The Collapse of the Manualist Tradition
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The Collapse of the Manualist Tradition

The Collapse of the Manualist Tradition

John McDermott SJ FAITH MAGAZINE January-February 2014

Fr John McDermott SJ is a faculty member at Sacred Heart Seminary, Detroit. He was formerly professor of theology at Fordham University in New York and at the Gregorian in Rome. He served for years on the International Theological Commission and is widely published on the New Testament, modern Thomism and moral questions. In this extended article he explains the background to the situation in which contemporary Catholic theology finds itself.

The Manualist Tradition

The numerous virtues of manualist theology can scarcely be denied. Otherwise its epochal dominance would remain completely inexplicable. Presenting the faith clearly to students, it distinguished essentials from theological speculation and legitimate pluralism. Thus the unity of faith was readily perceived and preserved. Continuity from the basic catechism to its most elaborate theological expansion for seminarians also facilitated learning. Since most manuals were composed in Latin, this universal language daily reminded students that the unity of faith encompassed the whole world and was centred on Rome. Its method likewise emphasised continuity with Scripture, Tradition and magisterial pronouncements since all these sources of revelation and authentic teaching were listed and learned.This allowed priests readily to answer questions from believers and respond to criticism from Protestants and non-believers. The perception of the faith’s inherent intelligibility was available even to intellects not especially endowed with speculative genius. In morality, norms of conduct provided the lived unity of expectation and reward necessary for a vital community. Simultaneously, casuistry adapted the universal norms to particular circumstances and difficult cases in such a way that principles were preserved and equity guaranteed. The witness of the Church was clear in faith and morals, as might be expected from an institution divinely established and promised perpetual duration.

''As the Catholic faith reflects upon itself and the tradition of the great ecumenical Councils is more profoundly scrutinised, better theologians refuse the simplistic answers of liberal theology and return to ecclesial tradition. They realise that Catholic faith has an inherent intelligibility and structure in which the Infinite and the finite are reconciled, not played off against each other.''

The Origins, Development and Presuppositions of the Manualist Tradition

The manualistic tradition’s sudden collapse after Vatican II can only be explained when its theoretical presuppositions are recognised. Manuals did not spring fully formed from theologians’ brains, as Athena from Zeus’s headache. Catholic faith depends totally on Jesus Christ, His words, actions, and life. Jesus formed His disciples, leaving them a message to be proclaimed and entrusting them with sacraments communicating His life. The Church was commissioned to preserve and propagate the deposit of revelation for salvation. This mission entailed not only understanding revelation but also communicating it intelligibly to the audiences addressed. Jesus spoke in human words, indeed parables, to His contemporary Israelites. When His message was proclaimed to Gentiles, some adaptation totheir understanding was required. St Paul provided the perfect model for adapting the message to new times and circumstances. Especially in the Hellenistic world, where philosophy flourished, the need for intellectual unity and cohesion in belief became imperative. Theologians found their place early in Christianity. But theological adaptation is a perilous undertaking, as St Paul’s opponents remind us. Opinions differ, and religious differences can create deep antagonisms since the ultimate meaning of reality and of one’s own life is at stake. Change can signify decay as well as organic development. Theology is always in tension between fidelity to an entrusted message and adaptation to time and place, and only the Spirit can guarantee authentic continuity. That is why theology alwaysdemands prayer and asceticism as well as wide historical knowledge and speculative acumen.

The Latin Church had long been dominated by Augustine’s theology. His genius had reworked neo-Platonism, opening it to Christianity and thereby resolving many inner tensions. Neo-Platonism located ultimate meaning in a transcendent realm. Augustine balanced that emphasis by insisting on immanent meaning revealed in the incarnate Son of God. Nonetheless, meaning is anchored beyond the material world in the immutable God; faith in an unseen God is demanded since the material, mutable universe provides no ultimate certitude. Grace is also needed in a fallen world to right a disoriented will. When Aristotle was rediscovered and introduced into the medieval West, theologians encountered a thinker insisting on inner-worldly intelligibility. Change is intelligible and is based upon natures,principles of activity and rest whose motion can be predicted, at least “for the most part”.

