Jared Wicks is a Jesuit theologian who taught for many years at the Gregorian University in Rome. Doing Theology is a thoroughly reworked version of a book he published while there in 1994. It presents a fundamental theology which does precisely what he says a good theological method should do: “attentive listening and the active intellectual elaboration of the meaning of what one has heard” (30). A theologian must listen carefully to the breadth of the sources of theology and then systematically explain them in a way that makes sense in his/her contemporary world and which is at the service of Christian life.
Wicks draws out the main activities of theology (listening and explaining) in his first chapter by looking at a number of sources from Irenaeus and Luther to the manuals and Vatican I and II. The following two chapters discuss the two sources of theology, Scripture and Tradition, a third the place of the theologian in the Church, particularly in relation to the magisterium, and a fourth the place of personal experience and situation in theology. The book concludes with a hundred pages of appendices mostly relating to Vatican II, including addresses at the council of John XXIII and Paul VI, large selections of Dei Filius and Dei Verbum, Wicks’ own history of the council and the role of theologians at it, and Benedict XVI on interpreting Vatican II.
The chapter on Scripture covers the basic elements of Catholic belief and the history of the canon, and handles the question of inspiration and interpretation helpfully, emphasizing faith in the trustworthiness of the Scriptures as “valid instruction, sound nourishment, and authentic guidance for Christian believers” (49) rather than focusing on the question of inerrancy. At the same time, Wicks does not lose sight of Dei Verbum’s insistence that the Bible teaches “firmly, faithfully and without error,” though he does not take up the details of that debate. Wicks insightfully sets inspiration in the context of the other spiritual charisms, such as prophecy, but is also careful to point out that the human authors are authors themselves in the full sense of the term. Thus, the first movement in reading the Bible is exegetical, using all the tools of modern scholarship. Equally important is a second movement in which a “richer meaning” is found through re-reading in other contexts such as the contemporary life of the church, especially the liturgy, or in light of the whole canon. From there one returns to the text and then back again to other contexts in a hermeneutical circle.
The patterns and principles established in the previous chapter are then followed in the one on Tradition. Wicks focuses on “tradition as the vital context of doing Catholic theology” (69), tracing developments from the deposit of faith to the rule of faith to creeds and dogmatic statements. He also highlights the Fathers, the liturgy and the lives of the saints as important loci in the living, developing Tradition in which a theologian must be enveloped. His presentation is well-rounded, though it would have been better to more strongly emphasize the importance of the liturgy, rather than setting it right alongside other “monuments of Tradition.”
In the final two chapters, Wicks continues to explain complex issues with the balance characteristic of the previous discussions. In the fourth chapter, after presenting a historical sketch of the issues, he develops an understanding of the roles of magisterium and theologian as indispensable and complementary. He draws together the entire discussion into a coherent whole in the final chapter. The attentive reader will find little new at the end, for as Wicks points out it simply systematizes what came before and re-presents that material prescriptively instead of only descriptively.
Doing Theology practices what it preaches. Wicks is sympathetic to everyone whom he discusses, he begins with Scripture, situates everything historically, and has a broad, unified and integrated theology which is at the service of the church leading to Christ. His vision of a unified Old and New Testament is refreshing, as is his insistence on allowing the lives of the saints to inform theology. The book is written articulately, but simply; it is well-organized and easy to read and reiterates key ideas in a sound pedagogical way. Anyone interested in the nature of Catholic theology will find it a good read. With study questions and projects, suggested readings and an index, it would make a good text for an undergraduate fundamental theology course, but would need to be supplemented with something that discusses in greater depth the interrelation of faith and reason, theology and other disciplines.