Friday, October 21, 2011

A New Generation of Theologians

I missed this earlier piece by Ryan N.S. Topping (FT, On the Square, September 27, 2011). It's a reflection on a colloquy of young untenured theologians brought to Washington D.C. by the USCCB for a symposium titled "The Intellectual Tasks of the New Evangelization," from September 15-17.

Much of the animosity felt by older theologians toward the Vatican or, more generally, toward episcopal authority, has disappeared....

Keynote presentations were delivered by Professors Janet Smith and John Cavadini, a top theologian from the University of Notre Dame, as well as Houston’s Cardinal Di Nardo and Archbishop Joseph Di Noia O.P., Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. The need to re-evangelize the West is now obvious; less clear, or at least less often discussed, is what shape the intellectual apostolate should take in these troubled times. The question put to the new scholars was this: if theology is an ecclesial activity how can your efforts serve the reconversion of Europe and the Americas?

Over the course of the weekend three themes emerged. First was the need to reconstruct a humane anthropology. The most dynamic contemporary thinking on this front has been inspired by Blessed John Paul II’s reflections on the theology of the body. Janet Smith showed how, in John Paul’s own understanding of personalism, the language of self-gift, self-mastery, and so forth, should be received as an extension, not a revision of Thomistic categories....

Beyond confronting the antihumanism of the reductionist scientists (who would reduce mind to brain) and the over-zealous environmentalists (who would elevate beasts to men), the New Evangelization requires a more confident philosophical grounding. Respect for a diversity of theological styles is healthy. But pluralism has stepped wildly beyond its useful limits. Theology must once more regain trust in reason’s native capacity for truth. So to the second theme: the queen of the sciences must choose her help maids wisely. Some servants are unworthy. Others will betray her. Theologians today can settle for nothing less than a robust philosophical realism....

Third, if these are some of the tasks before us, how should the next generation of theologians go about their work? What resources beyond post-Kantian philosophy can serve? It was notable—though perhaps not surprising—that several of the conference’s speakers called for a return to classical texts of apologetics. In works like Origen’s Contra Celsum and Augustine’s City of God, John Cavadini suggested that young theologians can find enduring models of engagement with a secular or half-believing culture. There was also a call to deeper prayer. (emphasis added)
[Hat tip to J.S.]


Ralph Roister-Doister said...

"several of the conference’s speakers called for a return to classical texts of apologetics."

De Lubac called for a return to the patristic fathers and used them to contort Aquinas. He and Balthasar called for a return to the weak reed of Origen and used him to undermine Church doctrine of hell and redemption.

Anyone who interprests a putative "return to classical texts" as a return to orthodoxy and tradition has clearly not learned the lessons of history.

Pertinacious Papist said...

Catholic who go trolling in Church history for opinions past, without recourse to a normative Sacred Tradition, are no better off that Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Moonies or Marxists out to reconstruct the past in their own image.