June 2015 Editorial


From the Editor’s Desk

Robert Doran’s article in this issue derives from his  Emmett Doerr Lecture entitled “A New Project in Systematic Theology” delivered at Marquette University on October 24, 2014. Astonished at his vision, I asked him to consider converting his paper into an article for Theological Studies.

As it turns out, I was teaching a graduate seminar on Schleiermacher at the time of Doran’s lecture, and could not help but consider his project in the light of Schleiermacher’s sketched two centuries before in Brief Outline of Theology as a Field of Study. Doran’s article outlines a new summa theologiae, though he does not call it that. Aquinas, inventor of this genre, executed his project in a context remarkably different from Schleiermacher’s and Doran’s, but with an identical purpose: to design an integrated theological curriculum. Despite the idential purpose, however, very great differences separate their projects.

First of all, while Doran has conceived the project as a whole, he proposes it as inherently collaborative, and this for any number of reasons. The basic question to be faced at the outset is one that Aquinas might not have had to face, at least not to the same degree: Utrum sit possibile summam theologiae hodie scribere?—even for a team. Obviously Aquinas thought he was capable of executing the project he envisioned, and the results speak for themselves.

That was then, this is now. What made Aquinas think he could pull off his project? For one thing, he was a genius. Second, he conceived it, so his single field of vision aligned well with his project’s scope. Third, a number of factors circumscribed his project; I specify but two: (1) His culture and academic world were relatively homogeneous and coherent compared to ours—a common language and way of conceptualizing higher learning (a Christian reading of Aristotle) were being forged. And (2) the range of knowledge in general was vastly more restricted.

What characterizes our current historical context and culture is a relative incoherence that we call postmodern. The astonishing capabilities of cyber technology enable globalization and thus interculturalization. This development faces us with the complexity of our globe—for good and ill. For good, as we are all learning how much we have in common and must cooperate to advance the good of all inhabitants of planet Earth. For ill, in that increasing contact with the “other” so terrifies some that they react violently against perceived encroachment. Globalization both enlarges and shrinks our perception, impressing on us that, despite Earth’s wealth, the pie is limited, and competition for resources is on.

This, then, in shorthand, is the complex aggregated/polarized context in which something like a summa for the 21st century must be written. Utrum sit possible? It is an apt question.

Enter Schleiermacher. In 1811 when he published his first edition of A Brief Outline (revised 1830), he was already aware that whoever studies theology, let alone writes it, embarks on an impossible task—impossible, that is, if one wants to encompass the entire field of human experience. Yet all human experience must in fact be addressed, Schleiermacher argued, because theology is reflection on God’s omnipresence. For theology to be complete, therefore, it must reflect on God’s revelation in every aspect of the created world, especially in every aspect of human apprehension of the Creator worldwide, as the human person is alone capable of self-reflectively knowing, loving, and serving God and God’s creation.

A decade earlier, Schleiermacher had published On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers, an apologia aimed at restoring the place religion was losing to Enlightenment rationalism. A Brief Outline lays out a proposal for reclamation in face of the dominant culture—dominant, at least, among the educated elite. Like Caesar entering Gaul, Schleiermacher divided the territory to be conquered into three parts: philosophical, historical, and practical theology. He began with philosophy (as did most theology programs since Schleiermacher, including Scholastic theology and Bernard Lonergan’s), because he thought of theology as a positive science, “an assemblage of scientific elements” that needed philosophy’s power to propose, order, and clarify theological concepts and dispel superstitions, and thereby open the way to religion’s essence and authentic practice. Historical theology encompassed exegetical theology, church history, and dogmatics, all geared toward practical theology. The whole course culminates in service to the church, which exists from beginning to end to provide “a distinct formation of God-consciousness,” the very Spirit-mindfulness experienced by Jesus and imparted to his disciples (Brief Outline §1).

Whatever Doran and colleagues come up with, I suggest with Schleiermacher that its goal must be practical theology, service to the church and the world: to train church leaders and theologians to help us all reliably discern and articulate how the Holy Spirit is acting in today’s staggeringly complex world—every aspect of it—to reveal how God is loving us all, collectively and individually, into a fuller revelation of God’s glory. All theology, in other words, should be ordered to the care of souls.

David G. Schultenover, S.J.

Editor in Chief