Book | Christopraxis by Edmund Arens

Christopraxis-Arens-Edmund-9780800627461Arens, Edmund. Christopraxis: A Theology of Action. 1st Fortress Press ed. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995.

The Author

ArensEdmund Arens is a catholic theologian and professor of Fundamental Theology at the University of Luzern, Switzerland. Fundamental Theology is “a relatively recent theological discipline whose object and method has not altogether been clarified by theologians themselves. It is clear, however, that a task of fundamental theology is to verify the foundations of theology. Thus, before deepening in the knowledge of God, Christ, the Church or the sacraments, theology has to deepen into the dogma which is in turn the foundation of everything else: Revelation. Unlike apologetics, fundamental theology does not try to speak to unbelievers but contented itself with analyzing for the sake of believers how God brings human beings to assent to His word.”[1] Arens seeks to find a political theology with critical theory and works to provide a biblical foundation for the systematic theology, so that all of these disciplines can work together.

My Thoughts

Edmund Arens seeks to appropriate Jürgen Habermas’ social-scientifically and philosophically oriented theory of action for the task of creating interdisciplinary bridges between the various sub-disciplines of theology and the broader world of sociology and philosophy. Arens pursues this goal in three movements. First, he elucidates Habermas’ theory of communicative action and communicative rationality. He discusses the strengths and limitations of this theory as they relate to the theological task, specifically by wrestling with claims of truth and validity. In chapter one he frames Habermas in such a way that he can then, in chapter two, hang the biblical narrative upon it and so construct an argument that proposes that the gospel is eo ipso an exercise in communicative praxis. The third movement—chapter three—then constructs an image of the church as a communio of communication, constituted by communicative action, or, in Arens terms, christopraxis.

Arens seeks to find the middle way between two errant extremes. On the one side he seeks to avoid objectivism and its subsequent hierarchical dictation of credenda from the magisterium that are thrust upon the passive masses of the faithful. On the other side, he seeks to avoid subjectivism that reduces truth claims to the perspective of the individual. Both of these extremes, he argues, ignore the fundamental notion of praxis. Arens uses Habermas’ theory of communicative action to demonstrate that faith is an intersubjective communication of praxis, expressed in both confession (communally expressed consensus) and witness (communicatively expressed testimony to the reality of Jesus at work in the world).

Arens builds his idea that the gospel is communicative praxis upon the distinctive characteristics of language as articulated in the field of pragmatic theory. Human beings are linguistic creatures and all concepts of truth are bound in linguisticality, which is inherently communicative. The five characteristics of language are: intersubjective, propositional-performative, textual, situational, and intentional. Each of these characteristics have within them the necessity of a communicative exchange between subjects. The gospel, then, is communicative in that Jesus, the texts about Jesus, and the first community formed around the confession of and the witness to the risen Jesus, follow these five characteristics in their praxis of the gospel.

I found this book very helpful for my research in that it gave a theological frame for Habermas’ theory of communicative action and rationality. Arens helped me sort through the difficulty of wrestling with truth claims inherent in Habermas’ theory. Left on its own, Habermas’ theory ultimately leaves the idea of truth open to the consensus of the intersubjective deliberation of those involved in the speech-acts. Arens articulates the difference between the Greek concept of aletheia and the Hebrew concept of ‘emeth.[2] Aletheia connotes an image of truth as an abstract realm of perfection that can never be truly attained and against which all else is measured. The Hebrew concept of ‘emeth has more to do with truthfulness and faithfulness in action and points toward a promised fulfillment. This idea of truth can only be known in praxis as it is lived out. Jesus, then can be the truth and the way, and thus the center of the theological validity claim that works within Habermas’ theory of communicative rationality.

I also found it helpful in that Arens articulates the church as a communio of communication. His portrait of the church reflects—though does not articulate—a perichoretic and capillary flow of power as he explains the intersubjective nature of communication both within the church and in the church’s global communicative praxis.

One thing that I would like to pursue further regarding this book is its lack of Trinitarian doctrine. Arens claims that he is not constructing a christomonist theology, but the term christopraxis makes it hard to move away from that. He pays homage to the role of the Father and the Spirit, but only in a pale foil to the central work of Jesus. Again, as I have expressed elsewhere in my critique of Practicing the Way of Jesus, I believe in christopraxis, but I wonder how a theological theory of action, based upon communicative action and rationality, would look if it were framed within a Trinitarian praxis, or a perichoretic praxis.

