Book Notes: Theological Territories, chapter 7

Theological TerritoriesTheological Territories:
A David Bentley Hart Digest

by David Bentley Hart
Release date 4/15/2020
by University of Notre Dame Press


I’m posting here notes on each the 26 essays comprising this book.

1. The Gospel According to Melpomene
2. Remarks made to Jean-Luc Marion regarding Revelation and Givenness
3. What is Postmodern Theology?

4. Martin and Gallaher on Bulgakov
5. Remarks to Bruce McCormack regarding the Relation between Trinitarian Theology and Christology
6. The Devil’s March: Creatio ex Nihilo, the Problem of Evil, and a Few Dostoyevskian Meditations

7. Tradition and Authority: A Vaguely Gnostic Meditation

I thoroughly enjoyed this chapter, brilliantly expressing DBH’s dynamic view of Tradition, so much needed in our Churches today. A balanced view that keeps the essentials of the past to go forward.

We often lack the “ability to distinguish between genuinely enduring truths and mere tenacious conventions.”

To me this is rather on the order of cherishing a desperate nostalgia for a debilitating case of jaundice that one vaguely recalls from childhood.”

As you can see DBH’s humor can be quite direct sometimes!

With “this sort of traditionalism”, …we tend to “mistake nostalgia for piety, and intransigence for principle.”

The very concept of “tradition” is arguably incorrigibly equivocal. At least, it entails a certain necessary ambiguity regarding what kind of continuity it is meant to describe: in one sense, what is at issue is the continuity of unalterable practices and immutable beliefs, as preserved by the community to which they give shape; in another sense, however, it is the continuity of a dynamic process, one that accommodates ceaseless alteration without taking leave of the original impulse or truth that this process supposedly enucleates over time.

This is the essential question:

whether there can possibly be any account of that tradition capable of holding what is unalterable and what ceaselessly changes together in a single consistent and plausible unity,

Thus can we see the difference between a living tradition or “true tradition and decadent traditionalisms.”

There are always two poles to hold to:

these two poles— a tradition’s original moment and its subsequent historical unfolding— legitimate one another reciprocally and inseparably.

And the balance is all the more difficult to reach that the essential element is invisible:

whatever it is that is most vital to a tradition—whatever force or substance sustains it as a continuity amid incessant change— must also be that which is most inconspicuous, even invisible.

something that silently abides amid change, the constantly inexpressible within each transitory expression, it could neither tantalize the new into existence nor banish the old to oblivion. How one knows this invisibility, however, is difficult to describe.

Another way to express what’s at play:

the divine fullness that in its infinite simplicity is hospitable to limitless expressions but reducible to none.

Only that always more urgent yet always invisible impulse can free the faithful mind from the appeal of mere transient historical attachments and inspire it, however mysteriously, to correct aberrations and deformities within the tradition. Admittedly, faith’s knowledge of that hiddenness is at most a kind of unspoken awareness of something that can never be exhaustively translated into simple concepts or words;

As often as not, there is nothing so truly new as our “ancient” traditions.

Theological traditions remain vital only insofar as they are, in any age, in the process of being reconstructed. This means that every established doctrine requires restatement in formulations that preserve the received teaching precisely by subtly but continuously refashioning how it is to be understood. And these formulations must be feats of recollection, of critical imagination, and of inspired invention all at once—principled constructions poetically shaped in the present, from the testimony of the past, in the light of an indeterminate future.

How to find the hermeneutical tools to reach this aim, “at once a synthesis and an innovation”?

The hermeneutical labor needed to understand any tradition requires disruption no less than stability, “progressive” ambition no less than “conservative” prudence, because it is only through the play of tension and resolution, stability and disintegration, that that which is most imperishable in a tradition can be fitfully perceived, or at least sensed.

Tradition is in a sense the diachronic complement of ritual’s periodic synchrony; it is history as always inflected by a force from outside time’s continuum: history moving forward but with each of its moments bearing an oblique stress that pulls it toward something not confined to time. It is for this reason that no living tradition can be properly understood merely as a precious inheritance to be protected and curated.

A tradition’s life is this irrepressible apocalyptic ferment within, beckoning us simultaneously back to an immemorial past and forward to an unimaginable future.

Perhaps tradition comes to us instead as an entirely gracious invasion of history, shattering the walls of our prison: a gift awakening us (if we will listen) to the knowledge that the emptiness, the kenoma, of bare history is not our true home, and that our true story comes from— and must finally be told—elsewhere.

Note to self: reread Basil of Caesarea’s On the Holy Spirit.



Have you been experiencing DBH”s view of Tradition in your own Church?

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