Trent Launches World Revolution in Theology

By Allen, John L., Jr. | National Catholic Reporter, September 3, 2010 | Go to article overview
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Trent Launches World Revolution in Theology


Allen, John L., Jr., National Catholic Reporter


Five centuries ago, Trent launched a revolution in Catholic life. The famous council that met in this northern Italian enclave from 15.45 to 1563 engineered the Counter Reformation, thus equipping Catholicism to respond to the most significant megatrend of the day: the Protestant Reformation and the dissolution of Christendom.

It just may be that in the summer of 2010, Trent did it again.

That, at least, was the ambition of a July 24-27 gathering of nearly 600 Catholic ethicists and moral theologians, representing four continents and 73 countries. They came together under the aegis of "Catholic Theological Ethics in the World Church," for a conference titled "In the Currents of History: From Trent to the Future."

Participants say the event both symbolized and advanced another Catholic revolution, this one methodological: In an era in which two-thirds of the Catholics in the world live outside Europe and North America, theology can only be done in a global key.

"Historically, there's been a lot of nationalism deeply embedded in how we train, study and work," said Jesuit Fr. James Keenan of Boston College, the architect of the gathering in Trent. Keenan spearheaded efforts to raise more than $700,000 to ensure that theologians from developing countries were strongly represented.

"Today, there's a new Catholicity taking shape," Keenan said. "We recognize that we have to be voices with others, not just for others."

The turnout included more than 200 theologians from the developing world, almost 150 "new scholars" (meaning recent doctorate recipients), and a few of the best theological minds in- the European hierarchy, including Archbishops Bruno Forte of Chieti-Vasto, Italy, and Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, Germany, along with Bishop Karl Golser of Bolzano-Bressanone, Italy. It offered a dramatic visual expression of how much the theological guild has changed since the Council of Trent, as half the theologians were laity and at least 200 were women.

That sense of being part of a global community became the leitmotif.

"The most important fruit of Trent is not so much a new agenda for theology, but a new way of doing theology," said Jesuit Fr. Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orobator, a Nigerian who teaches at Hekima College Jesuit School of Theology and Institute of Peace Studies and International Relations in Nairobi, Kenya.

"It's about having the kind of conversation that allows us to move forward as a world church, not just one small corner of the world," said Orobator, who was on the planning committee for Trent.

The gathering built upon an earlier summit of ethicists and theologians organized by Keenan in Padua, Italy, in July 2006. Both events responded to what is arguably the most important seismic shift in Catholicism today, which is the emergence of what analysts call a "world church."

At the dawn of the 20th century, there were 266 million Catholics in the world, concentrated in Europe and North America, so that the church's demographic profile was roughly what it was at the time of the Council of Trent.

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