Thoughts on the Church Year II, as “Doxological Foundation for Irregular Dogmatics”

Tony SigIf we’re to take the traditional task of systematic theology to be, if not dead at least put strongly into question by critical philosophy and theology (notice for instance how Moltmann calls his work “contributions to systematic theology”), yet at the same time participate in a “second naivety” allowed by such thinkers as Ricoeur and Milbank, then the canonical shape of the Year can act as a doxological ‘foundation’ for irregular dogmatics.  We are used to pastoral reflections,  sermons and prayers for the Church Year, but it seems to me that the Year could offer more with regards to even academic theology.

The Year obviously gives room for the traditional ‘topics’ – ie. Eschatology, Incarnation, Atonement, etc… – but requires that appropriate theological speculation take the route taken by the Evangelists.  That way, when talking about, say, the Incarnation, after examining the horizon of interpretation given in the opening chapters of the Gospels, from there theological reflection could move in interesting directions.

[As a post script to my last post, I forgot to mention this Eastern Orthodox catechism which does precisely as I envisioned there.  I can’t wait to check it out.]

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13 Comments

  1. This is a really intriguing proposal. It would obviously locate the theological task in the church’s common worship. But given that the liturgical year is itself organized around the life of Christ, it would also make “irregular dogmatics” inherently Christological. Thanks for the prompt.

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  2. Yeah,

    I often think that the church year could aid ecclesiology. For instance, if the church were to live more by the church calendar instead of the civic calendar, then its life would be, by definition, more different. A kind of post-secular polis would be more readily evident.

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  3. Thanks for linking to that resource. I would like to respond more substantially but I find this area of my thinking is currently in major upheaval so hopefully future engagement is coming!

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    1. @DrJKAS – Glad to oblige.

      @Jarrad – Welcome to the blog. I think you’re right, I’ve thought about this often as I’m in a public school where “CE” and “BCE” have become the norm for dating (as just a cursory example). I’m reminded of a little Anglo-catholic seminary, Nashotah House, where the semesters are still “Michaelmas Term” and “Easter Term.”

      @David – Hhhmmm, care to elaborate?

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  4. I wouldn’t count out systematic theology based on current trends in philosophy or theology. Trends tend to be, well, trendy. I expect a resurgence of systematic theology in a decade or so.

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    1. George – If systematics make a “comeback” then we might as well just recognize that nothing will ever beat the Summa and move on.

      skholiast – Welcome to the comment section and thanks for the encouragement. I don’t disagree with APS but I am still trying to learn more about how, where and if human action and divine power and/or action “line up” so to speak.

      Richard – I don’t know when I’ll get one but I’ll be sure to post about it. Catachesis is something I’ve got a strong interest in.

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  5. Have enjoyed both these posts as well as the back&forth on David’s blog. I hope to have some riff on this same theme in the next little while– it is a matter close to my heart. I certainly agree with Anthony Paul Smith’s comment over there that the church year is indeed a creation of human beings, but with this proviso– that it is after all a creation that structures a cosmic reality (the round of seasons); and that it has been made with especial care with an eye to the spiritual formation of those who worship according to it. I think most of this formation does not go on at the level of express “instruction,” like catechesis, but then, the most important stuff rarely does… and the church fathers knew it.

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  6. The Catechism you mentioned is (1) wonderful and (2) available as a preview on Google Books. Another non-systematic theology by the same author is “The Roots of Christian Mysticism,” by Olivier Clement.

    You are on to something here, Tony! Thanks for posting.

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  7. I recently read Erazim Kohak’s “The Embers and the Stars” which is a phenomenological look into nature/culture. In it, Kohak writes against time in the uber-linear way that it is constructed. He opts for a time that points to the eternal…which is to say that he wishes to live his life according to the natural rhythms of the world – seasons, sun rises, sun sets, new moons and the like. Our bodies are naturally adjusted to this kind of living. Through modern techne (not all to be done away with or anything, he is not a luddite) we have changed these rhythms (think of lighting our house at night. it completely shuts all darkness out) and in a sense cut ourselves off from the natural rhythms of the world. In some sense (I admit, this is vague), I think the church calendar, even being humanly constructed, helps us to live with the natural rhythms of the seasons…and to live in light of revealed Grace…which becomes a rhythm all its own. Our secular/civic calendar seems to mark time in an unnatural way to me. It does not point to the eternal, instead it is always looking for the “future” fullness of some mythological utopia.

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