The Unity and Rationality of Theology

Dear Reader,

I have been firmly committed to a view that theology is a unitary and a highly scientific discipline for some time now. I have also held that what we call the “New Evangelization” of post-Christian Europe and America cannot occur without a renewal of theology. For the past 50 or 60 years, especially after the Second Vatican Council, theology has become increasingly fragmented and, in my view, has become increasingly irrational. This happened for a variety of factors: acceptance of Heideggarian post-metaphysical thought, existentialism, etc. Often it was portrayed as “pastoral” that educated persons in the 21st century could not accept theology as a scientific discipline. Or, if it was “scientific,” it should only concern itself with “meta-narratives” of how people describe or experience some great “transcendental” moment that is somehow cross cultural – the “supernatural existential” (to pick on Rahner).

Now, it is quite right that theology should concern itself with practice and with growth in Christian life, but it is quite another thing to say that theology just is Christian life or is merely my “experience” of the faith (the latter understood not as doctrinal or cognitive at all, but as a vague trust in the Other with a capital “O”). Because people have redefined faith to mean something that excludes cognitive dimensions, it becomes subjective. If faith is just my trust in God, how can we discuss faith publicly? It is a Catholic version of Lutheran Pietism, where faith really can’t be in the public sphere of discourse and rationality. On the contrary, the Church has always held that faith critically involves some element of cognition, even as it is a kind of trust in God who reveals. Faith involves fides quae AND fides quo – it involves both the content that you believe AND the trust in God by which you believe the former.

Today, the International Theological Commission, a “think tank” for the Pope, released a new document precisely on this topic titled, “Theology Today.” I encourage you to read it entirely here if you ever were interested in what Catholic theology is or how it is done.

Some highlights:

  • The definition of theology: “Theology is scientific reflection on the divine revelation which the Church accepts by faith as universal saving truth.”
  •  Theological unity in method and goal does not proscribe conformity: “The unity of theology, therefore does not require uniformity, but rather a single focus on God’s Word and an explication of its innumerable riches by theologies able to dialogue and communicate with one another. Likewise, the plurality of theologies should not imply fragmentation or discord, but rather the exploration in myriad ways of God’s one saving truth.”
  • “‘Faith’ is both an act of belief or trust and also that which is believed or confessed, fides quaand fides quae, respectively. Both aspects work together inseparably, since trust is adhesion to a message with intelligible content, and confession cannot be reduced to mere lip service, it must come from the heart.” (I wrote my piece on these two aspects even before reading the document! O happy coincidence!)
  • “The sensus fidelium does not simply mean the majority opinion in a given time or culture, nor is it only a secondary affirmation of what is first taught by the magisterium. The sensus fidelium is the sensus fidei of the people of God as a whole who are obedient to the Word of God and are led in the ways of faith by their pastors. So the sensus fidelium is the sense of the faith that is deeply rooted in the people of God who receive, understand and live the Word of God in the Church.” The “sense of the faith” that the faithful have is not merely polling people for their opinion on Church teaching (aka, it doesn’t matter if 99.9% of people nominally Catholic reject some teaching – it is still true), nor is it merely the Church’s extraordinary teaching moments. Rather, it’s the lived sense of really faithful Catholics to the perpetual ubique et semper, everywhere and always, faith of the Christian creed. 

  • “While ‘dissent’ towards the magisterium has no place in Catholic theology, investigation and questioning is justified and even necessary if theology is to fulfil its task.[92] Whatever the situation, a mere formal and exterior obedience or adherence on the part of theologians is not sufficient. Theologians should strive to deepen their reflection on the truth proclaimed by the Church’s magisterium, and should seek its implications for the Christian life and for the service of the truth. ” Dissent from the Magisterium as a theologian means you’re just not doing theology. Rather, proposing questions or difficulties in freedom and then seeking to understand the faith better in response is a task of the theologian. 
  • “Today there is a new challenge, and Catholic theology has to deal with a post-modern crisis of classical reason itself that has serious implications for the intellectus fidei. The idea of ‘truth’ seems very problematic. Is there such a thing as ‘truth’? Is there only one ‘truth’? Does such an idea lead to intolerance and violence? Catholic theology traditionally operates with a strong sense of the capacity of reason to go beyond appearances and attain the reality and the truth of things, but today reason is often viewed weakly, as unable in principle to attain ‘reality’. There is therefore a problem in that the metaphysical orientation of philosophy, which was important for the former models of Catholic theology, remains in deep crisis. Theology can help to overcome this crisis and to revitalise an authentic metaphysics. ” This, I think, is the challenge of today: moving beyond post-metaphysical nonsense and revitalizing the metaphysical foundations of theology. 

I encourage you to read the whole thing if you’re at all interested in these issues. It’s a great article.


Yours in Christ,

Br. James Dominic, OP

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