Academic journal article Theological Studies

The Starting Point of Systematic Theology

Academic journal article Theological Studies

The Starting Point of Systematic Theology

Article excerpt

A REMARKABLE FOUR-POINT systematic-theological hypothesis has lain hidden for nearly 50 years in the pages of two dusty Latin tomes on the systematics of the Trinity. I wish to elevate the hypothesis to the status in a contemporary systematic theology that de facto the theorem of the supernatural enjoyed in Thomas Aquinas's great Summae. The hypothesis was first expressed by Bernard Lonergan in Divinarum personarum (1) and then again in the revision of that document that constituted the pars systematica of De Deo trino. (2) Despite its heavy overdose of Scholastic language, which must undergo fairly massive transposition in the contemporary context, (3) the hypothesis contains the core systematic conceptions around which other special theological categories can be constructed. Special categories are the categories peculiar to theology, while general categories are those that theology shares with other disciplines. (4) In general, it may be said that Thomas's theology relied on Philip the Chancellor's discovery of the theorem of the supernatural for its special categories and on Aristotle's metaphysics for its general categories. Today's systematics, I am proposing, will rely for its core special categories on Lonergan's four-point hypothesis, which is a fundamental differentiation of the theorem of the supernatural. Later in this article I will review suggestions that I have made regarding the source of the general categories. (5)

The presentation of my basic point regarding the four-point hypothesis, namely, that we may appeal to it for a new form of the psychological analogy for the divine processions, an analogy located in the divine missions themselves, and that we may begin a systematic theology with that new analogy, will be repeated in somewhat similar but also different ways as the article proceeds. I hope the repetition is not onerous to the reader, but rather that it fosters a grasp of the multiple sets of implications of what I am proposing. Moreover, I am grateful for the editorial suggestion that I append a glossary of some technical terms: four-point hypothesis, general and special theological categories, theorem of the supernatural, and unified field structure and dialectics of history--to help the reader navigate his or her way through what at first blush may seem to be dense material.

THE FOUR-POINT HYPOTHESIS: ITS SIGNIFICANCE AND LIMITATIONS

The hypothesis is referred to as a "four-point hypothesis" because it relates four created supernatural realities, respectively, to the four divine relations. The created graces are participations in and imitations of the divine relations. Thus, (1) the esse of the assumed humanity of Jesus participates in and imitates divine paternity; (2) sanctifying grace, later identified by Lonergan with a dynamic state of being in love without qualification, (6) participates in and imitates active spiration; (3) the habit of charity that is the first and basic consequence of sanctifying grace participates in and imitates passive spiration; and (4) the light of glory participates in and imitates filiation. In perhaps more accessible terms (1) in the Godhead the Word does not speak but is spoken; the incarnate Word speaks, but only what he hears from the Father; thus the existence of the assumed humanity is a created participation in and imitation of divine paternity; (2) the dynamic state of being in love is a created participation in and imitation of the Father and the Son as they breathe the Holy Spirit; (3) the habit of charity is a created participation in and imitation of the proceeding Love breathed by the Father and the Son; and (4) the light of glory is a created participation in and imitation of the divine Son in his relation to the Father. The hypothesis reads:

There are four real divine relations, really identical with the divine substance, and therefore there are four very special modes that ground the external imitation of the divine substance. …

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