Make Sure Christ is the Key: The Value of All Periods of Theological Development

The Nicenes, those who affirmed the triune reality of the living God, and articulated it using grammar that we today take for granted as the orthodox coin, are elevated, as they ought to be, by those of us who, indeed, affirm the orthodox reality of who God is as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These early Christian thinkers were primarily fixated on one thing, save two. I.e., Jesus and the ‘who’ of God as three in one/ one in three. This was the foundational piece, the fundamentum of what has developed latterly as the consensus fidelium in regard to who God is, and how central Christ is to knowing this reality. But something happened. The mediaeval period happened, the scholastic period happened, and Thomas Aquinas, above all else has seemingly triumphed as the bearer of all that is orthodox in the Latin church. And yet, Thomas’ theology, in the main, does not have the tenor, the character of the Nicenes. His is a speculative philosophy synthesized with mostly Augustinian categories as those were distilled through Lombard’s Sentences. When you read Thomas, you don’t come away with the same christological focus and longing that you do when you read the Nicenes. But many a Protestant today seems to think that Thomas just is the continuous succession of the Nicenes, only in Aristotelian and medieval dress. All I would ask you to do is read Thomas, and then read the Nicenes. What you’ll come to experience, at least I have, is that Thomas, and his ilk, are a disruption in the ostensible succession of church theologians; a disruption in the sense that the kataphaticism of the Nicenes is sublimated by a speculative apophaticism in the scholastic form of Thomas, indeed.

It isn’t that the Nicenes don’t have an apophaticism in the register, but that said register is only a precondition for recognizing that the only way it can be cashed out is by a slavish commitment to a brute kataphysicism, insofar as that is freely supplied by the living God Self-revealed and exegeted in Jesus Christ. ‘Christ is the key,’ as Tanner has so notably indicated, and the Nicenes understood this. Indeed, this is why Karl Barth is so exciting for me! It has nothing to do with his place or period in history, with him being “modern” or not, or whatever. Barth is unique on the historical theological plane insofar that he imbibes, he is redivivus of the Nicenes in the 20th century theological development. Christ is his centraldogma; Christ reduces Barth’s apophatic register into the cash-money of God’s Self-revelation. This is Barth’s appeal over against Thomas and the rest of the scholastics (in the medieval and post reformed understanding of that), materially.

In the end I think people get way too caught up in thinking period[ically] about the sacra doctrina of the Church. Rather than being so tripped up by this era versus that era, so on and so forth, it is better to being open to finding Christ in all periods of the Church’s history. I think the Nicenes present the best basis upon which the Church in the 21st century can think constructively and orthodoxly from. This is not to say that all medieval theology is rubbish; indeed, I love that period of theological development. But it is to say that what ought to guide the Christian’s spiritual and intellectual development as a Christian is in fact a commitment to love of Christ, and the desire to see Him as the key to EVERYTHING, in piercing and all-encompassing ways. When a theology fails to do that, it is hard for me to see how it is genuinely Christian in any meaningful way. This is why I say that Thomas is a disruption. In certain ways his theological methodology, based in a posteriori means, implicates even what Barth does. But in fact, Thomas ends up operating in the a priori of speculation that he inherited largely from Augustine through Lombard. These things are a complex, indeed, but if Christ is the key the complex can be opened in fruitful and constructive directions. Make sure Christ is your key.

3 thoughts on “Make Sure Christ is the Key: The Value of All Periods of Theological Development

  1. Amen… and emet. “Now we see through a mirror indirectly;” yet, may we it be that Christ is the one image upon whom we desire to gaze.

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