Pope Francis recently invited worldwide Catholics to step outside the calm center of Christianity to see itself from its periphery. He suggested that reality becomes more clearly understood as a complex weave of multiplicity when seen from the margins, rather than from a perceived center of ideological unity.
No longer looking out from its own center, Christianity—whether Catholic or non-Catholic—can turn its gaze to look in on itself, promising the transformational impact much like space travellers’ documented “Overview Effect.”
In light of the (quite literally) spacious abstraction this visual metaphor evokes, I suggested in Part 2 that another sense could help us more concretely—and immediately—begin to “look in” on ourselves. The sense of hearing, used abundantly in Christianity’s mystical literature, is the starting place for this more comprehensive vision of our whole.
Learning an Integral Christian Multilingualism becomes our metaphorical spacecraft to the margins’ comprehensive view, an effort that requires a preliminary description of theology, Christianity’s fundamental experience and concept.
Theologia: A Shifting Understanding
The term theology, or theologia, is derived from the Greek roots theos (θεόσ, god) and logos (λόγοσ, word, language, discourse). Originally understood as personal and communal discourse about God (McGrath, 1998; Schüssler Fiorenza, 1991), theology became more theoretical and speculative “study of God” with the ninth-century rise of urban, clerical schools and the subsequent medieval universities (LeClerq, 1982).
The scholastic theology of the Middle Ages provided an ordered discipline of sacred learning, encompassing systematic study of Christian revelation, belief and doctrine. However, the post-Enlightenment rise of secularism eschewed perceived constraints of sectarian scholarship, ultimately diminishing the presence of theology within public academia.
By the late twentieth century, the divergent needs of increasing religious pluralism led public universities to develop inter-religious departments of Religious Studies, while the Christian theology of denominationally sponsored seminaries and universities became an increasingly disparate group of specialized academic subdivisions seemingly much removed from their classical (LeClerq, 1982; Schüssler Fiorenza, 1991) and more sapiential origins (Barnhart, 2008; Farley, 1983). 
Concurrently, some theorists marked paradigmatic collapse and deconstruction of meta-narrative as the necessary postmodern “condition” (Lyotard, 1984), radically reorienting the course of contemporary theological discourse (Vanhoozer, 2006). Challenged with the need for contemporary intelligibility, theological scholarship nonetheless continues to flourish with an extraordinary outpouring of seminal Christian thought. 
The Seminal and Often Surprising Description of Theology
Despite this vast corpus of well-reasoned theological discourse and scholarship, the casual inquirer’s exposure is frequently limited to its most rudimentary forms. Easily accessed Web blogs, televangelism or other forms of evangelistic diatribe and sectarian polemic lead some hearers to “assume a stereotypical understanding of theology as an essentially supernaturalistic, dogmatic, and parochial discourse, a caricature that ignores countless developments in the tradition of modern theology” (Nicholson, 2009, p. 610). The specialization of theology as a remotely erudite (and frequently abstruse) academic discipline has furthered this lacuna of popular comprehensibility.
Early Christian theologians however, understood and articulated their craft quite differently than either of these popularly experienced extremes. For example, the fourth century monastic Evagrius Ponticus (345 – 399 CE) articulated a seminal description of the Christian theologian as “one who prays” (trans. 1978, p. 65), an understanding continued—and practiced—throughout the historical unfolding of Christian monasticism (Barnhart, 2008; Frigge, 1992; LeClerq, 1988).
Theology as Transcendence
Contemporary theologian David Tracy (2010) similarly reflects this more sapiential interpretation in his description:
theology is an attentive, contemplative attempt to understand God and all things in their relationship to God” (p. 288).
Such contemplative attentiveness engenders, it is hoped, an authentic practice reflective of transcendent wisdom, capable of holding the particularities of a religious tradition within its greater whole, authentically upholding its mythos while critically—and charitably—appraising its historical interpretation (Farley, 1983).
This view of theology inspires and empowers what has traditionally been known as connaturality (Dych, 1999), a personal and collective, transforming participation in divine love, a self-transcending union with all that is divine. Grounded in a personal encounter with infinite mystery (Rahner, 1970), it is generative of ongoing conversion that is “not a set of propositions that a theologian utters, but a fundamental and momentous change in the human reality that a theologian is” (Lonergan, 1972, p. 270).
Theology is dynamic and alive, capable of authentic self-transcendence, wherein
becoming must be understood as becoming more, as the coming to be of more reality as reaching and achieving a greater fullness of being. But this more must not be understood simply added to what was there before. Rather it must on the one hand be the effect of what was there before, and on the other hand it must be an intrinsic increase in its own being. But this means that if becoming is really to be taken seriously it must be understood as real self-transcendence, as surpassing oneself, as emptiness actively achieving its own fullness. (Rahner, 2002, p. 184)
As this transforming dynamism occurs, theology simultaneously becomes both an interior—even contemplative—way of life, as in its monastic approach, and as a contemporarily relevant, exterior academic discipline initiated but never completely fulfilled by the scholasticism of the Middle Ages.
