I like words. No, I love words. I confess that I especially love theological words that I can often italicize, either because I like to emphasize them or (even better), because they are Greek or Latin words, the mere transcribing of which lends credibility to any argument. Ekstasis, perichoresis, hypostasis, circumincessio, logos incarnandus, unio mystica, kenosis, plerosis, prolepsis, eschatos, koinonia, visio dei and other such fabulous words and phrases are ones that I want to throw into my writing whenever possible. And I will continue to do so.
However, I would like to suggest that often the mere use of powerful words from our tradition can serve as a way of doing little more than playing a theological role-playing game in which we pretty much just talk a lot of shit without saying anything real. To say it differently, and with more ironic flair, we often spend all our time doing “ontology” without even wondering about what our musings about the nature of being have to say about who or how we ourselves must be.
Many theologians who have drank from the patristic wells have seen how the Christian naming of Jesus as God, and the doctrine of the Trinity constitute a radical interruption in the history of metaphysics which is incredibly subversive. To say that life is victorious over death is the to basically crush the larxnx of the entire world’s intellectual history under your boot in one fell swoop. If Jesus’ resurrection, rather than our inevitable deaths are the true outcome of the world and all human stories, then everything is different. It is a claim that literally destroys everything we’ve ever thought about the world and resurrects something entirely new in its place. If life, rather than death is determinative of the being of the world then, quite literally everything is made new.
However, we’re often able to say such things in ways that are so boring and utterly suspect because of the way in which we ultimately fear what it might mean if our radically Christian view of the world might be true. Do we dare live as if life rather than death will finally triumph? And not just finally, but now, in my life and in my concrete comings and goings? The simple fact of the matter is that the wider wisdom of the world constrains our lives in ways that are far to manifold to count. We live as though self-protection is, at the end of the day, really how things must be done if we’re to really live. Oh, sure we still play our linguistic role-playing games, and say stuff like “being is ek-static” or “personhood is realized in communio”, but such statements are really just words that are thrown out by a bunch of people who live their lives pretty much on the basis of the “denial of death.”
I intend to malign no one except for myself. The point I am making is simply this: our ontologies don’t matter unless they are embodied in our lives. The problem with doing a radically Christian ontology is not that it isn’t possible or that no such radical ontology exists, the problem is that we’re not able to live with the results. If we truly believe that the resurrection rather than death is the last word about life, that means that we’re going to have to live as if death does not matter. And we’re just not quite ready to swallow that. Can we really live in a way that bears witness to our confession that life is more powerful than death. Can our ontology be an ontology of martyrdom?
The thing is, most of us won’t because if we do then we have to die. And death, despite our claims and italicized words is pretty much still sovereign over our imaginations. If I were to state what I think it takes to be a truly great theologian, it would probably be something along the lines of “One who practices the rationality of the martyrs.” The question for us is whether or not that is a rationality we are willing to follow to the end.