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Pro Ecclesia Vol 17-N3: A Journal of Catholic and Evangelical Theology

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Pro Ecclesia is a quarterly journal of theology published by the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology. It seeks to give contemporary expression to the one apostolic faith and its classic traditions, working for and manifesting the church's unity by research, theological construction, and free exchange of opinion. Members of its advisory council represent communities committed to the authority of Holy Scripture, ecumenical dogmatic teaching and the structural continuity of the church, and are themselves dedicated to maintaining and invigorating these commitments. The journal publishes biblical, liturgical, historical and doctrinal articles that promote or illumine its purposes.

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COMMENTARY

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Paul J. Griffiths

In her fine book, Light in Darkness, Alyssa Pitstick undertakes two enterprises.2 The first is a retrieval and formulation of what she calls the traditional doctrine of the descent, by which she means the church’s constant teaching about what Christ did between his death on Good Friday afternoon and his Resurrection on the morning of Easter Day. And the second is exegesis of and commentary upon Hans Urs von Balthasar’s teaching on the same matter, whose upshot is to show that the two bodies of teaching are irreconcilable. Her work, as she presents it, is thus partly reconstructive in positive-theological mode, and partly polemical: she wants to establish the bounds of orthodoxy on her topic and to show that von Balthasar’s view of it stands outside those bounds. In the comments that follow I shall assume that her interpretation of von Balthasar is correct, and will engage her critically only on the question of whether there is a traditional doctrine of the descent and, if so, what it is. This is not to say that I take her to be correct about von Balthasar. I have insufficient expertise to make it proper for me to venture an opinion one way or another on that question. It is only to say that I bracket altogether the question about von Balthasar, addressing Pitstick instead only on the question of her understanding of the authority she attributes to what she calls the traditional doctrine of the descent. I shall try to show that what she says about this drastically overestimates the extent to which there is settled doctrine on this topic, and therefore also misconstrues the nature of her own enterprise.

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CHRIST’S SAVING DESCENT TO THE DEAD: EARLY WITNESSES FROM IGNATIUS OF ANTIOCH TO ORIGEN

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Jared Wicks, S.J.

Alyssa Lyra Pitstick’s large-scale dogmatic account of Christ’s descent to the dead, which she articulated as a critique of a central conception of Hans Urs von Balthasar, led to a lively debate in the pages of First Things.1 In the discussion, however, the “voice of the Fathers” was not heard.2 To broaden the historical and doctrinal basis of a contemporary revisiting of Christ’s descent, the following pages present the surprisingly numerous early Christian accounts of Christ in this moment of his saving work.

This presentation offers, first, a dossier of twelve second-century texts on the descent that were composed before Irenaeus (active ca. A.D. 180–200). Second, it will take up statements on the descent by five theologians of the period 180–300, such as Irenaeus and Origen. In future work, I will survey a dozen fourth-century accounts of the descent, including its first appearance as an article in creeds, such as that of the Fourth Synod of Sirmium (A.D. 359) and that of Aquileia (known from the Commentary of Rufinus of ca. A.D. 400). An additional section will review Augustine’s statements on Christ’s descent into hell, before I will conclude by proposing the lasting theological content of this moment in Christ’s saving work.

