Wednesday, April 06, 2005

"America has not given a major intellectual contribution to the universal church"

From WaPo article on Vatican views on the American Church

Underlying some of the arm's-length attitudes toward the American church is a longtime European opinion that the United States has no culture and is given over to fads. "America has not given a major intellectual contribution to the universal church," argued Vittorio Messori, an Italian journalist who interviewed the pontiff for a book on his teachings.


There is truth to this. American theology, both Protestant and Catholic, is frequently called "footnotes on German theology." American Catholic theology and philosophy do have a certain measure of lameness to them. We are good when it comes to specializing in what has been done already, but original theology is sorely lacking. I do think however, that this is changing slowly. There are some very good original thinkers out there. There's been Bernard Lonergan, the Canadian Jesuit whose work certainly is original, but I find it unworkable. Maybe because I haven't studied it, or maybe that's why I am not interested in it. But Lonergan is definitely an original thinker of note. I am biased towards Msgr Robert Sokolwoski of Catholic University, who is a philosophy/phenomenologist and writes very good original stuff. There are others who are doing good stuff which will take a while to filter through.

Cardinal Avery Dulles is the dean of American theologians, but he exemplifies what I think is the problem with American theology. He is extremely erudite and well read and can summarize every position out there. But I feel dissatisfied after I read his stuff, because I never find anything "sexy" or inspiring. I feel no pushing of boundaries: no gripping concepts. There seems to be a pre-occupation with a via media approach, i.e, summarize what's out there and let's see how we can bring them together or how we can steer a middle course.

I think the reason for the lack of American or English-speaking world theological or philosophical originality is that the Catholic intellectual tradition in the U.S. and in Great Britain is relatively young. So we are slowly building a repetoire of giants on whose shoulders another generation of theologians will stand.

John Henry Newman is the most significant of English-speaking theologians. He certainly can rival the great names in more recent thought and he is inspiring a lot of thinking. I think JHN mathematical and transcendental empiricism exemplifies were English speaking theology can go. The British tradition is more empiricist. The American tradition, more pragmatist. Both have absorbed their share of the German Idealism influences. All this together is a unique brew in the pot, unlike anywhere else, and it has to count for something.

The other thing is that we are outstanding, though, when it comes to historical stuff: Scripture, patristics, medieval studies, etc. I had a German grad student friend who felt that North America was the place to come if you wanted to get creative in an interdisciplinary way. I think that's a very good foundation.

So if you combine this English speaking world tradition of phenomenological empiricism and pragmatism with a dose of interdiscimplinary expertise, you are going to get some strong stuff. That's what I think is in the works.

Well, the German and Italians can sneer all they want, but they need to watch out because there is a new generation of us theologians coming up who will kick their butts left, right and center. So grovel now, or do it later, punk.


Post a Comment

<< Home