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Sunday, January 6, 2013

A Return

Revisiting a place you've left long ago stimulates contrary emotions: a sense of security in the familiar, the nostalgia of retouched images of a simpler past, and gratitude, "I'm so glad I've moved on from here."

My friend Bob brought me back to a long left place. We were discussing the consciousness necessary for socio-economic change and talked about establishing a team to deal with the "theology for a new economy." I said that the insights of the new science would be important. He introduced me to Vast Universe by Thomas F O'Meara and Quantum Theology by Diarmiud O'Murcho, both Christian, indeed Catholic, theologians well versed and enthused with the new cosmology. I picked up and am reading both works.

So after a long absence, I return to the familiar terrain that I inhabited in a Jesuit theological school for five years and then University of Chicago Divinity School for two years. Not without some nostalgia, but mostly with the sense that I am glad to be out of there and do not want to go back. I explain.

"Fides quaerens intellectum" or "faith seeking understanding" is the classic definition of theology. There are (at least) three kinds of Christian theology--with parallels, I bet, in other religious traditions.

The first kind of theology, that of pastors, preachers, and congregants, is simply fides--meaning the beliefs which have been passed on verbatim (in the same words) as though they were literally given from on high by God or his messenger, usually written in holy scriptures by directly inspired scribes, and possibly interpreted and affirmed by authorities under divine inspiration. Theology of the first kind is mainly accepting the revealed teachings as given and learning how to apply them to present situations. Catechetics, Pastoral Theology, and Apologetics are names given to this endeavor. So it is not really theology in the classical sense at all and often puts pastors and authorities in tension with theologians.

The second kind of theology is "fides quaerens intellectum" whereby the very meaning of the traditional doctrines are questioned in the light of new understandings of the world and humanity. There  is no intent to change the revealed doctrines but simply to deepen the understanding of these beliefs and re-express them in the idiom of contemporary humanity. A philosophy is often used to further the understanding of humanity's place in the world and how revealed truth complements that understanding. Thomas Aquinas is the best example of this in his effort to treat the inquiries of the new science of the Muslim intellectuals in dialogue with Aristotle through a method of disputations, that is, logical weighing of alternative answers, under the authority of the teachings of Augustine and the Fathers of the Church interpreting Holy Scripture. Even in that, his orthodoxy was often suspected by thirteenth century authorities because of the use he made of natural reason and pagan inquiry. But now that he is officially approved, Neo-Thomism as taught in seminaries best represents this theology as a basis for Catechetics, Pastoral Theology, and Apologetics.

The third kind of theology is "fides quaerens intellectum querentem fidem" or "faith seeking the mind that is seeking faith." This theology is influenced by the modern philosophy of mind, led by Kant and Hegel, dialogues with contemporary existentialism, pragmatism, and science, and uses the methods of historical criticism and hermaneutics to understand the context and meanings of traditional teachings. It starts within the faith tradition assuming its historical teachings. But it interprets those teachings for contemporary humanity by both uncovering the developing context of those teachings and by discovering the human mind, its drives, its potentiality, its limits, its intentionality, as the subject and the receptacle of those teachings. Catholic theologians of the third kind to gain acceptance in the past tried to show their consistency with the development of Thomistic theology. Their triumph occurred in the Second Vatican Council which brought Catholicism into full dialogue and integration with the contemporary world in order to deal with the issues of the contemporary world from a Christian perspective, but not pretending to have all the answers.

Since then it seems that theology has consisted of either a further unfolding of the third kind especially in response to new science or a reactionary throw back to the other two kinds because of a perceived threat to orthodoxy and the confusion of the faithful.

O'Meara and O'Murcho both situate themselves in third kind theology though O'Meara in his uncritical acceptance of Catholic doctrine seems to veer more closely to the second kind. O'Murcho, I feel, is reaching beyond Christian theology but is held back by his mission to the Church.

More on this next time as I pursue my recent journey in nostalgia.