Moreover, Aristotle reasoned to a Prime Mover, who could, with important distinctions, be assimilated to the Christian God. Thus reason could discover the universe’s meaning, even if the Prime Mover is very similar to a Platonic Form and change is ultimately referred to a God transcending the material world. Thirteenth-century theologians began to elaborate a distinction between a natural order and the supernatural order of Christian revelation and grace. Thomas Aquinas, brilliantly synthesising Aristotelian philosophy with neo-Platonism, also employed that distinction.

Besides allowing for Aristotelian intelligibility, the natural-supernatural distinction offers many advantages to Catholic theology. First, it allows for the historical novelty of Christian revelation. Jesus, calling for conversion, brings to the world a salvation which men cannot attain from fallen nature. Second, it preserves human freedom vis-à-vis revelation. Men can understand what revelation proposes and are free to take a stand regarding it. If the world made no sense without revelation and grace, human freedom would be impaired; no reason could be offered for any choice, and faith’s assent would be irrational and, hence, immoral. Finally, it preserves God’s justice and freedom. After the primordial sin the natural order remains. God is not required in justice to reveal anything toman who can find meaning in the world. Hence the Incarnation is purely gratuitous, God’s gift beyond any human claim.

Since the mind seeks clarity, subsequent theologians tried to conceptualise reality as far as possible. Natures were understood by abstraction, and being itself was conceptualised in an analogous concept. The search for rational clarity sometimes undid itself. Given an infinite God, who creates and knows material singulars, universal concepts can be seen as mere abstractions, not comprehending existent singulars, and thus as mere human constructions. In Ockham’s nominalism the value of human abstractions is relativised and truth is found only in God’s revelation, which can be understood, nonetheless, according to logical and grammatical laws. Luther drew the conclusion that the natural order is unintelligible in itself. It is fallen, and man can find no definitive meaning outsidesupernatural revelation. Luther preferred God’s word to scholastic philosophers and theologians. Rediscovering Augustine, he insisted that man is incapable of doing God’s will unless freed by grace and revelation.

Luther’s denial of a human freedom before grace led the Council of Trent to insist that man is free to co-operate with or refuse grace (DS 1525-26, 1541, 1554-57). Freedom belongs to human nature. The natural order seemed entrenched in Catholic theology, and Vatican I affirmed that natural reason can know God’s existence from created realities (DS 3004). If reason could not of itself know God, how could it understand the Bible? Without understanding words about God, how might men affirm the faith defined in ecclesial creeds?

Revelation’s supernatural truths transcend human reason. Though no one can comprehend revelation, it is accepted as true on the basis of veridical historical testimony, which culminates in Jesus Christ. As God’s legate, His trustworthiness is proven by miracles and fulfilled prophecies, especially the resurrection, a stupendous miracle which He predicted. What He said and did, as recorded in Scripture and Tradition, should be believed. Since revelation comes from without in history, it must be accepted on authority. But testimony of various authorities must be evaluated. Melchior Cano OP (d 1560) developed a method to weigh authorities before assigning a theological note to various propositions, ranging from “defined dogma” and “clarity of Scripture” to “offensive to pious ears”, “closeto heresy” and “heretical”. His understanding of truth in terms of propositions was buttressed by two historical conditions. First, disputes with Protestants, who accepted Scriptural authority alone and rejected allegorical interpretations, meant that the literal sense of the Bible was fundamental and almost exclusive. Second, Galileo’s new science was discovering physical laws expressed in universal concepts that predicted earthly as well as celestial movements. Since reality was conceptualised so well in physics, there was no reason to doubt conceptual validity in metaphysics and theology.

