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Monday, June 04, 2012

What's the point of Catholic theology?

There's a post at dotCommonweal about the latest CDF condemnation of a Catholic theologian's book. Here's a bit of the post ...

CDF Notification: Sr. Margaret Farley, R.S.M.

[...] The Notification casts judgment on Sr. Farley’s book [Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics ] in five specific areas: masturbation; homosexual acts; homosexual unions; indissolubility of marriage; and divorce and remarriage. It also accuses the book of these “general problems”: “Sr. Farley either ignores the constant teaching of the Magisterium or, where it is occasionally mentioned, treats it as one opinion among others. … Sr. Farley also manifests a defective understanding of the objective nature of the natural moral law, choosing instead to argue on the basis of conclusions selected from certain philosophical currents or from her own understanding of ‘contemporary experience.’” In the end, the Notification concludes that the book “is not in conformity with the teaching of the Church. Consequently it cannot be used as a valid expression of Catholic teaching, either in counseling and formation, or in ecumenical and interreligious dialogue.”

This makes me wonder about the purpose of Catholic theology - is it about the search for truth no matter where that search may take you, or is it about explaining and justifying an already nailed-down truth? The CDF wants to say it's the latter ... if you want to know the truth about any given subject, just look in the catechism. This attitude doesn't make sense to me - the views expressed in the catechism are in part the result of past theologians thinking outside the box. The truth may be unchanging, but I think our understanding of it is always growing and changing.

NCR has a page with some blurbs from other academics defending the book here. One of them, Lisa Cahill, J. Donald Monan Professor, Department of Theology, Boston College, writes ...

It is important to understand the nature and role of academic theology or theological scholarship as "faith seeking understanding." Theology is rooted in faith and practical concerns. But the main purpose of theology--unlike pastoral teaching or guidance--is the understanding of God and of humans in relation to God. Understanding involves intellectual justification and cogency. Finally, theology is a process of seeking. Theology is a process of inquiry and exploration in a dynamic and critical relation to other theological positions. Theologians do not see or present their work as "official church teaching" and few of the faithful are confused about this fact. Readers of Just Love hardly need to be warned that this is not official church teaching; they will feel free to question, disagree and improve the points of the author, as is no doubt her intention.

For more reading, here's a related post at Catholic Moral Theology - L’Affaire Farley and the Ongoing Chill Factor in Contemporary Moral Theology


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