International Theological Commission. Theology Today: Perspectives, Principles and Criteria. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America, 2012. Pp. viii + 90. $19.95 pb. ISBN 9-780813-220239. Reviewed by Benjamin J. BROWN, Lourdes University, Sylvania, OH 43560
The International Theological Commission has produced another fine document in its most recent statement, Theology Today: Perspectives, Principles and Criteria, which is the result of nearly a decade’s work, from 2004 to 2011 mainly by two different subcommissions of the ITC. It represents a well-grounded, thoughtful and theologically astute understanding of the nature of theology that embodies the very task that it describes in its own method and content.
The statement is divided into three chapters, dealing respectively with: a) the nature of faith coming from listening to God’s word and theology as the understanding of faith, b) various aspects of theology as an ecclesial enterprise, and c) the rationality of theology and its limits. All of the key aspects of theological method are covered, although in a relatively short document such as this, certainly not with extensive attention to all questions or nuances. Throughout Theology Today, the ITC is attempting, in the midst of a plurality of contemporary theologies, to develop “distinctive family traits … by which diverse and manifold theologies may nevertheless be recognized as authentically Catholic” (paragraph 3). Each of the twelve main subsections unfolds one of the document’s twelve criteria for genuinely Catholic theology.
Typical of the ITC’s work in the past, Theology Today strikes a strong note of balance between the various theological tensions, admirably making appropriate distinctions and giving proper weight to each aspect of the interrelated whole. For example, the third chapter describes how theology is both scientific and sapiential, cataphatic and apophatic, affirmative and negative; it correctly grasps something of God, but always with the humble acknowledgement that, adhering to the teaching of Lateran IV, “between creator and creature no similarity can be noted without noting a greater dissimilarity” (para. 96). Theology is both highly confident in the power of human reason to arrive at the truth and to understand revealed truth, but also humble in recognizing its inherent creaturely limits, its obedient dependence upon God’s revelation and its hopeful seeking after grace to elevate natural reason. Citing Fides et Ratio regularly in this chapter, a vision is offered of the interrelated co-penetration of faith and reason, both gifts to humans from the one God who is Truth, given so that by using both wings humans may ascend closer and closer to the one truth.
Chapter one of Theology Today begins with the decisive point that all of theology begins in listening to the Word of God, which is a person, Jesus Christ, a word which is heard especially in the Scriptures and the Tradition, the latter seen primarily in the liturgy, the witness, and the service of the Church. This faith is an obedient and personal adherence which by its nature “opens the intelligence of the believer to new horizons” (para. 16) and encourages the believer to seek deeper understanding and knowledge. This seeking becomes theology in the strict sense when it is pursued “in a rational and scientific way” (18).
Chapter two covers the bulk of the document’s criteria for good theology, discussing six of the twelve. Theology, in order from most to least fundamental, a) takes Scripture as its soul and anchor, b) is faithful to the Apostolic Tradition, looking especially to the Fathers of the Church, c) is attentive to the sensus fidelium, d) adheres to the magisterium of the Church, e) works collaboratively with “the whole company of Catholic theologians” (50), and f) constantly dialogues with the world. Theologians are presented with a very challenging task, responsible to many constituencies, so to speak, in dialogue with many distinct sources of truth. An emphasis on truth characterizes Theology Today throughout, as well as on faithfulness to the truth and trust in the various authorities that lead Catholic theology to the truth. Without diminishing the creativity of theology, the faithfulness of that creativity is emphasized, because theology’s communal, ecclesial dimension gives its creativity form and direction.
Theology Today is notable for its broad and balanced presentation which strikes all of the right notes. Though it by no means covers everything, this document would serve as an excellent text for a graduate or advanced undergraduate foundational theology class. I will certainly be using it in mine.