Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

in the big leagues

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Dec 16, 2009

The Catholic Theological Society of America, which reflects the mainstream professional theological academy in the U.S., has been the arena of dispute in recent weeks over the doctrinal reliability of its outgoing president. The controversy makes discouraging reading, not least because trade-union academics reject a priori the duty of submission to a living doctrinal authority, which means their "dialogue" operates like a table vise missing one jaw: there's no possibility of engagement. And yet they declare victory by walkover.

Now if contemporary academic theologians had amassed the brainpower and originality of the physicists of the early 20th century -- Heisenberg, Bohr, Pauli, Fano, Einstein, Teller, etc. -- there might be some excuse for their cockiness. But what strikes the outsider is the dimness of the CTSA inner gang: their derivative buzzwords, their touchiness, their toleration of the bogus, and most of all their aggregate infecundity. What product of post-conciliar theology has had ripple effects across academic boundaries? Where's their answer to Wittgenstein's Tractatus or Gödel's Undecidable Propositions, or even the work of Mary Douglas?

The trade union theologians are not to be faulted for their dimness -- creativity is not at one's command -- they're to be faulted for their swagger. To hear them talk about themselves you'd think there was a Second Law of Thermodynamics debuted in every issue of Concilium, that by retiring Roger Haight the Vatican was burning Galileo at the stake. Yet for those of us listening in from the kitchen it's hard to believe they even treat one another's ideas seriously. Take a gander at the ideation of Sr. Elizabeth Johnson, C.S.J., herself a former president of the CTSA. The interview, titled (without conscious irony) "A Hunger for Mature Theology," appeared last year in the NCR:

“I would not be at all adverse if we simply dropped the word Trinity altogether,” [Johnson] said in a telephone interview recently. “I say that because when you say Trinity to people, their eyes glaze over. In a simple way, people get the imagination of three people or three separate persons, or ‘two men and a bird,’ as Sandra Schneiders puts it. I prefer ‘Triune God.’ It’s still one God, but a living God -- Creator, Jesus and Spirit.”

Can't you picture those Cappadocian Fathers, gathered in solemn assembly, slapping their palms to their foreheads in chagrin? “Triune! Of course! Good heavens, why didn’t WE think of that?”

OK, so Johnson is a joke theologian. Nothing wrong with that. What's troubling is that no one in the guild gets the joke: the guild seems incapable of segregating its Cold Fusion hoaxers from its able journeymen. What are we onlookers and amateurs meant to understand: that the pros don't see the problem, or that some other consideration is more important than the fix?

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