Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Reclaiming Catholic Theology Pt 3

I've been running a little series summarising the main points of a new paper put out by the International Theological Commission about what makes a theology genuinely Catholic. 

Here is part three of the paper, which looks at Chapter Two of the Theology Today, which is entitled "Abiding within the communion of the Church".  Note that this is just my paraphrase of it with a little contextual material - refer to the original text for the full sense and all the nuances of it!

Chapter Two: Doing theology within the Church

Over the last several decades, many Catholic theologians have sought to practice theology outside the Church, working in protestant and secular institutions, in many cases in order to avoid the Church’s regulatory function over their work.  Similarly, many in the Church have sought to actively draw on the work of protestant theologians in lieu of the tradition. 

Chapter Two of the Theology Today paper starts with a key counter assertion to these directions: “The proper place for theology is within the Church…” (para 20).

Criterion 4: Scripture is the foundation of theology (paras 21-24).

Theology, the paper asserts, is fundamentally about interpreting Scripture. Where Scripture is not the soul of theology, it is not in fact Catholic theology.

This is a point that the Pope draws out in Verbum Domini: the problem is that much contemporary exegesis, being concerned about things like authorship and how the text came into being, tends to be very detached from the concerns of contemporary theology and vice versa. They need to be reintegrated for genuine theological progress to be made.

Criterion 5: Theology must be faithful to Tradition, which includes Scripture, the liturgy, and the writings of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and attention to the teaching of the magisterium (paras 25-32).

In my introductory post on this paper I suggested that this point earlier as it is perhaps the most controversial of the criteria, and certainly the most complicated to grasp! But the essential point is that we are a Church grounded in what the Apostles have handed down, through their successors, to us:

What is handed on comprises ‘everything that serves to make the People of God live their lives in holiness and increase their faith’. The Church ‘in her doctrine, life and worship, perpetuates and transmits to every generation all that she herself is, all that she believes’.

It argues that while what is handed down remains unchanged, how well we understand it does change: “There is a growth in insight into the realities and words that are being passed on.” Tradition proper cannot be criticized; but certain traditions that are characteristic not of the Church as a whole, but only of particular religious orders, local churches or historical periods may be only human traditions, and are thus open to change.

Key points to note include:

  • the model presented by the Christian community in Acts is normative for all time: in it can be found ‘an anticipatory outline of the Church’s teaching and sacramental life, of its spirituality and commitment to charity’;
  • the principle Lex orandi (the rule of prayer), lex credendi (the rule of belief) and lex vivendi (the rule of life): how we pray affects what we believe and vice versa;
  • we need a constantly renewed study of sacred Scripture, liturgical worship, attention to what the witnesses of faith have taught through the ages, catechesis fostering growth in faith, practical love of God and neighbour, structured ecclesial ministry and the service given by the magisterium to the Word of God;
  • Scripture cannot be separated out from Tradition:it must be interpreted within the light of the Church;
  • the Church does not draw her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone, but from Tradition more broadly;
  • the Fathers are an enduring reference point for theology; the ‘unanimous consensus’ of the Fathers is a sure guide for the interpretation of Scripture;
  • the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils particularly where set out in solemn definitions remain normative and universally binding; 
  • the Pope or the bishops in conjunction with the Pope can infallibly define doctrines;
  • theology must recognize the ordinary and universal magisterium of the bishops, and the papal magisterium.
Criterion 6: Catholic theology reflects the sense of the faith of the people of the Church as a whole who are obedient to the Word of God and are led in the ways of faith by the Magisterium.

Many today appeal to the sensus fidelium, or the beliefs of the faithful, as meaning the majority opinion here and now. The paper clearly states that this is incorrect. In fact, it points out, the sensus fidelium cannot be understood aside from the hierarchical constitution of the Church.

The job of theologians, the paper argues, is to explicate the Church’s faith as it is found in the Scriptures, the liturgy, creeds, dogmas, catechisms, but also what the faithful themselves believe. At times this means critically examining those believes and if necessary providing correction to new trends in the name of fidelity to the Apostolic Tradition.

Criterion 7: Catholic theologians must adhere to the magisterium in its various gradations.

Theology claims to be about the knowledge of faith and an ecclesial task. It must therefore reflect the teaching of the magisterium to the various degrees required.

There is today a certain tension between bishops and theologians – this section attempts to articulate their respective roles, so theology services the Churches needs and there is a mutually collaboration between the two. The key is that theology investigates and articulates the faith of the Church, while the ecclesiastical magisterium proclaims that faith and authentically interprets it.

In this scheme of things, the paper state, dissent towards the magisterium has no place in Catholic theology: theologians are bound like everyone else to deepen their faith.

But investigation and questioning is sometimes justified and even necessary if theology is to fulfil its task.

Criterion 8: Theology must be open to collaboration and critique both within the community of theologians, as well as to the guidance of the hierarchy (paras 45-50)

This section tackles one of the more difficult areas in modern practice given the presence of the internet and more, namely the desirability of using the normal scholarly mechanisms to have your work critiqued before it is unleashed on the wider world, and the role of the hierarchy in ensuring that heresy is not disseminated.  There is a message here to the Sr Elizabeth Johnstone's of this world: seek an imprimateur for your books before publishing them, and if the bishops do intervene, recognise that they are just doing their job.

Criterion 9: Theology needs to pay attention to current events and cultural developments (paras 51-58)

We have to recognize that God’s providential guidance of history did not end with the New Testament! But of course not everything that happens is good, given free will. The Church has to be ready to respond to changes both positive and negative, and theologians have a role to play in interpreting and confronting philosophical and cultural movements as well as events in the light of revelation: ‘reading the signs of the times’.

Not all will necessarily agree, however, with the comment in the paper that the Church has sometimes been over cautious in relation to new movements such as the Enlightenment, and seen them only in terms of the the threat they pose to doctrine.

I will finish this series off in the next post...

1 comment:

Antonia Romanesca said...

Great - was not aware of this document. Its very, very relevant to my situation. Thanks ever so much!