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  • Writer's pictureDr. Anthony Lilles

Contemplation of the Truth and the Study of Theology

One cannot do theology without rediscovering that which the ancient Christians called contemplation. What is contemplation? It means to behold. For the ancient Christians, there was not a huge distinction between reading Scriptures, meditation, study, prayerful reflection, and contemplation. The Latin terms could be used almost synonymously because reading without meditation or study or prayerful reflection or contemplation was for them inconceivable. They sought a certain kind of knowledge, studied for a particular science, a wisdom not of this world informed their search. Good theology remains rooted in this search today. Pope Benedict's Introduction to Christianity discusses how the ancient view of theology and contemplation was rooted in a particular understanding of the truth which rarely informs contemporary conversations. They envisioned the truth to be that which frees us to be more fully human, for fully alive. A kind of light which helps us find what it means to be truly human in the darkness of our inhumanity. They sought that which would make them thrive, that would free their potential to more fully live and more deeply love. They sought a freedom causing truth. Organizing, memorizing, regurgitating, applying pieces of information – our contemporary prejudice verum quia factum-- they would have thought more of an art than actual knowledge. Knowledge, wisdom did not consist, for them, principally in knowing how to do something. Yet such art was not unrelated to the truth they sought to know. Possession of the truth they believed liberated the human spirit in fact could be obtained through the facts contained in the Bible or even to a lesser degree in the teachings of a great saint was the whole reason they read, studied and commented on the Sacred Page. But study was never about limiting oneself to mastering these facts alone. Rather, the propositions of our faith and the events of salvation history they saw as part of a greater whole through which the glory of God was peaking out of them.

The great Christian thinkers, the contemplatives approached the sacred text as if gazing at pieces of stained glass arranged by a master hand, exquisite shards of color which disclosed their wonder only when illuminated by an outside light shining through them – a great rose window. In this view of knowledge, we seek this illuminating truth by which things are understood not in terms of their usefulness, but more in terms of themselves. What shines through the truths of our faith, what these truths bear is the Light that shines in the darkness. Such truth is not something one produces but searches for and something finds only when it discloses itself to you. To know, for them, would be to see, behold, gaze at what is with wonder. Verum est ens – Truth is what is – truth is what exists.

This is how they approached Christ in prayer. They sought Him as the Way, the Truth and the Life. Study of the Sacred Page was the soul of their theology because they would look for the Word which the words of the Bible bear and communicate to us. All of Scriptures resound with this Word who only fully expressed Himself with his last wordless cry of abandonment and trust on the Cross. This Word, this truth, this reason, this harmony, this glory, this mediation of God the Father; this is the source of all life and our only salvation in the face of death. This Truth exposes the lie of sin and establishes us in integrity when we surrender to it. To search for this saving Truth one must read, ponder, meditate, prayerfully consider, open the heart, beg in compunction, repent, convert, contemplate, gaze at, appreciate the connections and take in the whole of who Christ is and what He has done for us. In the midst of this effort, He discloses his living presence in an undeniable way. This encounter, this event in one’s life, this eternal event which has invaded our history is transformative. It is to be made vulnerable by the One who was vulnerable unto death. It is to be pierced to the heart by the One who was pierced for us. When one knows how much he is loved by the Truth a love of the truth explodes in the heart. Life is never the same again. Then and only then does one know anything the ancient Christians believed was theology. Then and only then has one contemplated like the Christians who came before us.

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