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No. 21 Roman Theological Forum | Article Index | Study Program January 1989

A New Synthesis of Theology
The 1972 Declaration of Purpose of the Roman Theological Forum

by John F. McCarthy

        The Declaration of Purpose of the Roman Theological Forum, which appears for the first time in this issue of Living Tradition, was finalized by an international group of theologians and scholars at a general meeting of the Forum held on January 11 and 12 of 1972. During the long intervening period of gestation there have been new emphases and new insights, but the basic problem and the basic solution remain the same.

        The problem regards the whole set of novel and largely noxious ideas that have arisen partly inside but mostly outside of Catholic intellectual circles over the past several centuries and which have become highly operative in an eclectic and unsynthesized way among Catholic writers since about 1960. The solution to this problem that is proposed in the 1972 Declaration of Purpose is the adoption of a new theological method which is capable of restoring Catholic apologetics to its former vigor and of renewing Catholic theology by distinguishing and eliminating the elements of error in contemporary pluralism while integrating their elements of truth into a new synthesis of Catholic theology.

        This new theological method is based upon the common approach of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, but it is specified by a theory of historical science that could become the instrument of a universal theological movement. In the fundamental area of the exegesis of Sacred Scripture, it gives rise to the neo-Patristic approach, which is able, not only to bring back the insights of the Fathers of the Church in a new systematic framework, but also to provide additional understanding of the Bible verse by verse. And in building this understanding the neo-Patristic method has the capability of disproving form-critical conclusions on a line-by-line basis from the beginning of Genesis to the end of the Apocalypse.

        That in itself is a lot. But the new historical method hopes to do more. Seldom have valid ideas for a new synthesis of Catholic philosophy and theology been so abundant. The most recent studies by thinkers versed in modern physical and biological science demonstrate both the need and the possibility of reviving and expressing in a new form the Aristotelian cosmology with its theory of matter and form and the refutation of mechanism and Darwinian evolutionism. The dynamism of the pro-life movement has added a vital element to the movement to reemphasize the theological and moral virtues in the expression of moral theology. And a widespread false notion of the development of dogma according to the transformist model is waiting to be corrected by a full historical study of the history of dogma according to the principles of true historical science.

        The urgent need of a new theological synthesis is illustrated in many eloquent reflections on the Church in a time of crisis. From such early works as Dietrich von Hildebrand's Trojan Horse in the City of God to more recent works like Romano Amerio's Iota Unum and Anne Roche Muggeridge's Desolate City, penetrating minds of our era are calling for a more adequate theology of permanence and change in the Church.

        But nowhere is the need more authentically proclaimed than in Pope John Paul II's motu proprio, Ecclesia Dei, of the second of July, 1988, especially where he reminds theologians and other experts in the ecclesiastical sciences that they should feel called upon to find and express more clearly "the Council's continuity with Tradition." This task involves much more than a simple comparison of past and present. It requires a new synthesis such as we have been describing. And that is the task that has been set before us. The pluralists will not accomplish it. The form-critics will not accomplish it. The eclectic theologians will not accomplish it. The existentialist theologians will not accomplish it. If it is to be accomplished at all, the traditional believers must do it. Then let us join hands and begin.


        INTRODUCTION.   Among the general characteristics of the Roman Theological Forum are to be found the following:

        a)  The Roman Theological Forum was founded in order to protect, deepen, and extend the theological understanding of its members through prayer, fraternal exhortation, and the mutual exchange of ideas. The Forum is itself a platform for the expression of ideas and a focal point for their dissemination.

        b)  The Roman Theological Forum is subject to the authority of the Roman Catholic Church, which authority it sees as being in need today as seldom before of vigorous renewal, profound self-orientation, and absolute reinforcement.

        c)  The Roman Theological Forum is at the same time rigorously traditional and dynamically creative in that it combines respect for the past with that measure of theological progress and adaptation which characterizes authentic growth in the understanding of God's loving Self-revelation in Jesus Christ Our Lord.

        d)  The Roman Theological Forum has undertaken among other things to explore the relationship of theology to faith, in view of the vast cultural and religious upheavals presently convulsing earthly society, in an effort to clarify the limits of each and thus to assist those whose serious duty it is to guard them. From this labor of research the Forum hopes to construct a new synthesis of Catholic theology which excludes what is false while teaching what is true.

        e)  The Roman Theological Forum seeks to provide for its members an atmosphere of genuine Catholic unity, of principled tradition, and of creative diversity. In a spirit of deep loyalty to the inherited past, it encourages the development of fresh and constructive solutions to problems emerging in our own time as well as to unsolved aspects of those of earlier times. It fosters that eminent degree of preparation which allows its members to perform in an outstanding manner those services for Christ and His Church to which God's grace may guide and incline them.

