Today's Wisdom

Those who do not pass from the experience of the cross to the truth of the resurrection condemn themselves to despair! For we cannot encounter God without first crucifying our narrow notions of a god who reflects only our own understanding of omnipotence and power
Pope Francis

Thursday, May 30, 2013

A History of Theology by Yves M.-J. Congar, O.P.

The exceptionally well-researched writings of the Dominican Yves Congar are modeled in his book: "A History of Theology" which he substantially contributed to the Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique as early as 1939 and expanded it in 1968 after Vatican II to which his enormous contribution was described by Avery Dulles, S.J. in an obituary of Congar in the phrase "Vatican II could almost be called Congar's Council." In appreciation of their insights to the development of Catholic thought, both received the "Red Hat" by Blessed Pope John Paul II.

With a scientist precision in his "History", Congar covers Catholic Tradition and theologies of the Patristic Age, St. Augustine, the Renaissance, Humanism, St. Bonaventure, St. Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotus, Nominalism, the Reformation & the Counter-Reformation including the contribution of St. Ignatius of Loyola & St. Francis de Sales, Rationalism and Modernism with the renewal of the 20th century movements from Neoscholastic Thomism led by M.J. Garrigou-Lagrange and Jacques Maritain to the Liturgical Movement and the "New Theology" led by Henri de Lubac, S.J. and others including Hans Urs von Balthasar and Jean Dani
élou, S.J. and up to the early post-Vatican II. He makes abundant references to the theology of the "Angelic Doctor" in view of the official support that recent Popes from Leo XIII to Pius XII accorded the teaching of Thomism in Catholic seminaries and universities. In his overview, Congar shows the growth of successive specializations in Sacred Science: division of teaching in lectio and quaestio, in commentary on Sacred Scripture and dialectical disputes, growth of a positive theology and a biblical theology, specialization of a moral theology, of an ascetic or mystic theology separated from the dogmatic, creation of an apologetic, separated development of a polemic theology, as well as a pastoral theology.

Of relevance to today's conditions, Congar proposes for the theologian to live in the Church in collaboration with other believers and to refer to the teaching Church for his development of orthodox knowledge in accord with the mystical body of Christ. "Theology without doubt is a science but it is a fact that the Fathers and the greatest theologians orientated their work toward the satisfaction of the needs of the Church at a given moment. These could be the defense of the faith, spiritual needs of souls, requirements or bettering of the formation of the clergy, replies to new forms of thought or to new acquisitions of knowledge." (P. 271). On the other hand "the Church must permit or procure for the theologian the conditions of liberty which are necessary for his work." For this he quotes the axiom "In necessity, unity; otherwise liberty" (Cf. Epist. CXVIII, 32, P.L., t. XXXIII, col. 418.) 

The Church draws great profit from the work of its theologians, writes Congar. He supports his view by reference to St. Augustine's statement that theology is the science by which the faith is nourished, comforted, and defended, and also has its truth in the plan of the historic life of the Church as such. "A developed state of the intelligibility of faith is practically necessary in order that the message can be communicated to minds which pose various questions in keeping with the current state of ideas and culture." Another quite significant contribution of Congar is his view on the progress of theology. "That theology progresses is quite evident since dogmatic knowledge itself progresses and, for the most part, as a result of theological work." The conditions of theology's progress can be analyzed under three aspects:

First, theology involves progress in that it is a science. It is developed in a regime of collaboration and by the dialogue of specialists in research, collections, reviews with their sections on bibliographical critique. At least in part, progress of theology is allied with progress in other sciences: historical, philological, liturgical, sociological...etc.

Then, theology involves progress in its role as the science of a specific datum. If all progress is holding to a principle, the progress of theology will consist in an understanding of its datum as found in Apostolic preaching rather than in the refinement of systematization. The Encyclical Humani Generis recognized that "The sacred disciplines always grow younger from the study of their sacred fonts, while, on the contrary, speculation which neglects further inquiry into the datum, as we know from experience, turns out sterile." (Cf. AAS, t. XLII, 1950, pp. 568-69; Denz. 3886.). Hence the law, which is that of all progress, is valid for theology in a more rigorous fashion since there is veritable progress and productive renewal only in tradition. Progress and newness in theology do not consist in change affecting the principles or datum but primarily in a richer or more precise awareness of this datum itself.

Third, theology is a reflection on the datum. Hence it profits greatly from everything that stimulates reflection, namely philosophy that encourages inquiry. The dogma can be seen in a new light, their content can be viewed more profoundly either by a new elaboration of the concepts which they involve or by starting from a new viewpoint set up by philosophy. So today even the dogma of the Trinity, Christology, the Sacraments, the Eucharistic Presence, and the act of Faith, profit from contemporary philosophical reflection on man and the existential experience of man.(See pages 271-272).

Indeed a great overview of the development of theology by a great Catholic and ecumenical scholar.

Today's Quote

"Behold I make all things new." (Revelation 21:5)


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