straightedge and compass — it is beyond both geometry and arithmetic. Which does not mean that people have not sought over the centuries various ways of coming to better and better approximations, all the while realizing that the elusive reality can never be exactly expressed by billions of digits, even though simply represented by that modest lower case Greek letter.
Anselm famously said that theology was “faith seeking understanding.” The faith comes first — faith in the God whose existence we cannot prove, Anselm’s own ontological effort notwithstanding. Faith comes first and then the seeking; and the seeking never quite completely finds. We do not give up on the theological quest, however, as Aquinas was said to have done after his transcendent vision of God — for he felt he had accomplished the goal all his theology was straining after but falling short of grasping. What we realize is that it is our faith — our relationship with God (and perhaps it is as well to remember that π itself is also a relationship rather than a thing!) — that our faith is both the basis for our theology, and the place of repose when our theology has reached its limits. It is not in our understanding that we will find God, but in our Love.
Tobias Haller BSG