        1. THE PRINCIPLE OF AUTHORITY.   The Roman Theological Forum is subject to the guidance and control of the competent authority of the Church. In an age of growing polarization of radically opposed tendencies within the Church, its position is solidly with those who uphold the 'principle of authority' in the Church, and therefore its position is necessarily one of support for the manifest will and authentic directives of the competent authorities of the Church. This subjection is not without its complexities, for we live in an age of crisis brought about, not only because of the widespread tendency to resist legitimate authority, but also because of a certain tendency towards self-destruction on the part of authority itself - a tendency which leads authority at times to contradict itself and the purpose of its existence. The Roman Theological Forum maintains a clear position with regard to this pressing question: it upholds with courage, tenacity, and self-discipline the principle of authority as it has been understood and exercised for almost twenty centuries.

        2. FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE.   The Roman Theological Forum upholds freedom of conscience, properly understood. It recognizes the value of a healthy tension between the directives of legitimate authority and the freedom of the individual person. It is painfully aware of the distorted interpretation which has been given to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council by many theologians. A correct interpretation of this teaching must be brought to the fore in theology.

        The current confusion among moral theologians over the nature and extent of freedom of conscience illustrates the need of a reform of moral theology as it is now understood and presented by many theologians. Until very recently moral theologians distinguished a twofold norm of morality: objective law and individual conscience. During the past few years these two norms have been fused by many in such manner that the subjective norm is made to assume priority and exclusivity in the final assessment of morality. Too many self-styled moral theologians, not versed in the categories of law, have presumed to call themselves 'doctors of the law' and to dispense and derogate from it in widest measure. They have thus created confusion regarding the norms of morality and the true character of conscience. Moral theology should stress the capacity of helping the individual to inform his conscience and to cultivate a sufficient moral maturity to be able to protect himself from false moral doctrine and specious reasoning.

        3. FAITH AND THEOLOGY.   Faith may be described as an illumination deriving from objective truth revealed by God, and the act of faith is the assent of the will to that truth. In much contemporary theological expression it is not at all clear where simple faith ends and theologizing begins. Confusion in the field of theology seems to have become deep-seated and all-pervasive. What is needed is a fresh attempt to define and distribute theology in a clear and systematic way, showing the distinction and interrelation of its various parts. Inasmuch as the product of this effort should succeed in treating all of the significant problems in terms of a unified approach and a consistent methodology, it would deserve to be called a new theological synthesis. Such a synthesis would reaffirm valid principles, provide new solutions, and refute false opinions. Since the current substitution in theology of new ideas for old is so radical, the new synthesis would initiate a new approach to theology, endowed with an originality of its own, yet reflecting with pronounced lucidity the valid theological insights of the past.

        Through the careful delineation of the boundaries of theology, the limits of faith vis--vis theology become more clear. Once the various fields of theology have been clearly distinguished from one another, specialized scientific work in each respective field again becomes possible - a labor which of late has become supremely difficult by reason of the deviation of theology into erroneous types of existentialism, permitting neither specialized nor scientific work.

        4. AUTHORITY AND THEOLOGY.   The meaning of structural authority in the Church cannot be adequately grasped unless it is viewed against the background of the notion of authority in its widest sense. The revealed Word of God is an Authority in the sense that it provides an absolute objective norm upon which Christian thinking is based. The intuitions and principles of natural reason provide a second norm by means of which various theological disciplines become possible. The valid conclusions of sound theological reasoning become a scientific norm for those not themselves versed in the science. Those who make contributions to the substance of theological science are designated as 'authors,' that is, authorities. Chief among them are the official exponents of the Magisterium of the Church and the Fathers and Doctors of the Church. Part of the task of the present generation of theologians is to isolate all such authoritative writings so as to distinguish them clearly from mere 'writers,' that is, popularizers or stylistic exponents of theological conclusions.