Selected Quotes

“Just as in his action Jesus speaks about God in an indirect and practical manner, so in the parables he leads his addressees in an indirect and practical way to see those contexts of action in which it is right to speak of God. Precisely because God never appears thematically in Jesus’ parables, they make it possible to thematize God in a new way. This does not occur in such a way that where human beings act, the action under discussion would actually be God’s. Instead the statement rans in the opposite direction: God acts where human beings do God’s will. God acts where, on the basis of the experience of Gods’ proximity, human beings in turn draw nearer to others, thus overcoming distance and alienation. God acts where, on the basis of the experience of God’s solidarity, human beings in turn enter into solidarity. God acts where, on the basis of the experience of God’s goodness, human beings in turn are good, God acts where human beings in this way mediate and make it possible to experience God’s proximity, solidarity, and goodness. It is in this way that God’s rule becomes present.”[3]

 

“In an objectivistic view of faith as a system of objects of belief (credenda) that are authoritatively presented to the faithful by the magisterium and that the faithful must appropriate, praxis scarcely comes into view. Praxis appears only, if at all, in the perspective of the agreement between the objects that are presented and those that are adopted. Interestingly, the objectivistic position shares with the subjectivistic conception of faith the systematic excision or diminution of praxis. In one form of the subjectivistic conception, faith in understood as a disposition, particular to each person, which the individual must acquire toward that reality which is absolutely determinative. Or the subjectivistic conception may understand faith as a system of subjective attitudes and dispositions that opens up reality in a particular perspective, in both these understandings of faith, the interconnection between faith and action again does not become clear. Even where faith is seen as a view of reality and an attitude toward reality that are integrated into a specific form of life, a practical deficiency remains.

Over against both an objectivistic and a subjectivistic analysis of faith, a theological theory of action sets forth the intersubjective character and the communicative structure of faith, and comes to understand faith as a communicative praxis.”[4]

 

“Taking recourse to what has been said earlier concerning the basic structure of communicative action, concerning the communicative structure of the gospel, and concerning the communicative praxis of Jesus and of his disciples and communities, faith can be conceived as a communicative praxis. As such it is at the same time intersubjective, propositional-performative, textual, situational, and intentional. In its nucleus the propositional content of Christian faith is the person and praxis of Jesus as well as God’s action in him. Faith is about what occurred in and with Jesus, in his communicative action in God’s name, through his praxis of the rule of God, with him and his claim to make present the reality of God and of the basileia—even and precisely in view of his shameful death. In addition, faith is about what occurred in Jesus in his death and in his resurrection through God’s action in him, definitively confirming Jesus’ praxis and his person and delivering him. Furthermore, faith is about the praxis of Jesus’ disciples, the praxis of the early Christian communities and of the church, who point to Jesus’ person and praxis, who are grounded therein, who in christopraxis take up Jesus’ action and advance it in Jesus’ Spirit.

Inasmuch as Christians relate to Jesus’ person and praxis, they do something—in their situations and contexts, by means of various texts, and with regard to their intentions and goals—that constitutes their faith. What they do, in which contexts, with which texts, with what intention, and in which actions—in my opinion that can be clarified on the basis of the New Testament material with the two concepts of witnessing and confessing. Witnessing and confessing represent complementary and at the same time basic communicative actions of faith. Christian faith is articulated in them and practiced by means of them. In and with them, Christian faith is done as christopraxis.”[5]

 

“The communio-ecclesiology that I am proposing understands and explains the concept of communio as a theological qualification of the church as a community of communication. This ecclesiology takes the person, praxis, and presence of Jesus as its point of departure. It conceives of the church as the people of God communicating and interacting with one another in the acts of bearing witness and confessing. This ecclesiology is simultaneously fundamental, conciliar, and practical. Such a christopractical understanding of communio is anything but christomonist, insofar as it does not propagate a ‘pyramidal and clerical ecclesiology’ that culminates in Christ and in the pope as Christ’s representative and the bearer of Christ’s power. Instead this understanding communio elucidates the church from the perspectives of its various subjects and their communicative, contextual, and conciliar praxis. Such an understanding is eo ipso oriented toward the process of reaching an understanding. It is directed toward community in mutual recognition and reciprocal responsibility. It takes into consideration the contribution that the individual members of Christ’s body make with regard to the whole people of God ‘in responsible ways that are perfectly apostolic, that are perfect examples of brotherhood and solidarity, and yet are different from each other.’ A communio-conception with these contours does not elevate the (Catholic) church from among other (church) communions. Nor does it seek to distance church communions from other communitates. In the sense of the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes it relates ecclesial communitas and communio to social and political communitates on the local, regional, national, and international levels. Consequently, such a communio cannot be primarily occupied with itself and concerned about itself. Its urgent concern is rather the kerygmatic-missionary, diaconal, prophetic, empathic, and suffering communication of the communio of Christ to all human beings and the sharing of that communio with them.”[6]

Notes


[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fundamental_theology (accessed August 1, 2013)

[2] Edmund Arens, Christopraxis: A Theology of Action, 1st Fortress Press ed. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995), 107ff.

[3] Ibid., 69.

[4] Ibid., 116.

[5] Ibid., 125.

[6] Ibid., 156.

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