Friday, December 9, 2011

Theological Argument

I keep meeting people who (though they should know better, and even have degrees in theology or its ancillary disciplines) appeal to everything but divine revelation to answer theological questions. They argue from experience, from other people's claimed experience, from history, from principles of ethicists or liturgists or ecclesiastical bureaucrats, from the social sciences, and from vague moralistic renderings akin to "What Would Jesus Do?" But arguments from revelation are rare. The usual theological loci are neglected. Even broadly metaphysical arguments (from the nature of the First Cause, or from the disproportion between human action and supernatural effects) are missing.

In its most disturbing form this comes from zealous Catholics who are on the side of the angels. I'm thinking of Radical Orthodoxy, positivist Catholic ethicists, moral arguers, culture critics, and fans of the ressourcement movement. It's hard to say what's missing. Deep theological formation? Continuity with living tradition? Instinct? Maybe just the basic point that theology draws its principles from the mind of God. (Recently I heard a priest class theological arguments from authority as the very weakest sort of argument -- forgetting what he must have learned in seminary, viz that such arguments are indeed weak, except when, as was the case in this instance, the authority in question is God. THEN the argument from authority is strong indeed, and properly theological.) Oh, well.

Grouse, grouse. Maybe next I'll review this new book, coming out of Ireland, about the ressourcement movement. It's expensive, so I must find a journal that wants a review!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Historical Theology

Historical Theology studies the history of theology, especially the development of theological and religious ideas in their social, cultural, or other historical context. It's fascinating, important, and hugely influential. For Catholics HT was given a boost by the Second Vatican Council, which directed that seminary education in dogmatic theology should take the "genetic" approach:

Dogmatic theology should be so arranged that these biblical themes are proposed first of all. Next there should be opened up to the students what the Fathers of the Eastern and Western Church have contributed to the faithful transmission and development of the individual truths of revelation. The further history of dogma should also be presented, account being taken of its relation to the general history of the Church. Next, in order that they may illumine the mysteries of salvation as completely as possible, the students should learn to penetrate them more deeply with the help of speculation, under the guidance of St. Thomas, and to perceive their interconnections. They should be taught to recognize these same mysteries as present and working in liturgical actions and in the entire life of the Church. They should learn to seek the solutions to human problems under the light of revelation, to apply the eternal truths of revelation to the changeable conditions of human affairs and to communicate them in a way suited to men of our day. (Optatum totius, n.16) 

These pedagogical instructions are an incentive, at least to me, to distinguish (a) systematics from dogmatics, (b) clerical education from theological education, and (c) overall formation from theological education. OT n. 16 is typically taken as a design for individual seminary courses: each dogma course begins with the Bible, proceeds through the Fathers and the twists of Church history, pays a visit to Aquinas, and runs into reflections on the life of the Church. I think we'd do better, however, to take this paragraph of OT as a plan for overall priestly formation. Ordinandi should soak in the Bible and the Fathers, should learn church history, and should be challenged (and already motivated) to connect the eternal truth with present-day questions. The speculative penetration of divine truth and the appreciation of the analogy of faith, under St Thomas's guidance, is the properly theological part of this education. This ought not to be restricted, I'd say, to a week or two or three in any given course: instead following Aquinas's pedagogy in sacred doctrine should be the main work of every theology course. I assume, however, that the other matters--Scripure, the Fathers, etc.--are being learned elsewhere, both in the classroom and outside it.

If systematic theology (i.e., theology) courses must all be taught genetically, then what about courses in Scripture, Patristics, History, Liturgy, Pastoral Theology, etc.? Will these have dogmatic and indeed Thomistic sections, since their material is, or contributes to, dogma? Hmm, I thought not. You could wreck a good theological education program by embracing OT n. 16 too vigorously.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Curmudgeonly Note on Undergraduate Theology

A Catholic college or university should, of course, have courses (and requirements!) ensuring that undergraduates are suitably educated in the doctrine, history, and culture of the faith. Typically, though, undergrads are no more ready for theology than they are for law or medicine. Future theologians would be well-served by a good philosophy program, supplemented by spiritual formation (the liturgy and sacraments, private prayer, lectio divina) and by courses in the positive religious sciences, loosely so called. My scheme would be for the undergraduates to study the Scriptures, Church history, and perhaps apologetics, making it clear that these are preparatory subjects for theology proper.

