A journal of academic theology

September 2001 editorial

Paraphrasing the lament of one of Gilbert and Sullivans operettas, I am sometimes tempted to hum “An editor’s job is not a happy one.” Work load includes drudgery (proof reading), worries (statistics on subscriptions), dread (writing non-acceptance letters), and tensions (meeting deadlines). Fortunately, that is not the whole picture. I also experience notable satisfactions: seeing theology go forward, publishing research of young theologians for the first time, seeing forgotten concepts restored, and helping to unearth hidden treasures.

I rarely read a submission to the journal that does not teach me something new, and copy-editing manuscripts for this issue was no exception. Elizabeth Groppe’s study on Yves Congar alerted me to the famous ecclesiologists remarkable diary written between the ages of ten to fourteen about his experiences in World War I, now published (including his own pen sketches!) as Journal de la guerre 1914-1918. Gordon Rixon’s account of Lonergans unpublished materials on prayer increased my admiration for the integrity of his insights. The commentary and translation of Evagrius by William Harmless and Raymond Fitzgerald provided me respect for the achievement of the Desert Fathers. Felix Asiedu’s account about Anselm of Canterburys convictions regarding the status of believers who are neither Christians nor Jews elucidated for me a topic much discussed in present-day theology. Mark Massa’s description of anti-Catholicism in America helped me contextualize the polemics of Paul Blanshard and other nativist thinkers. And from Robert Masson’s article on analogy I felt my brain being stretched to rethink ideas first grappled with in the 1950s.

But the contribution that this time has had the most powerful personal impact on me is the “note” by Bernard Doering, emeritus professor of French literature at Notre Dame, drawn from the published correspondence between Jacques Maritain and Charles Journet. I was editing Doerings manuscript immediately following the June convention of the Catholic Theological Society of America, at which the issue of the requirement of a mandatum for American theologians was a repeated topic of conversation. The French exchange of letters seemed to have described something akin to what today some theologians are describing as the dangers of a rigid application of the mandatum procedure.

Doering combed through the frank exchange of letters dating from 1920 to 1949 by those two devoted Catholic theologians that record their pain and difficulty in accepting certain aspects of the teaching on human sexuality in marriage, especially as outlined in Pius XIs encyclicalCasti connubii (1930). The two theologians privately shared their personal anxiety about assenting to this strict teaching. Journet was personally convinced that theologians in the Vatican were being “hypnotized by the physical” in regard to sexuality in marriage. Maritain was already under suspicion for his book entitled Integral Humanism and for his views on the Spanish Civil War. Both theologians shared their fears with one another that if they were to state publicly their contrary views, they might in fact either lose their teaching positions or be silenced as other colleagues they knew had been.

These letters provide another perspective about the early Maritain, one dissimilar to his troubled swan song, Peasant of the Garonne: An Old Layman Questions Himself about the Present Time (ET, 1968). Likewise, the concerns of the future Cardinal Journet match worries of a number of Catholic theologians today who are convinced that close episcopal supervision of theological discourse could in fact hinder healthy exchange and the normal development of reception in the Church.

In the course of these letters one sometimes stumbles upon shocking opinions on political and cultural situations as expressed by persons in high ecclesiastical positions. These views illustrate the narrowness of vision in men entrusted with important offices. In 1945, for instance, Maritain wrote to Journet stating that during the German Occupation of France “intelligent people were scandalized because they heard too many Thomists chanting the litanies of Marchal [Ptain] and heard a great theologian whom we know [Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.] actually declare in Rome that any priest who gave absolution to a supporter of Charles de Gaulle was living in a permanent state of mortal sin.”

Disciplinary actions taken against theologians such as Leonardo Boff, Jacques Dupuis, or Roger Haight, prior to an open exchange of what appears to be differing doctrinal assertions are regrettable in the theological community because they seem to be premature. If theologians in the present-day community are reluctant, out of fear, to state publicly their own informed positions, this can only be an impoverishment to the Church at large.

Scroll to Top