- Why medieval people contributed to the theological enterprise
- The role played by theology in medieval society
- The limits placed in theological statements and language
- Medieval Ideas about God
- The role of traditions and the bible in Medieval Context
- Roman Williams take on Theology
- Works Cited
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Medieval theology was the philosophical idea of the Western European philosophers, a period that existed between the fragmentation of the Roman Empires and Renaissance between the 5th and 15th centuries. Philosophers in the medieval period took over from and related much with those of antiquity. Philosophies on Christianity were notably the most influential in medieval times, with the Christian academies adopting firm medieval intellectual cultural doctrines.
This essay endeavors to mitigate the ideological perspectives of Roman Williams in medieval theological presumptions. It seeks to find out whether his assertion on theological integrity is justified in the medieval context. In trying to explain what he means by integrity, Roman William contends that “Discourse is without integrity because it conceals its true agenda, knowing that concealment robs us of our innocence…speech cannot be content with concealment” (William, Theological Integrity, 1). This, to Roman Williams, was a matter of integrity lacking in the medieval theologies. According to him, medieval theologians were not honest in their speeches and discourses, as they did not lead the people in the very right ways of the Christ, but in their own ways of thinking about God and the World as a whole (William, Theological Integrity, 2-3).This paper also attempts to find out whether the stand assumed by Roman Williams was indeed the case in medieval period. Were the rulers, speakers, theologians, or the philosophers of the time short of integrity as he tries to argue? How did their theological works influence the beliefs and faiths of the Christian fraternity? What were the contributions of the traditions and the bible in shaping reality about God? What do other theological writers like John of Damascene and Thomas Anguinas partake in on theological integrity? These are a few of the questions that this essay seeks to re-address more vividly.
Why medieval people contributed to the theological enterprise
The greatest thinkers of the medieval time were predominantly theologians, but they also addressed perpetual philosophical issues in their endeavors to apprehend the universe. Their activities were marred with conscientious philosophical arguments, conceptual analysis, speeches and platonic discourses, making their philosophical theologies be construed more of an enterprise they were venturing into rather than a profession.
Philosophical theology was becoming a successful enterprise of the time, with the theologians trying to outdo each other in interpreting the world. Their visions in understanding the universe were their greatest motivations towards the enterprise. They therefore had magnanimous influences on the ways of life. Ordinary people were easily moved by the concrete and logical ideologies about the world and the god that was being described to them. Their very activities assimilated much of those from the traditional rulers and leaders, though slightly transformed.
“In the language of those in control which will be essentially about the rights to control and the powerless in presence of the powerful, which takes on the images and the definitions offered by the latter as the only possible means to access to their world, their resources” (Williams, Theological Integrity, 6). Williams in this case highlighted the aspect of believes and contribution of the people in the theologian enterprise under the influence of the rulers and the philosophers.
In the classical times, prior to medieval theologies, God’s presence and people’s beliefs in His existence were manifested in many ways. Among such common ways were in the form of symbols, statutes, images, ornaments and instruments. And as the work of Pseudo Dionysius titled “The Mystical Theology” confirms, “In my symbolic theology, I have discussed analogies of God drawn from what we perceive. I have spoken of the images we have of him, of the forms, figures and instruments proper for him” (Dionysius, The Mystical Theology, 138).The use of symbols to present God then became a controversial debate in the medieval era, with the philosophical theologians taking a rather firm stand against the reasoning that people had behind using symbols and statutes to acknowledge the existence of God the Almighty. But from Roman Williams’s point of view, people were free to acknowledge and speak about God and the ways of Christ in any form they preferred, as long as it was the honest and moral way acceptable in the Universe (William, Theological Integrity, 4-6).
The role played by theology in medieval society
The main agenda of theology in medieval context was to promote not strictly the Christian faith and believe in the Almighty God, but to endorse morality in the world, what theologians like Roman Williams termed as the moral universe (William, Theological Integrity, 3). And since the theological philosophers concentrated much on the Christian ways of life, theology became like part and parcel of Christianity, transforming the word of God into more of political matter than a spiritual scripture as Williams contends by saying, “Such a lack of integrity in speech is manifestly a political matter” (William, Theological Integrity, 6).
