Tuesday, November 04, 2014

The perennial challenge of exegetical and theological authority

In a stimulating article over at First Things blog, Stephen Webb addresses a topic that most theologians are forced to wrestle with at some point in their lives, namely, "Who has the Authority to Write Theology?"
Webb highlights the work of Robert Saler entitled Between Magisterium and Marketplace, where Saler suggests that the enterprise of contemporary theology boils down to a debate between the approaches of Schleiermacher and Newman.

 In Webb's summation, Saler suggests:

For Schleiermacher, theologians should hover above ossified religious traditions by perching on the precarious edge of daring creativity. For Newman, prudence alone should lead any theologian to conclude that private fancy is not enough to sustain theological discourse. Schleiermacher advocates for virtuosity, Newman for anonymity

 Webb continues by noting that Saler distinguishes between two contemporary groups under the broadly Newman camp:

Newman is the father of what Saler calls “polis ecclesiology,” which he divides into two camps, a “high magisterial” one dominated by the writers associated with this magazine (First Things; Reinhard Hütter, R. R. Reno, and Paul Griffiths) and what we could call a “magisterium by imagination” influenced by Stanley Hauerwas and John Milbank.

 For those who are interested in reading more from Webb's article, please look here: http://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2014/11/who-has-the-authority-to-write-theology


Deacon Peter Trahan said...

The short answer (addressing merely the question of your opening paragraph) is that anyone (I would qualify that as anyone educated in the science) can write theology, but if they claim it to be Catholic theology, then the Magisterium has scrutiny to say whether or not it is Catholic theology. A Catholic writing theology does not guarantee Catholic theology. If the question were, who can write Catholic theology, the answer would obviously be different.

I make this comment however, admittedly prior to reading Webb's article. It is a straight forward question, not in itself couched in Webb's content, therefore and initial attempt at answering it need not initially be couched there either. I will now go to First Things to read it.

Deacon Peter Trahan
Archdiocese of Miami

Susan Moore said...

It seems to me that if anyone has something, by grace through faith, to say about God, that it will be said in a loving voice, and give evidence of His beauty and truth. If I see those attributes in the writing, then I'll look to see how truthful it is by comparing it to Scripture.

To be truthful, the writing has to stay within the limits of the God-defined themes of His linguistic meta-language, and follow the 'grammatical' rules of that meta-language. It is possible for the same writer to produce a truthful writing, and then be off base on another writing.

No humans are perfect, and all followers of Him who are living in faith are growing to be more like Him. So, at any given point in time some of what we say is true and some of what we say is false. We have to always check one another and help each other grow in truth. Putting my faith in humans, and I don't care who they are or how many initials they have after their name (I don't mean the Pope), has led me into disaster after disaster. My life has taught me this is true: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones" (Prov.3:5-8).