New issue, new stories

Our Theology issue is now live on the website. You can find the full table of contents here; following are some highlights.

In “Why Study God,” John C. Cavadini writes on the role of theology at a Catholic university:

“By its very nature, each Catholic University makes an important contribution to the church’s work of evangelization. It is a living institutional witness to Christ and his message, so vitally important in cultures marked by secularism.” This passage from John Paul II’s apostolic constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae provides a characterization of the distinctiveness of a Catholic university. It is, he says, a kind of “witness.” This term can sound somewhat strange in an academic context, and I draw attention to it, in part, for that reason. Witness is not a category that one finds applied to secular universities very often, if ever, though I imagine that even secular universities would count themselves as bearing witness in some way to values such as social justice, equality, and inclusiveness. According to Ex corde, however, the witness of a Catholic university is connected to the church’s work of evangelization, and that seems to up the ante. A Catholic university, though proceeding “from the heart of the church,” is still not the same as the church itself, and its witness can’t take exactly the same form as the witness of a parish or a diocese. So what would that witness be—“so vitally important,” as the pope says, “in cultures,” such as our own, “marked by secularism”? Of course, this witness may take many forms in various campus activities, but here I am looking for the “institutional” witness, the witness that must be encoded into the very thing that makes a university a university—namely, its intellectual life, its mode of intellectual inquiry. Here, we find a crucial connection to theology as a discipline.

Theology is the “study of God” (Theos-logos). That sounds weird and pretty subjective. After all, God seems rather reclusive, not normally offering the divine self as an object of study. How could God be studied? How could one ever control such study? How could one keep it from becoming hopelessly subjective and fanciful? The study of God (as opposed to the study of religion) might sound like the study of an illusion of our own making. Unless, of course, one believes that God has in fact presented the divine self to us. It is God’s self-presentation, God’s “revelation,” that is the subject of theological study. Theology begins from faith in God’s self-revelation and moves toward “understanding” what God has revealed. It is in that way the study of God—or, as St. Anselm famously put it, “faith seeking understanding.” Theology is the only discipline that has as its proper object God’s revelation.

In “Darwin’s Nagging Doubt,” John F. Haught looks at what Thomas Nagel could learn from theology:

Although he has no use for theology, Nagel’s attempt to make mind essential to our understanding of the universe would find support in two science-friendly theological thinkers. Before the middle of the last century the Jesuit geologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881–1955) was already calling for a “new physics” that makes the phenomenon of “thought” essential to our understanding of the cosmos. He lamented the fact that the materialists of his own day were unwilling to “see” that the emergence of the human mind in evolution is not a local, terrestrial anomaly but a key to what the cosmos as a whole is all about. Nagel could find additional support for his proposals in the work of the Jesuit philosopher Bernard Lonergan (1904–84). No one has more brilliantly linked mind to evolution and the cosmos while simultaneously giving us a good reason to trust our minds. Unfortunately, it is hard to find well-known contemporary philosophers of mind who are familiar with Lonergan’s work. That’s a pity. In  his magisterial Insight (1957) and elsewhere, Lonergan demonstrates that if our worldview is out of joint with what goes on in our minds—in every act of attending, understanding, knowing, and deciding—then we need to look for another worldview. He would agree with Nagel that materialism doesn’t work, not least because it logically subverts the trust required for our minds to work at all.

Also on the website today, Michael Peppard on whether it makes sense to call Pope Francis a liberal. “For that matter,” Peppard asks, “can any faithful Catholic—a word that means ‘universal’—be described as ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal’?" Read the whole story here.

Dominic Preziosi is Commonweal’s editor. Follow him on Twitter.

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