Wednesday, October 23, 2013



Maurice de la Taille, S.J., distinguished theologian and pastor, at the beginning of one of his essays describes a visit of one who came to see him.  The visitor said – “Always with your nose and your books, Maurice?”  De la Taille responded – “That’s right.  A priest who hasn’t got a parish anymore must make one for himself.  My parishioners, at the moment, are these volumes here in my study.  They are very peaceable, and make their pastor the happiest of retired clergy.”  This brief quote gives this blogger good inspiration.

In 2012 the International Theological Commission (ITC) published an important study entitled “Theology Today: Perspectives, Principles and Criteria”.  This study strikes me as being both timely and helpful.  (The ITC was established by Pope Paul VI in the years immediately following the closing of the Second Vatican Council.  Since its establishment, the ITC has published twenty-five similar studies on a variety of theological topics, many of which I would say would be of great interest to prospective readers of this blog.)

The opening paragraph of the document reads as follows: “The years following the Second Vatican Council have been extremely productive for Catholic theology.  There have been new theological voices, especially those of laymen and women; theologies from new cultural contexts, particularly Latin America, Africa and Asia; new themes for reflection such as peace, justice, liberation, ecology and bioethics; deeper treatments of former themes, thanks to renewal in biblical, liturgical, patristic and medieval studies; and new venues for reflection such as ecumenical, interreligious and intercultural dialogue.  These are fundamentally positive developments.  Catholic theology has sought to follow the path opened by the council, which wished to express its ‘solidarity and respectful affection for the whole human family’ by entering into dialogue with it and offering ‘the saving resources which the church has received from its founder under the promptings of the Holy Spirit’.  However, this period has also seen a certain fragmentation of theology and, in the dialogue just mentioned, theology always faces the challenge of maintaining its own true identity.  The question arises, therefore, as to what characterizes Catholic theology and gives it, in and through its many forms, a clear sense of identity in its engagement with the world of today.”

In the light of these introductory remarks and because it seems that fragmentation to some extent at least is already a fact of life on the present Catholic theological scene, the authors of the ITC study state very clearly their aims.  They are as follows: “The present text accordingly consists of three chapters, setting out the following themes: In the rich plurality of its expressions, protagonists, ideas and contexts, theology is Catholic and therefore fundamentally one if it arises from an attentive listening to the word of God (cf. Chapter1); if it situates itself consciously and faithfully in the communion of the church (cf. Chapter 2); and if it is orientated to the service of God in the world, offering divine truth to the men and women of today in an intelligible form (cf. Chapter 3).”

These are themes of great significance.  If my little blog proves to be successful, we can return to some of these themes in theological methodology as we move along.  At the moment however, in order to introduce the subject matter of this particular essay, I would like to make mention in a cursory way of several thoughts on the nature of theology, on who or what is a theologian and what ought theologians be doing.  Father Bernard Lonergan, if my memory is still intact, often made classroom remarks in the early fifties which suggested something to the effect that if one wants to know what the science of physics is all about, then don’t ask a physicist for a definition.  Rather, select one who is a good physicist and ask the question – What does he or she do?  So it is with theology.  Definitions are important but abstract.  So we can leave aside for the time being things like definitions, and list, in a cursory way, brief remarks from theological persons who are talking about God.
1.      “One would not be seeking God unless one had already found him.”  (Pascal)

2.     “All knowing beings implicitly know God in everything they know.  For as nothing is desirable but through some resemblance with the first goodness, so nothing is knowable but through some resemblance with the first truth.”  (Aquinas)

3.     “The more perfectly we know God in this life, the better do we understand that he surpasses whatever the mind can know of him.”  (Aquinas)

4.     “God is not a ‘problem’ and we who live the contemplative life have learned by experience that one cannot know God as long as one seeks to solve the ‘problem of God’.  To seek to solve the problem of God is to seek to see one’s own eyes.  One cannot see one’s own eyes because they are that with which one sees, and God is the light by which we see – by which we see not a clearly defined ‘object’ called God but everything else in the invisible one.  God is then the Seer and the Seeing but on earth he is not seen.  In heaven, he is the Seer, the Seeing, and the Seen.”  (Thomas Merton)

5.     “The question of God, then, lies within man’s horizon.  Man’s transcendental subjectivity is mutilated or abolished, unless he is stretching forth towards the intelligible, and unconditioned, the good of value.  The reach, not of his attainment but of his intending, is unrestricted.  There lies within his horizon a region for the divine, a shrine for ultimate holiness.  It cannot be ignored.  The atheist may pronounce it empty.  The agnostic may urge that he finds his investigation has been inconclusive.  The contemporary humanist will refuse to allow the question to arise.  But their negations presuppose the spark in our clod, our native orientation to the divine.”  (B. Lonergan)

