Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Theological Breadth, Interconnection, Tradition, and Gender: Hildegard, Hadewijch, and Julian Today

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Theological Breadth, Interconnection, Tradition, and Gender: Hildegard, Hadewijch, and Julian Today

Article excerpt

As women theologians, especially, have made dear, we and our world are complex. We need theology which relates that complexity coherently to God. In that regard there is something to be learned from medieval theological reflections, which are often much more comprehensive than we may imagine or than our modern specialists may suggest. Heirs to a classical educational syllabus, writers in the Middle Ages instinctively interconnected, and enriched their Godward thinking with their understanding of language, symbolism, society, the physical world, philosophy, ethics, personal being, aesthetics, and more. This is especially true of the three women discussed in the article, all of whom, judged by these criteria, wrote more effectively than even Anselm or Aquinas. Here, then, we have resources and encouragement for a more engaged, more immediate, and more widely "in touch" shared response to God in Christ in the power of the Spirit.

"I have a very simple faith. Why do theologians have to make things so complicated?" Perhaps we sympathize. Yet life is not simple, our world is not simple, and even the simplest of us is veiy complex. And the God some of us hope to get to know better holds together, and even in some way correlates, all this complexity. The best theological reflection we can each manage individually and engage in together must surely encompass and interlink as much as possible of that complexity.

Women theologians seem more likely to include in their work a greater breadth of interconnected fields of concern, and more disciplined attention to them, than the majority of their male colleagues. That is, admittedly, a subjective conviction, but it is based on reading and on seminars chosen by topic, not by author. In fact, overtly feminist writers do very often explicitly claim just such a breadth of interest, though they leave any comparison with male colleagues implicit.1

There is no attempt here to "essentialize" women theologians on the basis either of subjective conclusion or of overt intention, although it would seem understandable that women should be likely to find more that is questionable and so, more questions worth addressing. My concern in what follows is with breadth and interconnectedness in theological method and concern. First, I mean to argue that a breadth of theological concern is classical, or, one might say, historically foundational, for Christian reflection and believing. secondly, and at greater length, I wish to show that once we have access to comparable theological reflection from women and men, in the medieval period in the Christian West, it does seem to have been possible for the women to recover something of that early breadth, in ways that many men and women today may find illuminating and formative. Modern Christian theological reflection continues to engage with its past as indispensable resource. I urge that in our current reflections we pay more grateful attention to early, medieval, and contemporary achievements of breadth and interconnectedness; and, to that end, that in church and academy we also pay more expectant attention to this aspect of the work of women colleagues doing theology today in a wide range of contexts.

It is clear to all commentators that the articulate Christian leaders who in the first four centuries settled our canon of writings and shaped our ways of appropriating them, and who gave us our creedal formularies, had all received what we still call a "classical education," the trivium and quadrivium that together encompassed, at least in principle, all accepted ways to attain and share knowledge of all there was to be known.2 What seems less readily acknowledged is the extent to which that breadth was deployed pervasively in the theological reflections of those whose writings have come down to us. Surveys pick out contentious conclusions on divine unity and Trinity and Incarnation and other topoi, abstracted from the original warp and weft, as though the latter were mere packaging. …

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