Theology without the Lines

Imagine some centuries ago, a pregnant woman is placed in a dungeon.  She gives birth to a son while in this prison.  Having no windows except one near the top that allows some sunlight in during the day, the woman uses a pencil and paper pad, her sole possessions, and draws pictures for her son.

The pictures include things such as trees, flowery landscapes, mountains, and some animals.  The boy treasures these sketches for he has never seen the outside world.  Whenever the boy imagines the great outdoors, it is consequently in the form of pencil sketches.

One day, he is released from the dungeon.  Squinting in the bright sunlight, he is shocked to find that the world around him is not composed of pencil marks, but rather of objects that have no hard outlines.  The leaves on the trees, the branches, the birds, and the sun need no outlines because their very essence fills the places that the lines symbolized.

***

Here in our world, the scriptures and the theology of the church have been bestowed upon us by those fathers who, with a purified heart, have experienced theoria.  They have caught glimpses of this expansive Other World and bequeath to us their pencil sketches in the form of enlightened theology.

Sometimes we argue about what the sketches actually represent, but the sketches must remain.Many people of the modern era wish to remove the lines on the paper and replace them with ones of their own imagining.  But the proper lines are necessary for cohesion, unity, and a correct understanding of the great Other World.  Without any lines, we have only abstract pencil marks on a paper. There is no freedom in such a thing, only confusion.

For this reason, it is important that we cling to what the fathers of the church have given us in scripture and theology.  Whatever images they have provided have been utilized for a reason, though those of us who have not experienced theoria may not understand.

Some examples: Though spirits are genderless, God is our Father in heaven, and not our mother.  Jesus is His Son, and not the daughter.  The Church is the bride of Christ.  Heaven is referred to as being “up,” hades and hell are spoken of as “down.”  The New Jerusalem will have “streets of gold,” and “gates of carbuncle.”  Angels are depicted as winged creatures, though of course they have no need of feathers or wings.  The journey that the soul undergoes when departing from the body is referred to as “toll houses,” though there are no literal boxes in the sky manned by demons.

We may not understand why the lines have been drawn a certain way, but we trust that those who have caught a glimpse of the Other World have sketched things according to a certain purpose.  At this point, we must stay within the lines.  Sometime later, we will experience theology without the lines.

I don’t want to be severely limiting though.  There is of course room for creative expression and revelation of the symbolism behind the outlined objects, especially by those who have been illumined by the Holy Spirit.  But the meaning does not change, it is deepened.  It is like going from a square to a cube.  The former square is still there, but the object has been made more complete.  When we approach theology, we must not despise the pencil outlines, the “squares,” for these are the building blocks of the cubes that will come.


Image source

Theoria definition (Met. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos): Theoria is the vision of the glory of God. Theoria is identified with the vision of the uncreated Light, the uncreated energy of God, with the union of man with God, with man’s theosis. Thus, theoria, vision and theosis are closely connected. Theoria has various degrees. There is illumination, vision of God, and constant vision (for hours, days, weeks, even months)… Source

The idea for this blog came from a lecture by CS Lewis, though I can’t remember which one.

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Jeremiah

Growing up in non-denominational churches, I became weary of many practices in the church. I decided it was time to find a church that enabled me to grow in my faith and talents, but that was also theologically deep. I was drawn to the Eastern Orthodox Church for several reasons. Check out my blog which details my journey into this ancient faith.