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NEWMAN’S COLLEGIATE IDEAL

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Christopher Olaf Blum

To Newman, she was “the glory of the middle ages”; to Pope Gregory IX, who may be counted among her founders, she was the officina sapientiae, “wisdom’s workshop.”1 She was built by the opposing geniuses of Abelard and Hugh of St. Victor, provided a home to Aquinas and Robert de Sorbon, and, in her colleges, nourished, for a season, Erasmus and Calvin, Loyola and Bossuet. The University of Paris, hardly recognizable today thanks to Buonaparte’s decrees, is surely the archetypal institution of higher learning in the West. Her story, like that of Western education as a whole, is one of heroes and villains, moments of discovery and fruitful innovation, times of sterile debate, and outbursts of iconoclasm.2 She was founded for the sake of wisdom, as were her sisters, but like them she has been transformed into an institution her founders would not recognize. The University of Paris is now no different from the universities of Berlin, Virginia, or London; she exists to fulfill the Enlightenment’s project of rational autonomy and mastery of nature; she is not the workshop of wisdom, but of curiosity and of pride.3 Christian wisdom, that pure and peaceable wisdom that is “from above” (Jas 3:17) wanders now in exile. Might it not be the task of our generation to find for her a new home? If the universities are hostile, ought we not provide the search for truth with a more fitting abode? A model for the kind of institution in which wisdom can flourish may be found in the educational writings of John Henry Newman, indeed, even within his Idea of a University, so often seen as a kind of charter for the modern university, but so often read only in part and in isolation from its author’s deepest convictions. For Newman’s ideal was not so much the university itself as it was the “University seated and living in Colleges.”4 The college he held to be not a place for advanced but for elementary studies; not an academy of savants and researchers, but an alma mater ruled by teachers who embraced their vocation’s pastoral role; not a chance collection of individuals building their careers, but a kind of fellowship, even a friendship, whose characteristic activity was to “rejoice in the truth” (cf. 1 Cor 13:6). Overlooked by most commentators, or mentioned only to be dismissed, Newman’s collegiate ideal holds much promise for our time, and not least because it is diametrically opposed to the form and function of the modern university.

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POPE BENEDICT XVI ON FAITH AND REASON IN WESTERN EUROPE

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Jeffrey Morris

At the University of Regensburg in September 2006, Pope Benedict XVI delivered one of his most controversial, if least understood, public addresses. The controversy arose in response to Benedict’s decision to quote, in passing, reflections by the fourteenth-century Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus. The emperor, with what Benedict acknowledged as a “startling brusqueness,” a brusqueness that we find unacceptable that could only “astound” modern observers, argued that Islam, from its inception, had distinguished itself from Christianity in its use of the sword as a central element of the religion and in allowing divine commands to transcend rationality.1 “Show me just what Mohammad brought that was new,” the emperor declared, “and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”2 Benedict’s stated purpose in including this quotation was to highlight the emperor’s reason for regarding a divine command to compel religious assent or conformity by force as theologically and morally unacceptable. “The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully,” Benedict commented, “goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. ‘God’, he says, ‘is not pleased by blood—and not acting reasonably is contrary to God’s nature…. To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death.’”3

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DOCTORES ECCLESIAE

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Stephen Loughlin

It is a fairly common observation that the importance of fasting is not well understood by most Christians. Its practices are well-known: fasting denotes an abstinence from food, specifically where the one who fasts limits oneself to one full meal and two collations each day; the collations together cannot exceed in quantity that of the allowed meal; specific foods (but not water) are prohibited, while others are encouraged. Its reasons, however, are less well understood and are usually reduced to two: personal preparation to celebrate a special liturgical event and a means to make atonement for one’s sins. If one tries to explain that fasting plays a vital role in the acquisition and practice of the virtue of temperance, another set of misunderstandings arise with respect to this virtue. For many, temperance is conceived as that by which one brings moderation to eating, drinking, and the pleasures of the bed. It is a medicine, so to speak, to be taken when excesses in these areas erupt, or, at least, as a prophylactic against the development of a problem with respect to these pleasures. Temperance, then, is a bitter remedy, an austerity imposed upon oneself, depriving one of the common bodily pleasures, and is no more than a quantitative affair determined by the severity of the problem. It is little wonder, then, that many understand and even experience temperance so described as a misery with the far-off and often surreal promise of better, more sober days to come, particularly for those who, having wallowed in these pleasures for a time, have given them up, seeing that their indulgence would lead ultimately to their dissipation, but nonetheless still desire these things to which they have become habitually attached. At best, temperance, so described, is a frustration that one must bear, given the demands of one’s life and the things that must be accomplished.

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