6.     “I do not try, O God, to penetrate the depths of your mystery because in no way do I compare my intelligence with yours, but I desire in some way to understand your truth which my heart believes and loves.  I do not seek to understand in order to believe, rather, I believe in order to understand.”  (Anselm of Canterbury)

7.     Question: Whether, besides the philosophical disciplines, is it necessary to have another doctrine?

Answer: “In reply, I say that it was necessary for man’s salvation that there be a doctrine in accord with divine revelation, besides the philosophical studies.  First, because man is ordered toward God as an end which surpasses the grasp of reason, according to the text of Isaiah 64:4; ‘Eye hath not seen, O God, besides thee, what things thou hast prepared for them that wait for thee.’  No, the end should be known in advance by men who ought to order their intentions and actions toward the end.  Hence, it was necessary to the salvation of man that some things be made known to him through divine revelation, things that exceed human reason.

It was also necessary for man to be instructed by divine revelation concerning those things pertaining to God that can be investigated by human reason.  For the truth about God as investigated by reason could come to but few, and after a long time, and with the admixture of many errors.  Yet, on the knowledge of this truth the whole salvation of man depends, for salvation lies in God.  Therefore, in order that salvation might come to men, both more fittingly and more certainly, it was necessary that they be instructed concerning divine revelation.

So, it was necessary to have, apart from the philosophical disciplines which make their investigation through reason, a sacred doctrine through revelation.”  (Aquinas)

8.     Question: Is God the subject of theology?

Answer: “In reply, I say that God is the subject of this science.  In fact, the subject is related to the science as the object is to a potency or habit.  Now, something is properly assigned as the object of a potency or habit when all the items that are related to the potency or habit are included under its intelligibility.  Thus, man and stone are referred to the power of sight because they are colored; hence, the colored is the proper object of sight.  Now, all things are treated in sacred doctrine under the intelligibility of God, either because they are God Himself, or because they have some relation to God, either as source or as end.  Hence, it follows that God is truly the subject of this science.

This is also evident from the principles of this science, for they are articles of faith and it is concerned with God.  Now, the subject of the principles is the same as that of the entire science, since the whole science is virtually contained in the principles.

Of course, some thinkers who look to the things treated in this science and not to the intelligibility under which they are considered have assigned some other subject to the science; either reality and its signs, or the works of redemption, or the whole Christ as Head and members.  Indeed, a treatment of all of these is offered in this science but according to their relationship to God.”  (Aquinas)

A good point to be stressed as we begin to talk about God concerns the fundamental attitude of mind and heart which is so necessary for good theology, especially when theology is directly considering the reality of God.  That attitude is one of reverence.  So much talk today in theology can seem trivializing when it comes to the question of God.  This proved to be especially true when radical theology popularized the philosophical notion about the death of God.  When one begins to reflect on God, the ground on which one is standing is holy ground; therefore, one removes his or her shoes!  One assumes a prayerful attitude of reverence; otherwise one’s reflections may prove to be very sterile.  Theology, of course, is not to be equated with prayer.  Theology demands sustained rigor in thinking and reflecting.  The theologian does not buttress weak argumentation by recourse to prayer.  There cannot be real theology devoid from prayer.  Why should we stress this attitude of reverence?  Theology is reflecting on the Christian fact and on common human experience.  The Christian fact means that God has taken the initiative in seeking us and thus our seeking God is existentially a return to God, a return made necessary because of sin.  St. Benedict writes in the Prologue of his famous Rule – “Listen carefully, my son, to the master’s instructions and tend to them with the ear of your heart.  This is advice from a father who loves you; welcome it and faithfully put it into practice.”  St. Irenaeus writes centuries ago – “No one can learn about God unless God is the teacher.”  A theologian, I would suggest, should feel much at home with a much quoted observation of St. Hilary of Poitiers – “I am aware that I owe this to God as the chief duty of my life, that every word and sense may speak of him.”

P.S.:  Dear Friends: A strange thing happened to me as I came to this point of my modest essay.  Because of peculiar and sharp check pains, I was taken to the ER of a nearby hospital.  After much examination, the doctors concluded that my heart, in spite of ninety years, was in a-one condition.  This began a search for the real but hidden villain.  Subsequent x-rays identified the villain as a badly diseased gall bladder which was immediately removed.  My early effort to continue this blog experience suffered a four-week hiatus.  I will conclude this present essay with this note and pick up, by way of my next entry, where I left off four weeks ago.