The Ruins of Discontinuity: Reinhard Hutter Looks for Answers to the Fragmentation of Catholic Theology in America and Finds Some
Hutter, Reinhard, First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life
On September 19, 2010, at Crofton Park in Birmingham, England, Pope Benedict XVI beatified John Henry Newman. Soon afterward, on October 9, the Catholic Church in England for the first time commemorated Blessed John Henry Newman. For that day, the Office of Readings of the Liturgy of the Hours provided a well-chosen passage from the Apologia Pro Vita Sua, Newman's most famous work. "I believe the whole revealed dogma as taught by the Apostles, as committed by the Apostles to the Church, and as declared by the Church to me," wrote Newman, referring to his faith as a Catholic. "I receive it, as it is infallibly interpreted by the authority to whom it is thus committed, and (implicitly) as it shall be, in like manner, further interpreted by that same authority till the end of time." In itself this affirmation of the magisterium of the Church is unexceptional, but Newman goes on, emphasizing his docility: "I submit, moreover, to the universally received traditions of the Church, in which lies the matter of those new dogmatic definitions which are from time to time made, and which in all times are the clothing and the illustration of the Catholic dogma as already defined. And I submit myself to those other decisions of the Holy See, theological or not, through the organs which it has itself appointed, which, waiving the question of their infallibility, on the lowest ground come to me with a claim to be accepted and obeyed."
Had I been presented with Newman's affirmations on the feast of the Holy Innocents, 2004, when my wife and I were received into full communion with the Catholic Church, I could have made his words my own, not only without qualification but also with a real sense of joy. For my experience had been like Newman's, who expressed it better than I can: "It was like coming into port after a rough sea; and my happiness on that score remains to this day without interruption."
As I was to learn, however, becoming Catholic is one thing; becoming a Catholic theologian is quite another. The former entails the loving assent to the Church's faith; the latter involves the arduous acquisition of theological wisdom. As a result, while I could see that the former required that I know what the Church teaches, I came to see that the latter requires a deeper spiritual and theological formation.
This formation is not easy to acquire. Catholic theologians in the making must negotiate a difficult and often treacherous landscape in late modern America. Where do "young" Catholic theologians-whether still in graduate programs, or in their first teaching positions, or "late born" like myself--find the kind of intellectual and spiritual guidance and formation that allows them to pursue a vision other than that of simply being functionaries of their academic guild?
The problem was not unknown to me. As a Lutheran theologian I recognized that the general pattern of modernity has pushed theological analysis and reflection to the margins of the intellectual life and the universities. To survive, theology departments have steadily adopted theologically extraneous perspectives of self-understanding and standards of self-evaluation that ever so subtly estrange theologians from their subject matter. For the up-and-coming young theologian who seeks advancement, and who wishes to be globally marketable, it becomes nearly impossible to resist the pressure to embrace the attitudes and behaviors expected by the secular university. So where can Catholic theologians in the making be theologically and spiritually formed so that they may aspire to the most intellectually rigorous understanding of the revealed truth? Where will they be instructed with the greatest fidelity to the Church? What will help them resist the one-sided and exaggerated contemporary academic emphasis on originality and productivity?
The unity and coherence of theology can be maintained only if we explicitly conceive of it as an ecclesial intellectual practice of the Church, arising from the Church's nature and mission. …