A journal of academic theology

March 2000 editorial

On February 12, 2000, Theological Studies lost one of its most valued contributors and consultants, Richard A. McCormick, S.J., who died following a paralyzing stroke. He will be profoundly missed by his many friends and colleagues. Later this year we hope to publish a tribute highlighting his rich contributions to Christian ethics.

I began drafting reflections for this editorial on Saturday, January 1, 2000, with memories of the New Year’s Eve television coverage from the previous day still vivid. The remarkable pictures of midnight celebrations across the international date line and in various time zones allowed viewers in the eastern part of North America to witness as early as 8 a.m., December 31, how the citizens of Sydney, Australia, were feting the millennium’s arrival with a blaze of fireworks. I felt an eerie sensation of distance and nearness. Viewers across the globe watched as the clock ticked away how Japan, then Korea, then India, greeted the new millennium in their distinctive ways. By the time midnight came to the Brandenburg Gate, the Eiffel Tower, and London Bridge excitement was growing to a pitch. The world seemed bigger than ever, yet somehow curiously smaller. The thought flashed through my mind that this global unity amid diversity visibly mirrored what Vatican II unveiled as the world church.

As Theological Studies turns from 1999 to 2000, we touch upon a variety of global concerns in this issue: moral theology in East Asia, liberation theology as articulated on several continents, and theology formulated in the crucible of the University of Central America in El Salvador. But first of all, for our lead article inaugurating this new century we turn back to hear the voice of the late Karl Rahner who initially interpreted the first act of the world Church. Through the kindness of the Rahner archives and the labors of two theologians teaching in Dublin, we are able to make available for the first time in English Rahner’s remarkable testimonial to a lifetime of theological reflections delivered at a symposium in 1984 shortly before his death.

For U.S. Catholic theologians another recent vivid memory is the drama associated with the vote of November 1999 when the bishops at the annual meeting of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops by a majority of 223 to 31 approved revised norms for implementing John Paul II’s apostolic constitution Ex corde ecclesiae (1990) on Catholic universities. Many theologians and a few bishops feel uneasy that these norms, if approved by the Vatican dicasteries, especially the order for theologians to apply for a mandatum from the local bishop in order to teach in a Catholic university, will promote uneasiness rather than communion and will be perceived as lack of trust and an urge to control diversity rather than to promote creative reflection on revelation. At least because of the present vagueness of criteria and procedures for granting a mandatum, we are entering what one theologian has called “uncharted waters.” A number of Catholic theologians are convinced that through a demonization of the notion of dissent and rigid application of how one is to uphold both credenda and tenenda as outlined in the motu proprio of May 18, 1998, Ad tuendam fidem, their voices may be muffled. Hopefully the dialogue now urgently needed for drawing up the implementation procedures will again promote mutual exchange to achieve what all Catholics devoutly desire, namely the preservation of the Catholic character of their universities. Rahner’s reflections provide a cautionary tale for bishops and theologians alike. No mandatumrewarded or revoked by a bishop will ever change the nature of theological affirmations that remain, as he insists, only partial, analogical insights to elucidate dimly the mysteries of revelation. But without delving honestly into church history and without inculturating the gospel, we could easily transform theology into ideology.

What struck me in proof-reading this entire March issue is how frequently the various articles echo one another. Rahner’s final section entitled on “What is to come” often crisscrosses with Bernard Prusak’s description of modern theological reflection on belief in our future resurrection. Matthew Ashley’s analysis of the theology of Ignacio Ellacura inspired by the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises and a reading of the signs of the times in Latin America supports what Peter Phan perceives in his phenomenological description of overlapping method in liberation theologies and what James Bretzke highlights in East Asia. Both William Spohn and Roland Murphy stress the importance of listening to the promptings of the Holy Spirit be it for conscience’s sake or for Scripture exegesis.

On behalf of all our readers I wish to thank sincerely two members of Theological Studies’ editorial consultants whose terms of appointment have ended: David N. Power, O.M.I., of the Catholic University of America, and Pheme Perkins of Boston College. For a number of years their insightful evaluations and suggestions regarding sacramental theology and New Testament studies have been much appreciated. I am pleased to welcome as a new editorial consultant, Robert M. Doran, S.J., of Regis College, Toronto, and co-editor of the Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan (University of Toronto Press).

During this calendar year I will be announcing the publication of a cumulative index of Theological Studies covering the years 1980 through 1999. The projected printed and electronic formatting will make the various indices, especially the detailed subject index, a valuable research tool and a mirror of our collective theological ministry over the past twenty years. May this ministry to the life of the Church continue unfettered in the next twenty years.

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