Michael Fahey


December 2005 editorial

Theological Studies was founded in 1940 while the effects of the papal condemnation of Catholic Modernism were still lingering, while Europe was already in the throes of World War II, but the United States was debating, before Pearl Harbor, whether or not it should enter the war. In these parlous circumstances, American Jesuits hesitated about starting a theological journal. Could they manage a journal on their own? Would there be enough readers willing to pay an annual five dollars for four issues each averaging some 200 pages? Since there was no U.S. counterpart to the European Jesuit journals such as the Nouvelle revue théologique (1869), Zeitschrift für katholische Theologie (1876),  Recherches de sciences religieuses (1913),Gregorianum (1920),  or Bijdragen (1938), prospects seemed promising. Surely the then six theological faculties manned by the Society of Jesus in the United States–Alma College (California), St. Mary’s (Kansas), West Baden (Indiana), Weston College (Massachusetts),  and Woodstock College (Maryland), as well as the diocesan seminary in suburban Chicago, St. Mary of Lake (Mundelein)–could produce a first-rate theological journal. And since several voices of American Catholic theological scholarship had been silenced by the suppression of the short-lived The New York Review (1905-1908), published out of St. Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie, New York, and by the suspension, at least temporarily, of the American Ecclesiastical Review (1889-1903), the need was real.

During its first 50 years Theological Studies had only three editors. The first was William J. McGarry, who only two years previously had been appointed president of Boston College. In 1940 he was “promoted” to be the first editor of the journal which was originally produced at the offices of the weeklyAmerica, then located on West 108 Street, New York City. But McGarry died suddenly only one year later, on September 23, 1941, as he stood on the 59th Street platform of New York’s Broadway subway.

The second editor from 1942 until his death in 1967 was John Courtney Murray, well-know champion of religious freedom and one of the first U.S. Jesuits to challenge Catholics to move from their intellectual ghetto into the modern world. Murray relocated the editorial offices to the Jesuit theologate at Woodstock College in rural Maryland where he was teaching.  He was not shy about publishing his own material in the journal: some 21 of his articles appeared up to 1964.  In fact, one of the longest articles ever published in Theological Studies was his 81-page study on religious freedom (6 [1945] 85-113, 229-80). From 1955 on, for some seven years, Murray was forbidden by Rome to write on religious freedom or on church and state, although, as is well known, ultimately the declaration on “Religious Freedom” promulgated by Vatican II supported his teaching. Murray’s death on August 16, 1967, from a heart attack while riding in a taxi cab headed for Manhattan marked the end of an era for the journal.

Walter J. Burghardt was Murray’s successor. He had already been involved with the journal for 21 years as its managing editor, but would now serve as editor-in-chief for 24 more years from 1967 to 1990. This was a time of movement, both physical and theological. The journal moved back to Manhattan from 1969 to 1974 (located in headquarters of the National Council of Churches, the so-called “God Box” in Morningside Heights) and then, after the unexpected closing of Woodstock College, it moved to the “Car Barn” building located near Georgetown University, adjacent to an outdoor setting for the movie “The Exorcist.” Burghardt outlined much of the journal’s initial history in his “A Half Century of Theological Studies: Retrospect and Prospect” (50 [1989] 761-85) and in his memoirs: Long Have I Loved You: A Theologian Reflects on His Church (2000).

Following the retirement of Burghardt, the editor’s position was assumed by Robert J. Daly, of Boston College, who oversaw the journal from 1991 to 1995 (twenty issues). Then with the March issue of 1996, I became editor, remaining at the helm for ten years (forty issues). I now hand over the editing of the journal to my successor, David Schultenover, of Marquette University.

Theological Studies is truly international. Its subscribers live in some 80 different countries, including nations where English is not the dominant language such as Italy, Germany, France, Spain, and even Brazil, Indonesia, China, and Japan. One out of four subscribers lives out of the U.S.A., some in such far-distant countries as Lithuania, Fiji, Eritrea, the Solomon Islands, and Papua New Guinea.

Financially, it receives no subsidy, but operates from its subscriptions and from the income of modest investments. The donated services of its editor and book review editor, as well as rent-free office space and logistical support provided by Marquette and Georgetown University, help to keep expenses down.

Besides its board of directors, there are some fourteen women and men editorial consultants who advise the editor. Other specialists are often asked to assess manuscripts that fall within their area of expertise. The journal typically receives each year some 200 unsolicited submissions of which some 35 are published.

