11/17/2010 14:14

It is a poor mind that can only think of one way to spell a word

The title is perhaps a quotation from Andrew Jackson. Perhaps not. If he did say it, he deserves the credit for it.

My own view is that Spanish has implemented a much better idea about spelling than has English. That should go without saying; English has no idea of spelling. What English has is the dictionary. That is, English spelling has an authority (several, in fact, which sometimes disagree among themselves) but it lacks any rational basis for its spelling.

Or consider the parts of speech. As language has evolved the conjugations have been simplified. Latin seems to have simplified the Etruscan forms; Spanish certainly simplified the Latin. Oneida, by the way, is among the languages with a vast range of special forms: person, gender, number, and relationship to the speaker all affect the word form. English, the most recent of major languages, has the least fixed structure. You or I or the guy in the auto shop can use paint (n.) to paint (v.) my truck, provided that you use the correct paint (a.) color; and nothing changes in the word form. Any noun can be used adjectivally (or "attributively"). Many verbs are commonly used as nouns, with the tendency being to expand this usage -- hence "an invite". Nouns are being verbed. And with the overlap of homonyms and homographs, there hardly seems to be any discernable structure left. The diehards, me included, continue to demand conformance but we have little effect.

And yet ... English is used quite successfully to communicate in a wide variety of situations. Also to obfuscate when desired. It would appear that authority has been overrated for language.

If this is true of language, is is also true of theology? Some of us really appreciate systematic theology, such as Rahner's Foundations of Christian Thought, for example, but that doesn't automatically make Rahner into an authority whose views constrain theological thinking. His contribution is to organize and systematize, which helps us to think more clearly. All of us still think. Some theological positions emphasize the community contribution to theological discernment. Two which come to mind are the earliest [Moravaian] Unity in Prague (in Luke of Prague's time) and Latin American base communities (at the end of the 20th Century). It may well be that authority has been overrated for theology.

If authority has been overrated for theology, then it may be much more overrated in the area of spirituality. The horror, real and pretended, which met the spiritual awakening in the European middle ages and Reformation period was predicated on the fact that direct contact with the Holy Spirit can not be effectively regulated by either church or state. (Worse, perhaps, was that merely imagined contact with the Holy Spirit can't be regulated, either. They were quite familiar with pretense.)

Who is the authority competent to judge the Judge of the Universe? Jesus spoke about discerning the work of the Spirit, and it seems to me that his words lead us back again to community. Specifically, Jesus' words point to the people gathered in Jesus' name together with the Holy Spirit. Clearly that was the structure for discernment among the apostles in the earliest days of the church.

One does not want to over-extol this ideal. We know that in actual reality church boards are at best imperfect. We know that annual congregational meetings seldom do any theology or spiritual discernment whatever. We know that synods and conferences are as likely to reflect established habit and prejudice as to discern the will of God. And we know that gathering the whole Church together to reach a consensus on any point whatever would be a failure under every possible measure.

We also know some tricks and techniques to help us emulate such a gathering and to achieve, over time, exactly such a discernment. And that, in actual reality, is where "order" brings benefit to faith. Good order, well used, is a means toward extracting the clearest discernment, the highest worship, the closest community and leaving aside more of the uncertainty, self-centeredness, and division.

The etymology of authority is auctor, author. Authority is overrated when it is not grounded in the concept of authorship; authorship is overrated if it is not grounded in the experience of a gift overflowing the author. In actual reality the only true authority must be the opinion of people whose lives are overflowed by Spirit.