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Pro Ecclesia Vol 20-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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5 Articles

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Classical Christology after Schleiermacher and Barth: A Thomist Perspective

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Classical Christology after Schleiermacher and Barth: A Thomist Perspective

Thomas Joseph White, O.P.

Is there such a thing as a modern Thomistic Christology? Behind this question there are a number of substantive issues. For example, what is it that one takes to be distinctively modern? What is it that is constitutive of what we call “Thomism”? And what is the relation between Thomistic thought and characteristically modern philosophy and theology? These are, of course, immense topics. Without pretending to ignore their importance, however, it is permissible to narrow the scope of our inquiry purposefully if we refocus the initial question posed here in a twofold way by asking: what are the particular defining features of Christology as it is articulated in modernity, and what distinctive contributions or theories is Thomism able to provide within the context of the modern conditions of debate on this subject?

In the first half of this essay I would like to describe briefly what I take to be the two most important challenges of modern Christology, and to examine in turn two typical conundrums to which these challenges give rise. For the sake of this presentation, I will employ examples from Friedrich Schleiermacher and Karl Barth respectively to illustrate diverse ways in which there are antinomies present in modern Christology, conflicts or contradictions that remain (at times) unresolved or inadequately treated. In the second half of the essay, I will then go on to sketch out what I take to be two ways that Aquinas’s Christology, especially as read by some of his modern interpreters, provides a set of cathartic distinctions that can help us to resolve tensions in modern Christology and to envisage a potentially more complete treatment of the mystery of Christ taken on modern terms, or, at least, developed in response to modern challenges.

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When Nature Presupposes Grace: A Response to Thomas Joseph White, O.P.

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When Nature Presupposes Grace: A Response to Thomas Joseph White, O.P.

Keith L. Johnson

Thomas Joseph White’s remarkable essay provides a strong and coherent defense of a particular Thomist model for engaging the modern world with the truth of the Christian gospel.1 His chief concern is to explain how the resources of Thomism can help contemporary theologians account for the insights gained in the study of the historical Jesus while simultaneously defending classical expressions of Christological dogma. These particular resources are necessary because the alternatives, particularly those found within Protestantism, are so disastrous. Barth’s theology is especially troubling because he not only opens the door to the secularization of the modern intellect but also lapses into Christological incoherence in the process.2 White’s solution is to offer a strong defense of natural theology and the analogia entis as the key to engaging the modern world, and he illustrates the effectiveness of this approach by offering a concrete account of its application both practically, with respect to historical Jesus studies, and dogmatically, with respect to the relationship between anthropology and Christology. The result is a reasoned theological standpoint from which one can defend classical Christian claims in the face of modern challenges. White’s argument, both in the form of his critique of the Protestant tradition and his presentation of his particular Thomist alternative, is perceptive, charitable, and ambitious. It also drives a wedge through the landscape of contemporary theology. If correct, it cuts out the ground from beneath the Protestant tradition as well as those Roman Catholics who follow in the footsteps of thinkers like Henri de Lubac and Hans Urs von Balthasar, because it shows that they would have to alter their construal of nature and grace to remain Christologically coherent.3

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On Christian Philosophy and Divine Obedience: A Response to Keith L. Johnson

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On Christian Philosophy and Divine Obedience: A Response to Keith L. Johnson

Thomas Joseph White, O.P.

Keith Johnson’s thoughtful and provocative essay offers an excellent display of Barthian theological reflection and rhetoric. Johnson believes that, for a thinker like Aquinas, Christ’s actions are not revelatory of the being of God himself. Johnson argues that for a Thomist such as myself, Jesus Christ reveals God only by an analogical similitude, and not God as God is in himself. This is a profound misunderstanding of the Thomistic position. It leads him to the unfortunate conclusion that classical Catholic theology has imbibed non-Christian philosophical thinking in such a way that its adherents cannot hear the gospel, and so come to know the humility and obedience of God that alone teaches us who God is. The Catholic is, in Barthian eyes, a preevangelized being, who has yet to encounter Christ.

