Twentieth-Century Catholic Theologians

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Spirituality Flowing From Theology - A Eucharistic Journey - Catholic Series

Contents Preface. Before Vatican II. Yves Congar. Edward Schillebeeckx. Henri de Lubac. Karl Rahner. Bernard Lonergan. Hans Urs von Balthasar. Hans Kung. Karol Wojtyla. Joseph Ratzinger. After Vatican II. Appendix: The Anti-Modernist Oath. This is a new book from one of the foremost Roman Catholic theologians currently writing in English. It reports on the lives and works of the most influential Catholic theologians of the twentieth century. This work covers theologians including: Chenu, the guru of the French worker priest movement; Congar who was imprisoned in Colditz; and, Kung who was banned from teaching for decades because of his radical views.

This work highlights the involvement of each theologian with the Second Vatican Council, and the dissatisfaction of most with what was achieved. Bibliographic information.

List of Catholic philosophers and theologians - Wikipedia

Publication date ISBN hardback : alk. Browse related items Start at call number: BX K47 This papal encyclical was widely read as an unequivocal reaffirmation of the neoscholastic tradition that had come to dominate Catholic responses to modernity in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. By , that tradition was utterly eclipsed and superseded by the new modes of Catholic theology developed and articulated by the theologians Kerr surveys. With fresh and informed readings of their work, Kerr charts many of the intellectual and personal factors in this revolution.

The Heroic Generation was a diverse group. They did not form a unified school of thought. They did not share the same concerns or interests, and, in retrospect, it is clear they did not make equal contributions. Fortunately, Kerr does not try to force these theologians into a single mold, nor does he advance a grand thesis about the fundamental achievement or failure of the revolution in twentieth-century Catholic theology.

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But modesty does not preclude genuine insight. As Kerr works his way through some of the more interesting and important figures, a distinct reality comes into view.

The most creative members of the Heroic Generation are now strangely inaccessible to us. Their achievement has been hollowed out—in part, at least, by its own success. Their revolution destroyed the theological culture that gave vitality and life to their theological projects.

T his paradox may be the strangest and most significant feature of the Heroic Generation.


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It is commonplace to observe that Enlightenment philosophy works with contrastive dualisms that lead to intractable problems. In early modern theories of knowledge, the obvious importance of concepts tended to push such figures as Descartes and Leibniz toward various forms of rationalism, while the seemingly equal importance of data and facts encouraged Locke and Hume toward empiricism.

A similar dualism emerged in political and moral philosophy. On the one hand, authority seems a necessary force to guide us toward truth and justice. On the other hand, freedom seems necessary for any genuine embrace of truth or experience of justice. The defining feature of Catholic thought from through was the considered and well-argued judgment that all modern solutions—from Descartes to Locke, from Kant to Comte, from Rousseau to Mill, from Schleiermacher to Hegel—had failed.

Instead, the Catholic tradition argued, the basic structure of the Thomistic theory of knowledge and the Thomistic account of nature and grace provided a lasting solution. Like the other genuinely creative members of the Heroic Generation, Lonergan fundamentally accepted the nineteenth-century Catholic judgment against typical modern solutions in favor of a Thomistic approach.


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With perceptions sharpened, he returned to the typical nineteenth-century Catholic accounts of the Thomistic solution. Again, like the other members of the Heroic Generation, he analyzed the standard formulations and found them covertly dependent on the very modern dualisms they purported to overcome. Finally, again like his comrades, he set about to draw on some contemporary resources to reformulate and perfect the Thomistic solution.

In a series of articles published in the s, Lonergan offered a brilliant solution to centuries-long debates about grace and freedom. But brilliant arguments are not the same as intellectual influence.


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  8. The articles were published in book form in under the title Grace and Freedom: Operative Grace in the Thought of St. Thomas Aquinas.

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    Modern Catholic Theology Collection (5 vols.)

    And the end result was perverse. After effecting a revolution against the limitations of neoscholasticism, Lonergan seems to have contributed to the emergence of a new and impoverished theological culture in which his own commitments and insights are unintelligible. What he achieved could not be integrated into the contemporary theological scene.

    L onergan was not the only member of the Heroic Generation to suffer this fate.

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    In the s he argued that standard theologies of the neoscholastic tradition used a metaphysically rigid, dualistic account of human destiny that ironically confirmed rather than overcame the modern suspicion that our everyday lives and concerns nature have no intrinsic contact with or need for the life of faith grace. Instead of overcoming the dualisms that have tended to drive modern thought and life toward contrastive and fruitless antinomies, neoscholasticism unwittingly absorbed the tendency into itself. When de Lubac claimed that the fundamental structure of neoscholasticism was a covert form of modernism, he was making a direct attack on the modes of theology that dominated the Church in the first half of the twentieth century.

    Not surprisingly, he became a suspect character in the eyes of church authorities. In the s he was silenced by his superiors in the Society of Jesus. One would think that, as a result, de Lubac would have embraced the spirit of innovation that flourished after Vatican II. He did not. In its pages he sought to address what he regarded as a fundamental misunderstanding of his basic insights, and its main thrust is a defense of the core theological judgments of the neoscholastic tradition he spent his life criticizing. Thus the paradox, once again.

    By the s, Henri de Lubac, the great critic of dry and dusty neoscholasticism, saw that the younger generation needed to be catechized into the standard, baseline commitments of Catholic theology. Ressourcement does not work if students have neither context nor framework in which to place the richness and depth of the tradition.

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    K err helps us move toward a nuanced understanding of the Heroic Generation with cool and levelheaded analysis of the individual thinkers, and there are important questions he raises that should be pursued further. Of special importance is a clearer and more critical understanding of the persistent interrelation of debates about epistemology specifically, St. Before engaging in the theological substance, however, we need to set aside specific debates about whether Lonergan—or de Lubac or Rahner or Congar or Balthasar—was right or wrong about particular issues facing theology and the Church.

    We cannot even begin to enter into the nuances of their positions until we achieve some clarity about the kinds of theologies they advanced and the mode of theology they practiced. Theology is not a singular, unified thing. It is instead a fluid, multifaceted reality and plays many roles in the Church.

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    Biblical interpretation is a kind of theology. Philosophical arguments for the existence of God or discussions of the nature of the human person play different roles. Historical analysis of ancient creeds counts as still another mode. And yet, amid all this diversity, theology has one important and consistent role.

    Theology After the Revolution

    The Magisterium of the Church never sat down one day to work out an overall account of Christian truth. Because official doctrine tends to be responsive rather than speculative, directed to specific problems rather than worked out as a system, the relation between doctrines defined at various times is rarely apparent. If doctrine is to adequately shape and inform the lives of believers, then these relations need to be analyzed, explained, and applied. This work is one of the main vocations of theology. In the broadest sense, Catholic theology presumes subjective assent and material conformity to church doctrine: One can hardly be a theologian of the Church unless one thinks with the Church.

    But subjective assent and material conformity are entirely consistent with criticism of past efforts of theological synthesis and with creative new explorations. What the Church teaches admits of a wide range of interpretive and systematic treatments, and the open and largely latent structure of official doctrine invites conceptual innovation and dramatic new proposals for synthesis. This is why the study of theology is so exciting, and this is also why theologians can fall so quickly into deep and bitter arguments.

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