Catholic Theology: Another Take
In light of the discussion of David Brooks’s account of the state of theology and philosophy, I thought, given the number of theologians and philosophers who participate in this blog, it would be interesting to discuss Reinhard Hutter’s piece on the subject. Trained as a Lutheran theologian in Germany, Hutter is now transforming himself into a Catholic theologian at Duke.(It’s also a nice opportunity for ecumenical discussion between First Things and Commonweal).
In a nutshell, Hutter surveys the landscape of his new theological home, and doesn’t like what he sees.
On the whole, Hutter’s article seems to me make arguments that are roughly similar to arguments I heard (and made) twenty years ago in grad school at Yale. Twenty years is a long time. I started thinking lately about what I still think is true in that approach, and what I would tell my younger self differently, in light of what I’ve learned since.
Hutter is rightly concerned with the community, being a theologian for the church. One thing that studying law has brought home to me is the importance of MacIntyre’s insight about the relationship of f institutions and practices in actually dealing with real communities.
One side effect of institutional theology–of theology done in and for the church–is that it wasn’t about producing great systematic theologians, or theological personalities. It was about producing the manuals, training the next generation of priests in the faith. It’s kind of anonymous work, much as the work of those who carry on the common law tradition is. So the idea of being a great “communitarian” theologian–a towering figure as an individual for the community —is kind of an oxymoron. Individuality and originality in its raw form isn’t prized for its own sake. And it needs to repackaged as continuity when it is presented for acceptance. My colleague Robin Darling Young has an important, forthcoming article on just how much deLubac selectively retrieved the early Church Fathers in doing the work that prepared for Vatican II. John O”Malley’s book supports the same point. It doesn’t surprise me –lawyers do the same thing. But what does surprise me, therefore, is Hutter’s apparent dismissal of Rahner: Much of the Theological Investigations are a series of finely crafted attempts to address current problems with the tools of the tradition. He’s using the characteristic methodology of a churchman. If I remember correctly, Nick Healy and Karen Kilby have done wonderful work on Rahner, highlighting this aspect of his methodology.
At the same time, I tend to worry that those who wax nostalgic for pre-Vatican II theology are nostalgic for something they/we didn’t know. I have heard enough stories about what going through the theologates in that era was like. So I was tempted to send Prof. Hutter a copy of Denzinger, in case he doesn’t have one. Now that’s old school. I actually kind of like Denzinger–and I can work with it just fine. Not, however, because I’ve been trained in theology post-Vatican II, even at Yale. Because I’ve been trained in law, post-Vatican II, even at Yale. And I certainly wouldn’t want all Denzinger, all the time. I can’t believe Prof. Hutter would, either. So what does he want?