Paraphrasing Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon, nobody reads monk Peter Abelard’s theology today, though he was “the keenest thinker and boldest theologian of the 12th Century” and people flocked to him and, so to speak, threw money at him to teach them theology. We read him, if at all, for his love letters to Héloïse, with whom he had an affair.
Still today, one can style oneself a theologian and it will pass without objection — especially if one has an academic degree in the branch of philosophy that has co-opted that title, and even if one is an atheist (I leave it to them to reach modus vivendi with their mirrors in the morning).
That’s a caveat for any sincere Christian apt to be taken in by self-descriptions like “a public and political theologian.” Academic reputations are made by breaking new ground (e.g., in “theology,” clever speculation and inventing or refurbishing heresy). Public reputations are made by calculated provocations (for instance, “Catholic” historian Garry Wills arguing for abolition of the priesthood and demoting the eucharist; mercifully, he doesn’t claim to be a theologian).
That’s not just some renewed snarkiness toward an Orthodox man who has been getting his second 15 minutes of fame lately by reprise of his calculated provocation. I feel the same way when I hear Vigen Guroian or David Bentley Hart described as “theologians.” Maybe. Maybe not. I once heard Billy Graham described as a theologian, too.
However, Orthodoxy has privileged the meaning of the term given by Evagrius Ponticus when he wrote that “If you are a theologian, you will pray truly. And if you pray truly, you are a theologian.” (Treatise On Prayer, 61).
(OrthodoxWiki) Theology of the baser sort (the academic) is one of my besetting temptations, maybe because it’s far easier than true prayer.
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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)