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date: 03 June 2020

(p. vii) Preface and Acknowledgements

(p. vii) Preface and Acknowledgements

The purpose of this Handbook is to provide a readable and dependable guide to the content of Catholic theology, and to introduce the different schools and debates of modern Catholic theology against the broader background of Catholic tradition. Two main parts provide a basic structure.

The first focuses on Catholic doctrine. One potential contributor remarked that the volume seemed unnecessary because of the existence of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. But the volume seeks no competition with the Catechism, and there are good reasons why such a supplement may help. The Catechism offers, of course, a concise and authoritative statement of Catholic belief. While the discussions in the first half of this volume certainly attempt to be concise and to describe as Catholic teaching accurately, our authors also attempt to offer personal visions of the particular themes they consider. The authors write from particular theological perspectives to articulate the coherence and power of particular aspects of Catholic teaching. Thus, while each chapter is the responsibility of its author, and the whole carries no ecclesial authority, our ideal contribution is one that combines faithful exposition and exploration. Exploration here is a thinking with Church teaching, a meditating upon that teaching, drawing it into conversation with particular intellectual resources and particular questions. It involves bringing themes alive by showing their power to address the questions of our time, and shows how the approaches of particular theological schools can deepen and make new traditional teachings. It means also drawing our attention to what is at the heart of teaching in a particular area of theology and noting where questions remain matters of personal opinion and debate. Exploration involves careful attention to Scripture, to the resources of the Christian tradition—both to the particular tradition of defined magisterial teaching and to the ‘cloud of witnesses’ that constitute the conversation of tradition—and exploration at its best stems from the rootedness of a theologian in particular schools and debates. Thus, the reader should, through these chapters, find something of a model for good theological debate.

The second main part of the volume focuses on movements, key figures, and developments in modern Catholic theology, which is taken here to commence in the decade that saw the First Vatican Council of 1869–70 and Leo XIII’s Aeterni Patris of 1879 (this decision is, of course, contestable in many ways). It, is however, an intellectual and (p. viii) theological mistake not to place these developments within the wider stream of Catholic theology. Catholic thought cannot be easily sliced into distinct eras as if the voices of an earlier era could not now remain living voices. Catholic thought is marked by a repeated turn to the sources of the faith and a repeated insistence that St Thomas Aquinas remains a key resource and model for the Latin tradition. And so, this second part of the volume begins with a series of chapters on the sources of Catholic theology up to 1870. Hard choices had to be made for the sake of space and a different selection of figures and movements would, of course, have been quite defensible.

Observing the structure of the second half of the volume provides an excellent opportunity to note also the significance of St Thomas Aquinas throughout. Thomas’s importance within Latin theology has waxed and waned since his death in 1275. His star burned particularly bright in the nineteenth century and led Pope Leo XIII, in his 1869 encyclical Aeterni Patris, to demand Thomas’s teaching for the indispensable foundation for Catholic philosophy and theology. Since the Second Vatican Council that status has become a little less clear. Thomas is certainly still recommended to us as a particularly significant model of theological reflection, but theologians now write in a context where a multitude of (faithful) styles are possible. And yet, the past two decades have seen Thomas’s fortunes wax yet again, and for a number of the contributors to this volume, Thomas continues to provide the indispensable foundation for Latin Catholic theology. The complex story of Thomas’s place in Catholic thought is told through a number of essays: Chapter 31 concerns Thomas himself and the reception of Thomas until 1879. Chapters 38 and 39 continue that story by focusing on different stages in the reception of Thomas up to the present. Chapter 41 concerns those known as ‘transcendental Thomists’.

It is important to note one significant limitation of this volume. The Catholic communion is broad and not restricted to members of the Latin rite. Millions of Catholic Christians belong to the various non-Latin rites of the Church. The theological tradition that is our focus here is, however, that of the Latin rite. Now, the differences should not be overplayed. All Catholic Christians owe a common debt to the same Scriptural and Patristic sources, all are part of the same one body in communion with Peter’s successor, and all share common creeds and a common tradition of conciliar and papal teaching. And yet there are differences of emphasis. Catholic theologians do well to remember the various significant interventions at Vatican II by the Melkite Patriarch Maximos IV Sayegh ‘of Antioch and All the East …’, reminding the council fathers that Catholic theology is not coterminous with Latin theology. Given this restriction, we hope that the volume will be useful to a wide variety of students of Catholic theology, from undergraduates and postgraduates in colleges and universities, to seminarians, to those training for the permanent diaconate.

This Handbook has been a decade in production. We conceived the idea while teaching at Emory and its long gestation period occurred in Durham. A transatlantic move with three children and the birth of a fourth have certainly added to the delay, as have all the usual pressures of academic life. A number of the original contributors had to drop out for the usual range of reasons—and in this case one was ordained (p. ix) to the episcopate and one appointed to the College of Cardinals. Two of the original contributors—Fr Edward Oakes and Fr William Harmless SJ— fine theologians (and friends) both, died before it appeared. Bill Harmless’s chapter is included, but Ed Oakes was unable to complete his. The volume is dedicated to their memory. For bearing with us during this time, we are profoundly grateful to our contributors and advisors. Oxford University Press has been a pleasure to work with throughout, and ever patient.

A number of contributors served as an informal editorial board providing suggestions for contributors and subjects to include: these were Fr Serge-Thomas Bonino OP, Abp. Augustine DiNoia OP, Professor Francesca Murphy, and Fr Thomas Weinandy OFM Cap. The editors thank these four for their help and ask that readers do not hold them responsible for our final decisions and for the final chapters that resulted.

14 October 2018

On the canonization of St Oscar Romero and St Paul VI (p. x)