An Answer to the Call for the Radical Catholic Reimagination of Everything

David Russell Mosley

flammarion-woodcut

Eastertide
Octave of the Ascension
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

A few days ago a new acquaintance (really a kindred spirit and therefore friend, though we’ve not yet met) of mine, Michael Martin, wrote an essay on the Angelico Press blog entitled, “The Radical Catholic Reimagination of Everything.” For those unfamiliar with Martin, he is the Assistant Professor of English and Philosophy at Marygrove College and has written several works, the only one of which I have read thus far is The Submerged Reality: Ophiology and the Turn to a Poetic Metaphysics. Martin is like me, a believer in faërie, a poet (though a far better one as I understand it). I think we both can sign off on this line from an interview with theologian John Milbank, “I mean, I believe in all this fantastic stuff. I’m really bitterly opposed to this kind of disenchantment in the modern churches.” So I was overjoyed when Martin decided to put tires to pavement in a new way (he’s been living this stuff for some time now) when he wrote this essay.

Martin’s essay is a clarion call to those who are like minded in this endeavor which he calls the radical Catholic (and I would add catholic) reimagination of everything, or one might it even call it the C/catholic unveiling of sacramental ontology, for, ultimately, this is what Martin is driving at. At the beginning, Martin, a proponent of sophiology (something on which I hope to write more as I understand more), notes the call to Wisdom (Sophia) that appears at key moments in the Byzantine Liturgy. He then turns to another part of the liturgy, a hymn called  Megalynarion, “The Magnification of Mary.” You can read those for yourself in Martin’s essay. What I want to draw your attention to is this line from Martin:

“My investigation here is not about the liturgy, however, but about the ways in which phenomenology and sophiology discover the same phenomenon: the shining that illuminates the cosmos. This shining speaks in the languages of poetry, languages that take on a myriad of forms and are sometimes mistaken for science, sometimes for theology.”

Martin is calling us to a different way of seeing, but also a different way of doing, of being, simply put of living in reality. Martin understands that certain strains of theology do not allow for this kind of sight. He notes, via Hans Urs von Balthasar, that Neoscholasticism denuded itself of attention to the Glory of the Lord and that this proper attention was passed through certain poets, philosophers, and scientists while it was lost by the theologians. Even were one to disagree with this genealogy, one need only look at trends in theology today to see that this attention the Glory, to Sophia, to sacramental ontology has been ignored by many (though it is making something of return as theologians find themselves once again desiring to return to the sources).

In the end of his essay Martin issues a call to “poets, artists, scientists, adventurers, teachers, communitarians, distributists, scholars, and visionaries who hanker for something more living in Catholic culture.” He does not desire mere theory, men and women sitting in a room talking about how great it would be if. However, it should be obvious that Martin is not against the study of these issues in order to better inhabit these ideas and live this reality. Rather, Martin wants us to act as we talk. Theoretike and Practike must be united. Some may be Marthas and others Marys, but we need both and we need most of all those who are willing to live the hard life being both at once.

And so this is, in my own small way, my answer to Martin’s call. I am a poet, an author, a theologian, a gardener, a distributist, a husband, and a father (and more besides); I am all of those things bound up together and suspended as one made according to the Image. I am ready not simply to think about a sacramental ontology but to live it. This will be hard, already have I been confronting ways in which my habits did not accord with my beliefs and my knowledge, but I will answer this call. I must answer this call, I can feel it in the very blood that flows through me that this is right, that this is how reality really is. Confronting my son’s cancer was the first step for me in coming not simply to believe that these fantastic elements of the faith are true (I already believed), but to experience them. Yet I have let the shadows overcome me and make me believe that those moments are rare and that real life is lived without experience of the Glory. Well I say no more. I say that that way of living is ultimately damned (though we can be saved from it). Root and branch, twig and bough, I am in. Join me, as I join Martin and others and we radically (which remember means to return to one’s roots) and catholicly reimagine everything.

Sincerely,
David

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On 3 Kinds of Theopoetry: A Response to Callid Keefe-Perry and Anne Michelle Carpenter

David Russell Mosley

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Epiphanytide
Candlemas
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Wipf & Stock Publishers, the people who will be publishing my novel, have recently started interviewing authors and putting the videos up online. They range from just a few minutes to half hour segments. In one of these interviews, the people at Wipf & Stock sit down Callid Keefe-Perry.

