“Complete” Creedal Formulae?

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Yesterday, First Things magazine published a “Web Exclusive” by Theopolis Institute president, Peter Leithart, entitled Theology Is Not Archeology, He describes today’s impressive and edifying attempts by theologians to recover, explain, and defend traditional creedal and theological formulae, doing away with arrogant caricatures of pre-modern theology and revealing its impressive subtlety.

It is great article, with one caveat.

Quoting from the article:

Having retrieved with all possible care, theologians must reflect on what they have retrieved, and be willing to criticize and refine hallowed creedal and confessional formulae if they are … incomplete …

Retrieval is a theological good, but there must be life beyond retrieval.

Now I am not for one minute suggesting that Peter Leithart intended this, but the suggestion that creedal formulae must be complete implies that theology is valid only insofar as it penetrates every mystery, or to the extent that nothing remains hidden from it so  it can come up with complete formulations of truth. It ignores the fact that while God is infinite we are but finite, which in turn implies that anything we say or think about God will not completely do justice to His reality.

Of course theology must be more than archeology, of course there must be theological life beyond retrieval, but that life can and must include the recognition that we can only know about God what He has revealed to us, and that while we live this side of eternity, this revelation, and thus our theological formulae, have gaps; that whatever we have learned about and experienced of God, we need to hold in an open hand, knowing that it is likely incomplete.

As St. Paul says, “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, as I am fully known.” (1 Cor 13:12 CSB)


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