Receiving Vatican II Theologically Editor’s Corner – December 2017 By Very Rev. Thomas A. Baima, S.T.D. John Henry Newman, the great theologian of the development of doctrine, held that it takes the Church about two hundred years to process the magisterium of a general council. This corresponds to an important notion in Eastern Christianity that a council receives the teaching of its predecessor. The articles which make up this issue of Chicago Studies represents a disciplined theological attempt at such reception. Understanding the full nuance of the term “reception” is necessary as a prelude to our issue. Theology itself underwent a renewal in the last one hundred years. In many ways, this renewal flowed into the Second Vatican Council as several tributaries flow into the main branch. Given that the name of our journal is Chicago Studies, I might be forgiven a midwestern analogy. The mighty Mississippi River receives its water from the Missouri, Ohio, Illinois, and (since we dug the Sanitary and Shipping Canal) the Chicago Rivers. These different waterways, coming from across the whole Midwest, converge, mingle and create along with the Mississippi’s own headwaters, the greatest river in these United States. The Second Vatican Council can be understood through this analogy. In the years after Vatican I, theology in the West was dominated by neo-scholastic manuals. These manuals shared certain common elements, regardless of the school (Augustinian, Thomist, etc.) in that they approached revelation as propositional and theological method as deductive through logical arguments and proofs. Scripture and Tradition were viewed as sources to be mined for these propositional truths. Already in the nineteenth century, new theological movements and methods were developing. The patristic movement, of which John Henry Newman himself was a proponent, was recovering the literature and theology of the early Fathers of the Church. Perhaps the most significant point to note about the Father was that their preferred theological product was not the treatise, but the sermon or conference. The biblical movement was beginning as well, offering theologians new methods of research into the meaning of the sacred page. The 20th century liturgical movement, in which Mundelein Seminary’s own Reynold Hillenbrand was a leading exponent, was reconnecting worship with its participatory origins. Theologians were not alone in this emerging intellectual revival. The Popes entered the process of re-visioning Catholic teaching with a significant turn to the world in the social encyclicals. Christian philosophy sought to update itself through a return to Thomas Aquinas (as opposed to reading only his commentators) in the Neo-Thomistic revival by such figures as Yves Simon, Etienne Gilson and Jacques Maritain. Outside the Catholic Church, the ecumenical movement was developing new approaches to studying doctrinal controversy with the goal of solving disputes, not simply offering apologetic responses. While the Catholic Church would not join the Ecumenical Movement until the time of the Second Vatican Council, theologians like Yves Congar made significant contributions in the first half of the 20th century which prepared for Vatican II’s engagement of many important issues. I mention all of this because the author of the three articles in this issue himself stands in this great tradition of 20th century theology, and offers his contributions to us now in the second decade of the 21st. Paul McPartlan works principally in the areas of ecclesiology and ecumenism to address the important doctrinal issues which are even now being worked out after the council. Msgr. McPartlan, who served as the 2016-17 Chester and Margaret Paluch Lecturer at the University of Saint Mary of the Lake, used his sabbatical year to explore three of the developing issues of Vatican II.
Published on Jan 2, 2018