Before Philosophy and Theology

There’s something more primal than either philosophy or theology.

Philosophy and theology each have their own proper fields of investigation. For instance, questions of a purely epistemological nature would seem to rest entirely in the domain of philosophy, whereas the doctrine of atonement is more a theological area of study.

There is a place where the two do extensively overlap, which is in the discussions of what is called natural theology. What can be known about the divine and its relation to our existence through reason and the observation of natures and that sort of thing? In this case, philosophers from their side and theologians from their side can ask the same questions and ultimately will have their answers judged by the same criteria.

But when I speak of the something that is more primal, I’m not thinking of natural theology. I am thinking of what comes before natural theology, and makes natural theology possible.

I mean the reality toward which the experiences of the mystics direct us.

Among philosophers and theologians alike there is often a bit of an embarrassed silence on the subject of mysticism. That’s not to say everyone is silent — certainly not. There is a thriving literature on the subject, in philosophy and theology alike.

But outside that narrow discussion, there is plenty of silence.

Philosophers writing on any subject would not be shy to invoke contemporary discussions of ethics, or ontology, or logic, if they felt it was relevant to what they were trying to say. These are tools of the trade, after all!

Likewise, theologians writing on any theological subject would not hesitate to bring up the doctrine of Scripture, or of soteriology, or of creation, if there was a valid connection.

For the most part, however, we seem to prefer that mysticism would just stay in its room and not come out to disturb anybody.

I’m speaking too broadly. I’m sure there are some circles where what I’ve said will be untrue, or at least where things are beginning to change. But I do have a sense that overall, what I’ve said here does have some truth in it.

What is beyond philosophy and theology? It is the unified, abundant reality that surpasses all speech. It is that which is somehow like thought but also completely above thought, and without which we could not think.

If our deepest thoughts are like roots, then I am speaking of something like the soil around those roots, the thing which never in itself enters fully into our thought, but which is nonetheless also the source and the sustenance of all thought.

Theology must study God insofar as it is possible to do so in human words, but theology itself has to admit that God, as God, is always outside the reach of human words (or at least our comprehension of our own words), and thus that theology is always pointing past itself to something beyond speaking, even perhaps beyond thinking. I believe something similar could be said of philosophy, mutatis etcetera.

We lift up our hearts.

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