One of the most prophetic and daring articles (in light of the fact that it appeared during World War II one year before the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki) was written by John Cuthbert Ford, “The Morality of Obliteration Bombing” (5 [1944] 261-309) in which he stoutly argued that obliteration bombing was “an immoral attack on the rights of the innocent.” Remarkably, on the average of every three months, the editorial office still receives requests even from an international U.S. Army training center in Europe to reproduce or translate that article into various languages.

Many readers consider, and rightly so, the yearly “Notes on Moral Theology” as one of the more valuable segments of Theological Studies. The notes began modestly with a few pages already in 1940 by the editor McGarry who treated a panoply of topics ranging from biblical fundamentalism to testicular transplants. The prominence given to ethical/moral issues can be partly explained by the Jesuits’ long association with casuistry. The genre of the notes was invented by John C. Ford and Gerald A. Kelly. They annually discussed, analyzed, and critiqued aspects of ethical teaching published especially in North American and European periodicals. Richard A. McCormick joined the ranks of authors of the moral notes in 1965 and continued his association until 1987 (a total of 23 years).  McCormick’s account of “Moral Theology 1940-1989” (50 [1989] 3-24) argued that in the future moral theology would be called upon to be: open to the world church; ecumenical; insight-oriented; collegial; honest; scientifically informed; adult, through its stress on personal responsibility; realistic; Catholic and catholic; and inspired by the teachings of Jesus. His friend and colleague, Charles Curran, published in Theological Studies an informative obituary wryly entitled: “Notes on Richard A. McCormick” (61 [2000] 533-42).

One unpleasant fact regarding the “Notes on Moral Theology” that I learned only recently was that in all the years that Theological Studies published them not once did they address racism as a moral or ethical issue in American society. This astounding fact was reported by Bryan Massingale in the thematic issue on Black Catholic theology (December 2000). He also showed how in 21 pastoral letters published by U.S. Catholic bishops from 1990 to 2000 only two of them correctly identified sinful social structures as the deepest cause of racism.

Since 1987 the notes have changed as the field became more and more complex. No longer are they a review of the year’s periodical literature in moral theology, but they now present through the collaboration of three theologians coverage of a longer period of time on a variety of ethical issues. Under the guidance of James F. Keenan, the notes try to describe developments not just in Europe and North America, but also in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

Who writes articles for Theological Studies has dramatically changed over the seven decades of its existence. In the first decade (1940-1949) 144 of the 185 article published were written by seminary professors (mostly by Jesuits). In the second decade (1950-1959) the statistics were not significantly different: 147 from seminaries, 38 from elsewhere, but the outreach was broadening to include authors located in Oxford, Montreal, Paris, Solesmes, Glasgow, Hiroshima, London, Rome, and Jerusalem. The third decade (1960-69) moved slowly toward greater university participation, 109 contributions from seminaries, 93 from universities. In the fourth decade (1970-79), the decade following Vatican II, only 85 from seminaries, whereas 146 were from universities. The fifth decade (1980-1989) only 63 contributors stemmed from seminaries, whereas 199 authors were professors in colleges or universities. For the 50th anniversary volume (1989) of Theological Studies only five of the 28 contributors hailed from seminaries. The last two decades continue to reflect this trend.

My own estimate is that academic journals such as Theological Studies have a further life-expectancy in printed format of only some ten years at the most. The paper edition as we know it will be replaced by an electronic version. This will pose troubling questions: (1) How will this new format be accessible to those who live in economically depressed regions of the world–where even the regular availability of electricity is unreliable and poverty persists? (2) How will the present-day processes of winnowing superficial or ephemeral articles from solidly researched ones occur? (3) How will scholars and students marshal their time to make prudent choices amid the myriad resources? And finally, (4) how will the financial costs of producing electronic copy be met?

For the vitality of the Church, writing must remain an active vocation. The written word is called upon to express our values of accuracy, fairness, tolerance, excellence, continuity, and wonder before the personal revelation of God to humankind in times past and present. Our world has experienced in the last ten years terrifying upheavals: wars and genocides, terrorist destructions, natural catastrophes through earthquakes, tsunamis, and hurricanes, as well as shocking revelations of sexual abuse by clergy, and irresponsible responses by certain bishops. Catholics have experienced the passing of a long-reigning pontiff and the election of a new pope. A mood of tentativeness can be detected in the Church. May Theological Studies, founded as an in-house journal especially for seminary professors and future priests but then transformed into an international resource for women and men, at home in the university, ecumenical, interfaith in outreach, global in appeal, continue to thrive. This is my farewell hope and prayer.