Dogmatic Theology

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The term dogmatic theology seems to have been used first by the Lutheran humanist Georg calixtus (15861656). However, by the end of the 17th century it was in fairly common use among Catholic theologians even though the connotations of the term dogmatic were varied. The term is widely used by modern Catholic theologians to describe the branch of theology that concerns itself with setting forth and explaining the dogmas received by Catholic faith.

The term is also common to Protestant theologians in the sense of a scientifically elaborated interpretation of the Christian religion. In the 20th century, the term was given considerable currency in the Protestant world through the Church Dogmatics of Karl Barth (see barth, karl). By this term he meant the theological task of ensuring that the content of the preaching of the Church conforms to the Word of God (Christ). This conformity is achieved through adherence to the written word of the Bible.


In the patristic and medieval eras, dogmatic theology was not conceived as a separate theological discipline. Behind the modern Catholic usage lies a history that offers considerable insight into the development of the Catholic theological enterprise itself, as well as a much deeper understanding of the term.

Positive Theology. The opening stage in the development of dogmatic theology as a distinct theological discipline was the beginning of a consciously conceived positive theology. There was, first of all, the humanistic reaction of the 15th century against the scholastic form of theology and the effort to replace it by returning to the Bible in its original languages. To this was added an emphasis on the fathers of the church as being closer to the Bible and so possessing a deeper insight into its meaning. Giving impetus and immediacy to this emphasis on Scripture and the sources was the polemic with Protestantism. Here the controversy over the principle sola scriptura obviously gave force to the humanistic demands; but because it would make Scripture the sole theological criterion, it evoked a whole new order of critical reflection on theological methodology. Out this would come the first stages of a theology of the sources, or what came to be called positive theology.

In this development the major figure was Melchior cano, a Spanish Dominican theologian (150960). Essentially humanistic in temperament and outlook, he was also a modern who wanted to formulate a theology more suitable to his age. The result was the theological classic De locis theologicis. In this work Cano set into clear relief the essential role of what he called the auctoritates, i.e., the positive sources, in the work of theology. It is from these authorities, such as Scripture, the Fathers, and the councils, that theology takes its principles. The quality of the conclusions of theology is in direct proportion to the quality and certitude of these principles or sources. It is these sources that he called "theological places." His work looked to formulating these sources, to setting up the norms that determine their value, and to positing the conditions under which they will best serve their purpose. The work was a pioneering effort and created a theological methodology and tradition that was decisive in the development of a dogmatic theology (see loci theologici).

Moral Theology. The next stage in the evolution of a dogmatic theology was the conception of moral the ology as a distinct branch of theology. From the early Middle Ages on moral theology as the practice of the Christian life was enshrined in small practical handbooks for confessors. Discussions of the principles of human nature and action came to be located in the summae of the masters, where they were part of the integral view of the whole of theology. The distinct moral theology of the late 16th century abstracts these principles, thus producing separate tracts dealing with the last end of man, the morality of human acts, natural and positive law, and ecclesiastical sanctions. Something of the practical manuals of the earlier period is retained, but understood within the elaboration of the theoretical principles. The reasons for this change are not easy to discern, and there is no agreement as to its causes. It does represent, however, an important step in the process of specialization that will bring about a whole series of divisions in the science of theology.

First Dogmatic Theology. It is in the last decade of the 17th century that the modern forms into which theology is divided begin to appear, and among these is dogmatic theology. To understand the particular character of these first efforts at a dogmatic theology something of the age itself must be understood. By the last quarter of the 17th century empirical science was beginning to dominate the intellectual world. The movement of defense stemming out of Trent has taken a distinctive shape. Particularly to be noted is the fact that the theology of the university world is no longer a creative theology. The university faculty is involved in the enervating quarrels over jansenism, gallicanism, and eventually josephinism, as well as the effects of the controversy over efficacious grace (see congregatio de auxiliis). Out of all this arises the felt need to give to the student, and specifically to the seminarian, an organized body of common doctrine as received by the Church, a body of doctrine not obscured by the controversy of the schools. It is this need, joined with the concern for the sources, and the strong sense of dogma deriving from Trent, that constitutes the first stage of a recognizable dogmatic theology, or, as it will be widely called in the beginning, theologia dogmatica-scholastica.

As the usage dogmatica-scholastica indicates, it is an attempt to join the positive elements with the scholastic tradition of speculative theology. The first concern is the presentation of the actual teaching of the Church together with the theological note proper to it. Then comes the scholastic exposition of that teaching. It is basically a manual theology, having as its fundamental concern the pedagogical rather than the dialectical. Accordingly, a new method of presentation takes over. The traditional quaestio and lectio disappear, and the fundamental point of departure becomes the thesis together with a status quaestionis, proof from the sources, theological reasons, and, finally, practical corollaries. It is this pedagogical and largely manual form of dogmatic theology that dominates the development down to Vatican II.