According to Thomas Anguinas, “The King and the Load of heavens set down this law from all eternity that the gifts of his providence should come to the lower through intermediaries. Hence Dionysius in the celestial Hierarchy 5 says, and he quotes: “It is the most sacred law of the divinity that things in middle should be led to his divine light by first things” (Aquinas, Commendation and Division of Sacred Scriptures, 5-1).This was not to be the case in the medieval context, as the theologians chose to make it their own business of interpreting the ways of the lord based on their logical thinking capacities. There was no “low-less-ness” in their arguments. They wanted the world to hear their providence of what they asserted as the living reality about God. The philosophers perceived traditions of Christianity merely as ideas that had no proves of logic and science.
The limits placed in theological statements and language
Statements and language of the medieval theologies were hard nuts to crack. They were characterized by axioms, allegories, aphorisms, dialogue, disputations, meditations, soliloquies and commentaries. “Discourses that conceals its discourse that consciously or not sets out to foreclose the possibility of a genuine response” (Williams, Theological Integrity, 1).The limits that the theologians placed on their discourses were therefore short of integrity as per the arguments of Roman Williams.
Philosophical and or theological texts were scripted in various forms that were majorly found in the ancient times, totally not synonymous to either the modern or the classical incarnations. Theologians in the medieval era conducted their works under the pressure of censorship from political and religious authorities that were constantly on their case. Their peculiar language and statements were a strategy used as a scapegoat from persecutions. The language was too technical and very difficult to be understood by ordinary people or those who were not trained as theologians or philosophers of that time. This kind of strictly narrowed down communication was therefore limited to the medieval thinkers.
In the theological work titled, “The Mystical Theology”, Pseudo Dionysius probes the case of language and sentences used in medieval world. The work has in fact helped us understand to what extent the language used by the medieval philosophers was obscured and meaningless to the ordinary people, what they termed as the mystery in the words, dialogues, speeches and all sorts of discourse (Dionysius, The Mystical Theology, 138-139). Roman Williams referred to it simply as lack of Theological Integrity (Williams, Theological Integrity, 6-9)
Medieval Ideas about God
Medieval ideas about God were dominantly a matter of controversies, disputations and argumentations. They had no permanent or unified belief in one God. To them, if at all there was God, then there were also many ways of acknowledging that belief, that is, by doing what according to them was godly in the moral universe.
As John of Damascene notes,”…I see the Church, which God built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ his son being the cornerstone, battered as by the surging sea overwhelming assault of wicked spirits…”, the medieval ways of Christ were at the verge of living the right paths of the load, following the powerful ideological influences of the medieval theologians and philosophers who had the wills of the people at their hands. There were no clear paths to guide the righteous people to the living reality about God. (Damascene, Three Treatises on the Devine Images, 19)
The role of traditions and the bible in Medieval Context
The traditional ideologies of the classical thinkers contributed significantly to the medieval works. Most of their ideas about the spiritual world were borrowed from the classical thinkers like Aristotle. Bible scriptures took a center stage in their arguments, as they struggled to debate on and dispute technical clauses of the bible. On the same note, it also acted as a point of reference and a source of knowledge to them about God, to find out what their predecessors said about Him.
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Roman Williams take on Theology
Williams’s stand on theology is broadly based on the honesty manifested when talking about God, which he may have observed to be totally lacking in medieval society. To Williams, it was not right that medieval theologians talked about the ways of Christ in obscurity and in a concealed form, hiding the agendas of their messages (Williams, Theological Integrity, 9-2).
In conclusion, it is apparent that Roman Williams’s assertion on the state of theological Integrity in Medieval context is to a great extent justifiable. As he posits, there was indeed no openness in discourse between the ordinary people, the theologians, politicians and religious leaders. These then were a matter of untrustworthiness in speaking the word of God. Williams’s stand on medieval theology is therefore defensible.
Aquinas, Thomas. Inaugural Lecturers. Commendation and Division of Sacred Scriptures. New York.Penguin.1998.
Damascene, John. Three Treaties on the Devine Images.1st Ed.New York.St.VladimirsSeminary Press Crestwood.2003.19-25
Dionysius, Pseudo. The Mystical Theology. New York.Paulist Press.2003. 218-63
Williams, Romans. Theological Integrity: New York. New Blackfriars.1991.1–9