Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Tradition and innovation in theology

R.R. Reno pleas for a new standard theology as necessary for genuine creative innovation. He uses the work of Fergus Ker to argue that the Heroic Generation of theologians (Congar, Rahner, de Lubac, etc.) destroyed the old synthesis without putting something in its place that would allow for the kind of innovation they rightly pursued. I heartily concur. And, I think it is happening. St. Thomas is not dead, nor is St. Augustine.
What is needed is not a new exploratory project, however traditional in intent. Our current situation is absurd. Unlike professors in most disciplines, America's theology faculties offer almost no introduction to the basic logic of their subject. Instead, like Kerr's list of the good and the great in twentieth-century Catholic theology, most professors socialize their students into all the innovations and complexities of the Heroic Generation. We teach the extraordinary insights of Balthasar, Congar, Lonergan, and de Lubac, and we do so without first framing their work in terms of a settled, comprehensive, and well-argued systematic theology. Fearing the narrowness derided by the Heroic Generation, we end up with a shallowness they would have despised.
He actually pleas for a return to something like the old manuals.
We need to recover the systematic clarity and comprehensiveness of the neoscholastic synthesis, rightly modified and altered by the insights of the Heroic Generation and their desire for a more scriptural, more patristic, and more liturgical vision of the unity and truth of the Christian faith. We need good textbooks — however much they might not satisfy a literary genius like Hans Urs von Balthasar and the soul of a poet like Henri de Lubac — in order to develop an intellectually sophisticated faith.
I am working right now on just such a work for God: One and Three.

I especially like this on Rahner:

Karl Rahner was not the most brilliant thinker of his generation, and he certainly was not the most original. But he emerged as the dominant figure after Vatican II because he was patient. Rahner's dry, technical essays carefully integrated — some would say insinuated — his novel ideas into the standard frameworks of the day. As Kerr observes of Rahner, "Whatever revision or innovation he proposed, he wanted to expound in continuity with neoscholasticism, die Schultheologie, which he so often lambasted." He worked within the system to show how his transcendental theology could be molded into a teachable, textbook system in which the scaffolding of older ways of thinking was redeployed to serve a new direction in theology. Balthasar and others might criticize the emerging Rahnerian consensus after Vatican II, but the vacuum they created ensured its triumph.

Today the failure of Rahner's misbegotten, post-Kantian, faux scholasticism is plain to see.

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