Friday, June 08, 2012

Theology: the triumph of orthodoxy

I  am not sure how much use the scripture and theology I learnt in the seminary thirty years ago is in either my pastoral work, preaching or celebration of the sacraments.

I remember being criticised for quoting, occasionally, a certain German theologian and it being suggested that whilst it was alright keeping Kung, Schillebeeckx and Curran on my bookshelves, they were actually supplied "ad usum" by the seminary, that it might be better not to display quite so prominently this theologian's work. That theologian is now Pope and the priest who gave me the warning is now married, and I think, divorced.
Many priests of my generation are really autodidacts. Not all, but much of what was presented was dissenting, younger clergy who came to teach had earned whatever qualification they had in the maelstrom that followed Vatican II, and often their qualifications were pretty light; a simple first degree or STL, sometimes in a subject only loosely connected with what they taught. Few were pastorally minded priests, some were priests who were having difficulties.
 I gave up on official clergy in service training courses after a tedious three days with a prominent scripture scholar who spent that time "proving" the fabrication of various creedal statements, like the Resurrection. The real problem was that no-one really understood the purpose of theology or scripture.
The situation is quite different I understand, now, at least in our three surviving English Seminaries but the recent CDF condemnation of Sister Margaret Farley's Just Loving and the response by the the leadership of the 1,500 member Catholic Theological Society of America show that in the Church at large there is still a serious problem with the role of theology and theologians. The expectations of "academic", albeit Catholic theologians even on the level of "popular theology" in the newspapers like the Catholic Times or Ma P's Journal, the Pope's words to our Bishops, "It is important to recognize dissent for what it is, and not to mistake it for a mature contribution to a balanced and wide-ranging debate", are not taken entirely seriously.
I discussed this with one of our bishops recently, he said there were two ways of dealing with the matter: negatively with blanket condemnations, the quick solution or positively, slowly by raising the standard of the arguments for orthodoxy. "Orthodoxy", he said, "would triumph, because it is True", I think this is really the Pope's position.
Last week we had Fr Aidan Nichols giving a talk here: The Future of the Church in England, the video I hope will be soon, his latest work is Chalice of God is pretty exciting, he describes it as a manifesto for a systematic theology, it is that but it is also a statement of personal belief by a serious theologian who takes into account East and West, and does what Vatican II demands: a return to the Scripture and the Fathers.
It is so exciting when theologians can say "I accept the Magisterium", "I believe the Pope is the successor of Peter"!


Jacobi said...


May I congratulate you on having surivived "Kung, Schillibeeckx and Curran"! I am no theologian, but I have observed the fruits of their labour, and therefore know them for what they are.

I am sure the slow raising of standards towards orthodoxy is the right approach, but it will take time and meanwhile the Western Church continues to decline numerically, and "silent apostasy" is widespread.

Recently we have seen an increasing push, last gasp I trust, from the now-discredited "Spirit of Vatican II" lot, so we must remember the debates are far from over and that there is much work to be done in restoring the Barque of Peter to a steady course of progress in Continuity.

JARay said...

I too discern an improvement in things but the fall-out is not over yet. Only a couple of days ago I heard that there has been a drop in the numbers of the Catenian Association in Ireland because several have ceased to be "practicing Catholics" and hence have resigned from the Association. How sad!

JARay said...

Perhaps I could also add that it is some years since I have read the Catholic Times but I gather that the "famous" popular theologian who used to be published in the paper is still at it. He was always a weird one. I go back to our schooldays. We were at school together!

Tonia Marshall said...

I'm studying Theology in Sydney alongside a few seminarians. We were given 18 chapters and articles to read for the Introduction to Theology unit and they included one by Aidan Nichols. Avery Dulles featured heavily and of course Pope Benedict. I saw a book by Kung at the college. It was in a book sale in the car park!

mike hurcum said...

that is not a Catholic Chalice by any stretch of a protestants imagination

Fr Ray Blake said...

It is, I think, a "chalice" for blessed bread, there are many examples of this type of wooden vessel in Russian museums, most date from the 16th/17th cent.

I suspect it was the publishers intention to introduce something Byzantine

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