Whether Johnson intends such a strong rejection of classical Catholic theology or not, it is clear that many readers will understand him this way, and some evangelical Protestants will agree with these conclusions. Perhaps Johnson intends to offer Thomists an either/or decision: either the gospel of the incarnate Son, or metaphysical philosophy imported artificially and unhelpfully into Christian doctrine by Aquinas and others. In other words, Johnson has merely offered a kind of mirror image to the alternative challenge of my own essay: “either Chalcedonian Christianity or modern Protestant theology, including Barth’s Christology.” As I will make clear below, I’m not very convinced about this way of mapping out the options. Being a Catholic and Thomist, I believe in the Incarnation, else I would not have written the essay that Johnson took a generous amount of time to examine. At issue in our differing views is (1) how philosophical wisdom was already incorporated into the Gospels themselves as well as the Nicene and Chalcedonian creeds, and (2) how we are to understand the divine obedience of Christ in light of God’s impassibility.

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Leaner and More Robust

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Leaner and More Robust

Frederick Christian Bauerschmidt

Any true ecumenical dialogue requires a frank acknowledgment of differences, and the preceding exchange between Fr. Thomas Joseph White and Professor Keith Johnson certainly fulfills that requirement. The danger, of course, is that the differences might be brought into such high relief that any common backdrop is obscured. One might think that this is the case here, as the stark differences so vividly displayed leave us wondering whether those differences could ever be reconciled, or whether one side simply needs to capitulate to the other. Is this exchange only an exercise in ecumenical bridge-burning, or can resources for bridge-building also be found here? Perhaps my role as sideline commentator in this exchange would yet afford me an opportunity to weigh in on at least this question.

Professor Johnson correctly notes that, in setting up an Aquinas-Barth faceoff, one needs to ask (with apologies to Alasdair MacIntyre), “Whose Aquinas? Which Barth?” Professor Johnson mentions differing interpretations of both Aquinas and Barth, but does not pursue the difference those varied interpretations might make. Is it possible that the rather stark contrast between Aquinas and Barth—and perhaps between Catholicism and Protestantism—that emerges from this exchange is somewhat starker than it needs to be? Both Thomas and Barth are complex, and not always absolutely consistent, thinkers, and a somewhat different take on their respective positions might yield a somewhat different sort of exchange. My suggestion is that the possibilities for rapprochement might be enhanced by an Aquinas who is somewhat metaphysically “leaner” and a Barth who is more robustly engaged with the broader Christian theological tradition.

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Beyond Our Intentions: An Augustinian Reading of Hannah’s Child

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Beyond Our Intentions: An Augustinian Reading of Hannah’s Child

C. C. Pecknold

All consult You upon whatever they wish, though they hear not always that which they wish. He is Your best servant who does not so much look to hear that from You which he himself wishes, as to wish that which he hears from You.

—Augustine, Confessions 10.26.37

Hannah’s Child is a work of narrative theology unlike any other. The title of the memoir reveals a theologian who has understood the personal implications of the postliberal dictum: “scripture absorbing the world.” It could have been called A Bricklayer’s Son, and that would have been true enough. Yet by calling the book Hannah’s Child, Hauerwas has chosen to describe his life in the light of Israel’s story, which is the story of God’s intentions for humanity. His theological memoir begins with the puzzling confession: “I did not intend to be ‘Stanley Hauerwas’” (ix). More than one reader has admitted to me that this opening line put them off reading the book entirely. The immodesty of it all struck them as self-indulgent from the start. When I attempt to assuage their fears with a wry riposte that Hauerwas simply avoids false humility, they are not impressed. Puzzled would-be readers counter that while they can appreciate how it might be of interest to “fans” of Hauerwas, they see the exercise simply as so much self-indulgent navel-gazing. Underneath the surface criticisms of some otherwise sympathetic readers, I have sometimes detected a deeper suspicion: has this Barthian theologian, formed in a tradition that so decisively rejected the “experiential-expressivism” of liberal Protestantism, not lost himself in the expression of his subjective experience of “being Stanley Hauerwas”? Can we now read the theology of Hauerwas as the personal equivalent of so much Feuerbachian projection? To answer such questions, we must first turn from the opening confession of the book to the final one, which borrows a phrase from Henri de Lubac: “Hannah’s Child is my attempt to find in my life ‘a pattern that constitutes its unity’” (288). Out of all the fragments of life, how can we locate coherence and unity? Hauerwas admits from the outset that “being Stanley Hauerwas” was something he received rather than achieved, and confesses at the end that the “pattern that constitutes a unity” is something he himself cannot provide but hopes that the story he tells “will invite friends, old and new, to take pleasure in the life God has given me” (xii).

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