The theological colloquium held in Darwin from 18–21 July prompted spirited conversations that were at times intense and at others reflective, but always heartfelt as members pondered possible meanings of the traditional promises of poverty, chastity and obedience.
Here, Dr Phillip Tolliday—theological consultant to SSM—reflects on the colloquium.
A significant part of the presentation was given over to a consideration of flesh and the body. We sought to attend to some of the ways in which the human body had been inscribed by poverty, chastity and obedience, to reflect upon these and to ask whether these promises might be inscribed upon our bodies in positive and constructive ways—which was not always so in the past. We were invited to consider poverty as a sense of detachment, a way of enjoying things but without being caught up or allured by them.
Obedience was figured as discernment, in which we sought to align the human will with the intimations of divine prompting, albeit ever attentive to the reality that such promptings are always already embedded within culture. How then to mediate between the absolute demand of God and the necessarily fragmentary and partial ways in which it is expressed?
Finally, we addressed our attention to the promise of chastity. The watchword here was permeability: this alluded to the nature of the body and the multifarious ways in which we affect and are affected by the world around us. On this interpretation chastity became a series of negotiations of the body’s boundaries, which turn out to be more porous than initially thought.
The material for these reflections was uncovered in scripture, primarily in John’s gospel and also in Paul’s letters and, in a more contemporary register, in the work of the French Phenomenologist, Maurice Merleau-Ponty.
By the end of our time together we had reached no consensus as to the meaning of these promises, we had disagreed about their definitions, but perhaps we had begun to glimpse a trace of their perennial significance for the religious life. And some wondered whether just maybe they had a perennial significance for all Christians.