Do you remember the B.T. advert staring Maureen Lipman? You know the one where her grandson picks up the phone to tell her how he has got on in his O levels (or do I mean G.C.S.E.s? ).
The much loved grandson has ‘achieved’ a set of results that leave a lot to be desired. Eventually an exasperated Maureen asks her grandson if he has managed to pass anything. He replies that he has been awarded a C grade in Sociology. Cue rapturous response from Maureen: ‘Who would have thought it you’ve got an ology, we always knew your were clever and now you’ve proved it with your ology.’
At theological college you get a lot of ologies (politics and economics by contrast teach the ‘isms,’ and this is far easier because when all is said and done only two isms really exist, socialism and capitalism and, since the ‘fall of the wall,’ this has been reduced to one – capitalism, but let’s get back on track.)
If Maureen Lipman’s grandson ever entered seminary he could have hours of fun keeping his grandmother impressed with his newly acquired collection of ‘ologies.’
He could talk to her about Sotoriology, Ecclesiology, Christology just for starters. As his confidence grew he could introduce her to Epistemology, Axiology and, in the fullness of time Ontology.
Good old Maureen’s ‘pride in her tribe’ would be complete.
What would the grandson really have learnt? Would he be a better priest? Well, yes and no.
Yes because it is important to have a sound intellectual grasp of the subject matter (and we are called on to love the Lord with all our mind), but, no because where theology is concerned the real subject matter is love, and, love can never be limited to the cognitive, or for the matter the sentimental.
Love is not an ‘ology’, sorry Maureen, (or even an ‘ism.’)
Love is our primary calling and, our first love must be offered to the Lord our God. Without love all our theology is dry, our faith reducible to a set of theoretical propositions, ‘I believe in God……..’ affirmed through the liturgy but, left in the church, as we leave for our Sunday lunch.
This morning my New Testament reading (Celtic Daily Prayer) was Matthew 22, 37 and 38: ‘‘He (Jesus) said to him,’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and, with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment,” (verse 37).
This commandment is so important for many reasons, to many to go into here, but I would like to offer two thoughts: First, in learning to love God we learn to love that which is far greater,and more gracious, than ourselves, this keeps us grounded, and, (hopefully) grateful. Secondly, loving God also implies learning to love that which is wholly other, the unique and mysterious configuration Christians call the Trinity. Such love transcends our natural capabilities and, defies rational analysis.
Transcendence, and transcendent love, cannot be defined as an ‘ology,’ still less an ‘ism,’ but it is the key to the second half the Divine imperative, ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ (verse 38).
If we really believe that we are made in the image of God, it surely follows that, just like God, we are also unique and mysterious. If this is true for me, it must also be true for you. Loving God, who is both unique and mysterious, is the key to universal neighborly love, and this not the ‘ologies,’ is the most important lesson I have learnt in the last two years!