19th Century. The next major step in this development takes place in the middle of the 19th century. After almost a century of decadence, Catholic theology begins to renew itself. This renewal derives first of all from the extraordinary development of historical and critical sources. With Egyptology the whole ancient world with which the Bible has been the primary contact now begins to be known in its own right. Study of the Babylonian and Assyrian civilizations and Palestinian archeology all set the Bible into an immense framework that calls for profound reevaluations of long-held positions and explanations. At the same time, particularly in Germany, the study of the history and the philosophy of religion (see re ligion, philosophy of), together with critical studies of the history of dogmas, open up a world whose full challenge will not be realized until the eve of the Modernist crisis (E. Hocedez, Histoire de la théologie au XIX e siècle 3:53161). Theologians such as J. franzelin are aware of these developments and make use of the sources on a considerable scale. Yet, by and large, their usage is uncritical and subordinated to the "proof text" approach.

Along with this historical development is the neoscholastic revival [ibid. 2:319328; B. M. Bonansea, "Pioneers of the 19th-Century Scholastic Revival in Italy," The New Scholasticism 28 (1954) 137]. The first stage of this renewal runs from about 1825 to the issuance of Leo XIII's encyclical aeterni patris on Aug. 4, 1879. Prominent in this stage would be men such as J. kleut gen, G. perrone, J. Franzelin, C. passaglia, M. lib eratore, G. sanseverino, L. taparelli d'azeglio. Their work is often eclectic and by no means represents a really profound insight into the thought of St. Thomas. One exception should be mentioned herethe work of M. J. scheeben, whom M. grabmann calls the greatest speculative theologian of the 19th century. In his work one finds a genuine effort to plumb the thought of St. Thomas and make his fundamental intuitions the personal reflection of the author himself. He also incorporates into his speculation the light cast on the thought of St. Thomas by the current medieval study. Equally to be noted are his studies in the history of dogma and his establishment of his speculative endeavor on a sound patristic and scriptural foundation. If his usage is not always strictly critical, it is well advanced for his time, and the whole work is a significant example of a truly developing dogmatic theology [M. J. Scheeben, The Mysteries of Christianity, tr. C. Vollert (St. Louis 1946)].

With the appearance of Leo XIII's Aeterni Patris there begins renewed effort to develop the philosophical resources of speculative theology. Although there is opposition on the part of some Catholics, historical studies and a more profound study of St. Thomas's own thought set in motion a revival that will be strongly influential throughout all Catholic theology for the next century. The speculative element in the manuals of dogmatic theology is only very slowly touched by this renewal. It takes a very extensive popularization of Thomism before the speculative depths of St. Thomas really begin to penetrate into seminary teaching with power and effectiveness. Prescinding from this, however, a considerable body of speculative work does create a whole new dimension for dogmatic theology in the present time.

20th Century. Contemporary with the beginnings of this speculative renewal comes the initial stages of what will be the crisis of Modernism. It raises far-reaching questions for theology in general, and the resolution of the issues has a decisive influence on the work and structure of modern dogmatic theology. Modernism poses for theology two fundamental issues: first, the question of the homogeneity of what the Church teaches now and the primary sources of all Christian doctrine; second, the questions raised when the Bible and ancient traditions and institutions are examined in the light of modern critical and historical methods. The first involves the question of the relation between tradition and the teaching authority of the Church. (See Louis Billot, De immutabilitate traditionis [Rome 1904], where he clearly delineates the role of the magisterium as the proximate rule of faith.) The second issue is concerned with the nature of the theological method itself. It stems from the need to show the distinction between theology and dogma, between theological development and revelation (see revelation, theology of); the relation between positive and speculative theology and the criteria that make of them a genuinely scientific effort. Especially to be noted here is A. Gardeil's Le donné révélé et la théologie (Paris 1910). The last concern and the slowest to take form is, in fact, the central one. It is the whole question of the development of both dogma and doctrine. Though Franzelin recognizes the fact, and Cardinal J. H. newman makes a decisive contribution to its understanding, it is not until F. Marín-Sola publishes his L'Évolution homogène du dogme catholique (2d ed. Fribourg 1924) that it begins to take its full place in theological debate and reflection.

Essentially the history of theology and, therefore, of the resources of theology between Vatican I and Vatican II is the continuation and development of studies along these three lines: (1) tradition and the magisterium; (2) the nature, function, and method of theology; (3) the development of doctrine.

