Doctrix Teresa: A Churchly Theologian

This year marks the five hundredth anniversary of the birth of Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada, best known to history as St. Teresa of Ávila. A sixteenth-century Spanish reformer and spiritual writer, in 1970 she became the first female named as a Doctor of the Catholic Church. A friend and devotee of St. John of the Cross, Teresa is often depicted as the patron saint of Catholic Reformation spirituality. In recent years, a number of Protestant thinkers have begun to study Teresa, not only as a famous mystic but as a genuine theologian in her own right. One of these is Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, who published a book about Teresa in 1991. Another is Elizabeth Newman, a Baptist ecumenical theologian, whose 2012 book, Attending the Wounds on Christ’s Body: Teresa’s Scriptural Vision, examines Teresa’s theology and spirituality with special attention to what all Christians, Protestants no less than Catholics, can learn from her about Christian unity today. Continue Reading »

Rethinking Theology and Matter with Ibn Gabirol

Solomon Ibn Gabirol (1021–1058) was the first Jewish philosopher in Spain, but medieval Christians knew him only by his Latinized name, Avicebron, and they assumed that he was either a Christian or a Muslim. Most scholastics also thought he was a deeply misguided thinker. Gabirol was identified with the doctrine of universal hylomorphism—the idea that everything God creates is composed of form and matter—and treated as a precursor of the nominalist emphasis on the absolute freedom (and thus inscrutability) of God’s will. Some of his poetry remains in liturgical use in Judaism to this day, but his philosophy was all but forgotten. Even experts in medieval theology typically treat him as little more than a footnote to scholastic debates about how angels can be individuated without being embodied. Continue Reading »

In Praise of Irrelevant Reading

When I moved to England to start a Masters degree in theology, I knew I wanted to study St. Paul’s letter to the Romans. Like many of my counterparts in the Reformed theological orbit, I was enthralled with questions of law and grace, election and final judgment. During my first year of undergraduate study, I’d sat out on the front lawn of the college green, sweating in the spring sunshine, reading N. T. Wright’s What Saint Paul Really Said. I was certain that the most important questions I could write about in my postgraduate study would have something to do with Jews and Gentiles in Christ in those dense later chapters of Paul’s Romans. Continue Reading »

Luther Reading Challenge

In 2009, my colleague Theodor Dieter and I started teaching a two-week course every November on Luther’s theology, for Lutheran pastors from all over the world, in no less venerable a location than Wittenberg itself. We approached the first year with post-Christendom and post-colonial qualms. Did Luther have anything to say to people anymore? Was it pure anachronistic antiquarianism on our part still to love him? Did we have any business inflicting Luther on Africans struggling with malaria and tremendous political violence, or on Asians negotiating a level of religious plurality unimaginable to North Atlantic Christians like ourselves? Continue Reading »

What Is Love?

Recently, I sat through a session of someone offering reflections on the “God is love” theme of I John 4:8. He did a pretty nice job of it until his wrap-up. “God is Love,” he said, “what a wonderful thought. But it is also a wonderful thing to realize that Love is God as well. But that’s a subject for another time!” Continue Reading »

Is God Really Infinite?

Classical theism, with its identification of God with infinity, has developed a reputation for emphasizing divine transcendence to the point of making God nearly unknowable. The problem with this judgment is that infinity—as in, God is infinitely unknowable—does not admit to degrees. Continue Reading »

A Joust with Mario Cuomo

The first time I met Mario Cuomo, the first words out of his mouth were “Teilhard de Chardin.” It was early September 1984 and Newsweek’s editors had invited the governor of New York over for an off-the-record lunch. Cuomo’s rousing keynote address to that year’s . . . . Continue Reading »