We’ve just posted our theology issue to the website, and here are some of the highlights.
Thomas Albert Howard, in “A Question of Conscience,” writes about the excommunication of German priest, theologian, and historian Ignaz von Döllinger:
A critic of the temporal power of the pope, an inspiration behind the so-called Old Catholic movement in Europe, and an ecumenist avant la lettre, Döllinger is sometimes portrayed as an early “liberal” Catholic. That label only partly fits, for his life and outlook … resist simple categorization. Appealing to conscience, Döllinger finally could not accept the doctrine of papal infallibility promulgated at the First Vatican Council, and for this he was excommunicated. Too critical of the modern papacy to be embraced by ultramontanes, but too mindful of tradition to be yoked comfortably with modernists and progressives, he has experienced a posthumous fate of neglect punctuated by intermittent scholarly puzzlement and interest.
He deserves better. Whatever one makes of Döllinger’s excommunication, the arc of his life helps us better understand some of the signature Catholic issues of his time and perhaps of ours. Above all, he affords insight into an archetypal modern religious dilemma: when to submit to religious authority irrespective of personal conviction, and when to follow one’s own conscience—what John Henry Newman famously called “the aboriginal Vicar of Christ.”
[I]t grew difficult, with my complicated and shifting appreciation, to figure out what, exactly, my children’s religious education should look like. Instinctively I felt their inquiry should be made from the inside out, not as outsiders peering in, drawing caricatures of what they saw. For a few years, I tried Catholic school, before settling into a comfortable, open-ended approach, telling my children that organized faith provided a place for contemplation of the divine, not an infallible moral or metaphysical system.
But what does this smorgasbord—a nondenominational performance of Messiah here, a lit candle in an empty church there—really leave them with? I find it strange, at times, to offer what amounts to religion-lite, when what attracts me is the potential for depth. Is it possible to engage in a way that goes beyond mere aesthetics, yet avoid dogma? Is all inquiry doomed to end at a lifeless impasse between true and untrue? In spring, girls in white veils spilled out of a church, and my daughter’s eyes grew wide. “When will I make Communion?” she wanted to know, because she was seven too. She grew irritable when I told her she had more to learn, that it was important to be sure. Certainty was for the faint of heart; she still wanted to wear the white dress.
Read it all here. Also in the issue: Sidney Callahan reviews Barbara Ehrenreich’s Living with a Wild God, Nick Baumann looks at the structural flaws in our system threatening to make political gridlock in Washington permanent, and Andrew J. Bacevich digs into a “splendid” new biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. You can see the full table of contents for our theology issue here.