September 2015 Editorial

From the Editor’s Desk

This issue’s lineup of articles prompts the question: Would it have been possible even to fantasize about this lineup back in 1965? I think not. Fifty years ago, on September 14 (Exaltation of the Cross), Vatican II’s fourth and final session opened and, by closing time, promulgated 11 of the council’s 16 documents. Important as are the earlier documents (e.g., Sacrosanctum concilium and Lumen gentium), one might argue that the latest ones really mark the Church of the future: e.g., Gaudium et spes, Ad gentes, Nostra aetate, and Dignitatis humanae.

Accelerating change is prompting the world’s theologians to sail their manuscripts to my inbox out of that mystical medium we call “the Web,” which, slithering into virtually every aspect of reality, changes our perceptions. Our curricula used to require a course in logic. Now, except for mathematicians and scientists who learn discursive ways as stepping stones to bending reality to irrational and imaginary numbers and the theories they germinate, it seems that most humans, propelled by almost universal access to micro- and macro-realities, are treating laws/boundaries as realities to be transcended—no longer real. The whole human race, given almost universal access to the Web, seems to reside in rapid-development infancy given to constant boundary testing. Indeed we seem defined by it—reaching beyond, transcending with abandon, exhilarated by having left behind one more quaint limitation. But transcending to God . . . ?

What are theologians to make of all this? Are we theologizing about the realities and virtual realities to which the Web exposes us, changing our interrelationships, individual, corporate, and ecclesiastical? Does our doctrine keep up with the accelerating changes? If the lineup of articles in this issue could not have happened pre-Vatican II, I do not suggest that the council precipitated it, but merely that the council, looking to the past and peering into the future “through a glass darkly,” marked history and declared: This is who the Church is at this moment. Under the guidance of the Spirit, we cohere with what we have always been and always will be, however different we become. This is our conviction, our faith, our hope.

As to the lineup, James Pambrun’s lead article opens a theme that, I dare suggest, binds all the articles together. Two instances of the word current in his abstract drew me up short: “current fragmentary modes of current reason,” a repetition that any decent editor would flag. My word search found 20 instances of “current,” leading me to suspect I hit upon a leitmotiv.

His phrase “modes of current reason” led me to wonder how prominent in our imaginations and discourse are such modes, and how they affect our judgments about all our current perceptions and interactions. Perhaps they intensify our natural drive to exercise power, urging us uncritically to assume we are right, an assumption influencing the judgments we make about all our interactions.

We can extrapolate this individual, personal experience of “modes of reasoning” to a communal person such as a religion—a church—and very quickly the mode of current reason favored therein can become hegemonic. Understandably so, since fragile humans seek the comfort of power against what seems “other.” This tendency, common in church-related interactions, can readily convince us that the Church cannot be on the side of error, a conviction that easily slides outside the definition of infallibility carefully circumscribed by Vatican I.

Back to Pambrun. Given the complexity of human persons individually and collectively, no one should be surprised that conflicts arise on virtually every issue of human discourse. Ah, but Christianity lives by the great promise: “When he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth.” Indeed, it is hard to imagine that without the Spirit the Church could have arrived 21 centuries later with such a remarkably coherent body of teachings and practices.

The great promise was effective, and Vatican II nudged us (to quote Jean Vanier) to seek “power in humility, strength in weakness, and light in the darkness of human existence,” under the conviction that no reality excludes the power of God’s love. With Vatican II’s generous teaching about the Holy Spirit’s saving activity in all faiths, we must question our assumptions about who is right, who wrong, and how the mystery of salvation plays out in our earthly existence.

This caution coheres well with the other articles in this issue: Neil Ormerod’s “A (Non-Communio) Trinitarian Ecclesiology” argues that recent developments of Lonergan’s four-point hypothesis help relate the Church to other religious traditions as icons of the Trinity. Ligita Ryliškytė’s “Post-Gulag Christology” reminds us that Christology remains a mystery to be probed from the perspective of every human experience, with doctrine inevitably developing. Denis Edwards’s theology of divine action from the perspective of contemporary astronomy challenges our assumptions about the Thomistic tradition of divine action. Edmund Chia’s “Ecumenical Pilgrimage toward World Christianity” urges Roman Catholicism to appreciate the Holy Spirit’s action in all other faiths. Similarly, Anna Bonta Moreland argues that Catholic doctrine allows the Church to reverence the Qur’an as a form of revelation.

The final two articles also caution our “modes of current reason.” Massimo Faggioli considers Francis’s mandate to reform church structures: as a reformed ecclesiology should inform the reform of curial structures, it should also inform how the Church interrelates with other churches and faiths. So too Paul Weithman’s “Piketty and the Pope” argues that the Church, with its great store of social teaching—most recently Francis’s Evangelii gaudium—must dialogue with all the forces of 21st-century economies.

And all this against the backdrop of Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato si’ on climate change and the forthcoming Synod of Bishops on the Family. . . . Theologians, gird your loins!


David G. Schultenover, S.J.
Editor in Chief