A brief quotation on contemplation from Sarah Coakley

In God, Sexuality, and the Self: An Essay ‘On the Trinity’, the first volume of her systematic theology, Sarah Coakley argues that the practice of contemplation is essential to systematic theology. One of her references to contemplation makes this important statement we should all heed:

The idea of contemplation as an exercise of merely individual insight or self-cultivation must … be rudely and firmly rejected. For it is a distortion of the intrinsically incarnational and social impulse of the practice: here, over time, is the mysterious interpenetration of all created life glimpsed and intuited, the ‘groaning of all creation’ straining towards its final goal. -p. 84

Since Coakley promises to have the Carmelites as her interlocutors in the second volume, it is not out of place to mention that St John of the Cross believed that contemplation was necessary to action in the world — something to the effect that one small action after much contemplation is better than 100 with none. Indeed, many of the great contemplatives found themselves driven to social action whether of their own will or not.

Coakley argues that action in the world is an essential outflowing of contemplation, and that ascetical contemplation is the necessary underpinning of action, interpenetrating the entire theological enterprise and cutting through and across the boundaries and issues present in modern and postmodern theology in often painful ways.

I guess it is time for the ascetic revival …

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2 thoughts on “A brief quotation on contemplation from Sarah Coakley

    • Thanks, Ona! I hope you enjoy the book. Coakley takes seriously the whole theological endeavour, not isolating contemplation from dogmatics and assesses seriously the critiques of systematic theology from feminism and other protest movements, seeking to move beyond the false dichotomies often present in contemporary theological debate. For this first volume, her main patristic interlocutors are Origen, St Gregory of Nyssa, and St Augustine, but she also looks at some charismatic churches in England and art in relation to the Trinity. A lot of the material is challenging, and I wonder how my own theology will be influenced by the end of the book!

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