S GUIDE TO COVENANTAL THEOLOGY
This conundrum is the fundamental insight of Augustinian theology. In a real sense, that insight comes
before language and thought itself -- since even words and thoughts are but 'flesh.' Even more, that insight
can not really be articulated in 'flesh' -- it is ineradicably intuitive, prior to language and thought itself, a sheer
gift given in the New Covenant. We can't grasp it, we can't comprehend it, and it has its only existence in the
perfect 'time-fullness' (the "radical historicity") of the New Covenant, so, in our fallen world, the only time
the intuition exists is now. (If St. Augustine were not a Catholic Platonist, the intuition couldn't exist in time
at all, of course, but only in some time-less 'place.') Our intuition of grace, though fully within time, is prior
even to our categories of time, and is not available to us except in now.
Further, the Augustinian has to take all this with complete seriousness. That is, this fundamental
apprehension of faith, this intuition that exists solely in now and that is prior to language and thought itself,
not only resists any and all efforts to 'form' it further (to use the Platonic vocabulary native to
Augustinianism), it always defeats those efforts.
We can't possibly talk about the New Covenant in 'flesh' -- we can't possibly even think about the New
Covenant in 'flesh.' 'Flesh' really is complete "vanity,' and grace really is a total surprise. The Augustinian
won't ever let us forget that both things are absolutely true.
Obviously then, the only language available to the Augustinian is one fixed solely in the present, and yet
always available to the complete surprise of grace in that present.
The only 'language' like that is, of course, the liturgical 'language' of the free public
worship of the Church. For example: "This is My Body, This is My Blood."
Therefore the Augustinian commits as a matter of basic method to an intuitive and present-oriented
appropriation and apperception of the liturgical mysteries, and to language which is a free response to those
mysteries in terms of that same basic approach, which can only be the language of paradox and dialectic:
simul justus et peccator.
This is a true and viable Catholic theology, though the approach would obviously drive a Thomist crazy.
One proof of Augustinianism's viability is its predominance. For instance, St. Augustine, not St. Thomas, is
more frequently cited in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Clearly also, a large amount of the saints'
writings are cast in terms fundamentally Augustinian. Further, when Fr. Keefe surveys the history of Catholic
theology, he finds Augustinians aplenty, and not nearly as many Thomists.
For example, in my opinion, the prominent 'Thomist,' the late Fr. Hans Urs von Balthasar, is obviously an
Augustinian, not a Thomist. Fr. von Balthasar denies even the possibility of a systematic theology, and his
writings are primarily long, allusive, and paradoxical reflections on liturgical mysteries. His basic approach is
plainly Augustinian, not Thomist. (Perhaps characteristically, he resolves this apparent contradiction by
stating that Aquinas himself was not actually systematic -- in effect saying that St. Thomas was not a
By contrast, the Thomist is, as I call it, "anti-systematically systematic."
That is, as a Catholic Aristotelian, he is committed as a matter of basic method to the employment of a
formally systematic "searching" regarding the Eucharistic Event -- but he knows that every ounce of his
system is provisional and historical, subject to radical transformation by the reality of its object.
Thomism is thus anti-intuitive, or rather, it is skeptical about intuition, as a matter of basic method.
Instead, it takes its first steps not within a personal direct intuition but within the context of an already-
available formal system, which is nonetheless 'flesh,' and therefore, fully historical.
N.B. This is an html-ized copy of a page from the pdf file, The Knucklehead's Guide to Covenantal Theology.