New Document for Theology

Michael Barber, and his buddies are my favorite young Catholic theologians today:

Today has been an extremely exciting day!

The International Theological Commission has a new document out, Theology Today:Perspectives, Principles and Criteria. This is an incredibly helpful guide to doing Catholic theology.

To be sure, this is not a magisterial document–an official document from the Church’s teaching office. Nonetheless, this is important reading for Catholics interested in theology. Even non-Catholics I think will find it illuminating.

It contains some rather strong–even surprising statements. Something that will surely surprise non-Catholics (and even Catholics!) is the stress put on the centrality of Scripture in Theology!Indeed, as I’ll explain, some of the statements are downright shocking! But more on that in a minute….Theology Today begins by discussing some of the advances made in theology since the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). However, it also notes certain challenges that have arisen in the post-Conciliar era:

“[The period after Vatican II] 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, a sto what characterises Catholic theology and gives it, in and through its many forms, a clear sense of identity in its engagement with the world of today.”(no. 1)…

Going on, Theology Today begins–following the document Dei Verbum from the Second Vatican Council and the Catechism of the Catholic Church–by emphasizing the centrality of the Word of God. We read:

“Theology, in all its diverse traditions, disciplines and methods, is founded on the fundamental act of listening in faith to the revealed Word of God, Christ himself.Listening to God’s Word is the definitive principle of Catholic theology; it leads to understanding and speech and to the formation of Christian community . . . . The unity of theology, therefore does not require uniformity, but rather a single focus on God’s Word and an explication of its innumerable riches by theologies able to dialogue and communicate with one another. Likewise, the plurality of theologies should not imply fragmentation or discord, but rather the exploration in myriad ways of God’s one saving truth.” (nos. 4-5)

The “Word of God” is, of course, Christ (John 1:1). Thus, Catholics do not believe in sola Scriptura.

“The Church greatly venerates the Scriptures, but it is important to recognise that ‘the Christian faith is not a “religion of the book”; Christianity is the “religion of the word of God”, not of “a written and mute word, but of the incarnate and living Word”’.[11]

Nonetheless, though the “Word of God” is a Person, not reducible to Scripture, Scripture must remain the “soul of Catholic theology”. In fact, the document describes Scripture as the “normative witness” to the truth theology must explicate:

The ‘study of the sacred page’ should be the ‘very soul of sacred theology’.[29] This is the Second Vatican Council’s core affirmation with regard to theology. Pope Benedict XVI reiterates: ‘where theology is not essentially the interpretation of the Church’s Scripture, such a theology no longer has a foundation’.[30] Theology in its entirety should conform to the Scriptures, and the Scriptures should sustain and accompany all theological work, because theology is concerned with ‘the truth of the gospel’ (Gal 2:5), and it can know that truth only if it investigates the normative witness to it in the canon of sacred Scripture,[31] and if, in doing so, it relates the human words of the Bible to the living Word of God. ‘Catholic exegetes must never forget that what they are interpreting is the word of God…. They arrive at the true goal of their work only when they have explained the meaning of the biblical text as God’s word for today.’

Did you catch all that? That’s a paragraph that merits reading and re-reading.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://trinitariantheodicy.wordpress.com Trin

    Wow!
    So, what of the traditional role of tradition/the church? Where does that fit in – still above scripture? or does scripture now precede tradition?

  • CGC

    No fair, now the Catholics are wanting to horn in on the all sufficiency of the Bible :–)

  • Joel C

    Sounds tremendously like Barth.

  • Stacey

    Trin, why don’t you click the link and read the document? It discusses tradition and scripture and their relationship early on. Although as far as I understand, Catholics don’t place tradition ‘above’ scripture, but it is rather the communicative and interpretive tool applied to scripture. Both scripture and tradition are gifts of and to the church for the church and for the world for Christ to dialogue with man who has rejected Him.

  • Hector_St_Clare

    Re: Although as far as I understand, Catholics don’t place tradition ‘above’ scripture, but it is rather the communicative and interpretive tool applied to scripture.

    I think their view of tradition (and mine as well) is something higher than that. Scripture is a subset of tradition, it’s the record of those oral traditions about Jesus and the early church that were deemed to be reliable enough, early enough, and useful enough to be both written down and then selected for reading in church. That something wasn’t contained in the list of books that were eventually selected for canonization doesn’t make it less true or less important.

  • Stacey

    @Hector_St_Clare, I think that’s a better expression – thank you.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Do you think Al Mohler would agree that he should be doing science? Some exerpts:

    Theology is scientific reflection on the divine revelation which the Church accepts by faith as universal saving truth.”

    “It becomes theology in the strict sense when the believer undertakes to present the content of the Christian mystery in a rational and scientific way.

    “When it comes to the ‘authentic’ interpretation of the faith, the magisterium plays a role that theology simply cannot take to itself. Theology cannot substitute a judgement coming from the scientific theological community for that of the bishops.”

    “The freedom of theology and of theologians is a theme of special interest.[96] This freedom ‘derives from the true scientific responsibility of theologians’.[97] The idea of adherence to the magisterium sometimes prompts a critical contrast between a so-called ‘scientific’ theology (without presuppositions of faith or ecclesial allegiance) and a so-called ‘confessional’ theology (elaborated within a religious confession), but such a contrast is inadequate”

    “Without ever claiming to exhaust the riches of revelation, it strives to appreciate and explore the intelligibility of the Word of God – fides quaerens intellectum – and to offer a reasoned account of the truth of God. In other words, it seeks to express God’s truth in the rational and scientific mode that is proper to human understanding.

    The article routinely puts scientific thought in high regard. I like that and, more importantly, agree with it.

  • http://joshburnett.org Josh Burnett

    Thank you for sharing this article! I’ve often wondered “Is the reading of God’s Word meant to be strictly informative or used for application?” while attending Catholic churches with friends on Saturdays.

    It’s nice to hear about how Pope Benedict XVI’s thoughts on how theology starts and ends with what the Bible says (sola Scriptura)!

  • http://whitherthougoest.wordpress.com/ Brad Anderson

    Trin, Catholicism does not formally place Tradition above Scripture. Rather, Christ is the font from which the parallel streams of Scripture and Tradition (teaching of Christ to apostles, passed down the generations in unbroken succession) flow.

    Having earned a PhD in theology from a Catholic university, this doesn’t surprise me. It is nice to see such a pronounced focus, however, one that I hope will lead more Catholics to careful reading and consideration of Scripture. Of course, I hope the same thing for us Protestants, too.

  • CGC

    DRT,
    I found it strange that the Cahtolic church is talking about all theology comes from God’s Word and then you quote Mohler that theology is scientific reflection. Did I miss something?

    Well, here is something then you might not agree with that I just read. I have been reading an Eastern Orthodox book by Kyriancos Markides called “The Mountain of Silence.” Here is one quote from the book . . .

    “The west came to rely exclusively on the intellect in its quest for God. But the way we know God is neither through philosophy nor through experimental science but through spiritual practice (disciplines) that open us up to the grace of the Holy Spirit (p.12).


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