System, History, and a Theology of Ministry

By Ormerod, Neil | Theological Studies, September 2000 | Go to article overview

System, History, and a Theology of Ministry


Ormerod, Neil, Theological Studies


ROBERT M. DORAN has presented in two recent articles a new paradigm for systematic theology drawing upon the work of Bernard Lonergan.(1) In the first article Doran argues for the necessity of developing a systematic theology of history. His own monumental work, Theology and the Dialectics of History, is a major contribution to that task, exploring and developing as it does the general and special categories needed for an explanatory account of history.(2) In the second article he pushes the analysis farther by arguing that not only does systematic theology pertain to history, but in particular it should pertain to its own history. Consequently, systematic theology should be able to give an explanatory account of the history of theology. Doran links this explanatory history with the aims of Lonergan in Chapter 17 of Insight, "Metaphysics as Dialectic"(3) as well as his own difficult explorations in Chapter 19 of Theology and the Dialectics of History, "The Ontology of Meaning."(4) Doran eschews any idealist, Hegelian reading of this proposal as simply a "history of ideas," since the history that Doran envisages includes reference to concrete historical communities whose social and cultural dialectics are an admixture of progress, decline, and redemption. Doran's account of his project, however, remains necessarily heuristic with little given by way of concrete example. My purpose in this note is to propose an outline for a theology of ministry that would illustrate Doran's project.

A CONCRETE EXAMPLE

The theology of ministry presents itself as a suitable candidate for a number of reasons. Firstly, Lonergan drew a close connection between ecclesiology and a theology of history, noting that the "department of theology [in which] the historical aspects of development might be treated ... may possess particular relevance to a treatise on the mystical body of Christ."(5) A theology of ministry finds its proper expression within ecclesiology. An explanatory account of ministry would find its proper place within a fuller explanatory account of the mission of the Church. Still the material elements of the history of ministry and the various theologies that have been developed in respect to ministry are readily available.(6)

Secondly, the theology of ministry illustrates most clearly the complex interrelationship between theology and history that Doran is seeking to explicate. Suppose we ask what a theology of ministry seeks to do. The classical adage "faith seeking understanding" might be our starting point. But what is it that we are seeking to understand? Ministry as it is currently constituted? Ministry as it was constituted in the early Church? Or the whole sequence of changing forms of ministry from the beginning of the Church until the present? Surely a systematic theology of ministry would do well if it could explain the historical development of ministry, beginning with the witness of the New Testament, working through the patristic era to the Middle Ages, the Reformation, the councils from Trent to Vatican II. Such a history would not be the history envisaged in the first phase of Lonergan's theological method, the functional specialty called "History." Rather it would be an explanatory history, built on the special and general categories developed in the functional specialty of foundations and taking the historically emerging doctrines on ministry as what it seeks to understand, understanding them precisely as historical events. This illustrates the point made in Doran's first article in Theological Studies. A truly systematic theology of ministry must be included within a theology of history, of cultural and social change, of progress, decline, and redemption operative within human history and in particular within the history of the Church.(7)

However, as Doran argues in his second article, that history includes the history of theological reflection as well. The history of ministry ultimately becomes intelligible only by including a history of theological reflection upon that ministry. …

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