Intellectual Patience and Humanity

As of late, I’ve taken some time away from reading my favorite theologian, John Webster. This is not due to distaste or disagreement, but simply lack of time. However, I decided to take up and skim through an essay during a break to be refreshed—and indeed refreshed I was. John Webster has a peculiar way of saying things that’s not simply poetic, but also moving, though the two aren’t necessarily opposed. When Webster writes, it seems that he simply lets the beauty of theology’s content simply speak for itself—and there is something truly beautiful when we let theology simply be theology.

In his inaugural speech delivered at St. Andrews, Webster spoke on intellectual virtue, specifically on intellectual patience. To close his essay, Professor Webster shows that if we are to face and engage threats to the pursuit of good—whether intellectual or otherwise—we need to have an understanding and practice of virtues, which in turn requires a proper and well-informed theology of creation and humanity, and thus, a good doctrine of God. I’ll let Webster say the rest here:

“Divines [theologians] find themselves under a particular obligation here: to explicate how it is that the intellectual life is part of the good life, and how the good life is that life in which our given nature comes to be realized. To grasp that nature, to observe and understand its inherent direction and to follow vocation which it carries within itself, we need to grasp its creatureliness, its absolutely conditioned character. To be human is in every element of our being to be referred to a source of life; and that reference is not dark heteronomy but the deeply happy reality that, though we might not have been, by divine generosity we are and live. It is this which makes intellectual life possible, and which sustains it when harassed by difficulty. Action and emotion are rightly ordered when they follow being or nature; virtues are excellences which direct and preserve this following of nature. Patience is the virtue which directs and preserves by checking distress at adversity as we wait for and persevere towards nature’s completion, and so imparts quiet vigor to our often harassed undertakings.”[1]

[1] John Webster, “Intellectual Patience,” in God Without Measure, 2:187.