Theologia Viatorum: Imperfect Theology

Theologia Viatorum literally means “Theology of Pilgrims/Travelers.”1  It is a technical term which refers to our understanding of God in its imperfect state.2  Of necessity this is where we all are.  “All theology is theologia viatorum.  It can never satisfy the natural aspiration of human thought and utterance for completeness and compactness … It is broken thought and utterance to the extent that it can progress only in isolated thoughts and statements directed from different angles to the one object.  It can never form a system, comprehending and as it were ‘seizing’ the object.  This is true of all theological assertions.”3  In other words, “It means [that we are] committed to an unceasing movement from what is known to what is not yet known, to an active pilgrimage.”4 When I began this website I had to make peace with the fact that I would come to disagree with some of what I published, that I would progress farther along the way and by drawing nearer to the Truth leave behind some imperfect theology.  The concept behind the site’s original name is one example of that which I have left behind.  In that spirit I have forever changed the name of my site to Theologia Viatorum.  Join me as I do theology on the way.

1. Sometimes translated as “Theology on the way.”
2. “We are on the way. This certainly indicates the limit, but it also indicates the positive possibility of our cognition. At best, our theology is theologia viatorum. But it stands under the promise of this best: that it really can be theologia viatorum. It is as such that it can and will be true. This concept was used in older theology to designated the distinction of our present temporal from our future eternal knowledge of God, the distinction between faith and sight. In distinction to the former, the latter was described as theologia comprehensorum or theologia patriae; the knowledge of those who are at home, who, no longer wandering on from one hour to another, from one decision to another, stand once for all at the goal of faith and know God face to face. God will then be no more hidden from us in faith. But God as God, in Himself, will still be hidden from us even then. Even this knowing of God face to face will still be a miraculous bestowal of His grace, an incomprehensible descent of God into the sphere of objectivity of our cognition, and an incomprehensible admission of ourselves into this knowledge–for this is how the older theologians understood this theologia comprehensorum. Even as eternal grace, freedom from the whole enshrouding veil of our temporality and corruption, grace will still be the grace of God and not our nature. To that extent, even in the eternal redemption, we shall not be at the goal, and the blessedness of our perfect knowing of God will consist in being on the way, so that it too will have to be described as theologia viatorum. It will no longer be the knowing of a Church militant, which is always threatened and encompassed by error, but the knowing of a Church triumphant, which is free from dispute and complete in itself. But through all eternity it will still be the knowledge of the Church of Jesus Christ and not the knowledge of the triune God Himself.” Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, G.W. Bromiley & T.F. Torrance, eds., (New York: T&T Clark, 2009), II. 1. 209 (small print section).
3. Ibid, III. 3. 293.
4. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics: A Selection with Introduction by Helmut Gollwitzer, (Louisville, KY: T&T Clark, 1994), 18.