Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Three Riveting Theological Debates That Will Never Happen

No, it's not William Lane Craig versus Richard Dawkins - we all know Dawkins is just a little too "busy" (translation: "scared").  But follow along anyways if you will.

Now, it's funny because, as serious as my faith is to me, I tend to look at theology with a bit of a lighter view sometimes.  No theologian, in the end, is ever going to be 100% correct - as much as the Church holds up St. Thomas Aquinas as its Doctor par excellence, he still got some things wrong (the Immaculate Conception for example).  In other words, every theologian makes mistakes (though some more than others - I am sure you can guess who I might be thinking of here).

But what if we could resurrect, as it were, our favorite theologians, place them in an intellectual arena of professional debate, and go to watch what would ultimately be an epic battle of minds?  For theology nerds like me, this would be worth buying a ticket for.

So who would the best debates be between?  Glad you asked - I've concocted a brief list for your reading pleasure.  While these debates will never occur, there's nothing wrong with a little wishful thinking.

1.  St. Thomas Aquinas vs. John Calvin on Catholic and Reformed Theology
To me, Calvin is arguably the greatest systematic theologian in Protestantism.  Despite the intellect and skill of such figures in the Reformed tradition as Barth and Edwards, John Calvin seems to me to be the Protestant theologian who set the bar the highest.

St. Thomas Aquinas is arguably the greatest systematic theologian in the Church.  His undeniable skill at synthesis, his common sense, and his readiness to combat error would be put to full use here. I think that pitting Calvin against the Angelic Doctor himself would be to bring two of the greatest theological minds together into one titanic intellectual debate the likes of which would hardly ever be seen ever again, if could even be seen in the first place.

And people thought soccer fans were wild - I can only imagine what fans of either theologian would be like at this imaginary debate!

Origen vs. Martin Luther on Free Will and the Interpretation of Scripture

This pick might seem a little odd at first - a Church Father known for his forays into unorthodox speculations, and the great catalyst of the Protestant Reformation.  Rest assured, this debate would be fiery.

Origen stood very strongly for the freedom of the will; Luther, on the other hand, did not.  Origen employed allegorical methods of understanding Scripture; Luther chastised him for it.  To see, therefore, these two square-off in a battle of intellects would be a most entertaining event.  Add to this their polar opposite natures, one a restrained speculative theologian, the other a passionate polemicist, and you would have an amazing debate.

(St.) Gregory Palamas vs. St. John of the Cross on the Mystical Experience of God.

Two of the greatest mystical theologians, one from the West, the other from the East, pitted head-to-head in a debate on the nature of mysticism and the experience of God - does it get any better?  This one, of course, might not be as controversial in nature as the above two, but I do think it would be an interesting discussion, given the different aspects and approaches of Western and Eastern Christian mysticism.

And you?  Who would you want to see go toe-to-toe in a theological debate? Perhaps Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange vs. Hans Kung? 


  1. First, as regards St. Thomas and the Immaculate Conception I would recommend this article: http://newtheologicalmovement.blogspot.se/2011/12/did-st-thomas-deny-dogma-of-immaculate.html

    Second, I would recommend reading about hesychasm and Palamas here: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07301a.htm

    In Christ,

  2. It's not so much a theological debate, but I would dearly love to spend an evening in a pub with G.K. Chesterton, William Cobbett, and Samuel Johnson, just to listen to the conversation.