Wednesday, May 08, 2013

On the Logical Priority of Logos

Theology's function is to interpret the kerygma into the context.   This much has always been clear to me.   But what are the limits of this interpretation?  What norms sort theological attempts between success and failure?   And what are the proper words to use here?   Ought we to speak of true theological statements over and against false ones?    Are theological claims made in this interpretation better thought to be felicitous or infelicitous?   Are some more fecund than others, and, if so, what are the marks of this fecundity?

Over three decades ago I decided that I wanted to do theology seriously.  But over the decades I have been paralyzed by the Herculean effort seemingly needed to make any true theological advance in our time.   I knew that I could not simply parrot putative truths of another time as if they were truths of our time, yet I did not want to say that the truth-values of theological statements were simply and facilely indexed to time.  I have watched contemporary theology (and theologians) come and go and I have marveled at how little their passage on the theological stage seemingly depends upon the strength of their arguments.  I have always assumed that the acceptance of theological positions ought not be like that of political ones.   Theology, the grand discipline of the west, could not be simply a matter of fad, whim, and immediate political, economic and social cash value.   It simply has to be something more, I have hoped.

The proclamation of the life, suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ has to be the starting point of theology.  The source of theology must be the CrossOf this, I have never had doubt.   An analysis of the cultural and intellectual horizon is necessary to the task of theology and, in some way, this horizon is itself a source of theological reflection.   However, this source is not of the same type as the other source.  While one has particular insight into the horizon, and while the horizon is something we "bump up against" in all experience, the horizon is not revealed.   The kerygma is revealed and the horizon is not.

Yet the two are given in a different way than our interpretative activity of unpacking the poles of kerygma and horizon, and carefully and patiently laying out, uncovering, or constructively articulating the relationships holding between those poles.  Our language, culture, philosophical assumptions, conceptual schemes, and own existences (including the socio-political) are the media by which the poles are refracted.  The hard task of locating the poles with respect to each other by specifying their connections is, of course, what the method of correlation is all about.   This creative, interpretive act of correlation is built upon previous acts of interpretation.   There is a hermeneutic of kerygma, a hermeneutic of horizon, and a hermeneutic correlating the deliverances of the first two hermeneutics.   Since the hermeneutical act is historically, culturally, conceptually influenced - - the product of the hermeneutic seems destined to be a here today, gone tomorrow, Johnny one-hit phenomenon.  Or so it seems on first reflection.

But perhaps we theologians spend too much creative energy wallowing in the quagmire of the seeming relativism based upon historical, cultural, and conceptual dynamism.  After all, it is not that the hermeneutical task - - and the hermeneutical circle and its effects - - infect what we do alone.   All intellectual activity proceeds by interpreting one thing, then interpreting another thing, and finally interpreting how those things fit, or don't fit, together.  It is what human beings do, and it is what we have always done.   Yet, there was once a time - - and there is in many other disciplines still a time - - when truth claims were/are vigorously asserted, supported, denied and repudiated on the basis of criteria that are abiding even within the flux of history, language, and culture.  It is not that everything is a Heraclitian flux only.  There is, after all, logos in the flux; there is order and reason.  We theologians have tended to concentrate so much upon the flux that we miss the order.   We tend to forget that the very categories we use in thinking and communicating the historical flux of thought are, in some sense stable categories.   In fact, the necessary condition for communicating flux is an ordered, coherent structure of thinking and being.  One cannot state change without perdurance.   This very old thought is either true or false, and I believe there are very good reasons to think it true - - Gorgias aside.  

What we theologians need again is a healthy dose of the reality of logos.  Our task is not dissimilar to Descartes'.   We must assume the worse-case scenario for theological knowledge, and try to uncover those stable structures presupposed by that worse case.  We must again learn to employ principle of contradiction:  If a theological position, or a hermeneutical interpretation of the hermeneutical situation ramifies a contradiction, then we must learn again to state clearly that the denial of that position is at least possible.  Moreover, we must learn again to think deeply enough theologically to spot the ways in which theological discourse is not generally a discourse of the contingent, and be able to conclude appropriately from this how the possible thus relates to the actual.  This is not easy work, but it is the work before us.

Just as flux presupposes logos, so does the historicity of the hermeneutical situation presuppose a metaphysics, that ontological correlate to the stable structural categories necessary even to state a non-completable hermeneutical dynamism.  It is precisely this metaphysics that theology has forgotten about, and it is precisely this that must be investigated again.   My hope is to begin this investigation soon.