From the Shelf The Feast of Fools

DR. HARVEY COX has done it again. He has succeeded in taking another picture of the world scene-this time not Secular, but Sacred. Like Freud, he doesn't miss a thing going on in the field of view. Heavily influenced by Bonhoeffer in his Secular City, he presented a view of "religionless religion" which both encapsulated the disparate commentaries of theologians and sociologists, at the same time that it infuriated many in the same scenes. This time he mines several veins and comes up with another theological mother lode. The Divinity School on Francis Ave. will again pack them in to pay homage to the guru's feet.

Holy secularity was becoming wholly secular and the effect scared the lot of us. Not that we were afraid of incarnating Christ-the Holy Spirit beat the theologians to that one-but that the search for God's immanence could lead to His entrapment. Once He got in He might be trapped in (remember Vietnam?). Or, and this is the other possibility which hurt Protestantism badly, pushing Him outside the domed-in-world (as Ficino did in Renaissance Italy) to work things out for ourselves would leave little room for Transcendental values. The alternatives were apparent to many in "academe" either we trapped Christ in our secular, technopolitan would, effectively cutting Him, and us, off from the Ascension (the element of transcendence); or we pushed Him "out there" and made Him inaccessible again.

Cox begins his essay with the disclaimer that he isn't recanting his secular values. I accept this He has moved beyond them, as have many others, in his search for the Holy.

The first effect of God's presence should be joy. Augustan said that Christians are Easter men and their song should be Alleluia-a cry of joy, ecstasy and euphoria which implicates and explicates its root ( El ), the name of God. Cox looks at the churches and sees little enough of joy. The Good News is bad news, especially for the poor. The Church is in many instances a non-prophet organization living on the prestige of dead saints. It is more a case of the "bland leading the bland."

Our world can't abide phantasy, fools, excess and dreams. The Bible and church history is loaded with all of these categories. Christ was a dreamer. The martyrs were excessive as they leaped at the lions and the flames. St. Francis and his little band of bearded, be-sandaled, begging Italians were fools par excellence. Phantasy? Look to the Apocalypse and the books of Daniel, and Ezechiel. Contemplation is a dream self-induced by asceticism or Godgiven ecstasy, but not too practical.


COX LEVELS criticism with fairness, bestows kudos with justice. He criticizes the radical theologians after first paying them a deserved tribute. They rightly saw the need to get on with a new synthesis, God needed new symbols. The old ones were good in their day, but they are encumbrances in ours. But the radicals are so oriented toward the present that they tend to lose the forward thrust of Christianity. Cox rightly sees the Church as metahistorical. Any symbol system which tunes in to one period exclusively becomes trapped in its own symbols-leaving God as the Edsel of the next era.

He passes fair judgment on what he terms the neo-mystics. They seek an immediate relationship with God, or the Holy. Their joy, their communitarianism, their sense of contemplation and phantasy absolves them of their excesses in their attempts to tune in on a higher frequency. But he criticizes these bearded troubadors for copping out of a society which badly needs their other-worldliness.

He chides the militants for their sober-sidedness. They want participatory democracy and dream up utopian reforms. Good. But the Benedictines had participatory democracy 1200 years ago and kept a spirit of contemplation, joy, work and celebration in the process. He might have criticized them for their anti-intellectualism too. If old forms sell you out, dream up new ones.

IN HIS chapter on solutions to the problems of the theologian (chapter 9 entitled, "A Theology of Juxtaposition") Cox endeavors to pull a thesis out of this pastiche. He calls his methodology "juxtaposing." By this he means to make theology three-dimensional. Existentialism and the Death of God phase are too now- centered. He proposes that we juxtapose past solutions and future possibilities next to our present situation. This element of futurity gives man the thrust forward toward the Christ of the possibles. He is the One who comes in Glory as well as being the One who was and the One who is. In the process of thanking the Catholics for letting go of their nostalgia for the Middle Ages, he states that theology should be tied to its historical roots or suffer the loss of one necessary dimension-a past. The line of continuity has broken and we are in a new age.

Cox calls this the element of discontinuity. We must crack open the old forms and push on toward the future. Christ is both immanent and futuristic; here and to come. Any over-balancing ends in existentialist entrapment. If the old God symbols are dead, so is Sartre with his existentialist "angst." The "nowism" of existcutialism and death-of-godism trapped man in himself. There is no way out. Man was trapped building a world which wasn't going anywhere and hadn't been anywhere.

This absurdity served its cathartic purpose, but Cox sees that it is time to put the therapy to bed. Man just isn't made to face ultimate absurdity-paradox, yes. Absurdity? Not as a steady dict anyway. The Holy is meta-historical. Existentialism, for all its benefits, has no time for dreams, no visionary capacity, and therefore no stomach for celebration.

I think that dialectic would have served well as a way to push on from juxtaposition. We theologians and laymen need more than focus. We need to jump on a new level of thought. Discontinuity demands dialectic, which is properly the synthesis of converging ideas on a higher plane, Sypthesis is necessary when two camps such as "futurists" and "nowists" are battling for men's minds and souls. And synthesis demands dialectic-otherwise the combatants are doomed to a war of attrition when one isn't necessary.

Cox supplies a partial methodology in this valuable little essay. He has no synthesis to offer-few have. The Augustines, Aquinases and Luthers don't come every day. The value of this book lies in its honest, informative (and, at times, brilliant) attempt to finish the synthesis begun in the Reformation era. The no-win policy of post-Reformation Catholicism and Protestantism left too many exhausted by trivia to look to the future exigencies of an eirenic theology. Eireniscism doesn't learn things against another, it is open to all possibilities.

AS I BEGAN, Cox took a picture of the Secular City and found it wanting. Now he is aiding us in our attempt to live with the Christian paradox: i. e., to live with God, celebrate our humanity with Him at the same time that we search for Him.

It's a Feast of Fools, this life. Cox's book should aid us in celebrating the divine foolishness which is religion.

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