Who should teach undergraduates theology? Those qualified and willing, of course. A Dominican with an STL, if he reads widely and constantly in theology, is an excellent candidate. I don't think, though, that simply teaching undergraduates is a good work for Dominicans with doctorates in theology proper. Unlike the brethren with doctorates in most secular subjects, theologians don't have a subject that lends itself to undergrad presentation. Nobody would dream of sending new high school graduates into a major seminary to begin a B.Div. (STB, MDiv, or whatever); but somehow we think the same rudimentary theology courses can be watered down even further to make them part of the BA curriculum. Well, maybe. But I doubt it.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor Day

Like the world, Labor Day was created in six days. That's how long it tool for the bill to sail through Congress and be signed into law by President Grover Cleveland in 1894. The holiday was created to soothe unionized labor in the wake of the Pullman strike (which involved railroad workers in the company monopoly-town of Pullman, Illinois; the strike became violent, disrupted the Mail, and was forcibly put down by US Marshalls and the Army, with a dozen deaths).

The ambiguity of our public holiday matches the ambiguous role of organized labor. Everybody knows unions have done a lot of good, and have also been crooked and sometimes violent. The same can be said of employers. Accordingly a Christian observance of Labor Day needs nuance, and will call for honesty, justice, and generosity from workers and employers alike.

The Scriptures teach that the need for hard labor results from original sin. While Adam was supposed to tend the garden of Eden from the very beginning, it was only after the Fall that he began to eat his bread by the sweat of his brow. During this life the redeemed must still toil, and "those who do not work should not eat." But at the same time the Gospel urges and delivers a freedom from anxiety about toil. We're supposed to work, but are not supposed to worry about what we are to eat, or drink, or wear. "Seek first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness," says Jesus, "and all these things will be given you besides." We can be content, indeed joyful, with a poor sufficiency, knowing that God is our great and everlasting love and treasure. We work a few shifts, and as hard as they may be we can look forward to a sabbath that lasts forever, and to the crown of life, everlasting life in God, as our great reward.

(Not the sermon I preached today, but something like this might not be bad next year!)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Man Fully Alive

It was trendy at and after Vatican II to quote this phrase from St Irenaeus's Adversus haereses (iv.20.7): "The glory of God is man fully alive...." The second half of the sentence was often omitted, as was the context of the remark.

The passage is: "The glory of God is man fully alive, and the life of man is the vision of God. If the revelation of God through creation already brings life to all living beings on the earth, how much more will the manifestation of the Father by the Word bring life to those who see God."

It's the beholding of God that gives glorious divine life to man. Without the visio Dei, we're dead. And how do you get this vision? Only in the Word, who makes God known while still preserving the invisibility of the Father. And notice that St Irenaeus also distinguishes between natural, earthly life--given by the Word in creation--and the supernatural life that comes from the manifestation of the Father in Christ. 

Keep this up and, next thing you know, people will start to think the Catholic faith is natural, so that believers can be "architects of a new humanity." Yikes!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Down with "Catholicism"!

The word "Catholicism" (first French, catholicisme) was coined in early modern times, after the Protestant Reformation had begun. Does this word every really help? Does it mean something clear and definite? We use it in place of "the Catholic faith" and "the culture of Catholics"; it seems to me that the word means more the latter, but regularly tries to pass for the former. But the Catholic faith is not an entire culture, nor does it substitute for secularity and extra-ecclesial culture. No place in the vale of tears is simply Catholic. To my sense of it, the word Catholicism is never exactly the right word.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

History Problems

Teaching in the Western Civ programs brings the problem of historical theology to the fore. In this particular course it makes sense to proceed chronologically, sampling theology and philosophy along the way. But history sets the pace. Literature and art seem to keep up with history fairly well, but philosophy and theology really suffer.

Take Western Civ's first semester. The expected theology lectures cover Genesis, Exodus, a wisdom book or two, a prophet or two, a Gospel, St Paul, a couple of the great ecumenical councils, St Augustine, and Islam. Possibly monasticism as well.

I intend to cover these topics theologically, though some history and literary commentary must sneak in. The challenge is to fit a theological presentation into a chronological course of studies, and to make the students aware of what theology is. "Faith seeking understanding" does not begin with page 1 of Genesis. For any hope of understanding, Faith needs to be duly informed -- the believer should have an acquaintance with the Bible and the habit of hearing it; a familiarity with the liturgy; and, ideally, charity. A grounding in the arts, sciences, and philosophy is indispensable, and elementary Latin helps. For these reasons I think undergraduate programs ought to include pre-Theology, as they include pre-Med and pre-Law: you can't enter the specialties of these learned professions until you've already got what a decent undergraduate education provides.

