The conference ended Saturday, and I am still recovering from the 20 or so presentations I attended. My Saturday presentations were:
“Novatian on the Nature of the Father and the Son”
“Apophaticism and the Language of Revelation in Hilary of Poitier’s De Trinitate”
“The First Person Singular in Hilary of Poitier’s De Trinitate”
“The Evolution of Nicene Theology in the Church of the East”
“After Babel? Rome 410 and the Transformation of Patristics”
I found DH Williams presentation on the development of eastern Christianity particularly fascinating. By eastern is meant Persia and beyond into Central Asia and China. The point made was that Christianity was very much indigenous to these areas and not the importation of Western structures and formulations. Of the seven ecumenical councils there is found only an emphasis on the first two councils, and there is consistent restatement of Nicene theology apart from an exact rendering of the Nicene Creed.
In fact, there is no one dominating creed in the East but continual restatements. The typical accusation in the academy that Western theology is imperialistic. The facts don’t support it.Chrisitanity has a power all of its own to win the hearts and minds of nations and peoples.
I found it interesting to attend an academic conference in which the subject is early Christianity and its cultural impact without the framework of piety or visible spiritual commitments.
The meetings were sheerly academic. This had a positive impact on me. There were no topics out of bounds and there was no apology for intellectual curiosity. I often found this to produce a better Christianity than I have found at many a so-called Christian conference. Of course, there were many professing Christians presenting and listening. But the bottom line is that Christianity is a historical phenomenon of such impact that it deserves explanation and exploration. Its concepts and categories flowed into the ancient world and changed culture, politics, economies, social structures and lives by the millions. The dismissive attitudes of the new atheism can’t stand in such a meeting. It thinks in too private terms as if Christianity is only a personal preference that this or that person may have. In fact, Christianity is the very air being breathed by both Christian believer and non-Christian skeptic.
After three days of meetings, going to church on Sunday was an interesting contrast. In a typical non-denominational church manner, the service was ahistorical. The presentation was totally in terms of psychological states of being, as if there was no real history, no thought structures, and no handrails to guide reflections. It was supposedly Christian worship but with no reference to God as trinitarian, no mention of the Holy Spirit, no assertion that Jesus was God or even passing allusion to His sacrificial death on the cross. I no longer wonder how this happens. I think I know.
It is simply a disconnect with the church. These people are believers, deeply so. But there is no real, live connection with church as church. It is mostly what we make up and frame according to the moment.
Church history is a referee who is free to blow the whistle when our gatherings no longer bear any resemblance to the Great Tradition that stands over time and sometimes against it to bear witness to Father, Son and Holy Spirit. At worship I could hear the whistle being blown again and again.