Such transformative theology, furthermore, initiates and discloses the often divergent depths and complexities of its own interpersonal communication, often finding the mutual silence of mystery as explanatory of meaning as its many interpretive voices.
Rather than exclusive domains, theology ideally remains an energetic enactment of interior monastic subjectivity effectively united with the Scholastic objectivity of its academic exteriors. The integrative union, furthermore, of spiritual praxis and cognitive theorization, while historically so often at odds with one another, are reconciled by their mutual interdependence upon the distinct insight and wisdom generated by each of their singular proficiencies.
To see ourselves and the Christian tradition from the empowering margin, we must be capable of not only recognizing and enacting this crucial interior and exterior union, but must also be able to do so across the multiple traditions that define and interpret its own apparently unitive themes with vastly different verbiage. With such bracing linguistic challenges in view, contemporary interpretations of the classic “Tower of Babel” narrative from the Hebrew Scriptures (Gen 11: 1- 9) can next offer insight toward development of Integral Christian multilingualism.
Barnhart, B. (2007). The future of wisdom: toward a rebirth of sapiential Christianity. New York: Continuum.
Dych, W. (1992). Karl Rahner (Re-issue 2000 ed.). New York: Continuum.
Evagrius Ponticus. (1978). The Praktikos: Chapters on prayer (J. Bamburger, Trans.). Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications.
Farley, E. (1983). Theologia: The fragmentation and unity of theological education. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.
Frigge, M. (1992). Schola Christi Benedictine insight for theological education (Doctoral thesis, Boston College Dept. of Theology, Boston, MA).Leclerq, J. (1982). The love of learning and the desire for God: A study of monastic culture. New York: Fordham University Press.
Lyotard, J.-F. (1984). The postmodern condition: A report on knowledge. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
McGrath, A. E. (1998). Historical theology: An introduction to the history of Christian thought. Oxford; Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Publishers.
Nicholson, H. (2009). The reunification of theology and comparison in the new comparative theology. Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 77(3), 609-646.
Rahner, K. (1970). Rahner, K. (1970). Reflections on method in theology (C. Ernst, Trans.) Theological Investigations (Vol. 11). Oxford: The Way Publishing.
Rahner, K. (2002). Foundations of Christian faith: An introduction to the idea of Christianity (W. V. Dych, Trans.). New York: Crossroad.
Schüssler Fiorenza, F. (1991). Systematic theology: Roman Catholic perspectives (Vol. 1). Minneapolis: Fortress Press.
Tracy, D. (2010). Theology for Pilgrims By Nicholas Lash. Modern Theology, 26(2), 287-289.
Vanhoozer, K. J. (Ed.). (2006). The Cambridge companion to postmodern theology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
EndnotesSchüssler Fiorenza (1991) identifies three classical approaches (the Augustinian, Thomist and Neo-Scholastic) that consistently remain “intricately linked with specific philosophical and theoretical background theories” (p. 35) and yield contemporary perspectives in theological method. LeClerq (1982) notes two theological divisions in his influential examination of monastic culture, wherein scholastic and monastic models yet “draw in common on Christian sources and both enlist the aid of reason” (p. 223), albeit utilizing distinct methodologies to do so. Farley’s three major theological periods (early Christian, Middle Ages, and post-Enlightenment) all possessed the two “fundamental meanings” (p. 44) of 1) the theology/knowledge of sapiential episteme to “practical know how” identified with monasticism and 2) its original extension and deepening through the theology/discipline of a unitive scientia in Scholasticism ultimately generating aggregated specialization (pp. 31- 44). According to Farley, contemporary theological education has witnessed the disappearance of both meanings, a retrieval his text has—at least in part—inspired. See also Congar, Y. (1968). A history of theology. Garden City, NY: Doubleday. Additional Protestant perspectives on the history of Christian theology include Olson, R. E. (1999). The story of Christian theology: Twenty centuries of tradition & reform. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity; and Plancher, W. C. (1983). A history of Christian theology: An introduction. Philadelphia: Westminster.  Historical surveys of modern and postmodern twentieth century theologians and their influences include Kerr, F. (2007). Twentieth-century Catholic theologians: From Neoscholasticism to nuptial mysticism. Malden, MA: Blackwell; Ford, D., & Muers, R. (Eds.). (2005). The modern theologians: An introduction to Christian theology since 1918 (3rd ed.). Malden, MA: Blackwell; and Livingston, J. C., Coakley, S., Evans, J. H., & Schüssler Fiorenza, F. (2006). Modern Christian thought. Vol. 2, The twentieth century. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. For a compendium of postmodern theological approaches collected into seven typologies, see (Vanhoozer, 2006). Particular theological styles, approaches and methods provide varied conceptions of “models” of theology, such as Avery Dulles’ (1974/ 2002). Models of the church (Expanded ed.). New York: Image Books, Doubleday; Francis Schüssler Fiorenza’s (1991) “Five Contemporary Approaches to Theology”; and David Tracy’s (1975/1996) “Models in Contemporary Theology” discussed in a subsequent article.
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