Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Ecclesiology more ecclesiastical

My theological work over the past few years has maintained a consistently split personality; while a substantial portion of my personal research and publication has been ecclesiological in nature, this focus is virtually absent from my coursework and indeed from my public self-presentation as a student of theology.  "Ecclesiology" is sufferable as a sub-field of theology (or better, of jurisprudence), but I bristle at the ugly term "ecclesiologist" and the idea that theoretical accounts of the churches should occupy the majority of a theologian's career.

I began my pursuit of theology with a much more "ecclesial" temper.  A fervor for the liturgical basis of the Church's confession and a prioritizing of communio as prolegomenon to dogmatics is much of what allowed me to turn away from intentions of pastoral ministry and toward an academic career in theology.  Once I had realized theology as a churchly discipline and could better appreciate the ministerial function of this particular intellectual work, I was able to feel more at home with my own gifts and not as if I were playing an ill-fitting role (and badly) as someone aspiring to pastoral ministry. 

While I would not say that I now take theology to be any less "ecclesial" or theorizing about the church any less important so far as it goes, these commitments have certainly receded from obvious prominence in my theological work.  Indeed, while I still write about church structures a good deal, I don't hold nearly as many strong theological opinions about "The Church" as I used to, and I think that the popularity of ecclesiology as a theological sub-discipline is in many respects harmful to good theological work.  It too often leads to an unnecessary metaphysics of what is really a pretty mundane (if awe-inspiring) social structure.  And this sort of over-theorized ecclesiology isn't simply my diagnosis of the "ecclesial" camps in theology.  The various event-oriented ecclesiologies are just as concerned with a proper systematic account of "the Church," and therefore just as liable to making too much of the Church as a theoretical entity.

I obviously haven't given up on the theological importance of the churches.  I simply don't think that pursuing a theory of the Church tends to be very worthwhile or interesting.  There is no Ecclesia vera to speak of.  We only really have an Evangelium verum as a workable basis for enduring theological reflection.

Although it sounds counter-intuitive, this is why ecclesiology should be more ecclesiastical.  Not because the ecclesiastical structures of the churches are infused with some metaphysical import... quite the opposite, actually.  Because the churches do not exist on the basis of an ideal ecclesial form, theological reflection upon the churches is best served by an emphasis on the nuts and bolts of the structures of Christian life in community.  I came around to this stance in my work on problems in Anglican canon law.  The specifics of polity are usually absent in more rarefied discussions of ecclesiology, which trade much more in talk of "Spirit" and "unity" and things that somehow, whole cloth, "make the Church".  The problem with codification is that it doesn't make for nearly as dramatic a statement.  A Church doesn't stand or fall on the particularities of ordination rubrics the way that it does in the case of big themes like "Constantinianism" or "Theosis."  The latter will preach.  Quibbling about the former runs the risk of joining those theologians who talk about angels dancing on pinheads.

But pursuing a preachy ecclesiology of grand schemes runs the risk of seeing the churches through the lens of overwrought categories and thereby missing out on the more mundane theoretical work that actually helps the myriad communions of our Gospel to work alongside one another in conscious structural tandem.  I've come to really enjoy picking apart small problems with ecclesial structures and not worrying so much about what it means to "be the Church".  Solving these problems can actually get some real work done.  Offering yet another vision de Ecclesia might inspire or provide a new vocabulary for describing our communal situation, and I don't want to minimize that.  But we have more than enough of such visions at our disposal already, and in any case the practice of this sort of ecclesiology comes pretty naturally to any reader of the Scriptures or hearer of the preached Word.  In contrast, there is a real lack of good technical work of an ecclesiastical bent, and I think that theological reflection on ecclesiology would be best served by tending more toward these ecclesiastical concerns.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A few items...

  • Notre Dame announces its first endowed chair in Byantine theology.  The chairholder will have joint appointments in the Medieval Institute and the Theology Department. 
  • Travis has posted a rough translation by Matt Bruce from the newly published Eberhard Busch Tagebuch 1965-68.  The volume offers biographical material on Busch's work with Barth.  And good news... Tom Kraft has confirmed that T&T Clark is working on a translation.
  • Two recent articles on Schleiermacher... Robert Merrihew Adams on philosophical aspects of his Christology, and Johannes Wischmeyer on his involvement with the founding of the University of Berlin. [the second link goes straight to a pdf download]
  • There has been a lot of discussion on blogs about George Monbiot's article on academic publishing, which I mentioned a few days ago.   Anthropologi.info has a post worth reading that summarizes a number of responses.  Many involve open access solutions, either official ones or personal posting articles in violation copyright agreements.  I continue to think that a sustainable market of scholarly literature is possible and useful, and that individual scholars can do the most good by 1) avoiding publishing in journals that perpetuate the problem (I know this can make it tough for theologians when so many of our journals are at presses like Wiley-Blackwell), and 2) writing to the editorial boards of those journals and letting them know about your concerns.
  •  A conference at the University of Chicago Divinity School on Eriugena and Creation, in honor of Edouard Jeauneau of the Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies.

    Saturday, September 3, 2011

    Bibliographic notes: Röhr, Ernesti

    I have tried to avoid writing too many posts of the following sort, out of concern that they would be unhelpful or uninteresting to most readers.  But the problem of resource availability has been on my mind lately... instigated in its present iteration, I think, by Robert's comments on interlibrary loan services.  So bear with me if the particulars of this post are irrelevant to you.  You may still be interested in my introductory remarks, and may resonate with "the chase" in its narrative aspects even if your own bibliographic pursuits are taking you elsewhere.