Given that we have "college theology," though, and given the requirement of chronological presentation, what's the best way to proceed? Well, take lecture 1, on Genesis. The students will be responsible for having read the book, or parts of it, before the lecture. I don't plan to begin, however, with an exposition of text. Instead I'll begin by explaining that theology is not religious studies; I'll contrast the two approaches, and explain that I will be teaching them about the theological content and interest of the texts they read -- that is, the Catholic theological content and interest. For Islam, I'll take a religious studies perspective, mostly, and conclude with a comparison of Islam and Christianity. Likewise for rabbinical Judaism, which will come into the lecture on the prophets. I believe there's also a lecture of Hellenism and the Jews, which will be fun and important.

Can I lead my students to appreciate that a theological perspective is intelligible and intellectually legitimate? That's one of my big goals, since without this theology is reduced to history. I don't want them to be modernists, rationalists, or po-mo relativists.

Back Again

OK, it's time for a second try at blogging. I have the joy of supervising an STL thesis on physical premotion, a job teaching the religion and theology parts of "Development of Western Civilization" (first year, 1000BC to AD1600), and several writing projects, the most demanding of which is a popular book on grace.

I shall try, I think, to use this blog as a place for working out theological problems. If anyone happens to read these notes and feel like commenting or contributing, please do.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

End of the Road

While this is a good name for a blog, I am hereby leaving it to lie fallow. Sayonara.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Study and Blog Neglect

I confess to almighty God, and to you blog-readers, that I have neglected this blog through my own fault. This is related to the fact that I've been neglecting serious study since February. Instead I was doing a lot of preaching; funny, these are supposed to go together!

More on physical premotion shortly....

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Idea for a play

Good help is hard to find. 
Theology, Queen of the Sciences, has a new servant, eager to become her handmaid. The Queen has not asked faithful Philosophy to retire, though Philosophy is older than the Queen herself, but she has reposed more and more responsibility upon the new domestic’s narrow shoulders. This new servant is, in truth, still a chit of a discipline. Her name is History. She is not wicked, but Theology (and everyone else) is enchanted with her. And this is the tale of her childhood, royal hiring, and mischief to date. The story’s dramatic tension can only be resolved if History grows up. And here she needs not only the Queen’s help, but that of Philosophy to realize she is not a science and wrongly aspires to membership in the Queen's scientific inner circle. Cue overture.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

What's so hot about Thomism?

Whether Thomism is really so hot.

Objection 1. It seems that Thomism is not so hot. For hotness in a theological system consists in giving the right answers to questions. But if asked “Was Mary immaculately conceived?” (or certain other questions) Thomism gives the wrong answer, while another system gives the right one. So Thomism is not so hot.

Objection 2. Thomism—indeed much theology—claims to be a science, yet to answer all questions correctly it needs to know the answers in advance. But this makes Thomism (and much theology) inconsequential, for we need not resort to it if we have our answers in advance. Insofar as hotness consists in answering questions of consequence, then, Thomism, and much theology with it, is not so hot.

Objection 3. Thomists, the devotees of Thomism, are often narrow-minded, ignorant, stubborn, and otherwise annoying. Since this practically amounts to a pathological syndrome, we speak of the Dominican disease, which consists in knowing Aquinas but nothing else. Were Thomism so hot, it would either prevent or cure this disease; and, since it does neither, it is not so hot.

Objection 4. After an extraordinary supernatural experience Thomas Aquinas stopped writing and likened his works to a quantity of straw, which is not so hot. Since the works of Aquinas are essential to Thomism, Thomism is, according to Aquinas, not so hot.

But on the contrary is the authority of Pope Bl. John XXIII, who said of Aquinas’s teaching that it is, more than any other, fully in keeping with the truths that God has revealed, with the writings of the Holy Fathers, and with the principles of right reason, and therefore Holy Church has adopted it as her own, and has given the name of common or universal teacher to its author.

I answer that being so hot it predicated of one thing in relation to another. Compared with divine Truth, divine Charity, and the sacred Scriptures, Thomism is not so hot, for these are either God (who is a consuming fire) or inspired of God, whereas Thomism is a school of sapiential science elaborated by human authors only. Yet Thomism is justifiably said to be so hot, and for four reasons.

First, Thomism—and all theological science—depends on the revelation of the divine understanding for its principles. But no other science does this. So Thomism, and all theological science, is relatively hot by reason of its share in the divine hotness.

