THEOLOGY IN THE CITY
by Paul Fitzgerald
FITZGERALD, S.J., is an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Santa Clara
University in California. He recently published L'Eglise comme lieu de formation
d'une conscience de la concitoyenneté.
author invites students to walk with the poor and to learn about their faith amid
their struggles to survive.
The task of theology is often
a lonely endeavor. The hush of the library or the archives, the still of the chapel,
and the quiet discipline of one's desk are places where theological research and
writing unfold, most often in solitary concentration. The classroom on the protected
college campus or seminary, the academic conference in large hotels, and even
the cherished conversation in the homes of colleagues do open the theologian to
other minds and hearts so that theories and insights may be tested in dialogue.
However, these exchanges are often located in affluent social contexts which cannot
reveal the full import of the self-revealing Word of God. Certainly, the tradition
holds that Christian theology is always done in the context of the thinking and
worshiping Church, so the theologian is never alone in her or his work. More recently,
theologians have become more intentional about the social and cultural contexts
within which they theologize. Following the original example of Jesus and the
more recent examples of Liberation Theology, Christian theologians have been moving
among the poor, especially the urban poor, in order to discover and articulate
a new word about God.
There is, I believe, a scriptural invitation
to this type of socially contextualized theology in the seventeenth chapter of
Matthew's Gospel, the account of the Transfiguration of Jesus. In an isolated
place, high above the tumult of the towns and villages, Peter, James, and John
accompanied Christ to a divine summit meeting. There they saw him in glory, and
with him were Moses and Elijah. This epiphany gave the disciples a glimpse of
the Word's relation to the Law and the Prophets. Perhaps in order better to investigate
and contemplate this, the three disciples asked Jesus' permission to set up tents,
that they might remain in splendid isolation on the mountaintop of revelation.
Their request was left hanging on their lips by the voice of the Father, who identified
Jesus as the beloved Son, the favored one, the one to whom they should listen.
Awestruck, they fell to the ground. When they opened their eyes, they saw only
Jesus, and at once he set off, back down the mountain. In order to fulfill their
desires both to remain with him and to understand who he was, the disciples had
to leave the epiphany on the mountaintop and follow Jesus down into the villages.