Monday, May 25, 2015

Speaking in tongues

Something big clicked for me in the comparative theology seminar today. Our Korean theologian (theodaoian) Heup-Young Kim reviewed the early christological controversies resulting in the Nicene and Chalcedonian formulations - one nature or two? if two, in what relation? He framed them as efforts to answer the question of the Christ in the often ill-fitting Greek philosophical language which was the "lingua franca" of the early Church. Even as it honors the Fathers' success in transcending the dualism and substantialism of the language they inherited an Asian theology need not embrace these hellenized formulations, he said. In fact, it should not! Asian Christians shouldn't have to give up their own language, let alone take on someone else's!
So far so good, indeed very good. These are ideas I've encountered before, for instance in the claim that Christianity has from the start been a religion in translation, as Lamin Sanneh taught me to see in Whose Religion is Christianity? Jesus and his disciples spoke Aramaic but the New Testament is in koine Greek. Unlike other religious traditions, Christianity can't assert untranslatability. As you know I've also been intrigued by recent discussions of "multiple religious belonging." But I needed I to be reminded - no, needed to be told - that these are two accounts of the same reality. If Asian Christians are dual belongers for their commitment to articulating Christian truth in their language (the language and what Kim calls its "root metaphors" and his Fudan host Benoît Vermander calls its "lexicon"), no less so are Neoplatonist, Aristotelian, or for that matter Marxist Christians in the West!

Kim's suggestions are rich and provocative; I'll tell you about them some other time. Not so easy to articulate... For now, here's a little taste:

“Toward a Christotao: Christ as the Theanthropocosmic Tao,”
in The Chinese Face of Jesus Christ, Vol. III,  Monumenta Serica Monograph Series
(Institut Monumenta Serica and China-Zentrum Sankt Augustin, 2007), 1457-79, 1473

Kim wouldn't mind my saying: serendipitous pneumatosociocosmic theanthropocosmic trajectory of the Christotao of the crucified and risen T'aeguk, ouch! Of course, nobody said this was going to be easy. The Dao which can be spoken isn't the true Dao after, all: 道可道 非常道,名可名 非常名. Language is being used for and against itself. And we're working with the refraction of multiple languages.

How many? Listening recently to a paper about a course at the Qigong Institute, where what Chinese teachers say about essentially unverbalizable qi  is Englished for predominantly francophone audiences, I thought "this is Shanghai!" But that was just an hors d'oeuvre. Today I was the only native English speaker in a room where a Korean presented his understanding of East Asian and Christian traditions in the English lingua franca of the (North American) inter-religious dialogue to a room of mainly Chinese students, his most important points regularly paraphrased in accented English and Chinese by a French Jesuit, both referring back to Hebrew, Greek, Latin and occasionally - since Kim is after all a Barthian - German.

It's enough, I can hear my friend M (no sympathizer of claims of easy translatability) say, to make my head explode... and we haven't even got to the Trinity yet. Oy. But also: how exciting! As I just learned from my new Chinese textbook (and am doubtless misusing): 别提多有趣了!

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