The years just before and after World War II saw breakthroughs in theology that had major impact on Vatican II. For centuries the church had been waging a defensive battle against the abuses of the Enlightenment, the challenges of the Reform, and the rise of the secular nation-state. Theology had been reduced to defending the status quo or nurturing a form of popular piety that would set Catholicism apart from rival versions of Christianity. The “new theology,” which developed above all in France, upset the calm and stagnant waters of scholasticism.
Benedict XVI’s encyclical Spe salvi, published a year ago, is magnificent as a theological lesson on the virtue of hope, drawing on Scripture and the church fathers to challenge the misplaced hopes of the modern world.
Some time back, I got an e-mail from an old friend with whom I had lost contact many years before. He was an ex-seminarian from Argentina who had been imprisoned and tortured during the “dirty war” of the military dictatorship. That he had gotten out alive bordered on the miraculous.