I write this editorial en route from Colombia, where I met with several teachers of theology at the Universidad Javeriana in Cali and learned something about their questions and concerns as theologians in the church. The issues they raised were not altogether unlike those I have encountered in the United States, where theologians bemoan the marginalization of theology not only in the university curriculum, but also within wider intellectual and cultural life. Such conversations about the state of theology, it seems, are not simply the result of a North American secularism that may have infiltrated some precincts of the Catholic academy; they have taken on a life of their own wherever theologians seek to engage a tradition that is endeavoring to grapple with changes that have altered worlds that theologians, and the church, at one time took for granted. The concerns expressed by the theologians in Cali, and those of our readers, are expressions of people who care deeply about the future of faith in the face of radical uncertainty.
It is an awe-inspiring fact that there is a church where thousands of theologians all over the world are trying to bring the faith into conversation with serious thought in the midst of so much that is unknown, and that they have been doing this for over two thousands years. It is remarkable that there is a church where theology is taken so seriously, even in moments of misunderstanding. We theologians are truly privileged to belong to such a worldwide and historic intellectual community that constitutes a vibrant, burgeoning life form in the church. We are a community imbued with the irrepressible energy of faith, ever engendering new forms of theological life wherever we are at work, and with respect to all dimensions of human existence—not only religious, but also political, scientific, artistic, and even athletic. One marvels to think of the great theological vitality to be found all over the globe, from Bogota to Nairobi, from Delhi to Manila, from Shanghai to Sao Paolo, and to Paris and Rome—and so many other places as well, including here in North America.
Yet, the theological life of the church is often quite hidden, like a vast subterranean aquifer, teeming with life, but moving under the surface of the church’s daily routines. On occasion the church drills a well and draws from those waters, as demonstrated in the history of the councils, and, more recently, at conferences of Latin American bishops, and in the theologically informed statements of the Asian bishops conferences on inculturation, interreligious dialogue, and the role of women in church and society. (Sadly, the voices of theologians seemed largely absent from the last assembly of the synod.) But, even apart from official church life, theology has a cherished role to play in the ages-old endeavor to deepen our understanding of faith, of the mystery of God, and of the radical implications for humanity of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ.
For over 75 years, Theological Studies has been dipping into that well and has brought to the surface and into the light of day some of the deeper conversations among theologians, as well as their ongoing thinking about how to bring the heart of faith into conversation with cultural and intellectual frameworks, and with significant topics about the nature and destiny of human beings, and even of the cosmos. There will always be a need for speculative projects that illumine faith with an incisive intellectual light. And there will also be a need for a theology that unfolds faith in view of crying human realities, from the perennial questions that arise from suffering and death, and violence and war, to the ongoing struggles for liberation and justice, especially among the poor of the planet. Related to all of these questions, as Laudato si’ attests, is the sheer survival of the Earth itself. The work of Theological Studies continues in a world that now forces theology into precincts far beyond the seminaries and even beyond the universities, and into commerce with an array of religions and movements, the natural and social sciences, technology, politics, economics, media, the arts, and, in general, with the full realidad of human existence.
I undertake this editorship, therefore, with a profound sense of responsibility for carrying on a legacy of great distinction. And I wish especially to express my gratitude to our outgoing Editor-in-Chief, David G. Schultenover, who has guided this journal for the past decade with a discerning eye and a refined editor’s hand. He has also led the journal into theological territory that would have been unimaginable 75 years ago, even into publishing beyond the journal itself, with a recent volume on Vatican II that was rooted in articles that first appeared in this journal. And he has also ushered Theological Studies into the digital age, expanding our reach to the farthest corners of the majority world. In his final editorial, too, he rightly identified one of the major issues of our time that demands the attention of the church: how to respond to the call of Pope Francis to develop an “incisive” leadership role for women, a concern that the 34th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus vigorously addressed in 1995. All of these accomplishments summon our admiration and thanks. And his work, which itself has rested on the shoulders of editors before him, will move forward with the momentum that he and they have established.
Perhaps the greatest legacy that David Schultenover passes on is not a body of editorial accomplishments, but his understanding that the job of producing this journal is a form of service, and indeed, of ministry. For this journal was founded by forward looking Jesuits who sought to bring vibrant theology into the life of the church and to help the church in its mission to disclose to all people the mystery of God reaching toward us. This mission also describes why we theologians have been called to the service of theology. I know from personal experience that David has modeled how a good editor can help theologians do their best work for the sake of this mission. As we raise up a new generation of theologians in these pages, not only from North America, but from around the globe, that is a legacy that we at Theological Studies are honored to carry into the future.
Paul G. Crowley, SJ