Unfortunately, appeal to Scripture resolved no divisions among Christians. After the Thirty Years War exhausted Germany with the God of battles awarding victory’s palm to neither side, many intellectuals resorted to reason to resolve life’s basic problems. In some ways they were developing the Catholic position about nature’s intelligibility to an objective human intelligence. The new physics supported them. Descartes, though proclaiming himself a loyal Catholic, developed a mechanistic physics without reference to God. Alongside revelation a natural physics developed. But balance is not easily maintained; reason soon acknowledged only one ruler, itself. Newton, who synthesised the laws of terrestrial and celestial motions, believed in Scriptural miracles and needed God to explainanomalies in physics. How do body and soul interact? How can inert masses attract each other in gravity? Moreover, God had to intervene in cosmic processes to keep exceptions to physical laws from causing disorder.

But Newton’s epigones soon saw no need for divine interventions. The universe ran well according to mechanical laws. God seemed a superfluous hypothesis. Besides, Newtonian physics basically contradicted Aristotelian physics. In the latter the finite universe was almost alive, filled with self-moving bodies seeking their natural place of rest: natures moved teleologically to seek fulfilment; the earth occupied the central, lowest point, to which all heavy bodies tended. By contrast Newton had inert mass remaining perpetually at rest or in uniform motion until another body altered it from without through efficient causality; the earth revolves about the sun in one solar system in the midst of an infinite universe. Natures, internal principles of action and rest, became superfluous and in aheliocentric cosmos Joshua’s halting of the sun seemed erroneous. In the 19th century mechanistic physics developed into a rational determinism, Darwin contradicted not only the Bible but also Aristotelian natures, which, known through abstraction, should remain always the same. Then archeological and other studies in the Middle East uncovered civilisations whose written histories did not always accord with the Bible.

The rationalisation of the physical world evoked greater precision in theology. By the late 17th centuries theologians were producing manuals in dogmatic, moral and pastoral theology. Instead of scholastic questions and disputations based on Lombard’s Sentences or Thomas’s Summa Theologiae, professors now engaged in writing their own textbooks, geared to pedagogical clarity. At the same time many borrowed Enlightenment philosophies in order to adapt the Church’s teaching to current interests and needs. Unfortunately, Enlightenment philosophy, based upon Newtonian physics, remained superficial before Kant, and Kant’s division of reality into deterministic phenomena and unknowable noumena contradicted the radical realism of the Catholic Weltanschauung, or world view, in which ultimateReality became sensibly perceptible. The revival of Thomism from the second quarter of the 19th century gave the Church a means of confronting European thought, criticising it and improving it. Already Romanticism was shaking off the Enlightenment’s cold, abstract rationalism. It sought meaning in concrete history and acknowledged sin and mystery. Admittedly, despite its disregard of human freedom and biological teleology, which Darwin’s theories were bringing again to the fore, the Newtonian synthesis was so dominating science in the century’s final half that some philosophers championed rational determinism. Neo-scholasticism agreed with the latter in upholding the validity of universal abstractions and laws for the essential order, while insisting on contingency and freedom in theexistential order. But the intellectual climate of Europe was to undergo a radical change, which undermined the presuppositions of the manualist theology.

The Breakdown of the Manualist Tradition

Close to the turn of the century two breakthroughs in physics occurred. The Michelson-Morley experiment in 1887 demonstrated that light’s velocity is not augmented by the earth’s movement in the same direction. That implied that space and time are not objective parameters within which motion occurs and by which it can be measured. Instead, as Einstein saw, light’s velocity must serve as an absolute measure for space and time as well as for other motions. Macrophysics deals with a four-dimensional space-time continuum in which limitless space curves back on itself like a Möbius strip and time is diversely calculated by bodies in motion. In microphysics Planck postulated in 1900 that electromagnetic energy is emitted in quantised forms and its study must rely on statistical probabilitiesinstead of classical laws. This ultimately led to Heisenberg’s formulation of the uncertainty principle, whereby the action of an electron or proton can be only approximately predicted; moreover, subatomic realities cannot be known in themselves since any introduction of a gamma ray to study their position or speed affects their position and speed.

