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The controversies of post-conciliar theology.

Since the council, Catholic theology has entered into one of its most creative and most contentious periods. The council brought to an end, at least for a while, a certain Neo-Scholastic theology associated with the Roman School, which, from the mid-19th century to mid-20th century, was inculcated worldwide through manuals of theology used in seminary training. This manualist approach espoused a metaphysically grounded approach to reason, razor-sharp precision in conceptual analysis, and deductive logical delineations and defenses of propositions taken from official teachings. It became the Curia's normative framework for assessing--and repudiating--modern theological considerations of critical questions about the historical sources of Christianity, and the evolution of Christian beliefs and practices in relation to human aspirations.

The action of the Holy Office--now the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith--against the so-called Modernists and proponents of Nouvelle Theologie illustrates Neo-Scholastic theology at its apogee, and at its most destructive.

The demise of Neo-Scholastic theology over the course of the council occurred as original draft documents were rejected by the majority of council fathers and new ones forged. This was thanks to the work of ressourcement theologians seeking to retrieve a fuller range of biblical, patristic and liturgical traditions, joined by theologians who were engaging modern currents of thought that pondered the dynamism of the human subject and the historical character of communities and traditions.

The conciliar documents reveal a struggle of theological schools and the rise of a fresh and unstable alliance of theologians representing a diversity of theological disciplines and orientations. Thus was launched a renaissance in theology beginning with the topic areas addressed by the council: revelation and tradition; liturgy; the identity and mission of the church in relation to other Christian communities, other religions and other worldviews; and the church's appraisal of human endeavors in science, philosophy and social life.

The cooperation and convergence of various schools of theology forged in the conciliar struggle against a common nemesis--Neo-Scholasticism--became strained and splintered as diverse interpretations of the council took hold. New theological motifs and methods emerged, accompanied by a new pluralism of theological methods and styles.

It is helpful to illustrate the initial phase of post-conciliar theology by describing the launching of two theological journals. Concilium, founded in 1965 by theologians who included Karl Rahner, Hans Kling, Yves Congar, Edward Schillebeecloc and Johann Baptist Metz, was dedicated to continuing the theological aggiornamento and renewal the council initiated. A second journal, Communio, from theologians led by Hans Urs von Balthasar, Henri de Lubac and Joseph Ratzinger, became identified with an interpretation of Vatican II that affirmed continuity and reform, but resisted innovation and discontinuity. During John Paul II's and Benedict XVI's pontificates, the Communio program came to represent the Curia's official theology.

There arose a new Roman school, an heir of Neo-Scholasticism, whose influence predominated in the formation of the universal catechism, the new Code of Canon Law, and eventually in revisions of liturgical rites and translations. Meanwhile, many theologians associated with Concilium came under curial suspicion, resulting in numerous cases of public disciplining.

Some of the most significant and influential developments in theology can be identified by following disciplinary actions taken by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and more recently by the doctrinal committees of national episcopal conferences. These bodies target the works of theologians that receive widespread attention in Catholic higher education and in seminaries, and influence public opinion in the church. Even though this kind of filter inevitably leaves aside many important contributions, it has the advantage of bringing outstanding, if controversial, contributions and contested areas into high relief.

Christology has been at the forefront of scholarly work during the post-conciliar period. There has been widespread interest in the debate about the quest for the historical Jesus, New Testament portrayals of Jesus and Christologies, and a variety of efforts to explore the social and practical implications of Christian discipleship. The contested aspects of many of these subjects are evidenced by curial investigations of works by Schillebeeckx, Jon Sobrino, Roger Haight and Jose Antonio Pagola.

Church doctrine was central to Vatican II's work; since then, not surprisingly, ecclesiology has been one of the most fruitful areas of inquiry. Theologians have given special attention to the importance of the local church, lay leadership, collaborative approaches to ministry, and synodal decision-making, but some have drawn criticism for undermining clerical and hierarchical authority.