        5. PHILOSOPHY AND THEOLOGY.   In a fundamental sense, there can be no theology without its implied philosophy, because philosophy supplies the middle terms of theological thought. This is true both of rational and of intuitive theology. A common error of our time is the assumption that one's chosen philosophical viewpoint is self-authenticating as the fundamental or comprehensive medium of up-to-date theology. Among those more prone to this error are form-critical Scripture scholars. Indeed, some go so far as to assume that each theological discipline may approach the inspired Scriptures only as they are presented by form-critical scholarship. The fact that these scholars are not aware of their own philosophical medium of thought serves only to increase their self-assurance. An initial task of contemporary theology is to isolate and describe the philosophical medium and literary genre of modern Scripture scholarship. To do so means to consider the literary production of exegesis as raw material for its own theological investigation. Such renewed theological investigation can be successful only to the extent that it clearly recognizes its own medium of thought, which in turn requires an awareness of the functioning of a double noetic principle: the interior light of faith and the illumination of natural reason.

        6. NATURE AND GRACE.   One of the tasks awaiting a new theological effort is the problem of the supernatural in its various aspects: for example, the gratuity of the supernatural order, the possibility and factualness of miracles and of grace, sin, redemption, and life after death. The problem has been greatly accentuated over the past few centuries by the rise of modern natural science, as well as by the emergence of new areas of research, such as archaeology, clinical psychology, genetics, and anthropology. Illustrations of the kind of data which require an explanation in terms of the Catholic view of the supernatural may be seen in such works as those of Immanuel Kant, Charles Darwin, Sigmund Freud, Karl Jung, and Karl Marx.

        The impact of the supernatural upon the natural must be a dominant motif of any new synthesis. It should uphold without embarrassment the function of the supernatural in human life, restoring grace to its proper position, while preserving the autonomy of the natural. Sacred Scripture must be presented in its full supernatural dimensions, the function of grace in the soul must be vindicated, the presence of God must be recognized, the supernatural finality of human destiny must be declared.

        7. THE TRADITION OF HOLINESS.   The importance of the tradition of holiness must be reaffirmed, not only in opposition to desacralization in general and to incursions of the profane and the impious, but also in opposition to every condescending view of egocentric humanism. The teachings of the great mystics retain their perennial validity as expressions of the authentic Catholic outlook, and this pure and detached spiritual approach, based upon a life of genuine conversion and prayer, must not be obscured and buried in certain types of theological pluralism on grounds of ecumenism, 'openness' to the world, group consensus, or updated methodology. The deep mystical insight expressed in the great writings of holy tradition is wrongly replaced by the shallow conceptions of current fashion, even though appeal is made to the call of the Spirit, because the Holy Spirit is infinitely distinct from the spirit of the world. The reform of theology cannot be carried out except in humble respect for the Catholic intellectual heritage, rooted in the deep understanding of those holy men and women whom God has raised up to teach the truth.

        8. PERMANENCE AND CHANGE.   Because Christ came in the fullness of time and established an organically complete Church, because also of the immediate relationship with eternity of each individual in the Church in every era, the image of 'progress' in the Church should always be subordinated to more fundamental images. In fact, the current illusion of living automatically at the highest point in history, of seeing the present generation as automatically partaking of a higher level of Christian life than was possible to people living in the past, is one of the most dangerous tendencies of our era. It makes us supremely uncritical of ourselves and of our times. It blinds us to the enduring transcendental values of our inheritance.

        During the past few years the doors of the fold of Catholicism have been opened more widely to worldly ideas, often steeped in the wisdom of the flesh. An eclecticism of word and principle has set in, whereby worldly ideas are given voice in the assembly of the faithful. This eclecticism has sown the seeds of division in the Church. It does not represent the assimilation needed by the Church to maintain its life. What is needed, rather, is a synthesis of the new with the old through the operative grace of the Holy Spirit. New raw material could be taken from the ideas and data presented by modern thinkers over the past several centuries, while the formality of the synthesis must come from the authentic Catholic approach, guided by the Magisterium, and facilitated by a precise theological methodology, using also the new instrumentality of true historical science. The product will be refreshingly new but fundamentally identical with the past.

        9. THEOLOGY AND CHANGE.   The rules and principles of sound adaptation are among the urgent theological problems that must be addressed. Speculative and pastoral reasons for such a theological labor have now become compelling. A theology of change must be measured in terms of its capacity to nourish the orthodox Catholic spirit, providing on both the theoretical and practical levels the tools with which Catholics can more easily confront and discern change, distinguishing true progress from degeneration, the action of the Holy Spirit from counterfeit movements, and what of the past is necessary and worthy of preservation from what it is useful or opportune to discard.

