Contra "fides quarens intellectum"

Yesterday, professor Ellen Charry spoke at the first Theological Student Fellowship (TSF) gathering to give her lecture, "Why a Theological Education?" Her response to this question was provocative, to say the least. Essentially her thesis is that Christians must seek no less than a radical overturning of the modern concept of education as the pursuit of knowledge apart from any relation to spiritual and moral formation. Her argument had two enemies: (1) the modern isolation of factual knowledge from practical training education, and (2) Anselm's famous phrase, "faith seeking understanding."

The first is readily understood. Contemporary education is divided between theoretical/systematic education and practical training. In the former, a professor is communicating a corpus of material, a subject matter, to students who must then "know" this information. In the latter, a professor becomes a trainer in practical skills, e.g., group and social skills, money management, organization, speech & rhetoric, leadership, team-building, etc. These two groups are clearly separated (especially at PTS, where systematic theology and "practical theology" are entirely different departments), and their separation results in the need to do much more in the span of three or four years than was previously necessary. In the realm of seminary education, pastors need these practical skills in order to run a church. Prior to this modern dichotomy, it was expected of students that they would come already having such skills from youth. In other words, the home is where one learns such skills. And it's no surprise why educational institutions must supplement students' education in these areas.

Her second target is the much-beloved phrase by Anselm. Prof. Charry blames "faith seeking understanding" for leading Christians down the path of this modern segregation between knowledge and praxis. She argues that this phrase has led Christians to emphasize the accumulation of abstract knowledge apart from their proper spiritual-moral sphere of influence. She proposes we return to a forgotten phrase from Augustine: "the knowledge of God seeking the wisdom of God in love." Here Augustine makes a direct and important connection between knowledge and wisdom, and in fact the two go hand in hand. What we learn in theology should affect us personally and corporately in the pursuit of wisdom -- that is, Christ-likeness. And this pursuit of wisdom occurs "in love," which is love of God and neighbor. Working "in love" prevents the seeker of knowledge and wisdom from isolating the educational journey from one's spiritual formation in relation to God and other persons.

Prof. Charry's lecture was both stimulating and provocative, but it of course needs further reflection. "Faith seeking understanding" is not in itself harmful. I think it is important to retain the emphasis upon faith as the origin of the theological process. However, her emphasis upon wisdom is much needed. Any responses? Anyone wishing to hear more from Charry will have to wait for her new book on this matter entitled God and the Art of Happiness.


It's so refreshing to find a good Anglo-Catholic to listen to... ;-)
Shane said…
um, one might also point out to Charry that Anselm seems to think himself in company with augustine, who says 'credo ut intelligam'. . . . just a thought