    Apart from books that are in print or otherwise widely available, a good deal of the textual material used by the deeper-digging scholar is going to be difficult to find.  This may be because a text is terribly old yet not one of those lucky Digitized, or because it is an orphan secondary source from more recent decades.  Scholarly journals from previous centuries (as I'll mention below) can also be a huge pain to track down unless your library has a pretty extensive collection.  You'll find (some of) them in digitized form, but the (lack of) cataloging work on them is so bad that one can only make heads or tails of dates and issue numbers with some difficulty.

    Big projects to make texts available should of course be supported.  We need more volumes digitized, more reprints available, and more sophisticated ways of sharing amongst libraries.  But it's also imperative to foster a less sophisticated network of sharing.  Small libraries, the grooming of physical book collections, showcasing one's treasured acquisitions... all sound quite antiquated and are usually associated with those Luddite backwaters continuing to dismiss the digital humanities.  I don't understand why that needs to be the case, though.

    In "Unpacking My Library", Benjamin writes, "Even though public collections may be less objectionable socially and more useful academically than private collections, the objects get their due only in the latter."  He is speaking here of the appreciation inherent in personal ownership of objects,  but I would argue that books get their due from the less efficient private circumstances of hoarding and sharing in another sense as well.  Such smaller-scale curating opens up knowledge of these books as much as it closes them off.  The researcher grasping for clues in various library catalogues and database searches will appreciate the odd bibliographic glimpse when it comes along, and register the information in their own inner catalogue of texts to be recalled.  These texts aren't a part of my private collection, but my story of pursuing them is something of a private recollection that goes beyond the vocation of a public collection.

    So, following are bibliographic notes on two texts that I have run across or failed to run across in various formats:  Johann August Ernesti's treatise on the threefold office of Christ, and Johann Friedrich Röhr's review of Schleiermacher's 1820/21 Glaubenslehre (as well as, by extension, the journal in which it was published).

    Johann August Ernesti, de Officio Christi Triplici (1768, 1773, etc.)

    Ernesti's treatise is often cited as a marker for general dissatisfaction with the doctrine of Christ's threefold office on the basis of the ambiguity introduced by metaphorical language to the doctrine of atonement.  The work is easily enough found included in his Opuscula Theologica (1773) pp. 411-438.  The original 1768 edition is barely extant and I haven't found it at all online.  What I didn't realize until a few weeks ago was that Ernesti's treatise was also translated into German and published in 1775.

    I stumbled upon a reference to a Gedanken über einige Stücke in der Lehre von Jesu Christo by Ernesti and was suspicious about the topical similarity, so I checked into it.  The page length seemed wrong considering the Latin was less than thirty pages, but it turned out that the publications was actually two essays: "Ueber die Genugthuung Jesu Christi" and "Ueber das dreifache Amt Christi."  These essay titles are not going to show up in any catalog.  In fact, even the Gedanken by Ernesti might not show up in a catalog.  A number of the (few) worldwide holdings for this title are bound with a 1790 work by Johann Friedrich Jacobi.  The copy at the University of Chicago is actually bound between Jacobi's work and a German translation of Edward Gibbon.  Luckily, the catalogers at the University of Chicago know what they're doing and actually have separate bibliographic records for Jacobi, Gibbon, and Ernesti that all cross-list to the same LC number.  Otherwise, when I went to the catalog with the alternate Ernesti title and a mere suspicion in hand, I would have reached a dead end.  Ueber das dreifache Amt would be hidden under the Gedanken, which in turn would have been hidden under the completely unrelated title by Jacobi.

    Following are some pictures of the volume.  I have not been able to find the German translation digitized anywhere.  You can see that in a few places a reader has corrected or expanded upon Ernesti's citations.  I haven't gone back to the Latin to see if it was an original mistake or one made in the 1775 version (or, for that matter, whether the redactor was the one mistaken).

    Johann Friedrich Röhr,“Besprechung Schleiermachers Glaubenslehre", Kritische Prediger-Bibliothek 4 (1823), 371-394, 555-579.

    This search has been less successful.  Röhr was a rationalist theologian and editor of the journal Kritische Prediger-Bibliothek.  It was in this venue that he published his review of the first edition of the Glaubenslehre in 1823.  Schleiermacher knew and worked with Röhr in other editorial capacities, although he didn't think much of the latter's review of the Glaubenslehre.

    The review is reprinted in the critical edition of Schleiermacher's works, KGA 7.3, pp. 505-523 (I've mentioned the usefulness of KGA 7.3 in a previous post).  Some of the later volumes of Kritische Prediger-Bibliothek are easy enough to find in the United States, and the easiest way to do so is the link through Harvard's library to the digitized versions (as I said above, you can find these by searching through Google Books, but the metadata on these searches is so awful that it takes a good deal more sorting out).  I have not had any luck finding any of the volumes from the 1820's, though.  If you're studying in Continental Europe you may have more luck.  The journal is listed in a number of German universities, but it's listed as a serials title and I'm not sure what individual issue holdings are available.

    So in the case of Röhr's review we can benefit from the prominence of Schleiermacher's work in modern theology and the surrounding literature that it draws to the fore as a result.  But everything else published in the Prediger-Bibliothek during the 1820's remains relatively inaccessible.  There may not be anything groundbreaking in this collection of texts, but surely some published sermons or editorials of the period would be useful to scholars.  Which is, again, why I find this sort of bibliographic note-taking worthwhile.  No current readers of the blog may have any immediate need for this information, but someone who is searching for one of these texts a few years from now could stumble upon my remarks and make a connection to the material that otherwise wouldn't have happened – despite all of the hard work that libraries, Google, and publishers are doing to get the work out there.