        Such theological efforts will, of course, require a vigorous encounter with recent philosophical and theological currents of thought as well as a deep grasp and mastery of the intellectual and mystical legacy of Catholic writers and thinkers of the past. A familiarity with historical method, newly refined and re-thought, with magisterial hermeneutics, as well as with the trans-cultural and trans-historical elements of permanence and continuity in Catholic thought, life, and faith will have to be mastered and propagated to produce such an important yet difficult contribution.

        10. ECUMENISM AND SELF-PRESERVATION.   The problem of ecumenism must be thoroughly restudied in the light of the experience of recent years. Now more than ever before it is clear that many of the interpretations given to the Decree on Ecumenism of the Second Vatican Council are not correct interpretations of the text or have not sufficiently taken into account the more fundamental law of self-defense which is proper to the Catholic conscience and the quasi-instinctive missionary drive which pertains essentially to the same Catholic conscience in seeking to fulfil the mandate given by Jesus Christ to His Church. What is urgently needed is a theological formula which takes into account the fundamental law of self-preservation and growth as well as the paradoxical limiting of this impulse for the sake of prudence or charity. This need includes another one, namely, that of looking at the notion of 'dialogue' in order to find a formula which realistically takes this fundamental law into account and makes possible an exchange of ideas which is something more than a search for occasions to surrender to the opposing view.

        The problem of ecumenism needs to be restated in its fullest dimensions. Within the sphere of inter-Christian dialogue muddled thinking presents the danger of accepting an Ecumenical Church (derived from Protestant tradition) in place of the Catholic Church (derived from Catholic tradition). In the dialogue with the Jews there is an unfortunate tendency to agree on a common idea of the Kingdom of God in place of the Kingdom of Christ and thus to revert unwittingly to Judaism as a basic position while retaining a more superficial adherence to Jesus Christ as the founder of a strain or sub-culture. The danger has even wider implications. Erroneous notions of 'ecumenism' have weakened resistance to every incursion of the world into the realm of knowledge and the realm of discipline or morals. Goodness and truth are losing their tendency to diffuse themselves. Organized and militant purveyors of evil, such as atheistic front organizations and distributors of pornography, meet with too little opposition from Catholicism, because many Catholics are no longer motivated to fight for what they believe.

        11. CATHOLIC APOLOGETICS.   Genuine ecumenism depends upon energetic Catholic self-awareness. Yet the very notion of Catholic apologetics is often disparaged as proceeding from a 'siege mentality.' The fundamental dishonesty of this attack is evident from the fact that those who decry the 'siege mentality' will hasten to defend with utmost vigor their own narrow point of view and the affirmations which proceed from it, if criticism is raised from any quarter. This fact indicates that contemporary eclectics admit the principle of self-defense, but have shifted their loyalties from adherence to Catholic tradition to adherence to the biases of their own intellectual group.

        It is the existence of weakness or lack of firm conviction here and there in the community of theologians and among ecclesiastical superiors which makes the task of apologetics so difficult. Attacks upon the Catholic consciences of the faithful cannot simply be referred to a committee to be solved in due time. These attacks must be repulsed vigorously and immediately by the individual conscience. Some of the faithful are being needlessly forced into personal or group catacombs because the policy of their ecclesiastical superiors does not seem to support the spontaneous response of their consciences.

        12. CONTEMPORARY HISTORY.   The popular idea of 'contemporary history' is a contradiction in terms, as historical science can demonstrate. Prescinding from what he may know from Revelation, the true historian lives in the present, looking into the past. Only the pseudo-historian thinks that he is living in the present, looking into the future. The knowledge of history can give a limited predictability, but not of the Teilhardian type. Teilhardian history is pseudo-history.

        But beneath the idea of 'contemporary history' stand waiting to be formulated the true and valid principles of historical science. The present state of historical science (which is still for the most part prescientific) may be called 'contemporary history,' and the contemporary task of fitting the principles of the science of history into an intelligible pattern, if accomplished, will have its effect upon the shape of the future. Here, too, there will be a limited predictability.

        The task of constructing historical science is both metaphysical and cosmological. On the metaphysical level, the whole question of the universal versus the concrete must be re-examined so that the resulting historical philosophy will restore the abstract to its proper place and confound the sophisms of Existentialism. It is basically a question of working out more precisely the difference between formal and total abstraction. On the cosmological level, an adequate cosmology of time, as contrasted with the cosmology of space, must be developed to replace the inadequate Weltanschauung of the Germanic school. Such a cosmology of time is not merely descriptive: an attempt to depict the unfolding of history in its fullest proportions. It is also theoretical: the formulating of abstract cosmological principles of time to complete the abstract cosmological principles of space. This work is urgent, and it brings one face to face with the adequacy or inadequacy of the Hegelian thesis of development.