All these developments are very closely related, and while they do not deeply influence the seminary theology in the late 1920s, still in the 1930s they begin to influence the theologians themselves. Discussion, articles, and meetings at congresses bring all this to the fore. By the end of World War II, there is a good deal of ferment and very extensive discussion over the nature and function of theology as well as the methods proper to dogmatic theology. In the United States it is possible to see much of this development in the Proceedings of the Catholic Theological Society of America, which were first published in 1946.

Following Vatican II, "dogmatic theology" quickly gives way to "systematic theology" as the name of that branch of theology that deals principally with the intellectual understanding of the things of faith. By the end of the 20th century, very few non-pontifical theology departments offer programs in dogmatic theology. The questions of the early 20th century persist, particularly those concerning the nature and method of theology, but they are joined by questions about the very nature of dogma. Whereas previously theologians regarded dogmas, known with certitude in faith, as sure starting points for theology, they now turn their attention to the dogmas themselves, asking whether the dogmatic formulation or something else in the dogma is to be regarded as normative. Confrontation with contemporary hermeneutical theory is an important element of this shift. Theologians are increasingly unwilling to take the propositional content of dogmatic statements as a given, without consideration of the contextsocial, cultural, intellectualin which the dogmas were originally formulated. The 1973 document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Mysterium Ecclesiae, acknowledges the importance of such contextual considerations. However, it also maintains that dogmatic statements are not only approximations of the truth, but determinate affirmations of truth. Its limitations notwithstanding, dogmatic theology is a legitimate and necessary theological enterprise.

Biblical Studies. One last area should be included in this necessarily limited presentation of the history of the development of dogmatic theologythe correlative development of biblical studies. Beginning with the establishment of the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome (1909), there comes into being a large corps of Catholic biblical specialists formed in the very best of modern techniques. Gradually, through biblical periodicals and discussions, this work takes on an increasingly important role in the discussion of the function of dogmatic theology. As might be expected, it also involves an increasing number of debates and discussions on the validity and legitimacy of the methodology of biblical study. Much of this is resolved, at least in principle, with the publication by Pius XII of his encyclical divino afflante spiritu in 1943.

Most important for the understanding of this movement in the United States and its wide influence is the Catholic Biblical Quarterly, published by the Catholic Biblical Association since 1939. Of the whole biblical development it must be said that it is an indispensable resource for the dogmatic theologian who would carry out his function soundly and effectively in modern times.


As a brief history of this branch of theology shows, it has, as all intellectual disciplines have, undergone much development. While its purpose has remained substantially the same, the resources available to it have been both multiplied and perfected. Likewise, as is proper to any maturing intellectual work, there has come a broadening and deepening vision of the purposes and the role of this discipline in the service of the Church. In the light of these premises, this section of the article treats of the work of dogmatic theology as it is modernly formulated by a large number of theologians.

Point of Departure. As its specification indicates, dogmatic theology centers its effort on the dogmas of the Church. Perhaps it might be better to say that in its search for intelligibility, dogmatic theology takes the dogmas of the Church as its point of departure. By dogma here is meant a truth of revelation that has been formulated and infallibily proposed by the Catholic Church. It is this formulation so proposed that the Catholic accepts on divine faith as an accurate expression of the reality contained in revelation. Strictly speaking, these dogmas are not coextensive with Catholic doctrine. Catholic doctrine includes not only these dogmas but other truths and positions taught by the Church but not as revealed, even though the assent of Catholics is or may be called for. Dogmatic theology will also be concerned with this corpus of Catholic teaching since it is part of the process of intelligibility, but dogmatic theology begins with dogma. It is for this reason that this theological effort must also begin with divine faith. For the precise role of faith in this context is to guarantee that the truths as formulated in these dogmas have been revealed by God and transmitted to the faithful by the Church. Neither science nor experience is able to refute or verify these truths. It is faith that enables the faithful to hold them as unshakably certain. Theology, however, subject to faith and the light of faith, adds a distinct element, since it considers these dogmas as objects of a properly intellectual process. The theological endeavor is to bring to bear the resources of human intelligence in order to explicate as fully as possible the intelligibility of these dogmas and through them to arrive at something of the intelligible structure of revelation itself. Theology is thus the response of a living mind to what, through the grace of faith, it believes. This response is not only an assent but, in the theological order, an effort to understand and to come to what Vatican Council I called a most fruitful intelligence of the revealed mysteries (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum, ed. A. Schönmetzer 3016). It is this theological effort that in modern times has been commonly divided, in accord with the function involved, into positive and speculative theology. Positive theology would employ largely the historical and evidential resources of human intelligence. Speculative theology would bring to bear philosophic intelligence, but it is not limited to that alone. The distinction tends to be descriptive rather than definitive.

