Prophetic Obedience

Ecclesiology for a Dialogical Church

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Bradford E. Hinze
  • Maryknoll, NY: 
    Orbis Books
    , March
     288 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Tradition has, in recent Catholic ecclesiology, been both the indispensable presupposition and the burden to bear. Tradition, as the framework within which a church’s own life can be intelligibly understood, can include only so much before it becomes a different tradition entirely. In this novel work, Bradford Hinze explores post-Vatican II ecclesiology, looking for a way to house genuine pluriformity without losing internal coherence.

The ecclesiological contests since Vatican II, Hinze argues, have focused largely over the motif of “the people of God.” In the documents of the Council, “people of God” signaled a fresh openness, empowerment for the laity, and the possibility of divergent social and liturgical movements. But as Hinze argues, the “people of God” motif was subordinated to communio ecclesiology, which emphasized the unity of the laity with the clergy. As such, lay empowerment was diminished under the popes prior to Francis I. To illustrate both the possibilities and difficulties emerging after Vatican II, Hinze draws on a variety of historiographic studies from New York. These studies, drawing from both developments after the Council in local religious orders and lay movements, give great depth to the project.

The ultimate intent of Prophetic Obedience, however, is to provide an account—theologically—of the relationship between obedience and dissent, and to do so within an ecclesiological frame. To this end, alongside his descriptive historical work, Hinze builds his case for a theological framework which needs not see obedience to tradition and novel developments as competitive options. His constructive theological work, which involves formulating a Trinitarian framework for understanding ecclesiological dynamism and for incorporating lay laments into our understanding of divine revelation, are particularly helpful.

What emerges in the end is an account of what Hinze names as “prophetic obedience.” Obedience, as a mutual submission to the movement of the Spirit in dialogue, produces a new possibility: that tradition is not a stifling frame over the laity, but the very thing which allows for a new, vibrant laity to emerge, fully empowered by the Spirit and ordered toward the world.

This is a book rife with powerful insights, but let me highlight just two. First, his account of post-Vatican ecclesiology helpfully draws together both on-the-group empirical observations with broader theological trends in a way which puts flesh to otherwise arcane discussions. The differing approaches with respect to tradition seen in Yves Congar, Hans Urs von Balthasar, and Karl Rahner are given new purchase as we see their insights borne out in the lives of the religious and the laity. Secondly, an account of ecclesiology which seeks to recover dissent as an internal feature is open to the charge of capitulation to individualism. To that end, Hinze closes the book with an account of the individual in community which neither totalizes community nor the individual, defusing some criticisms which might otherwise emerge. Hinze’s work—appearing in the first years of Francis I’s tenure—is a timely one, and one which should receive consideration among Catholic theologians looking to draw together both fidelity to the Church’s traditions while remaining open to new developments emerging from the lived theologies of the laity.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Myles Werntz is assistant professor of Christian ethics at Hardin-Simmons University.

Date of Review: 
June 6, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Bradford E. Hinze is the Karl Rahner Chair in Theology at Fordham University in New York. He is a former President of the College Theology Society and the current President of the Catholic Theological Society of America. He is the author of numerous articles and books, including Practices of Dialogue in the Roman Catholic Church: Aims and Obstacles, Lessons and Laments (2006).



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