Monday, 12 March 2012

Reclaiming Catholic Theology/2: Revelation

A few days back I gave a bit of an overview of the new International Theological Commission paper Theology to Today: Perspectives, Principles and Criteria.

I said I'd come back to and offer an attempt at a plain English summary of its key points. Here is the first installment of that!

Overview of the paper

The basic summary this document offers of itself is that while there can be many ‘theologies’, focusing on different aspects of the Christian message, methods or appealing to particular times and cultures, anything claiming to be Catholic must be identifiable as such.  But as there is only one saviour, one Church, which is also holy, Catholic and apostolic, and theology needs to reflect that. We need to sound as if we are unified in presenting ourselves to the world, sound as if we are part of the same family, be identifiably catholic.

The paper argues that a theology is Catholic if it:

Chapter One: Arises from an attentive listening to the Word of God;

Chapter Two: Is undertaken within the Church’s confines and reflecting its guidance; and

Chapter Three: Is orientated to the service of God in the world – theology is taken for and formed by the Church’s mission, it is not a purely academic exercize.

Today, I'm going to look just at Chapter One of the document, which contains the first three of ten 'criteria' for catholic theology.

Do bear in mind that this is my paraphrase of it; you may wish to refer back to the paper itself.

Chapter One summary

Criterion 1: Catholic theology gives primacy of the Word of God, to Revelation in its diverse form, including through Creation, Scripture and Tradition, and above all in the life, death and resurrection of Christ. (paras 6-9)

The Church venerates Scripture but the ‘Gospel of God’ is more than the Old and New Testaments which testify to it.

Rather, Revelation starts from the very witness of creation, brought to culmination by the Incarnation of the Word as Christ.

Scriptures are ‘inspired by God and committed to writing once and for all time’; hence, ‘they present God’s own Word in an unalterable form. But they depend on the assistance to readers of the Holy Spirit for understanding.

Tradition is the faithful transmission of the Word of God, witnessed in the canon of Scripture by the prophets and the apostles and in the liturgy, testimony and service of the Church.

Criterion 2: Catholic theology takes the faith of the Church as its source, context and norm (paras 10-15).

Faith, an act of submission of mind and will, comes from hearing the Word of God through the spirit of God, preached on the foundation of the Apostles.

It is a personal act, but made in the context of the Church and her creeds and teachings, founded on the Apostles. Accordingly, theology cannot be based in heresy.

Criterion 3: Catholic theology is rational and systematic: it strives to understand what the Church believes, why it believes, and what can be known about God and his truths.

Faith comes first; only once we have made the act of faith is our mind is opened up, able to seek understanding.

Faith and reason work together, allowing us to penetrate ever greater into the mysteries of faith.

Our efforts to increase our understanding of our faith can take many forms, including meditation, lectio divina and so forth.

It becomes theology when it is undertaken in a rational and systematic manner.

Further reading...
I do hope this summary is useful. 
If you want to read a little more on any of these points in relatively straightforward form, I'd recommend starting with the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and then referring back to the Catechism proper (and the sources it lists).  Criterion 1 is covered in questions numbered 6 to 24; Criterion 2 in questions 25 to 32. 
For those up for a more challenging read, Pope John Paul II's Fides et Ratio is the key magisterial explication of the relationship between faith and reason. 
But Question 1 of St Thomas' Summa is well worth reading first!

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