As readers of AUFS know, we are friends with Thomas J. J. Altizer. We don’t always agree with him. Sometimes, dammit, we might even dislike him. But, so it goes with friendships, no? Today, I sent him a review I recently submitted to a journal of David Jasper’s recently published The Sacred Community: Art, Sacrament and the People of God. The review was not without its negative comments, some of them quite substantial. But David, too, is both a friend — of mine, anyway, if not the blog as a whole — and an adult, so I think he can handle it. Altizer’s emailed response, however, was of a different order, and I think a fine exhortation for others to read more (or any) of Jasper’s work.
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I have just read an excellent review by Brad Johnson of David Jasper’s concluding volume of his trilogy on the Sacred and am moved to all too briefly respond. For many years I have been following Jasper’s work with great admiration and what most fascinates me is that he is a genuinely radical Church theologian and perhaps unique as such. Indeed, he is the only theologian who now gives me hope in the Church, and who might even lead me back to the Church. I suspect that a fundamental source of his power is that he is the only contemporary or even modern theologian of the Eucharist, and of a Eucharistic consecration that is apocalypse itself, as originally understood by Paul, and then lost in that profound transformation of the Church occurring after Paul. I am truly fascinated that Jasper so fully embodies both the modern imagination and a genuine and even original liturgical thinking, the latter apparently inherited from his father, and the former wholly his own, but here they truly coincide. I have a taste of this myself in my attempt to understand Finnegans Wake as our only purely and fully literary enactment of the Eucharist, and I have myself sought in vain for a liturgical ground of my own theology, even if it might well be present here.
Of course, Jasper is an Anglican priest, and I sense very lonely as a radical Anglican theologian, certainly I reached a dead end in attempting to become a radical Anglican theologian, and was perhaps justly rejected in my attempt to become an Episcopalian priest on the grounds of mental illness. Moreover, I have never wholly been able to escape the judgment that the only genuine theology is a Church or ecclesiastical theology, surely we non-Church theologians are very lonely even if we can give witness to a powerful theology wholly outside of the Church. Already this begins with Milton, in my judgment our most powerful Protestant theologian, who created a non-Church theology, as most powerfully embodied in Paradise Lost, but explicitly theologically enacted in his Doctrina, even if the latter is wholly ignored. Here, is an interesting and revealing fact. Milton, universally accepted as one of the greatest of all poets, wrote a full systematic theology, perhaps our only systematic theology that is a fully Biblical theology, and yet it is wholly ignored by all but Milton scholars. I understand Jasper as being in continuity with Milton, and I deeply share that with him, and if Milton was the greatest theologian of the Radical Reformation, I can thereby understand Jasper in the perspective of the Radical Reformation, a perspective that might even enlighten his liturgical theology.
I often wonder if there is any genuinely contemporary liturgical theology apart from Jasper, just as I also wonder if anyone else has even attempted an in depth liturgical theology, notice how absent this is from Barth and Neo-Orthodoxy, and yet how primal it apparently is in Eastern Orthodoxy. Is it possible that Jasper is creating a wholly new Church theology, one not only genuinely liturgical and genuinely radical at once, but one in which the truly liturgical and the truly radical are inseparable? Perhaps his theological situation is far more lonely than is mine, and for just this reason, even if potentially it might have enormous power. Perhaps what we most need is a truly revolutionary Church theology, one seemingly forever made impossible by Barth, and by all of the neo-orthodoxies, both Catholic and Protestant, and here there is a deep continuity between Catholic and Protestant neo-orthodoxy.
Perhaps only a truly radical liturgical theology will deliver us from neo-orthodoxy, if so let us bless David Jasper, who may well be at this point our only theological hope.