Last Monday was another gathering of the Dulles Colloquium. We've been doing this for more than fifteen years. The colloquium is named, of course, in honor of Avery Cardinal Dulles (and was started long before he was elevated to the College of Cardinals). It is one of a number of groups of thinkers who surround FIRST THINGS and make an invaluable contribution to the magazine's success.
This time the subject was R.R. Reno's essay in the April issue on contemporary theology's captivity to continental philosophy. In addition to Cardinal Dulles, among the participants were Joseph Bottum, our esteemed Editor, James Buckley of Loyola, Baltimore, Shalom Carmy of Yeshiva University, John Erickson of St. Vladimir Seminary, Douglas Farrow of McGill, Eric Gregory of Princeton, Paul Griffiths of University of Illinois Chicago, Thomas Guarino of Seton Hall (his book, Foundations of Systematic Theology was the occasion of Reno's essay), David Hart, who will be at Providence College this year, George Lindbeck, retired after a century or so at Yale, Bruce Marshall of Southern Methodist, Edward Oakes of Mundelein Seminary, Chicago, Michael Root of Lutheran Southern Seminary, Jerry Walls of Asbury Seminary, and Steve Webb of Wabash College. A very distinguished group, you might well say.
There is this oddity about the Dulles Colloquium. When we started it was a very ecumenical group of theologians, but we have had a hard time keeping it that way. Along the way, a number of participants have entered into full communion with the Catholic Church (Griffiths, Reno, Marshall, Farrow, and, of course, Neuhaus. Not to mention Dulles, who entered many years ago, and Robert Louis Wilken of the University of Virginia, who couldn't make this meeting.) Hart and Erickson are both converts to Orthodoxy. The colloquium is not intended as a convert-making enterprise, and we regularly seed it with new participants to maintain its ecumenical character. It is also the case that the Catholics and Orthodox who long lived in other Christian communities and received much of their formation there ensure that ecumenical awareness is never absent from the deliberations.
A full account of the intense exchange from morning through dinner would require a small book. Suffice it that by the end of the day Rusty Reno was carefully modifying his claim that the Anglo-American analytical tradition, with its commitment to truth in the midst of the postmodern philosophical muddle, is uniquely equipped to be theology's interlocutor. It was effectively argued that continental philosophy, even in its post-Hegelian expressions, has more to offer than Reno suggested at first, although neither it nor the analytical tradition is likely to volunteer its services as handmaid to theology in the manner that scholastic philosophy once served theology, the acknowledged queen.
If there was a consensus, it was probably articulated by Father Thomas Guarino who contended that the trope of "the spoils of Egypt," a trope which began in the patristic era and has guided the Church through the centuries, will probably be the most useful way to understand the relationship between theology and philosophy until Our Lord's return in glory. As was true with Israel of old, you take from the Egyptians what might be used to the glory of God and the illumination of His ways, always being alert to the danger of turning the Egyptian gold into a golden calf. That is true whether the Egyptian in question is the analytical W.V. Quine or the very continental Martin Heidegger.
It seems this posting is mainly about meetings. On Monday, Michael Root, who heads up the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology, alerted me to a conference they're sponsoring with Duke Divinity School. The theme is "Preaching, Teaching, and Living the Bible," and for May 21-23 at Duke they've scheduled a very impressive program.
There is Robert Jenson of Princeton's Center of Theological Inquiry, the above-mentioned R.R. Reno, Amy Plantinga Pauw of Louisville Seminary, Richard Hays, Duke's outstanding New Testament scholar, and Francis Cardinal George of Chicago. The brochure advertising the conference says this:
Recent years have seen a renewed discussion of how to read the Bible theologically and painful controversies in our churches that highlight the lack of a common reading of Scripture. Is historical-critical study a help or a hindrance?
Does classical doctrine illuminate or obscure the Bible? How can the Bible animate the life of faith? What does it mean to be formed by the scriptural world? If we are to be faithful in our time, such questions cannot be avoided.
This conference will both assess the present state of the Church's reading of its Scripture and ask how reading the Bible with the eyes of faith should impact how we preach, teach, and live the Bible within the Church.
To register or get more information, check out www.divinity.duke.edu/ccet.
Thursday is another meeting of Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT). This is a group of men and women from various evangelical traditions and noted Catholics, including the formidable Cardinal Dulles, who have been meeting since 1992. We usually meet twice a year, with a good deal of interaction between meetings, and have produced statements on the common Christian mission, the meaning of salvation, scriptural authority, and the call to holiness. At first ECT was surrounded by intense controversy, especially in the worlds of evangelicalism, but in recent years the positive response has far exceeded our expectations.
ECT is now working on a statement tentatively titled, "That They May Have Life," which attempts to give a solid biblical and theological grounding for our shared commitment to "the culture of life." If all goes well, we should have something ready for publication this fall.
When Charles Colson and I convened this group in 1992, most of us could still pass as middle-aged. Aware that this enterprise should continue long into the future, we have recently brought in younger participants. Although it is encouraged by our several communities, ECT is very deliberately unofficial and is dedicated to advancing a different kind of ecumenism based on the understanding that the only unity that is pleasing to God, and therefore the only unity we can in good conscience seek, is unity in truth. Trimming, fudging, and looking for the lowest common denominator have no place in this enterprise. As a consequence, I do believe that ECT has contributed to, and will continue to contribute to, a convergence between evangelicals and Catholics of potentially historic importance. At least that is the hope, and that is the prayer.
In addition to which:
In the April issue of FIRST THINGS, two seminary professors explain why the question of homosexuality and the priesthood goes far beyond concerns about sex abuse, as important as those concerns are. Father Guy Mansini of St. Meinrad Seminary in Indiana and Lawrence Welch of Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis write: "There are serious implications to the attempt by some commentators to interpret the recent instruction [from Rome] as being concerned primarily with self-definition. There are implications for the morality of homosexual acts. There are implications for the psycho-physico-spiritual unity of man. There are implications for the theology of holy orders. And there are implications for marriage. All these implications are contrary to the established, universal, and constant teaching and practice of the Church." Isn't it time for you to become a subscriber to FIRST THINGS?
Mary Ann Glendon of Harvard Law School says of Catholic Matters: Confusion, Controversy, and the Splendor of Truth:
"The author of The Catholic Moment has done it again. From its opening meditation on the death of the Pope that Neuhaus was one of the first to call 'the Great,' to the closing notes on the conclave that elected Benedict XVI, this beguiling book brings the reader into conversation on the current state of the Church with one of the great Catholic thinkers of our time. No one is better than Father Neuhaus at reminding us why, even in times of confusion and controversy, it's a joy to be Catholic!"
The book can be ordered from Amazon here.