Although quantum theory undermines deterministic philosophies, it and Einstein’s theory posed problems for traditional Thomism. The world of the physicist is no longer perceived through the senses. How are the abstractions of physics related to the philosophical abstractions of natures attained through Aristotle’s senses? Jacques Maritain distinguished man’s direct, though abstract, knowledge of natures, whereby certitude is obtained, from the physicists’ “beings of reason” (entia rationis), ideas that approach reality through superficial characteristics. But must the mind approximate reality on some occasions when otherwise it directly grasps reality? Why do not accidental characteristics studied by physics reveal a material reality’s essence, or nature? Inversely, even if we knowhuman nature from within, does not its complexity and freedom impede any simple grasp of it in a concept? What can be known definitively through abstraction?

At the 19th century’s end philosophers also began turning against determinism and philosophical abstractions. In France, Henri Bergson noted that reality is a dynamic flux, like a cinema, from which abstractions, like single frames of the film, are made; for intelligibility the abstractions must be referred back to the élan vital from which they were originally drawn; intuition is more perceptive of reality than abstractions. The Catholic Maurice Blondel similarly criticised abstract philosophical schemata in order to confront men with the necessity of finding an Absolute in history that grounds freedom and reveals life’s unified sense. Contemporary German philosophers became dissatisfied with Kantian abstractions and Hegelian necessary processes and turned back to concrete living realityin Lebensphilosophie and phenomenology.

As the 20th century progressed, these currents would evolve into existentialism, whose diverse forms insisted on the primacy of existential individuals with unique freedoms over science’s abstractions and necessary laws. Yet Catholic theologians were reluctant to surrender the value of conceptual abstractions lest the meaning of dogmas be relativised and theological method undermined. Maritain, one of the century’s most brilliant minds, postulated an intuition of being which results in a concept of being. Then the autograph of Thomas’s commentary on Boethius’ De Trinitate was discovered; there Thomas held that the metaphysical abstraction of being was attained in a judgement, not a concept. So Maritain showed how the existential judgement, which presupposes a concept of being,simultaneously gives rise to the analogous concept of being. Thus results the paradox that being’s concept contains the whole judgement of which it is part. Maritain, like Thomas, sought to maintain the balance between the concept’s finite intelligibility, without which no thought is possible, and the infinite reality transcending abstractions, whose recognition prevents reality from being reduced to necessary laws of rational thought. The balance of analogy between finite and infinite is delicate, yet essential for sanity as well as freedom. It would be imperilled by the one-sidedness of some transcendental theologians.

Transcendental Thomism

Transcendental Thomism was a novel interpretation of the Angelic Doctor which, influenced by Blondel and Bergson, arose among French-speaking Jesuits, especially Pierre Rousselot, Joseph Maréchal and Henri de Lubac, and to which Karl Rahner and Bernard Lonergan later adhered. Developing Thomas’s neo-Platonic heritage, they insisted that truth is found primarily in the existential judgement which actively synthesises subject and predicate, essence and existence, in the intellect’s quest to know. Since no essence grounds its existence, all affirmations of their unity imply God, the ultimate ground of knowing, in whom essence and existence are one. Implicit in every judgement is, therefore, a desire to know God as He is, not just in concepts. Hence every natural act of knowing contains anatural desire for the beatific vision. Transcendental theologians all affirm this paradoxical desire at the basis of their theologies, yet none explains why the paradox is only apparently contradictory. Instead, similar paradoxes can be found throughout their writings. For example, although a valid concept is presupposed in every judgement, judgement’s synthetic movement joining subject and predicate, essence and existence, transcends the concept. In other words, the concept’s truth is dependent upon a reality beyond abstraction. Hence the concept is always in danger of relativisation. Although the best transcendental thinkers sought to ground conceptual validity, many disciples anxious to make “theological progress” overlooked the need of preserving valid concepts. Influenced by thesurrounding intellectual culture, they readily dismissed concepts as productions of limited perspectives, which later experience can and should modify. Since the distinction between natural and supernatural orders tends to dissolve if the desire for the beatific vision is built into every natural judgment, the normativity of Scriptural statements and magisterial pronouncements is undermined.

