Lessons From an Extraordinary Era: Catholic theology since Vatican II

Catholics should be amazed by how theology has developed over the past 40 years. From Karl Rahner to Jon Sobrino, from Edward Schillebeeckx to Elizabeth Johnson, the expanded territory covered by the theologians of our era bears comparison to the transition from the monastery to the university in the High Middle Ages.

Different theologians would tell the story differently, of course, but the version that follows is not completely idiosyncratic. I present the plot in seven stages (stage three has two parts). At each stage I name theologians who embody the development described and present a lesson or two learned at that stage. I tell this story in an abbreviated form, skipping over much, for the point does not lie in the details but in what has happened cumulatively during this brief period in the history of Catholic theology. I conclude with two urgent matters for Catholic theologians to address.

Theological progress differs from development in technology, where one way of doing things supplants anotherthe computer making the typewriter obsolete. Instead, in theology one stage takes the former into itself, slowly widening its horizon and deepening perceptions, allowing a complexification of issues that leads to greater understanding.

Our story begins at the end of the audio interview with Roger Haight, S.J.

Leonard Villa
9 years 1 month ago
Well if you are joining Jon Sobrino, Karl Rahner, Edward Schillebeecks, and Elizabeth Johnson then I suspect Fr. Haight's notion of development is something quite different from say John Henry Newman's. Acorn to oak tree is development. Acorn to ragweed in terms of the acorn is not development. It would be helpful to know as well, Fr. Haight's definition of theology. The Anglican theologian Eric Mascall raised the issue in his "Theology and the Gospel of Christ." To paraphrase his concern:a lot of what is called and masquarades as theology is really philosophy of religion because with some (many?) so called theologians the sole authority is human reason or the consensus of peers (peers as determined by them). This notion of theology would not be the classic "faith seeking understanding" in the service of the Church humbly submitted to the Magisterium of the Church in imitation of Thomas Aquinas, Augustine, et al.
SIMON FALK
9 years 1 month ago
What an exciting reading experience! Firstly, because I'm currently discerning options for further study and Haight's theological smorgasboard is helping to feed my decision. Secondly, the diverse theological applications offer a way into the many and varied contexts of our Church. As a priest in a diocese of both rural and urban parishes I'm often struck by how much social research that reaches the popular reader is quantitative and, of course, the larger quantity of the population is in the cities. Often what are concluded as trends are, in fact, urban trends. Haight's sampling of theology provides options for theological application in both urban and rural contexts. As we all know we have many groups in our Church: lay, clergy, religious, groups and movements, societies, associations etc. Some are more theologically driven and some are more driven by devotional or even practical means. Again, Haight's article offers theological insights that could speak into this diversity both for such groups themselves and for an understanding that holds all this diversity in unity. Many thanks.
Michael Goc
9 years 1 month ago
Where we go from here is always the question to ask. Father Haight is correct is assessing the next steps in determining how to make our faith understandable to us, the current modern church, as well as being able to relate this to others in an ever-changing world. However,this is made more difficult with our Church's movements to return to a more ritualized Liturgical experience. This liturgical experience is how we, the laity, experience theology. And when that theology does not speak to us even when we are both listening and desiring to experience God, one can see how many become frustrated and eventually disinterested. Thank you, America magazine, for inviting us to the conversation.
David Jackson
9 years 1 month ago
Thank you to America for being willing to publish an article by Fr.Roger Haight, S.J. His article includes many of the church people that have been silenced or censured by the Vatican. He himself has suffered from this. The tension reflected in the concern for "orthodoxy" and Dominus Jesus' "relativistic theories which seek to jusify religious pluralism" could have been explored as well.
Bill Mazzella
9 years 1 month ago
Great article by Haight. It places the Vatican II era in perspective. It helps to remind us that, the restorationist and nullifier of Vatican II, Joseph Ratzinger the new pope, is coming into town. Ratzinger started at the Council with so much promise but when the discomforts of diversity were thrust upon him he opted out for safety, orthodoxy and sterility. Theologians who were insisting on the spirit over orthodoxy were harassed and restorationist became the calling card of the Vatican again. Despite him and John Paul II the church is in a new frontier in our times and commitment to Jesus is more centered than just dependent on birth. On the contrary with the two recent bishops of Rome, emphasis centered on orthodoxy rather than orthopraxy and diversity was again shelved for uniform rigidity. Although Ratzinger faced reality on the shameful saga of Maciel he still has not faced up to pastors who have been nurtured on mere loyalty to Rome than the fire of the Holy Spirit. He should not be made that welcome when he comes here. He should know that we prefer spirit to pageantry and example over false sacralization of pastors. Certainly we appreciate his position on the war in Iraq and applaud that he will make that known at his UN speech. Yet he should know that we expect more. The charisms of theologians needs more discerning because without them Rome has too often shown more darkness than light. Ratzinger loves to quote Vatican II. He can truly help if he works toward its true implemention.
9 years ago
I find Haight's tour of Catholic theology since Vatican II of interest. It's helpful to have a list of names and some of the ideas associated with them. Seeing such a list, however, makes one wonder about the names not there. The one that struck me immediately was Kung. How do you talk about C. theology since V.II without mentioning Prince Hans, especially since you list King Karl? Although the liberation theologians and the women theologians took on Vatican Catholicism, it was Kung alone who went right to heart of the late ecclesiatical matter with his inquiry of infallibility. Likewise his earlier book, "Does God Exist?" was a thorough and honest survey of the essential question, and is a book that sheds much light on today's welcome forays into the diety issue. I appreciate Haight's survey and am grateful to America for making it available.
8 years 3 months ago
I truly enjoyed this article - my first experience with Haight. I am still attempting to digest the feast. One question I have for the cooperating audience. I was really struck by the comment "...it was as great as the shift from a Jewish understanding of God and salvation to a Greek interpretation of both." Could someone expand a bit on this for me please. I feel it was an important element I missed, most likely due to the lack of my education. A PM would be fine. I have thought about this section constantly since I first read it. Thank you kindly - sgtmaki(at)hotmail(dot)com
SIMON FALK
8 years 1 month ago
This theological survey of Haight's is still doing the rounds even here in Australia. One wonders though, if a similar survey were to appear in, say, five years time, that the format will be markedly different. It may be presented in an interactive video mode with even "skype-type" link ups. This is because, whilst we have these discussions on "texts", the newer generations need different media. America's "podbean" podcasts are bridging that gap. To reach people today and beyond theological texts need to be translated in audiobooks, podcasts, videos and the like. I love what we have, but, sometimes wonder if younger folk find the way we communicate theologically rather pre-historic. Keep up those great podcasts etc.

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