        One reason for the consistent error in the conclusions of existentialist theologians and eclectic biblical exegetes on the level of history is their universal lack of a formulated historical science. The direct way to refute their errors is first to formulate this science and then to use its principles scientifically.

        13. THE ROMAN THEOLOGICAL FORUM.   Existing theological societies may be divided into one of three categories: a) updated societies which to one degree or another have uncritically admitted into their mental ambient ideas and conclusions which have not been synthesized with Catholic theological tradition and which are not in the process of becoming synthesized; b) antiquated societies whose members treat of old problems from the point of view of traditional theology or philosophy, but who have for the most part not taken formal cognizance of the new problems facing the Catholic conscience and who have few solutions to offer; c) mixed societies whose members fall in one or the other of the two preceding categories and therefore do not share a common outlook. A fresh start is required.

        The proximate task is to determine a fruitful method of individual and communal theological activity. Our work must embody a fresh start on the scientific level. An effective scientific method can be worked out over a period of time. The first step should be the adoption by the Roman Theological Forum of a set of criteria which will constitute the formality of our science. It is clear that we are dealing with a secondary formality proper to our research and not with the general formality of all true theology in every era.

        On the basis described above, the whole of contemporary theology as such should be placed under investigation, and no scientific credence should be accorded to any of it until it has been verified according to the criteria of true historical theology. The investigation of the eclectic literature should be paralleled by the collection from past and present works of elements which will serve the formal approach of our science.

        14. THEOLOGICAL ACTIVITY.   The Roman Theological Forum is frankly committed to continuity with Catholic theological tradition and to a rejection of that kind of theological pluralism which can produce no ultimate unified pattern of Catholic thought. The Roman Theological Forum recognizes that, underlying the fruitful activity of the Church in the world, there is a clash so great between the spirit of Christ and the spirit of this world that there can be no common formula between them that does not betray the mission of Jesus and of His Church. Our theological activity must, therefore, seek to demonstrate anew how the contemporary profession of Catholic faith is consistent with the message of Jesus and of the New Testament Church as well as with the teaching of the Church over the intervening centuries.

        15. HISTORICAL THEOLOGY.   Every theologian is a man of faith immersed in history. The theologian of today needs to become well acquainted with the history of thought within the Church over the past ten years, not in such manner as to let himself be uncritically absorbed by that thought, but rather in such wise that he can survey that development from a transcendent point of view. The way to attain such a viewpoint is to reflect deeply upon the conceptions which are motivating the theological thought of our time and of which the thinkers are for the most part unaware. Two of the most important of these conceptions are an unscientific notion of history and an uncritical idea of existence. By thinking through in a careful and scientific manner these two notions and their implications, one becomes prepared to examine all of the productions of contemporary eclectic theology from a higher viewpoint and to isolate and describe with ease their false conclusions. For this reason, the Roman Theological Forum should concentrate from the beginning upon developing a methodology which includes among its essentials a clear and adequate concept of history and of existence.

        The task is complex. A unified point of departure could be taken from true historical science, as it is to be worked out by the Roman Theological Forum and others. The aim is not to revise the work of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, but rather to construct a complementary work in a new field. The raw material for the new science is precisely the literature of the modern era as such, especially the literature of theology, philosophy, and science. A beginning could be made by taking a representative number of works and processing them according to rigorous historical methodology. Certainly among these works should be numbered those of influential thinkers like Hegel and Kant, Bultmann and Heidegger, Descartes and Luther. The list is long, but the number of workers will grow as the fund of the new theological science increases.

        The method of research will require skill. It must be a truly historical method, using true historical categories and proceeding from the known results painstakingly back into the antecedents. Hence, the analysis must begin with some of the noteworthy expositions of the 'latest thinking' within the eclectic school of theology, and the sources of this thinking must be analyzed in the works of the leading exponents of heterodox ideas. The developmental relationship of the 'latest ideas' to their antecedents must itself be described in its historical intelligibility.

        16. HISTORICAL SCIENCE.   The term 'history' and its derivatives have been used in Catholic theology from its inception. The term is found in the Bible, and the Bible itself describes an historical development.

