Sunday, May 19, 2024

#140 / Five Best On Faith: Theologia Germanica

I have, rather recently, started reading Marilynne Robinson (pictured above), whom I have just discovered is exactly one month older than I am. 

Some time ago, I read Robinson's book, Home, but I as I wrote out this blog posting, the one that you are reading now, I didn't remember very much about it. I should have reviewed my earlier blog postings. Back in 2021, I provided what I think, now, was quite a nice review of Home. When I read Lila, another one of Robinson's "Gilead Series," which I took off my bookshelf back in early March of this year, I was galvanized into action. Lila had languished, unread, for more than a few years, I am sure, but I found it compelling when I finally read it. As I am writing this entry, to show up on my blog a couple of months from now (May 19th is what I'm estimating), I have just begun Robinson's newest book, Reading Genesis, which is nonfiction, and I have ordered both Gilead and Jack, which (with Home and Lila) are part of that four-book "Gilead Series." 

While obviously still early in my confrontation with Robinson's work, I think I am in a position to recommend that you read her!

This current blog posting has not been prompted by my encounters with Robinson's fiction, or with her non-fiction, either. Instead, as is true of so many of these daily blog postings, I have gone to my computer to comment on something that I just saw in a newspaper. In this case, I am reacting to an article from the "Books" section of The Wall Street Journal, in its Saturday/Sunday March 30-31, 2024, edition. The article is by Marilynne Robinson, and is captioned (in the hardcopy version of the paper), "Five Best On Faith." Robinson provides five quick reviews of five different books, including Piers Plowman, by William Langland. Langland's book was written in something like 1380. 

I mention Piers Plowman only because I have, at least, heard of that book. The other books recommended by Robinson are, essentially, completely unknown to me. Maybe, as I sail off on an expedition into the works of Robinson, I'll have to read them, too. 

The mini-review in The Journal that most caught my attention was Robinson's commentary on Theologia Germanica. Here is Robinson's review, in its entirety (with my highlights):

Theologia Germanica - Anonymous (14th Century)
We have become accustomed to a populism that, especially when it claims to be religious, is resentful, judgmental and fearful. The anonymous “Theologia Germanica,” a vernacular work addressed to the “Friends of God,” is of another mind entirely. It teaches that Original Sin, the sin of Adam and Satan, is the appropriation of any good thing as one’s own; that I, Me and Mine are damning ideas. Our theories of human nature, our civilization itself, would certainly be different if this understanding of the doctrine had taken hold. In the “Theologia,” everything and everyone is good because they exist, and existence is holy and good. People can be subsumed into God as they renounce their selfish claims, even to their own actions and thoughts. The writer sees a human landscape permeated with a sacredness that takes no notice of worldly distinctions. The hard-eyed, morally scrawny protagonist of our anthropologies would find respite there (emphasis added).

Robinson is not the only admirer of this 14th Century book. According to the Wikipedia writeup, which I have linked above, Martin Luther had this to say about Theologia Germanica: "[N]ext to the Bible and St. Augustine, no book has ever come into my hands, from which I have learned... more of God, and Christ, and man and all things that are..."

A phrase I often find myself repeating in my blog postings, “We are in this together,” seems related to what Robinson (and Martin Luther) are identifying as a critically important theological insight. It seems to me that this is an insight and an understanding that could (and should) inform our involvement in "politics." 

If I am getting it right, the Theologia Germanica is saying that the "original sin" was not defying and disobeying God and his commandments. That is quite a bit different from the way I have always understood the story. That seems like a new thought, to me. As I get it, the Theologia Germanica says that the original sin was claiming the right to take anything for "one's own," that is, for one's own exclusive use.

The political ramifications of such an understanding are pretty amazing. 

At least I think so. Don't you agree?

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