Jaeger David-M. A. ,
Antonianum, 85/1 (2010) p. 5-8
Since sometime in the nineteenth century a fundamental question has lurked behind Christian theological discourse. It could be given all sorts of fancy names, but in essence it is this: Does the Christian faith add to our “store of knowledge” about what is, about the “real”, or is it simply an interpretative framework for reality, an insight into deeper levels of meaning, as it were? And further (depending on the answer to the first question), do the rites, the “mysteries” or “sacraments” of the Christian religion, accomplish something “real”, are they “reality changing”, or do they rather “surface” that which “is there” in any case? In other words, when we profess our belief, e.g., that, Jesus of Nazareth was born of the Virgin Mary, do we mean that, as a matter of plain historical fact, Mary the Mother of Jesus conceived without “knowing a man,” or do we simply mean to say that this Gospel story is our way of affirming that all initiative belongs to God? And when we say that, in Baptism, a human being becomes a “child of God” and therefore a brother (or sister) to others who like him (or her) have been baptized into the Son of God, do we mean that there is actually, “in reality”, a new and different relationship between the baptized person and God, between the baptized person and all other baptized (but not unbaptized) persons? Or do we rather mean that being baptized simply renders manifest, ritually celebrates (or whatever) the relationship that “there is” anyway between human beings and God (adoptive filiation) and among human beings themselves (“brotherhood”)?
Likewise, when we say that Jesus the Crucified One, having died, rose back to life and is living forever, are we thereby making a factual statement that the Tomb is indeed empty – a “falsifiable” statement, in the sense that if (per impossible, of course!), His body were ever discovered, the Christian religion would be manifestly a lie and utterly worthless – or are we simply speaking of the conviction that “death does not have the last word”, that the dear departed continues to live forever in our hearts, that the “message of Jesus” is indestructible, or some such self-consolatory pieties? And, ultimately, when we express our belief that God has become Man in Jesus, that Jesus is God (as well as Man), that to be saved, human beings are to “come to Jesus,” to believe and be baptized in Him, that “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” – are we making true statements about what is, and what is required, or are these statements meaningful only within “our” specifically “Christian discourse”, while other types of discourse are also available, into which such “Christian discourse” would, could, should be “translated”?
It is, of course, fairly easy to detect and discount those responses to such rhetorical questions that are directly contrary to the profession of the Christian faith, and any Christian reading the questions formulated above will know at once which of each pair of replies qualifies for this judgment. Often, however, theological, and would-be theological, texts are less easily qualified.
To stay with the examples given above, it is not rare to find treatises speak of the “Lucan narrative” of the Virginal Conception as emphasizing that the initiative belongs to God, without either affirming it as actual historical fact or else declaring it a mere “myth” to be deciphered; or that speak of the Gospel verses concerning the Empty Tomb as showing forth the strength of the disciples’ conviction that Jesus lives, without either affirming that it is empty as a matter of actual, historical, “falsifiable” fact or saying that it is not, may not, or need not be such for the Resurrection proclamation to be true and meaningful; or else that speak of Jesus as showing forth God’s love
and/or the perfect human response to it (or whatever) without either plainly affirming or directly denying that He is God become Man. To discern in this thicket of ambiguity those texts that are at the very least acceptable and those that are instead fatally flawed, is the delicate task, in the last instance, of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith..
In this issue of Antonianum, Salvatore Vitiello, a young Turin-based theologian who works closely with, and for, another key department of the Roman Curia, the Congregation for the Clergy, shows how this has been done in relation to the work of one Jesuit teacher and writer on theological subjects. His article reproduces in full the judgment of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then describes more fully the work that was the object of its examination and pronouncement, and in the second part of his article, to be published in the next issue of Antonianum, adds his own detailed critique of that work. Modern democratic society happily assures the right to freedom of speech and expression, and does not look kindly upon attempts, still current in certain parts of the (non-Christian) world to suppress the exercise of this right. Still there is surely also the right of listeners and readers to know whether that which they hear or read is, or is not, compatible with the Christian faith, so that they can make an informed choice as to their own attitude to it. Thus, even those who do not share the faith, or do not profess Catholic doctrine, can and surely must appreciate the work of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith as, at the very least, a service to “truth in advertising”, which is a basic “consumer right”, to use contemporary terms borrowed from elsewhere and yet particularly apt in the present context. Theology, after all, is the faith of the Church seeking understanding, and it must therefore be for the Church to say whether she recognizes a particular “understanding” as being that of her own faith.
“Ecological or environmental theology” is here to stay. True, not everything that “goes wrong” in the natural world around us is clearly ascribable to recognizable actual sin, so to speak. Indeed, as we go to press (some while before you see this issue of our review), the nations of Chile and Haiti, for example, are still reeling from the devastation wrought by very powerful earthquakes that are evidently not the result of our human misuse of the resources of Planet Earth. Yet we are not thereby to be misled into thinking that there is not very much else in what “goes wrong” around us that is, plainly or otherwise, our own fault – calling us humans to both an examination of conscience and a firm purpose of amendment. Our own up-and-coming professor of moral theology, Pal Otto Harsányi ofm, publishes in the issue the forward-looking second part of his two part work (the first part having seen the light in the final issue of last year), a powerfully argued proposal for a Christian environmental ethics. Again, as a Franciscan university, we cannot but pay the closest attention to this issue, which is intimately woven into our specific mission as disciples of the Patron Saint of Ecology, Francis of Assisi. As a university, we must do so in accordance with the canons of the best theological scholarship, which guide Harsanyi’s work throughtout.
Another inexhaustible subject that is both of the greatest topicality today and a specific concern of Franciscans, is that of the long-standing, complex and uneasy relations between Christian and Muslims. In his own contribution to this issue, our professor of Church history, Giuseppe Buffon ofm, compellingly tells and perceptively analyses a particular, and particularly significant, segment of the more recent story of this relationship. If nothing else (but there is so much else!), this article warns us against facile and superficial generalizations and makes us aware of the irreducible particularity of different historical contexts.
Dr. Alice Lamy lifts us above all contingent concerns of this changeable world with a powerful discussion de potential divina, which keeps up this review’s abiding yet ever fresh engagement with the specifically Franciscan philosophical and theological tradition, sharing it with the wider world of scholarship. Bernard Forthomme ofm, for his part, delights us, as is his wont, with an original and unusual essay, this time on the relationship in language and its imagery between “posture” and moral and spiritual values.
Last to be mentioned here, but necessarily first in the order of contents, ratione dignitatis materiae, is another notatio biblica by Mario Cifrak ofm, on Peter and James at the “Council of Jerusalem”, often referred to as, in some true sense, the first of the great Councils of the Church, where decisive choices were made that determined the course of the spread of the Good News (and of the Church with it).
Book reviews, chronicles and a listing of books that we have received round off this collection that we have put together for you – and there is much else on our desks (and yet to be put there, of course) still waiting for inclusion in the next issues of this new year of Antonianum!