15 December 2016

Theology and Spirituality

On the relationship between Theology and Spirituality Sandra Schneiders writes the following:      
... historically, one of the most interesting characteristics of Christian spirituality as lived experience is its capacity to be outside of, or even ahead of, theological developments, and to introduce into the theological and or religious purview of the Church insights and convictions which stretch the received theological categories and paradigms (54).   
She goes on to cite examples from John of the Cross, Julian of Norwitch and Teresa of Avala. She isn't claiming here that spirituality should have priority over theology but rather that they are mutually informing; one does not dominate the other. She cautions that "the premature application of theological criteria of acceptability to phenomena in the field of spirituality can be a serious mistake (54)". She is not suggesting complete independence but rather informing dialog and certain amount freedom.

One of the major themes in the first half of the book of Acts is Spirit of God leading of the nascent church and along the way informing and sometimes radically changing their theology. The conversion of Cornelius is a good example here. The church at this point was Jewish. Cornelius' conversion was orchestrated by God with attendant angelic visits and visions. In the end the Spirit falls on Cornelius, and Peter allows him to be baptized "Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have" (Acts 10:47). Peter will later have to explain his actions to the Jerusalem church. When he does he links the activity of the Spirit with the work of the Lord (Acts 11:16).

I'm not advocating building theology from spirituality or forcing our spirituality into the theological categories but allowing each to being mutually informing, working together, supporting and at times times challenging each other.

Works cited

Schneiders, Sandra Marie. “A Hermeneutical Approach to the Study of Christian Spirituality.” In Minding the Spirit: The Study of Christian Spirituality, edited by Elizabeth Dreyer and Mark S Burrows, 49–60. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005.