        A notion of history has been given crucial importance in contemporary eclectic Catholic theology. This notion of history is not identical with the notion used traditionally in Catholic theology. It is rather a notion derived largely from the German Protestant School of theology and is rooted in the philosophies of German thinkers like Kant and Hegel. This notion is as false as are the conclusions of the philosophies upon which it is based. The concept of history which shapes the attitude of earlier thinkers like St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine is much more sound, but it is intuitional in the sense that these earlier thinkers never analyzed the concept of history to the point of developing an historical philosophy. In fact, no writer of the past has left us an exact and adequate definition of history, which must be the starting point of a true historical philosophy. Hence the task remains of working out this definition and applying it systematically, and this task is urgent. [Editor's note: An attempt at an exact definition of history is presented at length by John F. McCarthy in The Science of Historical Theology, (Rockford, Il: Tan Books, 1991) ]

        The term 'history' ('historically,' 'historical') occurs repeatedly in contemporary theological and exegetical writing. Some books use the term hundreds of times, yet they inevitably betray the fact that they do not know precisely what they are talking about, and their hazy notion leads to many equivocations. Simply by taking the exact concept of history as a criterion, the absolute inadequacy of these books can easily be shown - provided that they are, in fact, infected with the false idea of the Germanic philosophers and do not retain the deeper intuitive notion of the authentic past.

        Part of our task is to take the exact and adequate concept of history with its implied methodology and use it to examine contemporary theological books and articles. The separation of the true from the false in these works will suggest ideas and conclusions which will become the substance of a true historical theology, neatly circumscribed within its own sphere so as to heighten its own value and at the same time set in relief the value of the other branches of theology.

        17. HUMAN EXISTENCE.   The impact of contemporary ideologies and changes in the world has produced a dominant attitude which sets the world in an exclusive context of change and development. Man tends to see himself fundamentally as a being living at the height of human progress to date and moving into an improved future. This attitude has eclipsed the deeper and more realistic awareness that such changes and developments are secondary and subordinate to the abiding problems of life which each man must face individually and to the spiritual and intellectual health of the community. Existentialism subjectivizes historical consciousness. It is part of the task of contemporary theology to re-objectivize historical consciousness in general and, as regards one's own life history, to train people once again in the Christian art of examining their consciences.

        The Christian idea of existence has always expressed itself in the notion of the virtue of humility, whereby each person in his individual self-consciousness is led to recognize the emptiness and imperfection of his own being as such in contrast with the greatness and sanctity of God. But a novel idea of existence now plays a leading role in much contemporary theology. This idea of existence has not sprung from Catholic tradition; it has been imported from the meditations of non-Catholic existentialist thinkers. While the element of truth in this existentialist thought may be adaptable for the development of certain aspects of Catholic theology, the substance of its reflection and its controlling principles are harmful to Catholic spirituality. For this reason, the problems taken up by contemporary Existentialism must be re-examined from a higher point of view, based upon lucid faith, right reason, and true Christian humility. By faith, the hidden rationalism in Existentialism will be overcome. By right reason, the sophistry of Existentialism will be exposed. By humility, the humanistic and egocentric character of Existentialism will be eliminated.

        Hence, the development of Catholic theology which could be suggested by an examination of existentialist conclusions from the highest point of view would take the form of a new Christian personalism.

        18. HISTORICAL CONSCIOUSNESS.   The impact of contemporary ideologies and changes has produced a dominant attitude which sets the world in a context of change and development. This consciousness of progress has eclipsed the deeper and more realistic awareness of the abiding problems of life to be faced by every man on the level both of the individual and of the community. Inasmuch as true historical consciousness is taken to be an understanding of an aspect of reality it must be fitted into the larger understanding of the whole of reality. But the impact of development produced by modern science and technology with its underlying frame of mind has not been matched by a parallel development of historical theory capable of keeping the awareness of progress within its proper context, and this failure has helped to produce confusion in Catholic theology, whose task it is to locate historical consciousness within the larger context of Catholic consciousness.

        It is a task of theology to assist the minds of the faithful to grow in understanding through the exercise of a gradual exegesis of reality from a deepening and consistently Catholic point of view. In order to perform this service properly Catholic theology must first have synthesized at least those aspects of reality that have the greatest impact upon the believer. Since contemporary man is supremely aware of himself as a being in history, the ultimate principles of history need to be synthesized with the Catholic point of view.