Callid is, in many ways, the man who has brought a certain strain of theopoetics back into the limelight. In this interview, he is being asked, in many ways, to explain what he means by theopoetics and what relationship it has to theology and the academy. For Friend Callid (he is a Quaker, after all), theopoetics is concerned with new way of “making” God. He qualifies this by saying that theopoetics is interested in how the things we make effect the way we think about God. At one point in the interview he says that theopoetics is concerned with the aesthetics, the form that theology or religious language, takes as much as, if not more so than with the content. Why is there a text and not a dance and what does that say about us and about God. The key, for Callid, so it would seem, is that our discussions about God not be limited to the traditional, but that we branch out, hear new voices. With the possible exception of saying that the form might be more important than the content, I am quite open to these aspects of this strain of theopoetics. Imagination, beauty, art, in a sense culture in general all have a place in our inquiries into the divine. The problem I have is that this kind of theopoetics is not simply about taking seriously the role of imagination and the arts in theology.

Callid is candid that at a certain point even he himself, along with others, have seen theopoetics as going against theology. Theopoetics turns away from “reason” (logos) and toward making (poiesis). At the start of the interview, as Callid is giving us the history of theopoetics, he briefly mentions that the new wave of theopoetics is connected with process theology, the notion that in some way God is changeable (not perhaps in his goodness or eternality) by temporal events, namely us. The connection to process theology is problematic in and of itself for me. That aside, however, (actually I do think these things related, but this is a letter, not a journal article) my major issue with the current wave of theopoetics is that it is almost a-traditional, that is it seems to act as if it has no tradition, or a limited one––going back to Whitehead. In an essay in the boo Theopoetic Folds, Callid notes that a speech by Stanley Hopper “is the first piece of scholarship to make direct use of the term theopoiesis” (Faber and Fackenthal, 149). This is problematic because of course theopoiesis is not an English word, but a Greek one that means deification (the two words actually share etymology in the sense that both are made up of the parts God and to make). The current form of this theopoetics seems either to ignore or be unaware that it has a link back to second century (if not earlier) understandings of the goal or telos of the human person in light of who God is as Creator, our being created in the imago dei, and what the Incarnation means for this. It is, of course, possible that I have not read enough from these theopoetic thinkers and I am happy to be proven wrong.

Moving on, there is another kind of theopoetics with which I have much more sympathy. That is the theopoetics of Anne Michelle Carpenter which she expounds in her excellent book on Hans Urs von Balthasar, Theopoetics. Anne starkly disassociates herself from the kind of theopoetics being done by those like Friend Callid (Carpenter, 3). She does so on the basis of the “agnostic overtures of the “theo-poetic” movement,” (Ibid.). Carpenters approach is, in many ways, similar to that of this other theopoetic movement. By that, I mean that her interest is to categorize, particularly Balthasar’s aesthetics, as a theo-poetic, a theological poetics. In this sense, unlike that of Callid, or at least others within the theopoetics movement, theopoetics is neither antithetical to theology nor is it a corrective that moves alongside theology. It is inherently part of theology, especially any theology that has a place of importance for the poetic, for the creative.

Finally, there is the way I use theopoetics. Since my thesis was written after the new wave of theopoetics but before Anne’s book was published, I decided not to give it its original title Being Deified: Poetry and Theo-poetry. Actually, to be honest, I thought I was doing something quite original creating theo-poetry (and theo-poet, theo-poem, etc.) out of theopoiesis. Sadly, I was quite wrong. In any event, I use this word directly as related to theopoiesis or deification. Playing off a line from Vladimir Lossky (and not A.N. Whitehead), I wanted to describe God as Poet (rather than Creator). God poetised creation, or the poem, out of his trinitarian gratuity. But God is not just Poet, he is Theo-Poet, deifier. Therefore we are not only his poem (creation) but his theo-poems (the deified), or at least we will be. From this play with language I moved forward to discuss the importance of human creativity for our deification. I focused on fantasy and poetry as genre but noted and still note that this extends to all kinds of human creativity (David Jones is someone I turn to here). The point I try to make is that our poiesis, our making/creating, is wrapped up in our participation in the one who is Creator, even Poet, by nature, not by participation.

There is much with which I can agree in the first two uses of theopoetics. Callid and company’s commitment to human creativity, to the body in many ways, in light of certain strains of theology which have sidelined these aspects is one with which I can certainly agree. It is the turn to process, the turn to theopoetics as a project that is simply a response to recent trends in recent strains of theology with which I disagree. With Anne I am in almost full agreement with the exception that her use of theopoetics does not include theopoiesis, deification. I do not claim that my own view is by any means complete or without flaw. There is much I have learned from both of them (and from others). Nevertheless, I think we cannot come to a full understanding of what theopoetics is or can be if we fail to recognize the importance of deification, the end for which we are made, as we engage in it. I am, however, quite glad to be in such good company that wants to discuss the importance of poetry and creativity in theology. Regardless of our disagreements, this is a good time to do theology that has an emphasis on the Beautiful as well as the Good and the True.

Sincerely,
David