Sanctity as Theology’s Prelude: A Cross-Cultural Comparison

Among Christians who have reflected on the relationship between sanctity (sc. holiness, “living Christianly”) and the intellectual discipline called “theology,” many have argued that the former is a necessary condition for the latter, that a theologian must (at least aspirationally) be holy. For instance, consider two quotations from Gregory Nazianzen’s Theological Orations: theology “is not for all, but for those who have been tested, and have gone on in contemplation, and above all, who have been purified, or at least are being purified, both in soul and in body” (1.3). Or again, the theologian’s “character ought to be undimmed, making for a perception of light by light,” by which he might “go forward to discuss the doctrine of God” (2.1). (“Theology” for Gregory is narrower in scope than we tend to construe it to today — it’s roughly equivalent to what we might think of as “the doctrine of God,” opposed to God’s creative and redeeming acts, which pertain to the “economy.”)

This thesis, however, is by no means unique to Christians, nor even to Platonists more generally. Consider this quotation from the medieval Indian philosopher Shankara’s commentary on the Vedanta Sutras:

The antecedent conditions [of the inquiry into Brahman] are the discrimination of what is eternal and what is non-eternal; the renunciation of all desire to enjoy the fruit (of one’s actions) both here and hereafter; the acquirement of tranquillity, self-restraint, and the other means, and the desire of final release. If these conditions exist, a man may, either before entering on an enquiry into active religious duty or after that, engage in the enquiry into Brahman and come to know it; but not otherwise…The enquiry into Brahman is subsequent to the acquisition of the above-mentioned (spiritual) means (1.1.1).

For Gregory and for Shankara, there are certain spiritual or moral prerequisites for any inquiry as to the nature of God — the theologian must be pure; the inquirer after Brahman must be free from any ambition to control outcomes, and must long for moksha, or release from his condition of ignorance.

Is there any reason to think that this view is true? I see very little, and so it’s helpful, from my standpoint, to note that no distinctively Christians commitments are required to hold it.

This entry was posted in Epistemology, Gregory Nazianzen, Hinduism, Sanctity and Theology, Shankara, Vedanta and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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