Beyond Dogmatism and Innocence

Hermeneutics, Critique, and Catholic Theology

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Bradford E. Hinze, Anthony J. Godzieba
  • Collegeville, MN: 
    Liturgical Press
    , March
     302 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


The essays collected in Beyond Dogmatism and Innocence were originally presented in a seminar series at the annual convention of the Catholic Theological Society of American (2013-15) in order to explore the most recent developments in critical theological interpretation for Catholic theology. While this is not the explicit aim of these essays, they fortuitously provide valuable theoretical analysis of the shift in ecclesiastical orientation initiated by Francis I. For, as the editors point out, the style of theological reasoning dominating official Catholic teaching since the mid-nineteenth century had been a neo-scholastic version of classical metaphysics—a stance which was becoming recognized as increasingly ineffective as the twentieth century progressed. Vatican II attempted to correct this deficiency by appropriating an awareness of historical conditioning in the formulation of biblical texts and church documents along with an openness to contemporary secular values. The restorationist stance of John Paul II and Benedict XVI attempted to reaffirm a more classical form of interpretation in official teachings. These essays, then, may be read as implicitly clarifying the tensions currently emanating from certain elements in the Vatican congregations that are trying to resist the more open style of Francis.

The essays in the first part of the book explore the status of theological inquiry since the mid twentieth century. Sandra Schneiders traces the steps where Catholic biblical scholarship became situated in the secular academy and grounded in contemporary hermeneutical methods. She concludes by suggesting that Catholic biblical scholarship today must become more nuanced in its use of hermeneutic theory in order to provide intelligent service to the faith of the community. Francis Schűssler Fiorenza surveys the continental debate between Jűrgen Habermas and Hans-Georg Gadamer, and the North American debate between William E. Connolly and Charles Taylor. Fiorenza suggests that we should acknowledge a hermeneutical stance which does not demarcate too rigidly the varying horizons, but one where past, present, and future crumple together to mark our contexts. Robert Schreiter examines intercultural hermeneutics, exploring commonality, difference, and an emerging new form which accepts globality, paradox, resilience, aesthetics, and conversion. John Thiel examines how aesthetics may be understood in classical terms and developmental terms. He suggests that both styles ought to be accepted as integral to the Catholic imagination, and that conflicts emerge if one style is considered deficient in principle.

The second part of the book addresses current issues of dispute in Catholic thought. Dominic Doyle develops work by Taylor and others on the shift in understanding of secularism within the church. It is no longer simply an outright opposition to secular culture, but more of a reflexive awareness of the way in which the tradition is already complicit in secularity. This development is characterized by a disjunction between past features of its own tradition and what humanity is currently seeking. Fernando Segovia seeks a theological appropriation of scripture that is much more aware of its ideological assumptions, such as the privileged place of scholarly interpretations of texts. This requires an awareness of the way power functions in society, the church, and culture at large. Andrew Prevot argues that Catholic theology should not cede negative dialectics to secular theorists; the focus ought to be on concrete issues of negativity that may be informed by doxological responses. Ormond Rush explores how Francis I has inaugurated a third phase in the reception of Vatican II by becoming a listening church. This brings the sensus fidelium to the fore and allows theologians to practice a pluralizing hermeneutics if they tap into these diffuse expressions of insight into evangelical living inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Finally, the third section of Beyond Dogmatism and Innocence raises new and controversial questions. Judith Gruber argues that theology can serve in a normative way only if it performs as radical critique. This means it must uncover all forms of hegemonic activity, from privileged forms of reasoning to the shaping of the master narrative of orthodoxy. If one brings to light excluded voices, it becomes clear how even orthodox tradition itself is a form of heresy, privileging one voice over others. Similarly the New Testament also must be interpreted in this light so that the basileia becomes the local critique of the empire by transforming apocalyptic eschatology into ethical eschatology. Theology must affirm a “polydoxy” in order for it to be a faithful representation of God’s salutary self-revelation in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Susan Abraham defends postcolonial hermeneutics against attempts to marginalize it in favor of the Euro-centric academy. Anthony Godzieba explores the relationship between unity and diversity as fundamental preconditions for the performance of faith. He proposes a model of a musical performance—based on Bach’s Goldberg Variations—and concludes that a performance hermeneutic is the most adequate way to express the active initiation of discipleship and the application of Christian values to life. Finally Bradford Hinze contends that the structure of lament provides the most adequate way of practicing dialogue. In acknowledging the limits, sin opens a way to purification, which in turn allows the lamenter to speak in God’s name toward a fuller life.

For anyone seeking an overview of the current state of Catholic theological reflection from the perspective of hermeneutics and critical theory, this volume would be an excellent place to start. The editors characterize these essays as attempting a “third naiveté” given that their effort to expose the disruptions and dislocations that impede human flourishing, including those perpetrated by the Christian tradition. Even though my remarks have merely pointed toward some of these, I trust they are sufficient to expose the depth of reflection of these essays.

About the Reviewer(s): 

John V. Apczynski is professor emeritus of theology at Saint Bonaventure University.

Date of Review: 
June 21, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Bradford E. Hinze is the Karl Rahner, SJ, Professor of Theology at Fordham University. Hinze earned his doctoral degree from the University of Chicago and is currently the president of the Catholic Theological Society of America.

Anthony J. Godzieba is professor of theology at Villanova University. Godzieba earned his doctoral degree from The Catholic University of America and is the editor emeritus of Horizons: The Journal of the College Theology Society.


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