Nothing is as difficult as true theology. Simply saying something correct is beside the point. Correctness does not rise to the level of theology. Theology, rightly done, is a path towards union with God. It is absolutely more than an academic exercise. Theology is not the recitation of correct facts, it is the apprehension and statement of Beauty.
It is this aspect of liturgical life that makes it truly theological. It is also the failure of most contemporary Christian worship efforts. Gimmicks, emotional manipulation and a musical culture that barely rises above kitsch reveal nothing of God – and embarrassingly much about us.
This is equally a failure of theological argumentation in most quarters. Authoritative sources, managed like so-many hands of trump cards, are deftly played in order to dominate and destroy. But words have a divine origin, having preceded all of creation. They have a right relationship with every created thing. Just as in the beginning, every word brought something into existence, so every word, in right relationship, reveals creation to be what it truly is, and in so doing, makes God known, even present.
Theology looks for the words, in the right relationship, in the right order, at the right time. Written, spoken, sung, carved, inscribed, printed or lighting a digital screen, they share and commune the relationship, in the right order, at the right time to the right one. Sometimes a single word suffices.
But every word has its own meaning, or expresses and carries the reality of a thing-in-relation. All of creation is the words God spoke and speaks and waits in expectation to be heard.
And this is the task of theology: to hear the words God speaks and write them down.
There were also other words spoken – not in the beginning but soon: “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?”
These are counter-words, non-words. Words that abuse: God; said; you; eat; tree; garden. The right words, in the wrong order, to the wrong person, at the wrong time. A death of theology, or a theology of death.
I break here for a more prosaic set of thoughts. Writing theology, in whatever manner, must always strive towards repeating the words of God. There are many things that use “God-words.” Sometimes they can even be the words of the Creed or Councils or beloved Fathers. They can give life or they breed death. They can lift up or crush.
I frequently encounter a form of spiritual abuse: the use of true words to do untrue things. Words never stand by themselves. You cannot simply place them before someone and proclaim: “The text says!” That a statement is “true” can also be used to pretend that its every use is justified – that truth “de-weaponizes” any statement. Tragically, the very truth of a statement can give it the power that makes its use as a weapon so devastating. The reality is that “truth” wielded in such a fashion ceases to be the truth.
When Christians appropriately observe that “truth is a Person,” they should recognize that this extends far beyond the recognition that Christ Himself is the Truth. It should recognize that mere factual truth is insufficient. It is relational (a fundamental reality of what it means to be Person). It must be the right thing in the right way at the right time, etc. In short, this is the union of truth and love. For the Christ who is the Truth, is also the God who is love, and they cannot be separated.
The truth that is love is the content of another word: good. Thus when St. Paul says that “all things work together for good,” he is describing the apokatastasis (Acts 3:21), God’s unfolding salvation of the whole of creation. That unfolding is a movement towards truth in love. All created things are becoming more fully what they are meant to be in relationship with God and all things around them. This movement is “good.”
Theology, at its most profound level, participates in this same movement. It reveals, through the shared word, the good work of God. In doing this, it invites the one who understands to participate, through self-offering and acceptance, in the life and work of the good God. And that is true beauty.