Contributing to the relativisation of the natural-supernatural distinction was the very success of theologians in explaining mysteries of the faith. Recognising the analogy between truths of faith and truths of reason (DS 3016) and wishing to make faith’s truths more relevant and intelligible to believers, they showed how supernatural truths accord with experience. Faith involves not merely a message beyond reason indoctrinated from without. But the greater their success in coordinating faith’s mysteries and human experience, the less clear became the distinction between faith and reason, supernatural and natural orders. Indeed some of the mysteries assigned to the supernatural realm were conundrums in the natural order. God’s omnipotence follows from His existence as naturally known, andhuman freedom is a concrete datum of experience as well as a presupposition of the Gospel. But how may they be reconciled? The conundrum is particularly pressing when a concept of God

is juxtaposed to the concept of man as if they were two opposed centres of activity (natures). Then their “co-operation” is imagined in terms of “motions” or “pre-motions,” like little bursts of electricity in Newtonian physics, that enlighten the intellect and prepare or move the will to a decision. Bañezians (Dominicans) and Molinists (Jesuits) squabbled over the understandings of freedom and (merely) sufficient grace, which was really insufficient to produce a good act. This was not a recondite debate of supernatural theology. It concerned the natural understanding of the God-man relation.

Tied to the previous difficulties was the analysis of the act of faith. Conceptualist theologians sought to preserve its rational basis – an irrational act would be contrary to man’s rational nature, and hence immoral – as well as to make place for grace and human freedom. A developed apologetics showed the reliability of the fact of revelation culminating in Christ. But the stronger the rational proof of revelation’s facticity, the less room was left for freedom and grace. Indeed, it made all non-Catholics seem ignorant, stupid or perverse for not believing.

Transcendental Thomists offered a different, psychologically more appealing analysis. They understood the intellect as a dynamic faculty seeking the Truth as its Good, the goal of its quest. Thus intellect and will, usually distinguished by their formal objects, the true and the good, are joined in mutual causality whereby choice determines understanding as much as understanding determines choice. Furthermore, since the act of judgement-love transcends objective concepts and involves the knowing subject’s active synthesis to perceive the meaning of objects – there is no objectivity apart from subjectivity – external facts need an interpretation under grace’s elevating influence to produce the act of faith. God must grant “eyes of faith” in order that men correctly interpret the naturalorder’s evidence as signs of the supernatural revelation’s truth. This analysis of faith means that intellect is intimately involved in the perception of supernatural truth. Moreover, the object of faith is generally said to be a “person”, or the “personal God”, rather than a proposition.

Such an understanding of faith also offers an apparent solution to the great problem of dogmatic development. With the widespread expansion of historical research in the 19th century, original sources were edited and published. As theologians began to trace the influence of various Church Fathers and Councils upon each other, it became undeniable that a development occurred in understanding and defining the Christian message. At first the conceptualist “regressive method”, formulated by Ambroise Gardeil, sought to control the problem by postulating the Holy Spirit’s constant assistance to the Church. It started from development’s terminus, conciliar definitions, and worked backwards to demonstrate doctrinal continuity; any lacunae in documentary proofs, it was presupposed, were filled byoral tradition agreeing with later dogma. But the theory scarcely covered all cases. For example, at the Council of Nicea (325) the word hypostasis was equated with ousia (essence) and was translated in Latin as substantia (substance) (DS 126), yet in 451 the Council of Chalcedon distinguished hypostasis from physis, the equivalent of ousia, as person from nature, or substance (DS 301-02). Similarly the word “transubstantiation” was first propounded to explain Christ’s Eucharistic presence during the Middle Ages and employed at Lateran IV, Lyons II, Florence and Trent (DS 802; 860; 1352, 1642, 1652).

