Christoph Markschies on Portraying the History of Theology as a One-Way Street

Since I am now pressing toward the submission of my translation of Christoph Markschies’ book Kaiserzeitliche christliche Theologie und ihre Institutionen: Prolegomena zu einer Geschichte der antiken christlichen Theologie / Christian Theology and its Institutions in the Early Roman Empire: Prolegomena to a History of Early Christian Theology, it seemed fitting to include an excerpt from this work as today’s key quotation.

As usual I will begin with the English translation so that the (selective) grammatical commentary directly follows the German text.

I. Translation and German Original

Christian Theology and Its Institutions in the Early Roman Empire: Many classical and present-day portrayals of the history of Christian theology describe the path of Christian theology as a kind of one-way street … I wish to designate this hermeneutical model as a “one-way street” because it basically starts implicitly from the present organizational form of scholarly theological reflection at universities and reconstructs the development of the history of theology from this endpoint as teleology. … Such a teleology, which—as indicated—starts implicitly from the present form of theological reflection, which is oriented to philosophical standards of rationality as its norm, must almost inevitably marginalize other forms of theological reflection as unimportant byways or even as unfruitful dead ends—and it is then left to general ecclesial or even societal trends to discover the relevance of these alleged byways and dead ends.

Kaiserzeitliche christliche Theologie und ihre Institutionen: (pp. 11-12): Viele klassische und aktuelle Darstellungen der christlichen Theologiegeschichte beschreiben den Weg der christlichen Theologie als eine Art von Einbahnstraße … Als „Einbahnstraße“ möchte ich dieses hermeneutische Modell bezeichnen, weil es im Grunde implizit von der gegenwärtigen Organisationsgestalt wissenschaftlicher theologischer Reflexion an Universitäten ausgeht und von diesem Endpunkt her die Entwicklung der Theologiegesichchte als Teleologie rekonstruiert. … Eine solche Teleologie, die – wie gesagt – implizit von der heutigen, an philosophischen Rationalitätsstandards orientierten Form von theologischer Reflexion als Norm ausgeht, muß nahezu zwangsläufig andere Formen von theologischer Reflexion als unwichtigere Seitenwege oder gar als unfruchtbare Sackgassen marginalisieren – und es bleibt dann allgemeinen kirchlichen oder gar gesellschaftlichen Modeströmungen vorbehalten, die Relevanz dieser angeblichen Seitenwege und Sackgassen zu entdecken.

II. Select grammatical analysis

One of the first lessons learned in German is that the verb occupies the second position in a sentence, which requires some clarification. It does not mean that the verb is always the second word but that it occurs as the second element in a sentence. Here, the first element is the rather lengthy phrase Viele … Darstellungen … der … Theologiegeschichte, which forms the subject of the verb beschreiben. I considered translating wissenschaftlicher as “academic” in this context, but stuck with “scholarly” in view of its broader associations (for further discussion of the translation of Wissenschaft/wissenschaftliche, see here).  As usual, the participial modifier an … orientierten in the phrase von der heutigen, an philosophischen Rationalitätsstandards orientierten Form von theologischer Reflexion has to be transformed into a relative clause: from the present form of theological reflection, which is oriented to philosophical standards of rationality

III. Substantive analysis

At first glance, it may seem surprising that Markschies structures the argument of the second major section of his book around three rather different institutional contexts, namely The Free Teachers and Christian Schools (2.1), The Montanist Prophets and their Circle (2.2), and The Christian Worship Service and its Prayers (2.3). Against the background of this programmatic key statement, however, his logic becomes much clearer. In short, once one has become conscious of the extent to which the “one-way street model” has influenced one’s approach to the material, it becomes evident that greater attention must be given to a diverse range of institutional contexts if one wishes to grasp something of the full range of the dynamics and forms that characterized the history of theology in the first centuries of Christianity.

For my other posts on Christoph Markschies, see here.

For a few audio recordings and videos of Christoph Markschies, see here.

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German Mondays: Thank you for making it to the end of this blog post! In an effort to provide a sense of regularity and predictability for this blog’s readership, I plan on writing a new post each Monday. So hopefully I will ‘see’ you again in a week’s time. Best, Wayne.


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