Let’s face it: Cyril would probably get a 2ii on GCS and a 3rd on Philosophy of Religion

I want to pick up some stuff that Emily wrote and run with it for a bit. She wrote “For someone who has come through the joint degree in Philosophy and Theology, I think it is hard to avoid feeling some tension regarding the way in which we think when dealing with different areas of the course.”

I can definitely see that, and in some ways, the fact that this tension arises is an unfortunate consequence of the fact that analytic philosophy and contemporary (or historical) theology are so sharply separated at the moment.

One reason why I think the Oxford Joint School degree in Philosophy and Theology is so important is that there aren’t many degree programs where students are required to do both analytic philosophy of religion and modern theology. When you add patristics into the mix, students who come through the joint school can be uniquely well-trained, but they can also end up feeling intellectually schizophrenic. I’m not sure whether the fact that at Oriel I teach all three (and I think I’m the only Oxford tutor who does) makes that feeling better or worse for the students. Certainly I feel that way myself sometimes. Like others, I use the phrase “thinking theologically” as somehow distinct from “thinking philosophically” and it’s fair to say that I ought to spend more time trying to say what, if anything, distinguishes them.

I also read Emily’s discussion of Cyril as another version of the question I was trying to ask about when precision becomes false precision. “Cyril vs. contemporary analytic Christologies” is a useful way to think about this problem. The best analytic Christologies are precise, but they are not particularly Cyrilline. And when I imagine trying to defend Cyril to a roomful of analytic philosophers of religion, it doesn’t take long before I also imagine them treating me like a wooly-head nonsense monger. (“He’s taken on a new manner of existing, you see: he is still the unchanging Logos but now he also exists as a man…” Uh huh…) A long term project of mine is try to think about how to do a more analytic presentation of Cyril on the hypostatic union.

In passing, and to wind Ed up a little, I think this is why grammatical-linguistic readings of the incarnation are so appealing but ultimately unsatisfactory. It’s easy to rest content with “Christian discourse requires that we assert that ‘two natures in one person’ is a meta-linguistic rule. It stipulates that we must not say anything that contradicts the joint assertion that Christ is fully human, fully divine, and the sole agent of all the actions of the incarnate word.” No thorny metaphysical problems arise, but that’s because the questions we want to ask have been stipulated away, or defined as beyond the realm legitimate Christian discourse.

Finally, picking up a thread that runs through Emily’s post and several of the others too:  just like analytic history of philosophy can be so valuable when done well (and of course, really bad when done badly), I also think that we really need good analytic historical theology. We have that to some degree with the scholastics, and a bit less with the patristic fathers, but virtually nothing for any other period. An analytic account of Barth or Tillich that is also sympathetic to what they were trying to accomplish would be really valuable, in my view.


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