All posts tagged: theology

Introduction to Christianity: Bestseller Around the World

In the winter semester of 1900, the Lutheran, liberal-minded theologian Adolf von Harnack gave in sixteen lectures, at the University of Berlin, a course designed for students from all the faculties entitled ‘‘The Essence of Christianity,’’[1] which recalled the title of a work by Ludwig Feuerbach, published in 1841. The lectures were soon collected in a volume that became a classic of Lutheran theology, one of the cornerstones of liberal thought against which Karl Barth thundered. Where Feuerbach proved to be destructive, Harnack turned out to be reductive, subjecting God to the measure of man, who ended up taking the upper hand over God’s own holiness. Later, in the late 1920s, in Tübingen, a Catholic dogmatic theologian, Karl Adam, also gave a lecture course on the nature of Catholicism.[2] In opposition to modernism, Adam argued that the Catholic Church is a community capable of acting and suffering, of praying and loving, of growing and preserving unity. Moreover, it has grown enormously since A.D. 33, the year of Jesus’ death, but at the same time has …

A Guide for Effectively Teaching Ratzinger’s Introduction to Christianity in Theology 101

Although when then-Fr. Joseph Ratzinger authored his 1968 Introduction to Christianity[1] he was still four years away from founding the international journal Communio together with Henri de Lubac, Hans Urs von Balthasar, and others, the work clearly manifests the thought of the Communio school. In at least one respect, Ratzinger even seems to go further, at least in emphasis, than de Lubac’s ressourcement of the view that the human person has a natural desire for the vision of God.[2] On the one hand, de Lubac insists that this desire coexists with the incommensurability of the orders of nature and grace, posits the existence of a distance between nature and the supernatural as radical as that between non-being and being,[3] and argues that this desire is an “unknown desire” until God’s offer of the beatific vision is revealed.[4] On the other hand, Ratzinger’s book seems to relate belief in the created logos more closely to faith in the creative Logos, and even writes that “in the last analysis one cannot make a neat distinction between ‘natural’ and ‘supernatural’: …

Reality Is Bigger Than the Human Mind

 In “God’s Omnipresence, God’s Body and Four Ideals of Science,” the masterful second chapter of Theology and the Scientific Imagination from the Middle Ages to the Seventeenth Century (1986), the late Jewish historian and philosopher of science, Amos Funkenstein, delivered a blow to the believing intellect in his narrative of the unhappy transformation of theological reflection during the Scientific Revolution: The medieval sense of God’s symbolic presence in his creation, and the sense of a universe replete with transcendent meanings and hints, had to recede if not to give way totally . . . God’s relation to the world had to be given a concrete physical meaning . . . [Most] believed that the subjects of theology and science alike can be absolutely de-metaphorized and de-symbolized.[1] It is impossible to overemphasize the difference between such an anti-poetic approach and previous Christian reflection, at least in the Catholic tradition. To speak about God without metaphor or symbol—in other words, to speak of him univocally rather than analogically—was to mistake creature for Creator and to fall into …

The Method for Avoiding Cheap Success in Apologetics

The condemnation of Modernism in 1907 with Pascendi Dominici Gregis armed certain Roman theologians with the tools necessary to suffocate their intellectual opponents. Men such as Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange saw the condemnation of Modernism as a carte blanche for neo-Scholastic theologians in Rome to condemn, with an almost intellectual violence, anyone who did not agree with their narrow worldview. One of the targets of this intellectual persecution from Roman theologians was the French philosopher Maurice Blondel. Many of them saw the publication of Pascendi as a tacit condemnation of Blondel and his “method of immanence.” The document makes a direct attack against a version of this method, a method which Blondel claims as his own. However, strangely enough, Pope Pius X later wrote the Archbishop of Aix to communicate through him to Blondel that Blondel was actually not a target of the encyclical and encouraged Blondel’s philosophical work. Blondel’s work would later blossom in the thought and project of Henri de Lubac, the French Jesuit who was silenced in the 50’s and later served as a peritus …

The Point Where the Ugliness of Our Individual and Communal Lives Is Transfigured

Throughout its long history, theology has certainly seemed more comfortable understanding itself through its claim to truth or goodness than to beauty. It is not that the connection between theology and beauty has never been notarized. One simply has to recall the early Augustine, Pseudo-Dionysius, and the Dionysian tradition to realize that this is not true—even if beginning with Tertullian and proceeding through the iconoclasm controversy and on to the Reformation, faith in the Cross made it difficult to think of theology and beauty being anything other than bitter rivals, when it came to allure and existential pledge. Of course, throughout the long histories of Catholic, Orthodox, and even Protestant theologies, there have been internal corrections. The Catholic theologian Matthias Scheeben might  represent a correction within the late nineteenth-century form of Neo-Scholasticism, with its forged alliance between propositionalism and moralism. And, of course, in the Reform tradition no theologian showed a greater openness to beauty than Jonathan Edwards, without succumbing in the slightest to the emerging temptation to elevate beauty while essentially dethroning God. Pace …

