Nothing Wrong With Thinking

A few days ago, I was surprised to find someone attacking philosophy as an ‘airy-fairy’ discipline and lamenting its effect on contemporary theology. Personally, I would argue that it is precisely the abandonment of philosophy as a necessary discipline that leads to the weakness of much contemporary theology (no names, no pack drill). Woolly thinking does not give glory to God. On the contrary, thinking about God, asking questions about God and  the things of God can only contribute to our love and wonder. I often think of monastic life as doing theology on our knees, but reading, thinking, meditating are an essential part of the process that leads to prayer.

Of course, we are not all philosophers. I’m not one myself; but anyone who is serious about their following of Christ must surely be concerned with discovering more and more about truth, what the early Church believed about Christ, how that belief has developed over the centuries, how we are to understand and apply it nowadays. And we can’t do any of that without ways of thinking, questioning, arguing, using a language that expresses and defines even as it admits its limitations. We seem to be so concerned sometimes to be, on the one hand, ‘doctrinally lite’ or, on the other, ‘ritually exact’ that we miss something important: not only the utter transcendence of God but also his infinite tenderness and compassion. We will never succeed in articulating God, so to say, but surely it is a worthwhile endeavour to try to do what we can.

Tomorrow we shall be celebrating the feast of St Hildegard, Benedictine polymath and Doctor of the Church. Many people know something of her music, but I wonder how many have read her Scivias or engaged with some of her more difficult texts? She is a worthy patron of International Buy a Nun a Book Day (see here for an explanation of BANAB-Day): a reminder that in seeking to know more about God, we are seeking to know God himself.

Note
As I have explained, we ourselves are not publishing a wish-list for books this year. People have been very generous to us, and we would like others to benefit from the idea.

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6 thoughts on “Nothing Wrong With Thinking”

  1. I, being a soldier had thought deeply about my profession, particularly about warfare and war, and the just war theories. I hadn’t thought of that as philosophy, even when I engaged with the works of Aquinus and others on that theory.

    Eventually, post-retirement and after joining the Anglican Church, I was sent on a course at Canterbury Christ Church University, which engaged in Philosophy in a way, as an introduction to theological reflection. I learned about the great Philosophers from Greeks through to Christian and secular philosophers.

    I had to engage in an academic way, including submitting Essays on topics connected with the great moral dilemma’s that affected people through the ages. It proved enlightening (and learning about enlightenment itself as part of the process) and made me think more deeply about myself, mankind, God and his creation and how he has engaged with us, through the ages, and how we have responded – not always with joy and gratitude.

    Coming to your blog engages me each time I read it, and takes me back to those days of learning, debating and seeking a deeper understanding of who I am, what I do, and what God is wanting off me, on a personal basis. It has helped in many ways that I can’t thank you enough.

    Your posts make me and others think, and respond that would have been beyond me, just a few years ago.

    I don’t decry Philosophy as light weight – and thinking and talking about God is part of the whole process of philosophy, and theology is a subset of the discipline (in my view).

  2. Good morning Sister…
    Philosophy, whether we are a philosopher or not, permeates how we live and what is important. It is often the bedrock of a culture…and what the citizen declares is important or not…it takes shape in every aspect of how we live and how we care for one another.
    Your life, although distant by land and sea, echos an ancient philosophy of seeking God…more and more seeking God seems overshadowed by another ancient philosophy, seeking self.
    I am grateful for any light that shines on a Way to the Eternal.
    Many bows,
    L.

  3. Thank you for this spot on post. Learning how to think enables us to think. I am not a philosopher, but do have a bit of philosophy and believe it should be a required subject in schools. I am a great fan of St Thomas Aquinas and try to read a little of the Summa each day.

  4. I tend to find that philosophy challenges my faith far more than science; while hypotheses, experiments and the development of scientific paradigms seems to leave plenty of space for God (though maybe not always as literally as some might choose to take Genesis!); philiosophy tends to leave me feeling like religion is just another prism through which to view the world. Not a comfortable feeling, unless ypu are sure of better educated companions and faith to lead you through.

  5. I count myself very lucky for going to a Jesuit university and being required to take philosophy and theology classes. I’ve always expressed my gratitude that I was not allowed to get my degree without “learning how to think.” Philosophy teaches us how to think about the really important things (as does Theology, of course), and confronts us with very fundamental existential questions. One hopes it also wakes up the mind and the soul.

    Several years ago I decided to take a colonial American history course at a local college. I grew up in Australia, and wanted to brush up on gaps in my education.

    One day, as a joke, the professor played the Monty Python clip of all the great philosopher running a race — or were they playing football? As a (much) older student among 18-20 year olds, I was astonished to find that virtually none of them recognized the names of the philosophers or why the sketch was supposed to be funny!

    It was clear to me when I and the professor locked eyes that here was a very sorry commentary on modern education. ‘Nough said.

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