Role of Positive Theology. Since theology is an effort to elaborate in a scientific manner revelation as it is proposed by the Church, it is an intellectual process. Hence in fulfilling theology's purpose of scientific elaboration, the exercise of critical intelligence is essential. If it is to be a genuinely scientific process, it is obliged to verify its data. This it does by determining accurately what has been revealed and how it has been proposed by the Church. A bare fact is not a scientific fact. A fact concerns a science only when it is viewed in its own proper light and is subjected to its proper critique. So the data must be verified even though the assent is by faith, and faith itself is an organic part of the light of theology. It is the work of positive theology to undertake this work of verification. This work of verification and the examination of the sources does not primarily involve proving the data, but looks directly to intelligibility and understanding. Positive theology looks not only to ascertaining that these dogmas are revealed, but to how they are revealed and the relation of the formulation to its revealed source. What it seeks is a living communion with the totality of revelation as it has been constituted and transmitted down to the present day. To do this, it must employ the resources of historical reason as speculative theology draws upon the philosophical intelligence of the Church. Thus positive theology draws upon biblical theology, patristic theology, conciliar theology, the history of dogma, and history itself in order to carry out its function. Only by drawing upon them to the fullest, and doing so in an intellectual and scientific way, is objective contact with the sources maintained.

What the first step of positive theology should be in its study of the dogma was the object of considerable debate during the theological renewal of the mid-20th century. During the course of its development, controlled as it was by pedagogical purposes, it generally formulated the dogma into a thesis giving the ecclesiastical source for its definition, some explanation of the terms as well as the errors involved, a presentation of texts from Scripture and the Fathers, and finally the relevant speculative theology. In relation to this presentation there was a demand that dogmatic theology begin its work with the Bible and the kerygma. However, dogmatic theology is neither biblical theology nor kerygmatic theology, but has its own proper function to perform. It is the dogmas that constitute its first principles and that it attempts to explain and render as fully intelligible as possible. Dogmatic theology, by reason of its purpose, comes to Scripture in order to penetrate more deeply into dogma and at the same time to vitalize, enrich, and balance the theological synthesis that it is its office to develop, shape, and communicate. Hence, while in certain cases a general survey of the biblical theology of the subject of a tract such as grace may serve as an introduction to the work of dogmatic theology, still, normally, the specific first step will concern the dogma itself. This would also seem to be a legitimate application of the statement of Pius XII in Humani generis that " the sacred office of teacher in matters of faith and morals must be the proximate and universal criterion of truth for all theologians, since to it has been entrusted by Christ the Lord the whole deposit of faith, both Sacred Scripture and divine tradition, to be preserved, guarded, and interpreted " [Acta Apostolicae Sedis 42 (1950) 567].

The first step, therefore, in the work of positive theology will be a study of the dogma in the historical action of the Church that formulated the dogma. This means an understanding of the concrete historical situation in which it was formulated, the historical stages that led up to the moment, the various aspects of the issue itself, and how it came to be. Finally, it involves an understanding of precisely what question the conciliar fathers or the pope intended to consider and what limitations they imposed on the answer. This careful historical process is essential to the work of dogmatic theology because it sets in proper perspective the limitations as well as the potentialities of intelligibility and understanding. It is important to emphasize here that this carefully done historical effort is absolutely necessary also if a genuine ecumenical perspective is to be maintained and a sound insight into dogmatic development is to be acquired.

Positive Theology and Scripture. It would be well to give an extensive treatment of the use of Sacred Scripture as a theological resource. In this regard the work of dogmatic theology must be carefully distinguished from that of both exegesis and biblical theology. Between the generalizations and abstractions in word and concept represented by the dogma, and the insights, concrete, personal, spontaneous, and often highly individual given by the inspired writer in Scripture, there is a definite gap. It is a gap at once historical and theological, and with regard to this problematic the dogmatic theologian and the exegete have two distinct functions. The exegete must endeavor to determine what the text manifests as to the degree of awareness that the inspired author had of the doctrine given, that is, the literal sense. The theologian has for his function to illumine the relationships between dogma and its source, between divine truth and its scriptural place. By reason of his faith he is sure that there is a legitimate and necessary bond between the two: legitimate because the Church that defines the dogmas is the same Church as that to which has been entrusted the deposit of revelation to be transmitted and explained; necessary because the Catholic theological endeavor affirms that a dogma presupposes homogeneity and indefectible transmission. By reason of this, positive theology not only penetrates the dogma more fully but, in the light of that dogma, searches for a fuller understanding of the divine message communicated through Scripture. This work presumes and must depend on the work of exegesis and biblical theology if the effort is to be soundly theological. Yet its purpose remains theological, seeking to illumine the divine message and draw out its intelligibility and ultimately to synthesize it, order it, and organize it. Scripture, therefore, is a basic resource of dogmatic theology but not its only one.

