Robert M. DORAN, What is Systematic Theology? Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005. 238pp. Index $55 (cloth), ISBN 0802090419
Reviewed by Paul J. LACHANCE, College of St. Elizabeth, Morristown, NJ 07960

Many a theological Odysseus has successfully steered a course between a Scylla and a Charybdis of one sort or another, but few divines have, like Menelaus, attempted to wrestle Proteus on his own shore. Recognizing that our contemporary theological scene is a rich amalgam of approaches to what is a pluriform reality, Doran is committed to the unity of truth. He contends that one can be a faithful student of Lonergan, von Balthasar, and Gutierrez and that to do so is to affirm the permanent achievements of the great schools of thought of the Twentieth Century. Doranís approach is not, however, a curious eclecticism. Following Lonergan, Doran examines theological positions in terms both of their meaning and their correlatives in the operations of human consciousness. The unity implicit in theologyís protean situation, then, is the unity of human life. The first thing the reader notices in Doranís work is the tremendous effort the author makes to affirm that unity and to achieve a synthetic and explanatory understanding of its polymorphic character.

What is Systematic Theology? is no facile or diplomatic answer to a burning question. It is an answer that rests upon an edifice that includes a careful, demanding, and, at times, controversial reading of Lonerganís corpus. The book itself is a microcosm of many of the tasks of theology identified in Lonerganís Method in Theology. The concluding chapter on ďSystem and HistoryĒ spells out precisely what Doran means by systematics. Here Doran outlines a heuristic that preserves the integrity and mutuality of theoretical, aesthetic, and socially-minded theology and that puts to rest fruitless debates concerning the relationship between descriptive/historical and prescriptive/systematic theology.

Doranís primary objective in this text, as in his Theology and the Dialectics of History, is to say something about theological method. Doran follows Lonergan in holding that systematics aims to articulate a synthetic understanding of the Christian mystery. The theologian affirms the truth of the things of the faith and seeks an imperfect, analogous, and hypothetical understanding through ongoing, collaborative, and fruitful inquiry. Method concerns the pattern of recurrent operations that yield successively more explanatory and fruitful results. Those operations may be thematized or objectivized in the course of theological investigations when one attends both to the objects of thought and to the operations of consciousness. The result is that systematics is differentiated from doctrine as acts of understanding are from acts of judgment. And doctrine may differentiated from religious symbolism as intellect is from psyche.

Doran argues that Lonergan intended systematics to include a theory of history, an explanatory position on history. The materials on which systematics works include those truths of the faith defined in dogmas, those that remain undefined though evidently present in Scripture and accepted doctrines, and those which are communicated incarnationally in elemental meanings that constitute Christian living. These last are of particular interest to Doran, since their meanings may be permanently embedded in symbol with their own aesthetic/dramatic correlatives in the human psyche. Thus systematics will be a combination of theoretical and symbolic statements. Nevertheless, in each case, the materials are embedded in history and are constitutive of Christian community, and the articulation of their meanings is an exercise of the theologianís responsibility to the ongoing development of the church. Doranís articulation of system as history rests on his own work in relation to the scale of values pertaining to the structure of the human good and his reorientation of depth psychology. The latter is a proposed development of Lonerganís notion of the way individuals welcome or shun images relevant to the growth of insight (Doranís Ďpsychic conversioní). The unconverted psyche anxiously avoids images that might lead to insights, which if true, would challenge the subjectís comfort and require a reorientation of its needs and concerns. Psychic conversion thus stands as a correlative to the successful differentiation and integration of symbol and system in oneís theology. In the current work Doran extends his notion to cover the full range of the passionateness of being. It therefore constitutes an important element in the structure and constitution of collective responsibility. Previous reviews and more recent articles by Doran and others in Theological Studies and Irish Theological Quarterly have explored Doranís proposal that the field of systematic theology may be organized around a notion of divinization as a four-fold created participation in the divine relations of Paternity, Filiation, and active and passive Spiration (the four-point hypothesis). Doran explains that Lonergan made use of this hypothesis in order to indicate how ďa systematic theology can be organized around a synthetic statement of dogmatic materialsĒ (18). Doran intends to make use of it in combination with a theory of history to organize the polymorphic field of systematics. Doran is motivated not by hubris but by love and prudential concern. His work invites collaboration, further development, and verification in the ongoing task of systematics that constitutes a vital aspect of the mission of the church to promote of the Kingdom of God.

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