Rationabile obsequium

 Rationabile obsequium

This phrase is the Latin Vulgate translation of the Greekλογικὴν λατρείαν” of Romans 12 verse 1 which is so hard to translate that our English versions have anything from “reasonable service” to “spiritual worship”. It is one of Paul’s ways of expressing how we offer ourselves to God, how we become living sacrifices.

However, down through the ages, it has developed a more specialist intent so, for instance, Bishop Henry Edward writing on Anselm, says that it best describes Anselm’s attitude to the relationship of faith to intellectual work, a “rendering to God the reasonable service of the intellect”.

I find that a lovely description of what we are trying to do as theological educators.

Academic work is quite rightly following a set of rules of good thinking, of right use of sources, of critical judgment checkable by our peers, of the search for what is true, sometimes understanding what people believed to be true, of creating a sustainable argument. Doing this, we produce material for articles, books, lectures and seminars, help students to understand processes and grow in intellectual skills.

And sometimes we forget why we are doing it. We forget that what we are about is rendering to God the service of the intellect.

As theological educators, we are a very mixed bunch, often we don’t have much to lay at the feet of our Lord. It is doubtful if we have much finance which could advance his cause, some of us do not have many other skills – with people, in leadership, by administration through preaching (although if we do have some of these skills, they also are for offering). We are reminded of the line from the carol “What can I give Him, poor as I am?”

But we can think. We can love the lord with our mind, we can render to God the reasonable service of the intellect. To do our job for Him, to do our job as a contribution to his intentions in this world, to do our job as a service to his Church.

But I think we can go one step deeper into the phrase and fairly translate λατρείαν or obsequium as worship. So, the use of our intellectual abilities to deliberately serve God is offering to Him an act of worship. Every time we do so.

Now that is a beautiful thought to put into perspective all the hard work we anticipate in the new year.

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One Comment on “Rationabile obsequium”

  1. Thoroughly stimulating input for the new year. Thanks, Graham!

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