Dogmatic Development. How, then, does dogmatic theology show the homogeneity between dogma and its Scriptural sources? The basic instrument is an understanding and proper application of the principle of doctrinal development. Without a viable and workable conception of dogmatic development, it is not possible for the theologian to make full theological use of Scripture as a theological place. It is only through the medium of dogmatic development that one can see, for example, how the definition of the hypostatic union at the Council of chalcedon is prepared for, given a foundation, and rendered possible by the inspired text. For between the literal sense and the full theological content and context lies precisely the fact of dogmatic development. It is clear that since God knows the whole saving design down to its least detail, then Scripture will be engorged with senses and meanings known only to God. The inspired author can only be a deficient instrument as regards the totality of the divine thought. Further, too, the inspired book passes beyond its immediate audience, the author's contemporaries, and is destined for the Church of Christ, which will continue until the consummation of the world. It is this fact above all others that necessitates the instrumentality of dogmatic development.

The concept of dogmatic development is not, as Newman saw, something introduced to meet a historical problem; rather it is inherent in the very nature of revelation itself. The Christian revelation is a fact transmitted as an idea. The divine message incarnated in human thought cannot completely express itself (or ever reach a real coextension with the truth as it is in the mind of God) save by a continuing historical development. But this development, because it is a development of ideas, is a dynamic thinga thing of meaning and understanding. It is, in short, a homogeneous development between the revealed idea and the understanding of it as it is in the mind of God [see J. H. Newman, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (New York 1890) 5575]. Exactly how this development takes place has, of course, been heatedly debated (see doctrine, development of).

Analogy of Faith from the Scriptures. This and the following section are inferred from the usage of Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical Providentissimus Deus. There is here, of course, all that is available in the work of biblical theology. Also of relevance is the theological synthesis that underlies the writings of the inspired authors, particularly of the New Testament. In addition, this article maintains that there is incorporated the various senses that the Church, illumined by the Holy Spirit, has come to see in the divine message. It involves all that is encompassed under the term "spiritual sense." By this is meant the whole area that, while it may have escaped the inspired author himself, is nonetheless willed by the primary author, God, and is part of the formal element of the divine message. This usage must, of course, depend on the primacy of the literal sense and is authentic only when it does no violence to that literal sense. It must flow from the literal sense and be discernible in the light of the religious and doctrinal context proper to the Sacred Books. This spiritual sense represents a deeper penetration of the message under the guidance of the Church and its historical experience. As such, it looks to being an enrichment of the literal sense through clarification and exploitation of the nuances and resonances present only obscurely. Before these analogies may be used, however, assurance must be had from the liturgical and patristic teaching of the Church that they are integral to the total historical development [see J. Levie, The Bible, Word of God in Words of Men, tr. S. H. Treman (New York 1961) 252264].

Analogy of Faith Drawn from Catholic Teaching. By Catholic teaching or doctrine here is meant not only dogma but also other truths that call upon Catholics for assent as certain. There must also be taken into account, though not as normative, theological positions quite generally held. For while the Church has not authentically interpreted many texts, there are nonetheless a large number of doctrinal affirmations born of Scripture in which the Church has continued and completed the scriptural interpretation. So, for example, the Church draws dogmatic conclusions from the text of St. Paul. The exegete may not be able to show that they are explicitly in the consciousness of the inspired author, but since it is the Church that judges the total idea, then in its present doctrinal synthesis the conclusions become clear. It is this body of Catholic teaching as it is here and now that forms the necessary context for Catholic interpretation of Scripture. The office of the Church is not simply to reject a particular interpretation or to interpret a particular text infallibly. Rather it is to make a living and continuing effort to develop the totality of its theological implications and content.

Positive Theology and the Fathers. The modern developments in patrology and patristic theology have considerably enlarged the use of the Fathers in dogmatic theology. Yet from fairly early in the history of the Church their importance has been underscored by the Church itselfand this a number of times, as for example, at the Council of Ephesus in 431 or the Roman Council in 680. For the medievals down to the 15th century, the single source of Christian doctrine was Scripture as authoritatively interpreted by the Fathers. Both the Council of Trent and Vatican Council I insist that Scripture must not be interpreted against the unanimous consent of the Fathers. Since mid-nineteenth century a considerable body of theological writing has been done on the Fathers as witnesses to the teaching of the Church. As a result of this work, it would certainly be common teaching among modern theologians that the morally unanimous teaching of the Fathers can be an unerring witness to the teaching of the Church in matters of faith and morals. While it is true that a good deal of this usage has tended to be by way of proof text, nonetheless the renewal of emphasis on the homogeneity between dogma and Scripture has brought about a change of emphasis. By studying the Fathers the dogmatic theologian is able to see through their witness to the actual state of Catholic teaching in its first preaching as well as in the stages of its doctrinal development. Through their writings he sees the actual issues and problematics as they are called forth, and the process by which the Church came, for instance, to the homoousios, or the hypostatic union. The concern is not to set up a history of dogma but to see what the Church taught at a given moment in definite historical circumstances and in the face of specific questions and specific difficulties that were raised. This whole use, however, is a theological use and not a historical one. Dogmatic theology employs a set of criteria different from those of purely historical use. For the implicit is explained and clarified by the explicit (i.e., what the Church teaches today) because there is a homogeneity and indefectible transmission. The theological judgment is not soundly excercised without an equally sound patrology.

