Secular Academics and the Life of the Body of Christ

Fr. Michael, Saint Petroc Magazine, Vol. III, No. 3, September, 2000.

From time to time, I am invited to attend conferences of "theologians" for the apparent purpose of discussing some aspect or other of the history or thought of Christianity.

Such conferences are overwhelmingly people by academics who are called theologians. They are very often purely secular academics who for one reason or another, have seen the study of the history or the teachings of Christianity as a reasonable means of pursuing an academic career. Many of them admit that they are not members of any church and never attend church, some are honest enough to admit that they do not believe in God/the Divinity of Christ/the Virgin Birth/the Crucifixion/the Ascension or all of the above. Nevertheless, their views are treated by the world at large and often by the Romano-protestant churches as being valid expositions of Christianity past and present.

Even those of them who actually do believe in the major tenets of Christianity, even attend a church, are still primarily secular academics, not the "experiencers of God" who alone are regarded by Orthodox Christians as legitimate commentators about the things of God. I admit that I tend to try to differentiate between these two very different breeds, by referring to the secular academics as "theologicians", for want of another handy term.

What is missing in a larger context than the effort of the secular academic theologicians, is that their work is a thing of secular academic study and as such, while perhaps being informative, yet it holds nothing in common with the Church's Sacred Theology and Tradition. Secular History and Sacred Tradition are not and cannot be the same thing.

It was Bishop Dimitri (Royster) I think, who said: "What can secular theology tell us about the Church except to observe times in history and define the changes and movements in the Church by means of geo-politics, socio-economics, philosophies, clashes of personalities, failures of individuals or groups, wars, natural migrations of peoples, pressures of competing religions and so on? When the actual movements of the Church are witness of God's dominion over history and His incarnation in the Church and are accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit. The observable context of these changes and movements, the vagaries of history are only incidental to that truth and may be observed as the mean of a particular movement by conjecture, but never the cause."

The academic study of history applied to the Christian Church sheds no reliable light on the Tradition of the Church which is quite a different thing. The Church sees her Tradition as a non-scholastic view of the life of the Body of Christ (The Church), present and past. Observation of present history in the making, however careful and acute, may give us insight into the nature of current affairs, but ultimately it will tell us very little true history.

The reliance on such scholastic-academic methods for judging the life of the Church is the slow replacement of the perception of the mystery of the life of the Body of Christ with mere philosophical categories and as such, it has to all intents and purposes, overtaken the western Christian bodies entirely. Secular forensic study can never bring about a recognition of the healing reality present in the Church. Such study replaces the Mystery of the life of the Body of Christ with something else entirely and can only hopelessly distort Church tradition and Sacred Theology, creating a breeding ground for heresy and godlessness.