Sanctorum Communio, The Communion of the Saints and being catholic Thinkers

A week ago today I was in a funky mood, and wrote a blog post called Doubting the Theologians and Biblical Interpretation. I was lamenting what I see as undue license being given to theologians or biblical exegetes in our reading of the text of Holy Scripture; I still have this concern (the whole reader response hermeneutic). Someone I’ve known through blogging and Facebook over the communionsaintsyears, David Guretzki, professor of theology at Briercrest College in Canada, and Barth scholar, made a comment. He wrote:

Bobby, what if you instead thought of these authors as part (even if not the only) communion of the saints? We do not read scripture as individuals, but as the Church–of which these doctors of the Church are a gift (charism). The Protestant evangelical way of reading Scripture assumes perspecuity (clarity) available to all–that is its strength. But its weakness is that it too often has degenerated into a non-ecclesial way of reading scripture. It is precisely other voices that keeps us from hearing only the echoes of our own thoughts and subjectivities imposed upon scripture. The problem, of course, is that we are too often too selective of the voices we listen to. The danger is not that we read Barth or Aquinas or Augustine, but that we are too apt ONLY to read Barth, Aquinas, or Augustine (or Calvin or Luther, etc. etc.) and thus keep reconfirming too often our own subjectivities and biases.

At the moment I wrote that post I, frankly, wasn’t in the mood to hear much, I was just in a total venting mode. But what David wrote is something I whole-heartedly agree with and have pushed myself here at this blog and other blogs of mine over the last many years. What David wrote points up something that I think everyone needs to be cognizant of; we need to avail ourselves, as the body of Christ, to what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called the sanctorum communio, or what Guretzki called the communion of the saints (the English). If we don’t avail ourselves of these various voices we will fall into the trap that Guretzki rightly alerts us to; we might only hear “echoes of our own thoughts and subjectivities” and impose that “upon scripture.”

This actually dovetails with my last post. If we close the circle too tightly, we might only gather teachers around us who always and only reinforce our own subjectivities. The principle of what Gurtezki is getting at is that we need to be open to the whole tradition of the church, and remove ourselves from self-imposed echo-chambers. We need to read Holy Scripture with the communion of the saints. Clearly we are finite time and space bound creatures, and so that in and of itself is going to delimit how many voices we can open ourselves up to. And of course we don’t want to be so open that our brains fall out; we want to be open critically. But we do want to do catholic theology, and be participants in the whole tradition of the church.

We all have our favorite teachers, even teachers who are strewn throughout the history of the church; that’s natural, we are going to be drawn to certain teachers and theologians for one reason or the other. Obviously, I am drawn to Thomas F. Torrance, Karl Barth, and John Calvin; but I have also learned from so many in the history of interpretation. We just want to be open enough that, indeed, we are actually participating in the communion of the saints that Christ himself has gifted us with in his body.

What I think this entails, though, and this gets back to my last post, is that as Christians we want to identify the reality that Christ has given teachers to his church in every century and period of his church; and he continues to (Ephesians 4). Truly, we need to be critical and discerning, but we shouldn’t limit ourselves to the idea that there are “holy centuries” in the communion of the saints, in the church. We should understand that God in Christ can, has and does break into every century of his church; we should understand that God can speak through modern metaphysics as clearly and perspicaciously as he can through medieval metaphysics. The reality is that all metaphysics used to help supply a grammar for theological discourse must be evangelized and reified in and by the concrete ground of God’s Triune life in Jesus Christ.

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