This emphasis on biblical theology and history represents one of the important contemporary stresses in dogmatic theology. It is a conviction of very many theologians that it is not possible to have a sound and fruitful theologizing about the dogmas of the Church without an extensive and intensive study of the Bible and the tradition of the Church. More and more, too, it is evident that the idea and the context in which it came to birth belong together. Likewise, between the history of the Church and the history of the Church's reflection on the deposit of faith there is an interrelation that can be broken only at the risk of a deep misunderstanding. By reason of its purpose, dogmatic theology itself will have certain limitations in its employment. It is not biblical theology or exegesis or history, though there is nothing to prevent the theologian from being deeply imbued with all three. Yet, only when speculative theology is vitally and organically related to the sources through positive theology and continually renewing itself in those sources is it open and relevant and vital. These two functions, positive and speculative, cannot be separated from one another, in fact, without devitalizing each of them.

Speculative Theology. Theological manuals, histories of theology, and popular usage have tended to identify speculative theology and scholastic theology. Justification of this equation lies in the fact that 17th-century scholasticism, with its emphasis on theology as a science of certain conclusions, did become the accepted form of speculative theology. It is also true, however, that this is basically a scholastic method and a particular adaptation of it, and not the integral scholastic tradition. As Chenu has made clear in the study of the 13th-century scholasticism, this limned approach is not truly representative of the flowering period of scholasticism (M. D. Chenu, La Théologie comme science au XIII e siècle (3d ed. Paris 1957). Yet even this limited 17th-century concept of speculation is deformed under the influence of cartesianism and the Enlightenment (Histoire de la théologie au XIX e siècle 1 passim ). Aware of this historical situation many contemporary theologians have given voice to the need for a dynamic concept of speculative theology. In the many-faceted intellectual developments of the last half of the 20th century, represented by such things as psychology, sociology, and philosophy of religion, these theologians would see a call for a dynamic and vital speculative theology. Included, therefore, under this term would be the use of every form of systematic and ordered reflection on matters of faith. Rooted in a sound positive theology and living in the light of faith, speculative intelligence ought to call on any intellectual resource that offers a fruitful possibility of reflecting on the truths entrusted to the Church through revelation.

It is, of course, a matter of history that the speculative efforts of Catholic theology have often given rise to suspicion on the part of some Catholics. Its purposes have been attacked in the name of the Bible or Christian piety or spiritual simplicity. Underlying these charges is the conviction or feeling that this speculative approach somehow detracts from the mystery or the transcendence or the spiritual character of revelation. Some Christians object to it because they see it as an attempt to submit God to man's limited human categories and, therefore, as simply a manifestation of human pride. Against these positions stands a long and strongly encouraged speculative tradition in the Church itself. The Church has always been aware that speculative theology is a vital exigency of a living mind illumined by faith and receptive of revelation. To do away with a sound speculative theology will, as history shows, force the introduction of an unsound or inadequate one, or inhibit the use of intelligence altogether. It is not the only way of applying the mind to God's Word, but to criticize it for not undertaking the other ways is as futile as it is unwarranted [J. Daniélou, God and the Ways of Knowing, tr. W. Roberts (New York) 1957].

Work of Speculative Theology. Speculative theology seeks to accomplish its role in the theological enterprise by two fundamentally related activities that may be described as exposition and theological reflection.

Exposition. This work comprises two elements, namely, the organization of the theological work, and what are traditionally called the arguments from fitness.