In other words, the conciliar Fathers understood something of the supernatural mystery which they were defining as they forged words to match their intentions. The clear distinction between supernatural mystery and human reason was being erased. Transcendental theology easily explained dogmatic development insofar as faith’s object was a personal God experienced in a manner surpassing concepts. This experience might subsequently be progressively expressed in concepts, as time and the response to heresies brought more profound insights into the mystery experienced. Thus God was fully experienced in Jesus Christ, but that experience allowed for further conceptualisation. New formulations proposed faith’s constant content. For the personal object of belief is both known and loved from thebeginning of the Church’s tradition.

The Impact on Other Branches of Theology

Ecclesiology underwent revision. The manualists considered the Church as the institution established by Christ to preserve and proclaim His truth. But supernatural truths are discovered by an examination of history. Turning to revelation’s historical sources, theologians like Maurice de la Taille and Emile Mersch found that New Testament and patristic authors considered the Church primarily the Body of Christ, an intimate, graced union between Christ and believers. The Church is first a lived reality, more like a developing organism than an external structure authoritatively imposing belief. Indeed, belief could never be separated from the lived experience of sacraments and grace. While this ecclesiology accorded with dynamic modern philosophies, with the felt need for community and withdemocratic egalitarianism, it tended to subordinate creedal formulas to lived experience, propositional faith to personal faith. Pius XII’s Mystici Corporis (1943) attempted a synthesis between the new and the manualist ecclesiologies, but tensions between them remained.

Biblical scholarship further loosened faith from propositions. From the middle of the 19th century liberal Protestant exegetes, rejecting miracles, painted so many varying portraits of Christ that it was hardly necessary to refute them; they refuted themselves. Catholic apologists easily upheld the Gospels’ historical trustworthiness. Already Old Testament scholarship recognised that such books as Job, Jonah and Esther were more edifying novels than history. Then in New Testament studies the form-critical method, championed by Rudolf Bultmann and Martin Debelius, stressed the similarity of formal structure in many sections of the synoptic Gospels, a similarity attributed to oral traditions previous to the Gospels’ commitment to writing. These “forms” assisted memory in passing on Jesus’sword or stories about Him. They were also adapted to the needs of their audience, the church whom they addressed. While Catholics rejoiced to see Protestants admitting a gospel tradition previous to its commitment to papyrus, the method undercut the New Testament’s historical accuracy. Parallel synoptic passages manifest additions, subtractions and changes in emphasis. Since the early traditions were transmitted by various Christian communities adapting them to their own needs, and since Christian prophets claimed to speak in Jesus’s name, did not the Gospels reveal more about those communities than about the historical Jesus? Even though exegetes differ radically about which words of Jesus are authentic and which are community creations – one can hardly recognise exegesis as a legitimatescience, so diverse are conclusions from allegedly the same methodological principles – the new method imposed an obstacle to proofs from Scripture which the manualists cited. Exegetes dismissed as naïve the manualists’ “proof-texting”. Thus modern exegesis obfuscated the alleged “clarity of Scripture”. Pius XII’s encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu (1943) had encouraged an exploration of the Bible’s diverse literary genera, while insisting that the Bible’s historical value be maintained.

Ecumenism also contributed to burning the manuals. So long as faith was based on authority communicating supernatural propositions, there seemed little hope for dialogue with Protestants. One accepted or denied Roman authority. Theologians might discuss or dispute apologetics, but the search for compromise creedal formulae seemed excluded. Rome was long wary of ecumenical agreements. But the rise of imperialist secular ideologies which exploded in the Second World War and transformed the face of the globe made Christians aware of the need for a common front and obedience to Christ’s prayer that all believers be one (John 17:11). Vatican II’s decree Unitatis Integratio opened the doors to ecumenical hopes. More conducive to dialogue than initial insistence on obedience to authority is apersonal understanding of faith that allows diverse formulations of a common content. Admittedly crafting acceptable formulas of personal faiths has proved to be a daunting task, but the very acknowledgement of a possible plurality in dogmatic formulas undermined the clarity of the manuals.