        19. THE METHOD OF HISTORICAL THEOLOGY.   The initial position of Catholic historical theology derives from the spontaneous impulse of Catholic faith to repel the harmful incursions upon it of contemporary heterodox ideas. The developed position of Catholic historical theology is to be achieved through the formulation of the principles and conclusions implicit in Catholic faith and right reason, whereby the elements of truth in contemporary heterodox ideas are absorbed and the elements of untruth are rejected. This position embodies an attempt to develop and understand the positive factor in the problematics of today, but it also implies a recognition of the need of conservation of Catholicism implied in traditional apologetics.

        The basic approach of historical theology is squarely opposed to that form of Liberalism which combines orthodoxy with heterodoxy in a new theological pluralism. The method of historical theology will include a methodical retracing of the conclusions, juxtaposed in contemporary eclectic theological literature, to the real and to the paradoxical principles upon which they are based. This historical retracing is on a twofold level: materially, it is a retracing to its literary sources of the phraseology in the eclectic literature; formally, it is a retracing to the real principles of solution of the problems expressed in contemporary eclectic literature and a solution of those problems in the light of these principles.

        20. ANALYZING THE PROGRESSIVE GENRE.   The Catholic historical theologian of today finds the massive oaks of Scholastic theology undergrown and overgrown by a jungle of books and monographs, theories and opinions, conclusions and hypotheses. The thought of trying to achieve some kind of personal synthesis of such a mass of material could be daunting, and many have given up every attempt to possess such a synthesis any more. Yet theological science can still make it possible for the thinker to absorb new data into a personal and group synthesis. To perform such a task he must approach the mass of contemporary theological production as a botanist would approach a jungle: by subjecting samples to his scientific principles; by classifying the genre according to its various species; by describing the features of each. This means taking up the literary question from a scientific point of view.

        The literary genre of modern eclectic theology and biblical scholarship could be called the 'progressive genre' inasmuch as its very being is transitional and tendentious. It is the literary expression of a frame of mind according to which traditional Catholic deposits and orthodox positions are progressively extenuated in favor of 'new ideas,' which are sometimes presented as being 'really' the original ideas.

        The progressive genre is eclectic, because it always combines at least implicitly a residual element of traditional Catholicism with heterodox elements taken from outside the Catholic tradition and because the literary or stylistic combination is not a synthesis. As the progressive genre unfolds, the Catholic element becomes gradually weaker, but the writers assume that it will not be destroyed. Progressive writers are inclined to feel that they are actually strengthening the Catholic position by broadening its base and making it relevant to contemporary modes of thought and action. Thus, they are almost always surprised and perplexed by the devastating effects of their eclecticism.

        The traditional Catholic element in progressive writing is easily identified and described. The heterodox ideas woven eclectically into the progressive style require careful examination and painstaking retracing to their original sources. Two salient strains of heterodox ideas in the progressive genre are the existentialist tradition and the tradition of the Germanic school of exegesis. These two strains are also interwoven in their sources.

        21. SOME CRITERIA OF RESEARCH.   A science becomes a science by reflection upon and formulation of its own medium of thought. The static aspect of this medium may be called its 'point of view.' The dynamic aspect is called its method.

        The scientific viewpoint and method of historical theology is intended to replace the unscientific or prescientific viewpoint and method of contemporary eclectic theology. The criteria of research of historical theology stem from an awareness of its own proper static and dynamic medium of thought and should therefore include three points of method, sc., clarification, comparison, and contrast.

        a)  Clarification of concepts. The use of ambiguous terms is a general defect of contemporary eclectic theology. Historical theology should carefully define substantive terms like 'history,' and 'literary genre,' and avoid the equivocal substitution of one species for another. It should also clarify the meaning of terms like 'point of view,' 'understanding,' and 'meaning' itself.

        b)  Confrontation of problems with their principles of solution. A common error in the method of contemporary eclectic theology is the tendency to allow oneself to become absorbed in the thought of a heterodox exposition to the extent that one's own orthodoxy is no longer the lumen sub quo of one's own thought. This error is avoided by a continual return to the principles of one's own orthodoxy, analyzing new ideas so as to discard the heterodox while retaining the valid elements. It is usually upon prayerful reflection that the error in heterodoxy is seen in its true light. The method of historical theology is to undertake a cautious journey through representative samples of the literature of pluralism and heterodoxy, processing each selected sample by confronting it with the principles to be found in the literature of orthodoxy and thus to rediscover the meaning of orthodoxy itself or its relevance to the problems of heterodoxy.

        c)  Discovery of fallacies. The processing of samples in the eclectic or heterodox literature includes the systematic discovery of sophisms, fallacies, and contradictions in it, but the end result of this process is not negative, for the purifying of the eclectic and heterodox literature will render a valuable product of positive insights and conclusions organized into a system of theological science.

