Seatbelt Blues

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Commonweal on B16's Theology


The tragedy of post-Vatican II theology is that, after dethroning the inadequate neoscholastic vision, it has turned, not back to the ancient wisdom displayed in the church fathers and the medieval masters, but to various forms of modern philosophy. It has therefore lost its critical distance and has become a handmaiden of the various forms of positivism, particularly by linking itself to other visions of the future, either the one liberals hope from technology, or the one Marxists hope from political and economic revolution. The results of this disastrous choice are all around us, in a church that has become indistinct from its surrounding worlds and has lost its sense of identity and mission, and in a world in which the triumph of positivism has led to ever growing dissolution and alienation.

The one response that can rescue us from this slavery to our own works is the presentation of the Christian message as the only truly liberating force. Theology cannot count on any help from contemporary philosophy or the human and natural sciences. In Ratzinger’s writings, there are very few positive references to intellectual developments outside the church; they almost always appear as antithetical to the specifically Christian. There are no cultural or social pierres d’attente. Instead, dichotomies abound, contrasts between the Christian notions of truth, freedom, nature and those current in Western culture. The faith must be presented as countercultural, as an appeal to nonconformity. It can appeal to the widespread sense of disillusion to what modernity has promised but been unable to deliver. It will make its appeal by presenting the Christian vision in its synthetic totality as a comprehensive structure of meaning that at nearly every point breaks with the taken-for-granted attitudes, strategies, and habits of contemporary culture. The gospel will save us, not philosophy, not science, and not scientific theology. The great model for this enterprise is the effort to preach the gospel in the alien world of antiquity and to construct the vision of Christian wisdom manifest in the great ages of faith before philosophy, science, and technology separated themselves into autonomous areas of reflection and activity.

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