Tuesday, March 13, 2012

For those who have not seen the International Theological Commission’s new document , Theology Today: Perspectives, Principles And Criteria, it is well worth reading (or at least beginning the process). It is especially interesting with respect to its view of the Bible in Theology, as you might expect a Bible Junky to say, though much of what it says about the theological use of the Bible is based upon Dei Verbum and other previous documents. I will have to read it more closely to determine how much it goes beyond or advances the claims of previous documents dealing with the Bible - I could not see a discussion of inerrancy anywhere! Nevertheless, the focus on the Bible as the heart or core of theology is always welcome. I hope to comment on some sections of this document after I have read it more carefully and digested it fully, but here is a snippet, paragraph 23 (I have maintained the footnotes found in the original document):

23. In saying that the study of sacred Scripture is the ‘soul’ of theology, Dei Verbum has in mind all of the theological disciplines. This foundation in the revealed Word of God, as testified by Scripture and Tradition, is essential for theology. Its primary task is to interpret God’s truth as saving truth. Urged on by Vatican II, Catholic theology seeks to attend to the Word of God and thereby to the witness of Scripture in all its work.[41] Thus it is that in theological expositions ‘biblical themes should have first place’, before anything else.[42] This approach corresponds anew to that of the Fathers of the Church, who were ‘primarily and essentially “commentators on sacred Scripture”’,[43] and it opens up the possibility of ecumenical collaboration: ‘shared listening to the Scriptures … spurs us on towards the dialogue of charity and enables growth in the dialogue of truth’.[44]
I like in particular the stress in this paragraph on the Bible’s foundational role for all of theology – "In saying that the study of sacred Scripture is the ‘soul’ of theology, Dei Verbum has in mind all of the theological disciplines” – and the fact that a focus on the Bible opens up Catholic theology to “ecumenical collaboration.”

Paragraph 68 also jumped out at me, a paragraph which comes in a historical survey of theology, particularly as it speaks of the distancing of theology from the Bible at the end of the middle ages, one of the key criticisms of the Anabaptists and Reformers  of the Catholic Church:

68. Towards the end of the middle ages, the unified structure of Christian wisdom, of which theology was the keystone, began to break up. Philosophy and other secular disciplines increasingly separated themselves from theology, and theology itself fragmented into specialisations which sometimes lost sight of their deep connection. There was a tendency of theology to distance itself from the Word of God, so that on occasion it became a purely philosophical reflection applied to religious questions. At the same time, perhaps because of this neglect of Scripture, its theo-logical dimension and spiritual finality slipped from view, and the spiritual life began to develop aside from a rationalising university theology, and even in opposition to the latter.[127] Theology, thus fragmented, became more and more cut off from the actual life of the Christian people and ill equipped to face the challenges of modernity.
Frankly, I still see this as a present reality in many cases  - “There was a tendency of theology to distance itself from the Word of God, so that on occasion it became a purely philosophical reflection applied to religious questions” -  and it will lead (or has led?) once again in our historical context to the result that ends this paragraph: “Theology, thus fragmented, became more and more cut off from the actual life of the Christian people and ill equipped to face the challenges of modernity.”

Read the whole of the document  here and make sure to check back with comments.

John W. Martens

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