        22. THE HISTORICAL DIMENSION OF SPECULATIVE THEOLOGY.   The traditional tracts of dogmatic theology can be approached from the historical viewpoint, in addition to understanding them from the universalist viewpoint of St. Thomas and the Aristotelian categories, which always retains its validity. History itself has a function which is speculative as well as descriptive. The historical approach to dogma begins by distinguishing itself clearly from the static approach of the philosophies of Aristotle, Plato, and others, and it develops the historical insights which are present on an intuitive level in the writings of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, including St. Thomas Aquinas. As it proceeds to construct an historical picture, derived from a precise analysis of our historical present as such, it must be fully disposed to give credit to past genius where credit is due. It finds the values in the past and does not minimize them in order to draw credit to the present.

        The tracts of dogmatic theology (such as the One God, the Most Blessed Trinity, the Incarnate Word, Creation, Grace, the Sacraments, the Last Things, and Revelation) can be approached historically by taking the present as a moment of history and tracing it to its sources on the level of dogma, utilizing whatever insights can be garnered from the theological and philosophical speculation of the past several centuries, seen also as an historical development. The metaphysics of this approach will be stretched out over the intelligibility of historical relationships, as contrasted with the Aristotelian intelligibility of universal ideas, which it will not contradict. Sacred Scripture and the authentic Magisterium of the Church will be taken as unquestioned principles of historical science, to be interpreted academically and not critically. The tracts of historical theology will seek to bring out the intelligibility of the time-relationship, or developmental relationship, of the various elements within the tracts. Thus, for instance, the relations of the Persons of the Blessed Trinity, viewed from a developed theory of origins; creation from the refined point of view of one who has reflected deeply on time-relationships, etc. The Creeds will be presented in terms of their developmental relationship, researching back from the Credo of Paul VI. The decrees of the Second Vatican Council and the encyclicals of the Popes will be viewed in their historical relationship and value for the present. In the course of this exposition, inadequate historical conclusions and assumptions will be rejected for reasons to be clearly presented.

        23. THE HISTORICAL DIMENSION OF MORAL THEOLOGY.   A source of the demoralization of contemporary eclectic moral theology is the unlearning of the lesson of Original Sin. The opening of the Catholic mind to a 'broadened' knowledge of good and evil (that is, to an empathy for non-Catholic attitudes towards sin together with a residual Catholic attitude) has admitted many harmful influences into the field of moral theology. The modern pluralist will usually not concede that to admit into his mind and into his teaching a consideration of these things without rejecting them is equivalent to admitting their poison into his veins. But the historical moral theologian will not make the mistake of presuming that such ideas cannot lessen the health of the Church or of its members. He will not exclude the possibility that sectors of the contemporary Church may be morally ill from that poison or disease which has often been called neo-Modernism.

        Historical moral theology should begin by separating the two main sources in contemporary eclectic moral theology: Catholic tradition and heterodox traditions. It should be developed by taking the Catholic tradition and applying it homogeneously to the problems raised in the eclectic literature, in such wise as to express new or adapted aspects of moral theology in perfect consistency with the Catholic past, while energetically rejecting the poisonous elements in the heterodox traditions.

        24. THE HISTORICAL DIMENSION OF THE BIBLE AND OF THE CHURCH.   Both the Bible and the Church have an historical dimension in the sense that they contain elements of objective development. The Bible presents objective development from the elevated viewpoint of divine inspiration. The historical theologian of today cannot transcend this viewpoint, but he can penetrate it more deeply by prayer and study and thus discover new elements of understanding that are actually in the text. The objective history of the Church has been produced by the interaction of human minds and wills with the graces deposited in the structures of a divinely established institution. The historical theologian of today is bound by his scientific method to recognize the objective elements contained in the history of the Church, and he can come to understand them on an historical level if he follows true historical method, which requires prayer as well as study, because the reality of sacred history will not be discovered by unresponsive hearts. Beneath the academic fantasy of much modern theology of Bible and Church there lies an element of scientific truth, and the means are at hand to discover this truth, or to restore it to its original clarity. The task is formidable, but the result will be a purified theological science and a new avenue for the understanding of our faith.

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