First it was Ming on infallibility, then Leonardo Boff on the use of power in the church, followed by Schillebeeckx's call for a reconsideration of the role of local communities in selecting ministerial leadership. Theological interest in openly discussing women's ordination to the ministerial priesthood and the roles of women in the church more widely have continued unabated, despite the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith declaration Inter Insigniores (1976), John Paul 111's apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (1994), and disciplinary actions taken against individual theologians.

Moral theology has been a particularly contentious field. Pope Paul VI's 1968 reaffirmation of the church's ban on the use of artificial birth control in Humane Vitae was a watershed moment. The history of theologians' criticisms of the official ban and their explorations of a range of issues in sexual ethics--followed by official critiques and reprimands--is well-known: from the censure of Human Sexuality: New Directions in American Catholic Thought, a document sponsored by the Catholic Theological Society of America, to the works of Charles Curran, Andre Guindon, Marciano Vidal, Michael Lawler and Todd Salzman, and recently of Margaret Farley. Theologians who have raised questions about the official teaching on homosexuality have regularly been targeted for disciplinary action. Issues pertaining to birth control, sterilization and end-of-life issues have likewise been sources of much debate.

Behind controversies over specific moral issues has been a larger debate about the need to face the complexity of reality involved in moral decision-making. A group of moral theologians, most prominently Louis Janssens, Joseph Fuchs and Richard A. McCormick, urged a more historical approach to natural law, and with it a new appreciation of and fresh ways of approaching the principle of double effect, casuistic reasoning, and weighing various goods and ends in practical matters. This orientation was identified as "proportionalism" and criticized by John Paul II in Veritatis Splendor (1993) and Evangelium Vitae (1995).

The call for a new recognition of the complexity of reality was increasingly voiced by theologians around the world and ties together a variety of different theological agendas. Schillebeeckx spoke of the need to recognize the refractoriness of reality in the suffering world.

Latin American liberation theologians, such as Gustavo Gutierrez and Ignacio Ellacuria, drew special attention to the stubborn reality of social structural sin and the consequent need for a preferential option for the poor.

The richness of reality of indigenous cultures has elicited calls for greater inculturation of the Gospel by theologians in the Southern Hemisphere, such as in Africa by Meinrad Hebga, Jean-Marc Ela and Laurenti Magesa.

In Asia, theologians have given special attention to the reality of God's activity amid the diversity of religions, represented in the works of Jacques Dupuis (who taught for more than 36 years in India), Peter Phan and Michael Amaladoss. These attempts to wrestle with the complexity of historical reality--personal, social, cultural and religious--were officially criticized by Ratzinger during his career as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. To Ratzinger, they represented the negative repercussions of modernity's embrace of secularity, liberation, cultural relativity and religious pluralism.

The 2011 public critique of Elizabeth Johnson's book Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God by the doctrine committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was widely denounced for this committee's failure to enter into an official dialogue with the theologian. Why target Johnson's work? Undoubtedly she is recognized as one of the most influential Catholic feminist theologians of the post-conciliar period. But the fuller story is that Johnson's entire publishing career has been marked by her attempt to be open to the profound mystery of the reality of the living God as encountered by women and men in the scriptures, in human history, and in diverse communities of faith around the world. She invites her readers to honor the mysterious reality of God and be open to the diversity of ways language is used to disclose the divine reality in the Scriptures and throughout history and around the world. The Committee on Doctrine judges her approach dangerous for failing to start and end with the official language of the creed, the catechism and statements of the magisterium.

The Johnson case raises questions that have surfaced increasingly throughout the post-conciliar period. Are we witnessing the re-entrenchment of Neo-Scholastic methodology as the official theology of the Curia and the magisterium? If not strictly speaking Neo-Scholastic, how is the official theology, which is so indebted to the Communio program, different?

Does it represent the latest attempt to bring about a unitary method in theology, or at least, a much narrower range of acceptable methods of theology in the church? This would be consistent with the official positions of John Paul II and Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, on the vocation of the theologian and the profession of faith.

It seems fair to conclude that various theological efforts during the post-conciliar period to face reality in all its mystery and complexity are, at the very least, being restricted and restrained.
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Title Annotation:BEFORE AND AFTER
Author:Hinze, Bradford E.
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:4EXVA
Date:Oct 11, 2012
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