Mastered by Divinity

In his sermon last Sunday, my pastor Tom Bartley mentioned the irony of one being awarded the title “Master of Divinity.” The notion that one can master the subject of divinity, and perhaps even the Divine, reflects our hubris and our desire to control.

As I thought about this, I realized that, while some religious traditions emphasize “mastering divinity,” others emphasize being mastered by divinity. The mystical traditions in particular reflect the latter approach.

The one is all about power and its concentration in particular human hands. It may use the language of being mastered by God, but what is really meant is that you submit to their alleged comprehension of God.

The other is about being genuinely humble, and open to the infinite, in a manner that is liable to make you willing to question and doubt those human claims to have it all figured out, and to have a corner on the truth.

The course of study that leads to a “Master of Divinity” degree can be part of either approach, depending on the attitude and outlook of the person undertaking it. Study can lead to confidence in one’s own understanding, and/or humility about one’s lack of complete mastery.

  • Brant Clements

    When I received my MDiv, I made a photocopy of the diploma and mailed it to my mother with a note that said, “Look, Ma! I’m a divine master!”

    Of course, I’ve never mastered divinity. (I can’t even make decent fudge).

    Bad puns aside, the closer I draw to the divine, the greater the mystery.


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