Monat: Juli 2007

Sources of theology in the Vatican

Just yesterday, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published a new document called "Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church." Obviously, I am interested in the way they do theology and found …

  1. Tradition as principal source. Actually, nowhere in the text they cite Scripture as a theological source. Instead, there is constant reference to the tradition of the church, along with the assurance that they have no intention of deviating from this tradition.

    The Second Vatican Council neither changed nor intended to change this doctrine, rather it developed, deepened and more fully explained it.

    This was exactly what John XXIII said at the beginning of the Council[1]. Paul VI affirmed it[2] and commented in the act of promulgating the Constitution Lumen gentium: "There is no better comment to make than to say that this promulgation really changes nothing of the traditional doctrine. What Christ willed, we also will. What was, still is. What the Church has taught down through the centuries, we also teach. In simple terms that which was assumed, is now explicit; that which was uncertain, is now clarified; that which was meditated upon, discussed and sometimes argued over, is now put together in one clear formulation"[3]. The Bishops repeatedly expressed and fulfilled this intention[4].

    It is only consequent, that all further arguments base themselves on "the texts of the Council and those of the Magisterium since the Council."

  2. Praxis as a less acknowledged source, which is nevertheless present:

    In simple terms that which was assumed, is now explicit; that which was uncertain, is now clarified; that which was meditated upon, discussed and sometimes argued over, is now put together in one clear formulation.

    Actually, the English translation ("that which was assumed") of this quote from Paul VI is somewhat free. The original Latin document reads

    Tantummodo, id quod antea solum vitae actione continebatur, nunc aperta etiam doctrina exprimitur; quod usque adhuc considerationi, disputationi, atque ex parte etiam controversiis obnoxium erat, in certam doctrinae formulam nunc redactum est.

    Note the emphasis (underline inserted by me) on "vitae actione" — what has only been practised in "real life" before, now has become clearly expressed in doctrine. Thus, Paul VI actually acknowledged the possibility of praxis becoming doctrine. The use of the quote in this new text reiterates the same possibility. Praxis is thus, without an explicit statement, accepted as a second source of theology.

Of course, the reason I am discussing this is because I am interested in the use of different sources for theology. And if you have read the proposal for the Ph.D. dissertation I am (supposed to be) working on, you’ll know that I am not at all opposed to using tradition and praxis (which I would label "experience") as sources for theological work, as long as they are carefully balanced with other sources (of which Scripture will always be the principal) and proper functions of the Holy Spirit working in the theologian. Unfortunately, it is this balancing of sources, especially against Scripture, that is sadly missing from the Vatican’s document.

I dig Jesus — the meme goes on

First of all, I’m glad to be back in the blogging world. For those who don’t know the reasons for my long absence, check out all the news about the birth of our daughter Emma on our family blog. Two kids just take a lot more time and energy than one!

Anyway, since Rich tagged me over at BlogRodent, I feel obliged to add my cup of coffee to the "I dig Jesus" meme — by Rich’s count, that would make me part of the ninth generation.

Now, normally I don’t like answering this kind of questions — I really don’t like it when my wife asks me "Why do you love me?" It’s not because I don’t have reasons for my love, but rather, that stating some of the reasons bears the danger of seeing that list as a complete one and therefore missing out on all the other, unstated reasons. At the same time, stating all of the reasons simply wouldn’t be possible for lack of time and words.

Still, here’s a selection of five reasons why I dig Jesus:

  1. I dig Jesus because of his very visual way of teaching. This is exactly for people like me, who love to have a visual or hands-on illustration for every complex concept. Jesus‘ use of parables shows how theology can become comprehensible for everybody. I regularly try to imitate that in my preaching — no matter whether it is with fancy powerpoints or with dramatic action. BTW, next Sunday our service will be outdoors, so I’m already planning on some very hands-on, action-type illustrations. That’ll be fun. And the great thing about is, people actually (a) understand it and (b) remember it.
  2. I dig Jesus because of his ex/including message. Yes, Jesus does both! And both of them are good! I like hearing an exclusive message, that doesn’t leave me wondering which of the many available options I should choose for my life. Jesus shows me the way, and that is exclusive! Yet, at the same time, no message could ever be more inclusive than the one of the Son of God, who gave access to his exclusive way to absolutely anyone by dying on the cross for the whole world! It’s not about qualifications any more, but just about my accepting his generous gift of grace …
  3. … which brings me to my next point: I dig Jesus because he is so generous with his grace. Just imagine Jesus setting a limit of how many times I may fail before his kingdom will forever close its doors on me! For sure, I’d be outside by now, frantically pounding the doors in utter despair. Yet, Jesus, every time I fail, welcomes me back with open arms. And he does even more, by giving me his Spirit to help me grow and avoid much failure in the future. I don’t think anyone can even come close to grasping the generous grace of God.
  4. I dig Jesus because of his openly scandalous lifestyle. The life and work of Jesus is a scandal to many — that much is obvious already from the reactions of his contemporaries. The cross of Jesus remains a scandal (in the 1 Corinthians 1:18ff sense) until today. However, the emphasis here is on the openly scandalous way of Jesus. Unlike all other religious leaders, with Jesus there is never any danger of disappointment because of some scandal suddenly rising to the surface. Everything that’s scandalous about Jesus is already known — and beyond that, there’s nothing but the Son of God who remains the same yesterday, today and forever. So, I can rely on this Jesus, knowing that he will never falter and leave me hanging.
  5. I dig Jesus because he digs me. What more is there to say?

What remains to do is to tag five more people to continue the propagation of the meme:

  1. Don Martin is — as always — the first who comes to my mind.
  2. Esa Hyvönen hasn’t written anything except hotly disputed articles in a Finnish magazine lately, so maybe that’s just the topic he could be challenged with.
  3. Shannon Buckner has told me I need to update my blog — so, Shannon, here’s a reason to update yours :-).
  4. My good old roommate Antti Hirviniemi always has something profound to say.
  5. Brad Anderson write so much anyway, so I think he’ll manage to produce something for this topic, too.

Über Christoph

Christoph Fischer (* 1978) ist Pfarrer der Evangelischen Landeskirche in Württemberg auf der Pfarrstelle „Erlöserkirche“ in Albstadt-Tailfingen.

Christoph ist verheiratet mit Rebecca. Gemeinsam haben sie drei Töchter.