Concerning organization, it may be said that one of the deepest exigencies of the intelligence is the search for order. The history of theology bears this out by showing that this matter of organization and the search for organizational principles becomes a primary concern of speculative theology almost as soon as it becomes conscious of being a distinct effort. Some great theologians, because of temperament or genius or time, were not concerned to construct a systematic organization of their theological work. Many others, however, made the inner plan the very heart of their theological reflection. For St. Thomas the plan of his Summa is a manifestation of his personal vision of the whole range of theology, a vision that affects every part of his work. Different theologians emphasize various elements of revelation or make a personal perspective with regard to revelation, the keystone to their systematization. Commonly, the organizational pattern dominating theology between Vatican I and Vatican II arose from the development on a major scale of positive theology. The very quantity of the material made to bear on the theological effort as well as its increasing importance forced into existence a new approach to organization. This was a division of the material of dogmatic theology into tracts or treatises that incorporate and unify both the positive and speculative theologies with regard to god, the trinity, the incarnation, and redemption, the sacraments, and the church. Each of these tracts had a logical unity, with many of them retaining the inner unity worked out for each of these areas in the Summa of St. Thomas. In the years 1935 to 1965 there was much discussion, and a number of tentative proposals were advanced to systematize this dogmatic theology. Such principles as the kerygma or the totus Christus were advanced. None of these proposals received widespread acceptance among theologians. Subsequent years saw a trend to broaden the Thomistic organizational principle of Deus sub ratione deitatis in order to incorporate the specifics proper to Christian revelation. This would make the object of theology God as He reveals Himself in jesus christ and the Church. This was seen as enabling the theologian to develop more dynamically the inner logic of dogmatic theology but at the same time to integrate more directly the positive theology by basing his work more directly upon it.

The argument from fitness is sometimes described as the analogy of faith, i.e., the comparison of the revealed mysteries among themselves and with the last end of man. As the history of theology shows, it is not only a fruitful way of theologizing but a readily available one. It has its roots deep in the Fathers as well as in the scholastic tradition and is recommended by Vatican Council I as an exceedingly fruitful source of understanding (Enchiridion symbolorum 3016). It takes its rise from the fact that the whole saving design and thus the whole history of salvation is a unique act of God's love toward man and, on God's part, a unitary action. While recognizing that the inner unity of this action is known totally only to God, still, what is believed and experienced brings to the fore indications that enable the believer to discern aspects of this unity. So, seeing the relation between the redemptive death of Christ and His resurrection brings out dimensions of meaning that could not otherwise be achieved. Likewise, any fuller penetration of the doctrine of justification means the relating of it to the redemptive Incarnation, the Resurrection, man's last end, and the term of the justified man's engraced life, the divine in dwelling. Vatican II spoke of this interconnection of doctrines as a "hierarchy of truths" (Unitatis redintegratio 11), thus highlighting not only the relationship of the doctrines but their order of priority.

Supplementing these analogies of faith would be the natural analogues taken from the created order, or what St. Thomas calls "true similitudes" (C. gent. 1.9). These are employed as instruments of exposition in order to show that the revealed doctrine is in harmony with the things one knows naturally. Just as nature is preparatory for grace and is perfected by grace, so from the created world one can obtain expository insights into the meaning of revelation. These insights are not intended to be demonstrative arguments but illuminative, and they presuppose the light of faith. It is in this light and in the perspective of the Church's understanding of revelation and its intelligibility that the theologian employs as far as possible his knowledge and appreciation of the world in which he lives (see reasoning, theological; conve nientia, argumentum ex).

Theological Reflection. As the history of Christian thought makes ineluctably evident, divine faith is compelled to seek understanding, and this impulse is an exigency of the believing intelligence. Hence, the believing intelligence brings to bear on the Christian message, as it must, historical experience, psychological insight, philosophical perspectives, and ontological reflection. To these basic resources will be added whatever rational and scientific achievements are germane to this exigency. This form of theological effort is nothing else than the law of a mind that by its very nature must strive to search out the intelligible structure of its experience. "Thinkers try to see the truth from a standpoint higher than its initial setting, if possible from a standpoint that is universal, one valid for all human thought, and, in doing so, they search for more general concepts of permanent validity in which to formulate it. To the extent that they succeed, they reach a new understanding of the truth. This new understanding makes it possible not merely to keep the truth in relation to its first expression, but also to express it for new audiences. The higher the standpoint from which the truth is seen, the more easily can it be related to the contents of different mentalities and the more surely can the discrimination of what is true and false in these be effected" [C. Davis, Theology for Today (New York 1962) 2021].

The first and most basic form of this theological reflection is by way of psychological insight and description. This is nothing else than the exploitation of that area of reality of which one has direct and immediate experience. This is one's own psychological life as it is refracted through one's own continuing consciousness of oneself. It is this life that every human being uses to probe into the mysteries of life and so generalize about them and ultimately come to the most universal of all languagesthe symbolic. This psychological description and its ordinarily achieved symbolic expression is, as a rule, readily grasped and valuable for pedagogical as well as for theological purposes. It is one of the fundamental forms of theologizing among the Fathers; in fact Augustine is one of the masters of it. It is also a richly rewarding element of medieval theology as is borne witness to by Bernard of Clairvaux, Hugh of Saint-Victor, and in a profound fashion by St. Thomas Aquinas. Contemporarily, it has come to the fore as one of the means by which the religious phenomenon as manifested in social and cultural anthropology and history finds effective understanding. By its very nature, however, the psychological and the symbolic isolated from the philosophical do not and cannot encompass all the aspects of theological reflection. Left to themselves they cannot directly and cogently confront or controvert error that has been formulated in rationalistic terms.

