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Errantry: Novak's Journal
...Words to cast/My feelings into sculpted thoughts/To make some wisdom last
Theological Notebook: Dulles on Systematic Theology and Models 
10th-Nov-2008 11:25 pm
Rahner and Ratzinger
I frequently find myself having to struggle to define "systematic theology" to people with no formal theological background. It's one of those terms for a subdivision within the field of theology, and it happens to be the aspect of theology in which I am primarily doing my doctoral work – my "major," as it were. I've been reading in Avery Cardinal Dulles' 1995 The Craft of Theology: From Symbol to System tonight as part of my dissertation research, in which I am currently playing around with his theological language of "models" of the church, and I found a passage I thought said things neatly:
Systematic theology aspires to deal in a consistent way with all significant questions pertaining to Christian faith and to develop answers to each of these questions in correlation with all the others. A theological system, as an original construal of the meaning of Christianity, is a major achievement of the creative imagination. Faithful to the data of Scripture and tradition, as well as to all that is known from other sources, the systematician integrates all these manifold elements by means of certain overarching principles into a complex and unified whole. Thomas Aquinas and the great medieval doctors were systematicians in this sense. So were Calvin and Suarez. In our own century the same may be said of a few authors such as Paul Tillich, Karl Rahner, and Wolfhart Pannenberg.

The greatest systematic theologians have always, in my estimation, been somewhat unsystematic. They have never been slaves to the logic of their system. Augustine never fully reconciled his Neoplatonic metaphysics with his commitment to the biblical vision of salvation through time and history. Thomas Aquinas, notwithstanding his preference for Aristotelian categories, never abandoned his attachment to Neoplatonism, even in the acute form represented by Pseudo-Dionysius. He interpreted Aristotle with extraordinary freedom and, when it suited him, shifted to biblical and juridical categories. Thus the method of models is helpful not only for mediating between different theological systems but for analyzing the inner tensions within a single theologian's work. No opposition exists between the approach through models and the practice of systematic theology.
Comments 
11th-Nov-2008 06:02 am (UTC)
My favorite part of this is definitely where he diagnoses Pseudo-Dionysius with acute Neoplatonism. There's gotta be a cure for that.
11th-Nov-2008 06:17 am (UTC)
Heh. You just amused me.
11th-Nov-2008 06:03 am (UTC)
Um, also your icon is fantabulous even though I have no idea who those two theologians are.
11th-Nov-2008 06:18 am (UTC)
Karl Rahner and an obscure kid at the Council named Joseph Ratzinger.
11th-Nov-2008 06:23 am (UTC)
Ah. I like Karl Rahner's glasses and chummy air.
11th-Nov-2008 06:52 am (UTC)
You know Karl well.

I see that WCC posted a position, and the curriculum looks fabulous, but I don't think I can apply because my Latin has evaporated.
11th-Nov-2008 07:09 am (UTC)
It would be sweet if you could distill it again! Think how much stronger it would be. Cask-strength dead language, mmm!

OH COME ON. You could pick up Latin while sound asleep. I have faith in you! You know lots of big English words and that's practically the same thing.
11th-Nov-2008 07:10 am (UTC)
Also, you could probably identify alkali in a pinch, which is at least half the battle out on their property. Walking around out there is like playing Oregon Trail!
11th-Nov-2008 07:15 am (UTC)
PS - Since I never really posted the end of my saga with them, I assumed they weren't going to hire me and consequently waffled between writing them and making them own up to it and not wanting the rejection, so in the end I did what any responsible girl would do: goaded her boyfriend into asking the assistant dean, who then wrote to him apologizing on behalf of the powers that be because they wanted to hire me but didn't have space in the budget.

WARNING: You are dealing with people who are very unorganized. But visionary! And they apparently keep finding snakes with squashed heads at the gates of their buildings, which they think symbolic. They're probably right.
15th-Nov-2008 04:29 am (UTC)
As I've said before, I am very interested in their project as a whole. And I were granted the grace to get up to speed on Latin, well, then the temptation to apply would be greater, though the "very unorganized" description can always be worrisome....

(At least, as applied to other people....)
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