Finally, the increased material prosperity of the West must be mentioned. Material riches encourage individuals to think themselves special, more important than others. More respect is paid to rich than to poor people; they have money to dispense. What is more, the accumulation of possessions demands more attention from the possessor, and a superfluity of time and money encourages their possessors to take it easier on themselves and enjoy the pleasures of leisure, or, if they are overworking, to seek pleasurable distractions. Riches lead easily to self-centredness, emphasising one’s uniqueness. The laws which apply to the commonality of believers seem not always to apply to a rich man’s circumstances. Hence universal moral norms are readily disparaged and exceptions justified. A vaguepersonal faith without many restrictions becomes preferable to abstract formulas and universal laws. Since manualist moralists sought to uphold universal norms even while exercising casuistry for difficult cases, it became fashionable to denounce casuistry and leave individual choices to the individual’s informed conscience. For that, manuals were superfluous, especially once proportionalism was introduced into Catholic morality. Universal concepts no longer satisfied.

The coincidental confluence of so many intellectual, societal and historical streams contributed to the demise of manual theology. Their common source lies in nominalism, a perennial problem. God knows individuals; our abstractions fall short of reality. Institutional structures are readily criticised since no rational justification is acknowledged as valid, and frustration renders people dissatisfied and critical.

With reason relativised, people are tempted to attain reality through a felt experience, a leap of faith, an effort of will, or simple scepticism. Yet no thought is possible without concepts, and human life requires intelligible structure. So does the life of faith. Words mean something, and meaning is ultimately grounded in God.

As the Catholic faith reflects upon itself and the tradition of the great ecumenical Councils is more profoundly scrutinised, better theologians refuse the simplistic answers of liberal theology and return to ecclesial tradition. They realise that Catholic faith has an inherent intelligibility and structure in which the Infinite and the finite are reconciled, not played off against each other. The Catholic sacramental vision in which God offers Himself in finite, intelligible signs, calling for a response of love, unites all the mysteries of faith. God is utterly beyond the finite universe, yet out of love He has entered into time to prove His limitless love for sinners in the sacrifice of His Son. That sacrifice, glorified in theresurrection, challenges us for love’s free response onwhich each individual’s eternal salvation or damnation is decided. This structure keeps the balance between a rationalism that would submit God to human categories and an irrationalism that would eviscerate all finite intelligibility, even God’s word. Thomistic and Augustinian traditions at their best have maintained the balance between transcendence and immanence, Infinite and finite, nature and grace, essence and existence, form and matter, universal and particular, human freedom and divine omnipotence.1

After the post-Vatican II upheavals simmered down, not only was the Catechism of the Catholic Church produced, but useful manuals for incipient theology students have been published. These have concentrated on tracing dogmatic development from Jesus to Scripture to the Fathers and ecumenical councils before explaining the mysteries’ inherent intelligibility. Doubtless, manuals such as Joseph Ratzinger’s Eschatology, Walter Kasper’s Jesus the Christ and Luis Ladaria’s El Dios Vivo y Verdadero will be imitated and published in the future.2 The Catholic tradition retains what is useful even when progressing beyond the past. For the mystery of love has become incarnate and wishes to be understood in and through human concepts.


1Cf. J McDermott SJ, “Faith, Reason, and Freedom” in Irish Theological Quarterly 67 (2002), 307-32, for the intellectual grounding of the balance of finite and infinite necessary for freedom, and “What Went Wrong with Catholic (NT) Exegesis and Christology?” in Angelicum 86 (2009), 795-833, for the beginnings of another approach to the “historical Jesus”.
2Ladaria’s book has been translated into English as The Living and True God and published by Convivium Press. Though the second edition of the translation still contains many mistakes, I use it for my Trinity class. Readers desiring a (partial) list of corrections may request them at

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