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Sunday, February 01, 2004

For those of you in need of a McBrien substitute...

...and you know who you are.

I recommend Dominican Fr. Aidan Nichols' The Shape of Catholic Theology.
Keep in mind that it is not a full-blown substitute in that McBrien's work is supposed to function as a survey of the entire Catholic faith, whereas Nichols' effort is more modest, simply surveying the development of Catholic theology.

Still, the book is a very handy introduction to the history and premises underlying Catholic theology and its development, and Nichols makes every attempt to think with the Church instead of assuming he can outsmart her all the time. It is a bit of a challenge, as it was written for theological students, but it can be grasped by the average reader, too. In other words, it's ideal for those theologically advanced non-Catholics you happen to run across. To give you a feel for Nichols' approach, here's his advice for theologians in his chapter on the Magisterium:

[O]ne can maintain perfectly sturdily the independent origin of the theological vocation in the gifts scattered by the Holy Spirit through the body of Christ, while also asserting that, in the final analysis, appraisal of how a particular theologian has used those gifts vis-a-vis the faith of the Church rests with the bearers of the hierarchical magisterium. The institutional charism of the hierarchy, bestowed with a view to ensuring the continued mission of the Church as a sacramental organism of the divine covenant, necessarily takes priority over the vocational charism of the theologian, which is received for the enrichment and upbuilding of that corporate reality.

* * *

Theologians need to remember that they are essentially viri evangelici: men and women of the Church, not monstrous hybrids, half ecclesial, half mundane, occupying some limbo between the street (or, more likely, the university common room) and the sanctuary. Nor are they a profession or trade union within the Church. Nor, yet again, is it enough for them to define themselves by reference to some segment of the Church rather than by the whole Catholica--which includes the faithful departed. Church officers, for their part, need to recall the not so distant sins, or at least blunders, of their predecessors, and to practice with graciousness and courtesy the tact, sensitivity, and consideration which that memory should inspire.

TSOCT, pp. 258-59, 260.

Perfect advice for the McBriens and Maguires of the world. It also explains the more (too?) hands off approach exercised by the episcopate--at least some of the time. Other times, I'm afraid, may require different explanations.

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