Gregory of Nyssa’s On Virginity: Beauty Will Save the World

Continued from here.

According to Gregory of Nyssa, virginity is a sign to us of spiritual detachment, which is itself the restoration of the human creature to a state of order, purity, and peace. The goal of detachment is contemplation of the perfect and infinite beauty of God and participation in it.

Evangelicals are not known for their attention to beauty. The other transcendentals, truth and goodness, have a clear place, but at least on a popular level, beauty rarely seems to make an appearance. The reason for this lies to a certain extent in our Protestant heritage. The Reformers were eager to strip away the aura of mystery that seemed to give so much power to the priests. Beauty was regarded by many as suspicious and deceptive, and so it was divided from truth. Today we waver between iconoclasm and spectacle.

Gregory is one of the first and greatest theologians of divine beauty, and perhaps we may look to him to begin to recover a robust doctrine. To discuss the beauty of God is to enter into another theological conversation too vast for me, so I will content myself for the most part with describing Gregory’s use of the language of beauty, as Gregory invokes the very archetype words can never truly capture.

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Ancient-Future Faith: A Review

PALEO-ORTHODOXY. This term, at its broadest, refers to a general movement among evangelicals, especially young conservative evangelicals, toward recovery of early-church teaching and practice. For some, this means conversion to Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy, or the less dramatic move to Anglicanism. But for many, this simply means a desire to structure one’s religious life to be more in accord with the Fathers of the Church and classical Christian teaching. The self-consciously Paleo-Orthodox movement, associated especially with Methodist theologian Thomas Oden, seeks to reincorporate the richness of the Christian tradition while remaining firmly Evangelical. Though it is only one among many diverse movements within postmodern Evangelicalism, Paleo-Orthodoxy’s proponents believe it may point the way to the future of Evangelicalism.

I could not fix a definite denominational label to myself, but “Paleo-Orthodox” makes a passable filler term, indicating as it does a serious interest in Classical Christianity. That said, I have never hitherto read something from a consciously Paleo-Orthodox author. I have usually gone directly to the Church Fathers, or sometimes to members of those traditions which hold them most dear (Catholics and Orthodox). What I have read directly or mediately has been concerned with the Fathers as such, or the continuing theological tradition. However, Paleo-Orthodoxy as a movement is about more than looking back; it is about finding a way for classical Christianity to influence who we are today, as evangelicals.

Ancient-Future Faith: Rethinking Evangelicalism for a Postmodern World purports to be a kind of Paleo-Orthodox primer. The late author Robert Webber, a Wheaton professor of theology, was one of the more outstanding figures in the Paleo-Orthodox movement. He was born Baptist and studied in Anglican, Presbyterian, and Lutheran seminaries, eventually settling in the Episcopal Church but working across denominations. Webber was particularly interested in worship ancient and modern, and today has the ecumenical Institute for Worship Studies in Florida, of which he was first president, named after him. He died in 2007 of pancreatic cancer. Ancient-Future Faith, published in 1999, is one of four books in the “Ancient-Future” series.

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