Saturday, September 16, 2006

A Generous Orthodoxy - But Not Necessarily of the McLaren Kind

Recently I published excerpts from two of the most prominent Roman Catholic theologians of the twentieth century: Henri de Lubac and Karl Rahner. Together their theological influence on the 2nd Vatican Council and post-conciliar theology has been immense. Consequently, the shadows of both theologians loom large over the monumental Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994). For example, De Lubac's positive re-formulation of St. Cyprian's dictum "Outside the Church, no salvation" (cf. Catechism, 846-848) has not only had profound implications for Rome's ecumenical endeavors, but upon her missiological ones as well (cf. 856). One can readily see Rahner's "anonymous Christian" alongside of De Lubac's optimistic take on humanity's common destiny. Rahner's influence also underlies the Cathechism's discussion of original sin, particularly in embracing Rahner's understanding of the analogical sense of "sin" in the classic statement of the doctrine (cf. 404, 405).

There is little question that, in retrospect, theologians of the 21st century will one day look back to the late 20th century as the Roman Church's most shining moment thus far. Not that there weren't problems or mistakes made along the way, but somehow, some way, the Roman Church of the 20th century was able to create a context for theological inquiry that I think can rightly be described as "a generous orthodoxy" (a phrase that Brian McLaren and the emergent church unfortunately threaten to turn into a cliche).

My own hypothesis is that this is the result of Rome's tenacious adherence to creedal and conciliar commitments (despite the filioque) combined with an openess to intellectual inquiry that permits her theologians to enter into constructive dialogue with modern advances in the sciences and other disciplines. In this way orthodox creedal and conciliar commitments serve as boundary markers establishing the wide perimeter within which the catholic theologian is free to explore and incorporate new discoveries of the world around us, which in turn helps in large part to illuminate and reinvigorate an ancient faith.

Ironically, once upon a time this was more the rule in Anglicanism than it was for Rome. In fact, I would go so far as to say that this was once a strength and characteristic peculiar and unique to Anglicanism. One need only compare Anglicanism's "generous orthodoxy" of the late 19th and early 20th centuries with the calicified post-Tridentine Roman Church of the same period. Indeed, my hunch (though I haven't done enough research yet to prove it) is that the reason behind Rome's dramatic and largely successful de-calcification of late was that it "stole" this particular page right out of the Anglican play-book, at the same time that, tragically, Anglicanism began to move, if not to ignore outright, the ancient boundary stones that once kept her from going astray.


Thomas said...

I would like to see the evidence you can provide for the link you hypothesize between the older Anglican intellectual milieu and that of post-Conciliar Romanism. I think 20th century Catholic thought can be roughly summarized as divided between Neo-Thomism and the Nouvelle Theologie. Given the neo-patristic orientation of the latter and its openness to post-Kantian philosophy, perhaps a case can be made for Anglican influence.

lexorandi2 said...

John Henry Newman? :-)

I'll get back to this later. I'm writing a pretty important paper right now.

the Vicar said...

Oooo I love this blog! Fr. Hogarth, needs to add this one to my list.

jon said...

I'm inclined to think similar things about contemporary Lutheran theologians Braaten, Jenson, and Pannenberg. Given the work of these and other Lutheran theologians - together with de Lubac, Rahner, and other Catholic theologians - can it be any coincidence that the Catholic-Lutheran JDDJ came about in the last decade? It's just too bad that these strong Lutheran theologians haven't yet translated into a prevalence of strong Lutheran churches. Unfortunately, Lutheranism seems about as weak as Anglicanism there.

lexorandi2 said...

That's a great observation, Jon. You're absolutely correct.

I love Braaten. His book "Mother Church" was boldly written, and seminal in some of my own thinking on ecumenicity and Roman primacy.

jon said...

Same here. I've been rereading Mother Church recently and am once again struck by how wonderfully insightful it is.