Unlearning Is the New Learning: A Neuroscientific and Theological Case for How and Why to See the World Differently

Learning, as it turns out, was the easy part. Anyone who has observed a young child mimic the behavior of others knows how naturally children learn from their environment. Unlearning, on the other hand, takes maturity, discipline, and equal parts courage and humility. Unlearning, as discussed here, requires conscious effort to reflect on past learning to create the possibility of new future learning that goes beyond our passively formulated, yet operative, mental constructs that undergird how we understand the world and the people around us. Unlearning is the imperative of a maturing mind which recognizes the perennial importance of seeing things rightly. If unlearning is the new learning, so to speak, how does one go about unlearning and what difference does it make? Bike riding offers a good illustration of the vexing mechanics of unlearning. The logic behind the commonplace phrase “it’s like riding a bike” suggests a resilience and durability to human learning, which can be a double-edged sword. It is relatively easy to learn—and then remember how—to ride a bike. That is good, …

Observations on Ratzinger’s Introduction to Christianity on Its 50th Anniversary

Introduction to Christianity is modest in scope and intention, and conspicuously eschews the originality that has become the standard in appraising excellence in academic theology over the past decades. Yet despite these disadvantages, it has become a classic in David Tracy’s sense in that over a period of 50 years it has spoken in shifting intellectual environments to professors of theology, college students, mothers and fathers of college students, religious searchers, to Catholics in parishes who wish to better know their Christian faith and pass it on, and to Catholics who have lapsed either because of scandals in the Church or the perception that Christian faith is not relevant to their lives. The book has exercised enormous influence because of its deep rootedness in the Catholic tradition, the simplicity of its faith, the personal warmth that it exudes, and its marvelous clarity and economy of expression. Perhaps more than any other text Benedict wrote, this one best shows him as teacher. But teacher not only in the thoughtfulness and patience exhibited in the text that readers …

Modern Biology’s Contribution to Our Understanding of Christ’s Sufferings

It is common to come across internet articles, television documentaries, or advertisements for books in the days and weeks preceding Easter detailing scientifically the nature and extent of the sufferings experienced by Christ during his Passion. From these you graduate from a notional apprehension of the sufferings of Christ understood abstractly and instead begin to grasp his Passion more realistically and painfully. For example, one might read of the tremendous suffering that Christ endured while his hands and feet were nailed to the Cross, which would have pierced a number of major nerves, sending waves of excruciating pain up and down his limbs. Each and every breath on the Cross would have become more and more difficult and agonizing, since to breathe while nailed to the Cross entailed using the nails in his wrists as leverage against which to lift his body to inhale and exhale. Or, to use another example, some scientists estimate that Christ would have lost anywhere from a quarter to a third of his blood supply by being scourged at the …

The Light of the Liberal Arts is Different in Light of the Faith

This is the theological continuation of the philosophical beginning in The Resplendent Completion of the Liberal Arts. Catholic Theology and the Beginning In the beginning. Theology begins at a beginning. Well, it begins at more than one beginning, but we will begin with the first. So: in the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth . . .[1] God created everything above and everything below, and created even this beginning. There is a “before” creation, a before the beginning, but there is no word for it—it is not a before, not like a time with an after, not at all, since there is only “after” the beginning—and it is not really known in itself, known as it is only through the beginning. There was no beginning, and then there was. God created ex nihilo, out of nothing.[2] All that is “something”: God created that. To put it another way: there is that which does not begin, does not, and there is that which begins beginnings. This is God. God simply is. God has no …

Alexander Schmemann’s Rejection of Orthodoxism

Alexander Schmemann’s writing is responsible for the structure of my discussion. I do not mean he spoke to me in my sleep or met me over the Ouija board, I mean that I have long wished to explore one of his clearer statements about what liturgical theology is, and am grateful to this forum for the opportunity to do so. I began by re-immersing myself in his thought by reading articles I had not previously read when I was more narrowly focused on my dissertation topic. It was a risk to return to an author who was so important to me over three decades ago—will I find him passé? Will my interests have moved on? I am happy to report that Schmemann is as stimulating and fruitful as he ever was. Schmemann tells us himself that the most characteristic thing about his thinking is the reunification of liturgy, theology, and piety. When the latter two are divorced from the former one, then theology “is imprisoned in its own ‘data’ and ‘propositions,’ and having eyes does …