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Eric Voegelin on the role of dogma in the christian tradition

""Professor Altizer, if I understand him correctly, identifies `Christianity' with the Christian dogma and is therefore inclined to attribute to my pursuit of `the mystery' an originality which I must modestly decline. There were always Christian thinkers who recognized the difference between experiences of divine reality and the transformation of the insights engendered by the experience into doctrinal propositions. The tension between theologia mystica and theologia dogmatica goes as far back as the Patres... "As far as my own vocabulary is concerned, I am very conscious of not relying on the language of doctrine, but I am equally conscious of not going beyond the orbit of Christianity when I prefer the experiential symbol `divine reality' to the God of the Creed...

"Having brought the larger range of Christian thought to attention, I can now heartily agree with Professor Altizer in his attribution of a guilt to `Christianity.' It is the guilt of Christian thinkers and Church leaders of having allowed the dogma to separate in the public consciousness of Western civilization from the experience of `the mystery' on which its truth depends. The dogma develops as a socially and culturally necessary protection of insights experientially gained against false propositions; its development is secondary to the truth of experience. If its truth is pretended to be autonomous, its validity will come under attack in any situation of social crisis, when alienation becomes a mass phenomenon; the dogma will then be misunderstood as an `opinion' which one can believe or not, and it will be opposed by counter-opinions which dogmatize the experience of alienated existence. The development of a nominalist and fideist conception of Christianity is the cultural disaster, with its origins in the late Middle Ages, that provokes the reaction of alienated existence in the dogmatic form of the ideologies, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The result is the state of deculturation with which we are all too familiar from our daily talks with students who are caught in the intellectual confusion of a debate that proceeds, not by recourse to experience, but by position and counter-position of opinion. Once truth has degenerated to the level of true doctrine, the return from orthodoxy to `the mystery' is a process that appears to require as many centuries of effort as have gone into the destruction of intellectual and spiritual culture." [Voegelin, CW 12:293-295]