Second, Thomism—and all theological science—is hot both by reason of its scientific certainty (in which it is hotter than the inductive and positive sciences, but no hotter than the deductive sciences of mathematics, philosophy, and the like) and by reason of its inculcating wisdom about divine things. For while philosophy imparts wisdom about divine things in a purely natural manner, for his divine attributes, namely his power and deity, have been known since the creation of the world by the things that have been made, theology, including Thomism, does so more fully, surely, and fruitfully on account of its drawing on the scientia divina, as we have shown (cf. STh 1a, q1, a1). Accordingly Thomism, and all theology, is, by believers, reckoned way, way hotter than all purely natural understanding.

Third, Thomism is so hot because it is in two respects unrivalled by any comparable theological school. First, has not departed from the demonstrable faith of the ancient church. Second, it accommodates doctrinal development, non-theological science, and its own positive mistakes. 

Fourth, hotness is predicated of Thomism because it is, for certain purposes, pedagogically unsurpassed. On one hand, Thomism is more extensive, sophisticated, well-organized, and deliberately adapted to the study of divinity in a contemplative setting than the other major theological pedagogy, namely the Sentences of Peter Lombard. On the other hand, as stated above, Thomism keeps traditional dogma without ignoring development, secularity, or its own fallibility. Thomism is so hot because other pedagogical theologies are either even more academic or even more doctrinaire.

Reply to objection 1. Being so hot is a matter of relative quality, and relative to other theological schools Thomism is far and away the most consistently correct. That there are exceptions that concern matters of fact or newly-defined dogmas is neither surprising nor inconsistent with being so hot. In the example given and others, the virtue of Thomism is shown in its asking the right questions and facilitating clear thought about the topic.

Reply to objection 2. Theology is not a positive science but rather is a sapiential doctrine subalternated to the divine understanding. That it needs some answers (revelation, the Creed) to do its explanatory work does not detract from its hotness.

Reply to objection 3. The Gospel, though supernaturally hot, does not altogether prevent vice or imperfection in Christians, or even their misuse of the Gospel; still less may we expect Thomism to do these things for its students. Moreover, the correlation of Thomism to general ignorance does not imply causation: the Dominican disease is more plausibly explained by pride, sloth, immoderate zeal, and the specialization born of positive or Thomastic studies.

Reply to objection 4. Relative to God, Thomism is not so hot. Hotness may yet be predicated of Thomism—and is rightly so predicated—because of Thomism’s hotness in relation to other theologies and disciplines.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Victor White on Converts

I wonder if there's a good book to read about converts to the Catholic faith. I don't mean a book of conversion stories, or a book about particular converts, but a book about conversion in general, in our time.

Consider the vocabulary of conversion. Sometimes a refined sense of "convert" is used for those who come from outside Christianity, while people baptized outside the Church are not said to convert but to be received into full communion. Sometimes people are said to become Catholic, to convert to Catholicism, to join or enter the Church, and so on. Each expression has a different ring to it.

I recently read two texts about conversion. One turned out to be by someone who left the Church for Orthodoxy: he claimed that nothing upsets and baffles zealous converts like the lack of ecclesial enthusiasm in people who grew up Catholic; and that nothing tires intelligent Catholics-from-infancy like the hey-look-what-I-found excitement of those same converts. These observations hold not just for energetic converts, though, but for anybody excited by faith--how could the believers be so tepid, and how could the new guy be so presumptuous?

The more interesting passage is from the English Dominican (convert) Victor White (1902-1960), quoted in the newly published Jung-White correspondence. White writes:

"The trouble for so many of us converts-in-adolescence is something awfully difficult for you cradle Catholics to understand! The trouble is that, one fine day, we find that we did  (unconsciously) pose when we became RCs. It is more a matter of culture, of our picture-of-the world, than of religion! We revolted from the whole "protestant-materialist" world and values in which we were brought up: probably threw out the baby with the bath-water. For that we substituted a beautiful, romantic "Ages of Faith" medieval world--perhaps helped by Chesterbelloc, Gill, Pepler etc. The Church was central in that pretty picture; and after playing with High Anglicanism of course we became Catholics.... Perhaps we had never had much to do with the "real" Church of the average Catholic, and we never did feel much at home in it. We found "home" in the rather exceptional Catholicism of Blackfriars, Oxford...."

White is grim, and wrote at one point at least that his faith was no longer that of Catholics--though he got over this and persevered. Still, he's got a point: there is a difference between Catholicism and the Catholic Church and faith. Even the word, Catholicism(e), is modern, a reformations-era term of identity.  (Coined, as somebody says, around the same time modern Catholic missionaries gave India's religions the name Hinduism.) 

