Monday, March 2, 2009

Systematic Theology: Roman Catholic Perspectives, Vol. 2: Review.

  In Protestantism, Systematic Theologies are as common as the flu. Every denomination it seems has it's own Systematic: A. H. Strong (Baptist), L. Berkhof (Reformed), W. Pannenburg/ K. Barth (Liberal Lutheran), N. Geisler (Arminian Evangelical), R. Raymond (Presbyterian), are but a few of the "modern" systematics. Catholicism as well is no stranger to the systemic presentation of Christian doctrine. Aquinas' Summa is a herculean effort that has never been matched. Every century was witness to a slew of Catholic presentations that were famous for the litany of thinkers, theologians, commentators and fathers that they drew upon to offer a theological history of the Christian faith. Modern Catholic historical/systematic theologies abound. The ever developing Denzinger-Schonmetzer which began in the late 19th century comes to mind, as does Rahner's Foundations, and Dupuis & Neuner's The Christian Faith as well. 

And so it came that I stumbled upon, Systematic Theology: Roman Catholic Perspectives, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991). It is a two volume set and I selected volume two based on the doctrines that were covered. While a bit dated (almost twenty years old) I was a bit surprised at the relatively conservative tone of the scholarship in a decade (mostly 80's) where liberalism ran rampant (even in Catholic critical scholarship). 

 Michael Fahey opened the discussions up with the entry on the Church which was a great disappointment. It was one of the more liberal entries denying and challenging most traditional Roman Catholic ecclesiology and especially uneven on Papal authority and its historical origins. 

 Fahey is followed by the entry on sin & grace by Roger Haight which is an excellent historical examination of these doctrines in particular and soteriology in general. Elizabeth Johnson then gives us the entry on the saints and Mary. It is an astounding summary (not defense) of Mariology (and the saints) in ancient and modern Catholic thought. 

 Regis Duffy contributes with an overview of Sacramental theology in general, followed by entries on Baptism & Confirmation, Penance and Anointing of the Sick. On baptism we are given a very strong summation and definition (with an especially illuminating discussion on infant baptism and the immense secondary literature that is involved). In contrast, Confirmation seemed a bit skim. On Penance, Duffy gives us a tight but poignant historical sketch. On Anointing of the Sick we are treated to a very succinct articulation behind the philosophy of this practice. 

David Power comes next with two entries; on the Eucharist and on Order's. The discussion on the Eucharist is noticeably tainted with liberalism yet Power manages to give an important overview of Catholic thought on this Sacrament. Moreover, Power asks some penetrating questions on the limitations of much of modern Eucharistic theology. The entry on Order's is an intelligent account on the origins of the episcopal form of Church government (but not every single point convinces). 

Francis Schussler Fiorenza is the scholar who presents us with the article on Marriage. While heavily liberal/critical it is one of the better presentations on all the various questions surrounding the theology of marriage I have read. The last entry is that on Eschatology written by Monika Hellwig. It is by far the weakest of all the entries in this systematic theology. It hardly touches on the multifarious questions that surround this heated doctrine, especially in modern Christianity and not all will follow Hellwig in many of her liberal eschatological/soteriological conclusions. 

In conclusion, if you want a detailed analysis on the origins of modern Roman Catholic theology this is a great place to start. But be forewarned, the scholarship is far from conservative. I still have yet to see a true enterprise from a panel of top Catholic (conservative) scholars that can rival the scope of something like this.  


George Weis said...

Interesting! I didn't know Catholics had these, but I was raised in that fluish environment, although the first one I came across or was fed at a young age was Ryrie I believe.

I have been hearing talks about the Summa, but haven't gotten that far yet. To be honest, it is amazing I get any reading accomplished.

Interesting notes brother Rick!

How are you feeling? I know I haven't responded to your last e-mail. I got a little lost in the trench of work that has been overwhelming me!


R. E. Aguirre. said...

I've been feeling ok thanks for asking George.