One of my all time favorite figures from church history, a fourth century saint named Gregory of Nazianzus, had a fairly lofty view of the theological enterprise. He said in the first of his famous Five Theological Orations, “Discussion of theology is not a matter for everyone, only for those who have been tested and have solid foundations in learning, and more important, have undergone, or are in the process of it, purification of body and soul. It is as dangerous a thing for someone to lay hold of pure things who is not himself pure, as it is for weak eyes to look at the sun’s radiance.” (Oration 27.3). In this quote is found an obvious marker for the serious theologian, “learning.” Clearly, to engage rigorously in the theological enterprise requires a certain familiarity with the topics, terms, and history of the subject. It requires education. Nobody could disagree with that. But Gregory goes further. Purity of soul is required as well. Discipline of life in the service of Jesus. In Gregory’s day, the church was rent asunder by all manner of speculative heresies and contentious schisms. In the eastern Roman capital of Constantinople in particular, where this sermon was originally preached, it was a common thing for the finer points of theological speculation to be common conversation in the open market by those who had neither training in mind nor discipline of life. As a result, everyone had their own opinion, everyone was more enlightened than everyone else, and the church was hopelessly divided and embittered against itself. This is Gregory’s context. It is to this that he is responding.
Do we agree with him? Does the theological enterprise require more from those who would undertake it than merely an educational pedigree? Is holiness of life required? To what extent is it realistic to expect such purity among theologians? To what extent can someone’s manner of discipleship be considered before we weight the merits of his or her theological arguments?
Another, perhaps more provocative way to look at this would be to ask this: how might the church look different if her expositors of doctrine more clearly walked the way Jesus did?