The second form of theological reflection may be described as metaphysical. Some would prefer the term ontological, others would call it "essential analysis," but in view of the history of theology and the nature of this form of reflection the term metaphysical seems to be a more accurate description. It means that, among the ways in which man unfolds his desire to know, is asking and answering questions and in so doing operating in the intellectual pattern of experience. It is out of this intellectual pattern that in turn comes the metaphysical pattern natural to the human mind, that is, what is generally termed the philosophia perennis. In order to come to the universal viewpoint that is an integral element of any full interpretation of reality, the Church makes use of the philosophia perennis to develop under faith its own proper philosophic intelligence. It is this, in turn, that its theologians expand into one of the essential elements of speculative theology and so enrich the Catholic understanding of God's revealed word [B. Lonergan, Insight: A Study of Human Understanding (New York 1957) 736748.] As already noted, since the 19th century, under Pope Leo XIII and his successors, this metaphysical form of theological reflection has been done primarily in accord with the mind and principles of Thomas Aquinas (as the first to construct a metaphysical instrument precisely for this purpose).

In essence, this way of theological reflection draws upon and elaborates a metaphysical pattern in order to discover, as far as it can, the intelligible structure of revealed truths and their relationship to each other as well as to the whole corpus of revealed truth. Through the systematic development and application of this metaphysical pattern it seeks to illumine and formulate the ontological unity that relates all the facets and aspects of revealed doctrine. By careful, patient, extensive philosophizing and metaphysical reflection made in the light of faith the theologian arrives at analogies. These analogies enable him to state accurately the universal content of a truth of revelation, for instance, regarding "person" or "nature" or "generation" in Christology or Trinitarian theology (see analogy, theological use of). It is this universal, not the singular and the concrete, that is the object of the theologian's concern. So the speculative theologian is concerned with and employs the principles of contradiction and identity, the meaning of the act of existence, the bearing of sense experience on man's understanding, and the necessary relevance of the Catholic propositions, because these are affirmed by the Church as a part of the philosophia perennis. Through all these and in accord with the system he formulates or accepts, the speculative theologian reflects metaphysically, but this reflection is always illumined by faith. Modernly, as has been said, special approval has been given to the Summa of St. Thomas, even though a variety of syntheses and interpretations has been present.

Beginning the 1950s, a third manner of theological reflection arose that recognized the need for the objective and analytical approach of the metaphysical way, but insisted that in view of contemporary needs this metaphysical approach should be supplemented and enlarged. These enlargements would involve a much more vital integration into theological reflection of the dynamic and operational aspects of human existence and human thought.

There two prominent varieties of this method. The first is generally called "existential." The term as used here means a centering of reflected concern on personal responsibility seen in relation to the actualities of the material and human world. It looks to describing and analyzing the phenomenology of the actual world as it is: concrete, present, immediatethe world in which the individual exercises his personal responsibility and concern. This draws in part on the phenomenology of the human personality endeavoring to elaborate the interrelation of this to God's saving design. Here, too, is the recognition of the value given to religion and religious experience by existentialism, for which it is a proper theme; hence the effort to integrate the descriptive treatment of religious experience with the Christian philosophical tradition. This would set into a constructive relationship this phenomenology and the knowledge gained about God and man through causal inference and the analogical predications employed in such inferences. Yet at the same time there is stressed the value of setting forth a philosophical-psychological description of the actual, basic attitudes of man and so seeking out their meaning in the personal and existential structure of religious experience.

Since Vatican II, the new "theologies of liberation" came to represent a second kind of distinctively contemporary theological reflection. The existential method was critiqued as being too individualistic. Liberation theologians maintain that a foundational factor, long over-looked, in theological reflection is the social dimension of the gospel. The sociology of knowledge enters as an important philosophical discipline. Such theologies, though they speak at length about the need for genuine Christian praxis, do not understand themselves as being confined to the practical: they seek as well to address the adequacy of the speculative formulations of theology. Theological reflection is grounded in an honest apprehension of the causes of suffering and oppression in the world and a hope for liberation. This method of speculation recurs more to the use of religious symbols retrieving those that are most liberatingthan metaphysical reflection.

See Also: dogmatic theology, articles on

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[e. m. burke/eds.]