Modest Method

The latest work published by the prolific Australian Jesuit theologian Gerald O’Collins is an ambitious attempt to relaunch the discipline of fundamental theology—a discipline whose very academic survival is at stake in the many seminaries and departments of theology that have sidelined or discontinued it. As O’Collins notes in his preface, this drop in the discipline’s appeal has been exacerbated by a prevailing tendency to confuse “fundamental theology” with “foundationalist” approaches that claim to offer incontrovertible, rational evidence for truths of the Christian faith. Indeed, to many people the term “fundamental” sounds suspiciously like “fundamentalist.” To counter these misconceptions, O’Collins redefines fundamental theology as a more “modest” enterprise, one that makes no absolutist claims, but rather seeks to make a rational case for the central tenets of the Christian faith—and welcomes the aid of other disciplines such as philology, philosophy, and history.

Over the past fifty years, many influential thinkers, from Karl Rahner to Bernard Lonergan and Avery Dulles, have rethought and reformulated the first stages of the theological endeavor in an attempt to emancipate Catholic theology from the long hand of neo-scholasticism, which had set the terms of this debate until the eve of the Second Vatican Council. By 1971, Bernard Lonergan could write in Method in Theology that the task of...

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About the Author

Thomas Cattoi is assistant professor of Christology and cultures at the Jesuit School of Theology, Santa Clara University.