And, for all this--so what? Is it OK to have a blog of notes and asides? Pretty boring, I guess, for other people. But maybe useful to me. Sorry to disappoint the avid millions who check this page.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

From all their afflictions

Since I'm not teaching this spring, I'm going to try to write a book on the Baianist heresy.

Whether I'll finish the Jan 14 posting on Baius remains to be seen!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Michael de Bay

One of my confreres has suggested that I write a book about Baianism, the heresy named for the 16th-century Louvain theologian Michael de Bay (a.k.a., Baius). Nobody, as far as I know, has written about Baianism since the 1800s, and that was in French and German (or Latin).

Baius was a zealous Catholic reformer steeped in the ressourcement of Renaissance classicism--in his case, more a return to patristic sources, of course, than to pagan letters. He was a man without sympathy for medieval theology or philosophy. His proposal, which ought to sound trite to everyone by now but doesn't,  was to recover the pure vigor of patristic Christianity by bypassing scholastic thought and grasping Biblical and patristic Christianity with the tools of critical scholarship. In philosophy he was apparently a less-than-reflective nominalist.

The errors that were condemned as Baianism stand in an uncertain and uneven relationship to what Baius actually wrote and taught. (This makes writing about Baianism easier, since it lets me put aside the quest for the historical Baius.) It seems to me that the 76 propositions rejected by Pope St Pius V in Ex omnibus afflictionibus (1567) can be boiled down to seven errors.

1. Baianism treats moral good and evil exclusively in terms of obedience to the will of God. There's nothing morally intelligible for us to consider in human acts themselves, such that we could conclude that an act is intrinsically or objectively good or evil. The appeal, for Baianists and others, is that this leaves God absolutely free to command whatever He wills; it also rids us of moral theology.

2. Baianism identifies the voluntary with whatever we will without external compulsion. Internal compulsion is not only A-OK, it is inevitable: everyone is a slave, either of charity or concupiscence. If God moves anyone to act in charity, He imposes the necessity of charitable action on the creature. Baius could have used St Thomas's clarification here, to distinguish between the unfailing effectiveness of God's will and it's imposition of necessity.

3. (I'll have to take this up later...)

Thursday, January 6, 2011

St Raymond of Penyafort

Tomorrow is the feast of the Dominican St Raymond of Penyafort, who was Master of the Order, outstanding as a canonist and theologian of confession, and lived to be 100. There is a marvelous second reading for the feast in the Roman office, part of a letter in which St Raymond writes:

"May you never be numbered among those whose house is peaceful, quiet, and free from care; those on whom the Lord's chastisement does not descend; those who live out their days in prosperity, and in the twinkling of an eye will go down to hell."

I like this line because it's a smack in the face to most "political theology"--and also to our (my) preference for personal peace and prospering. "Your purity of life must be made purer still," says St Raymond, "by frequent buffetings." That this is a comforting thing to hear (if you're feeling buffeted) is nice; but it also challenges the buffeted to realize that being comforted isn't enough, isn't something to set one's heart on. Instead the business of our life is purity of heart, which is the beatitude rewarded with seeing God. A comfy, lazy life doesn't purify--that's why such a life is tragic and undesirable. A life with upsets and difficulties is better, not because it is pitiable or poor (that would still be way too much about us), but because it can, with grace, purify. And that gets us ready for GOD.

Cue Handel's "Messiah," "And he shall purify..."

Life and Times

I learned yesterday that I will have the Spring 2011 semester as a kind of scholar-in-residence at the priory here in Providence. So getting my dissertation turned into a book becomes my top job. Next I mean to read Ayres new book on St Augustine, and turn out an article responding to that book with some findings from my STL work on the Tractates. Next, there's the possibility of working on the Jung-White correspondence, on recent Vatican II literature, on the evils of political theology, on historical consciousness, or even on Thomism and CL. (Tin Tin Thomisme must wait for another day!)

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

What is Physical Premotion?

In this case, it's a blog title that nobody else has taken. The blog, if I keep up with it, will be about various things sub specie aeternitatis, with a special interest in the theology of grace--and, that, particularly in relation to nature.

For the record, though, physical premotion is a kind of divine causality. The root idea is that no created nature (nature=physis, hence "physical") moves unless it is moved by the First Mover. And, yes, this holds true even for creatures who move themselves to action (hence pre-motion.) An awful lot of trouble in the theology of grace comes from neglect of this principle.