Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
February 9th, 2017 by Joel Watts

the enlightened Christian refutes lex orandi

I have a few friends still yet unconvinced by the necessary truth of lex orandi. I understand. Indeed, no doubt these learned people are entrenched in the historical critical method and other derivatives of the Enlightenment and thus cannot acknowledge the connection between mind-heart-action.

It is true that not everyone with a sound liturgy is spiritually formed by it. But why not?

The faithful Catholic theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar, declares,

The Enlightenment, which asserted itself first within Anglican and Protestant theology and then more radically in French philosophy, finally penetrated Catholic theology too. There were reactions to it, first from religious Romanticism and then, more energetically, from the revival of Thomism; but they could not prevent Enlightenment principles from forcefully asserting their dominant role in theology. The vanguard of this movement was the purely rational “historico-critical method” of exegesis applied to the inspired texts. Today, therefore, Christian thought is profoundly disturbed and divided. On the one hand, there is an understanding of faith that, in the traditional view, regards the articles of faith as the irreducible object of all Christian theologizing; on the other hand, there is the opposite view, which subjects these very articles—both their content and the act of faith that they elicit—to rationalistic scrutiny and substitutes for most of them a new and essentially reduced content that relies on anthropological plausibility. Church authority, which holds fast to ancient tradition and seeks to bind others to it, finds itself subjected to historico-critical examination and required to present its credentials. Now, firm results on the part of the historico-critical method are few and far between, while there is a superabundance of the question marks it puts over things that were once held to be unshakable; for the most part, accordingly, the “enlightened” Christian’s faith can only hover uncertainly in the air. At best, in the absence of firm foundations, all it can do is cling to the Church’s external forms. This is an unstable and unsatisfactory result, since, for the “enlightened” Christian, the lex orandi can no longer be the lex credendi: he can in no way take literally the words that are prayed in the Canon of the Mass in the parish Eucharist.1


  1. Hans Urs von Balthasar, Theo-Drama: Theological Dramatic Theory: The Action (trans. Graham Harrison; vol. 4; San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1994), 459–460.
Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Leave a Reply, Please!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: