Necessary Adjustments to Overcome Practical Difficulties

John Courtney Murray, S.J.
Professor of Theology, Woodstock College, Maryland

I asked to make this remark because I believe that it connects itself rather organically with all that has been heretofore said. I don't see how, after the exposition that Dr. Phelan has given, there could remain any doubt in anybody's mind as to the fact that a course in Catholic theology as a science should be introduced into higher Catholic education.

Dr. Phelan has presented the arguments with such clarity and cogency that I believe they are entirely convincing; moreover, after Father Connell’s address, I think that this point is entirely clear, that such a course in theology must be the necessary inspiration and support of an effective program of Catholic action.

Thirdly, I think that after the discussion that has followed, there might be very genuine doubts in the minds of many--I know they exist in mine--as to just what this course in Catholic theology is going to be, and I believe it is about that point and that point alone that there could be any difference of opinion; and hence, I propose this doubt that arises in my mind, the mind of a professional theologian, if I may say it, although one of very modest pretensions, and the doubt is this: that if you take Catholic theology as it is taught in our seminaries, and examine it, you cannot resist the impression (at least I cannot) that it does not adapt itself to becoming the basis of an effective program of Catholic action. There is my doubt.

Let me explain what I mean. By Catholic action I take it we do not mean any mere polemic against contemporary error. That is, it is true, a division of Catholic action. By Catholic action I think we agree in meaning, action that is co-extensive with the spirit of Christ in this world, action, therefore, that is wholly positive, that has as its supreme purpose aedifacatio Corporis Christi, the building up of the Body of Christ; therefore in Catholic action that is what we are trying to inspire, vigorous social action, action that is characteristically social.

If you look now at scientific theology as it is taught in our seminaries, you cannot deny the fact-and I say this not on my own authority but on the authority of many other theologians who are teachers, professors of scientific theology--that Catholic theology in its contemporary form is shot through with a very individualistic current of thought. Catholic theology has not been able to resist the inroads of the great wave of individualism that poured into the world and has swept through it ever since the Renaissance. That is the first point. I could illustrate it. For instance, the Catholic theology of justification as is taught in the formal course of theology, is a defense of the Catholic theology of justification against Martin Luther. Luther has said, "When my soul is justified, it merely means I have, myself, as an isolated individual, a consciousness that my personal sins have been remitted to me by a merciful God." Ah, no! says Catholic theology. Justification means that now there is a real relation between my individual soul and God; that God has put into my individual soul a theological reality which is the reality of grace; that is true, and it promotes the problem of justification on a purely individualistic basis and does not take account of what is the essential fact or theory of justification, or doctrine of justification-namely, that I am justified because I am inserted into the collective life of the Church, into the Body of Christ, in which the spirit of Christ dwells; in other words, I, as an individual, am justified because now a social life has become mine, the life that flows through all the members of the Body of Christ, who has given first of all to the Church, through the community, a collectivity, and through the community is viven to the individual.

I could illustrate the same thing from the scientific theology of the sacraments as ordinarily taught in the seminaries, from the doctrine of the Church, the treatise on the Church, but I will not delay you with that. I am merely leading to this conclusion, that if we are to introduce into our schools a course of theology worthy of the name, that will at the same time be the support and inspiration of a program of Catholic social action, it is imperative that we reform that course, that we do not simply take the seminary course that is taught in the seminary, whose purpose is the formation, notice, of those who partake in the prophetic office of Christ, priests, and the equipment of them to defend the doctrine of the Church and explain it; but that we draw up a course that is specified, as we say, by its final object, its final cause.

We are not trying to do in our colleges and universities what we are trying to do in our seminaries. Perhaps I could put the thing this way: The formal object of theology as a science is the demonstrability of truth from the revealed Word of God, as kept and guarded by the Church. No theologian would quarrel with that as a fact, a formally accepted definition of a formal doctrine of theology by St. Thomas.

Is such a course of theology what we want in the colleges I certainly do not think it is. I should say the formal object in colleges and universities is the livability of the Word of God as kept and given us by the Church; in other words, that our courses of theology must be wholly orientated towards life.

Theology deals with truth, it is true, but the truth that is an inspiration for the clan of the soul to God. That should be our purpose. I suggest the fact that the course must be reformed in some fashion, otherwise it will not be blended to the other courses in the colleges and universities.

Our courses in scientific theology as given in seminaries do not concern themselves directly-although I refuse to believe they should not concern themselves at least indirectly-with the religious value of the truth that 12th Chapter, I believe, where he said that Christ died that He might gather into one the scattered children of God; God's action in the world, the reason why he sent His Son into the world to die, and why he sent His Spirit into the world to continue the work of His Son, is not merely the salvation of souls; it is the organization of society, the formation of a community which is the image upon earth of the divine community in heaven.

It is the insertion of the individual into the current of life that now is fully human, because that life is now divinized. That is the purpose of the action of God, and hence I say Catholicism is an essentially social thing.

Fourthly, the value I think should be brought out is this: that Catholic truth presents itself as a totality. I remember being very much impressed not long ago by reading a remark of Father Martindale, whose experience with converts has been very wide. He says that the ordinary cause that he has found for defections from the faith is this: that Catholics never grasped their faith as a whole; they grasped it as a more or less disconnected lot of things they had to believe, a disconnected lot of things they had to do, certain ceremonial practices that they had to frequent, the sacraments; but the notion that the object of their faith was a totality, an organized totality, had never dawned upon them; and hence, insistence upon the totality of Catholic truth and the totality of Catholic life, above all; its essential continuity (that is not a good word), the distinction between the divine and the human, and yet their unity-those are values that must be insisted upon.

Let me insist upon that, if we are to introduce courses in theology into the colleges and universities, I should say that the layman who is to have to submit to the course in theology, should be allowed to express very definitely what it is that he wants; and I say that for this reason, that if Catholic action means anything, it means that that which the Church emphasizes has changed; as the result of Protestant religious egaletarianism, it was necessary for the Church to insist upon the distinction between the hierarchy and the laity, between the Church teaching and the Church learning. The introduction of Catholic action as predominant in Catholic life today-means simply this, does it not that now. Catholic emphasis rests upon the unity of the Church teaching and the Church learning, between the hierarchy and the laity

"Nos sumus Christi ecclesia," says the priest. You, we, you and I, are the Church of God, and it is right that those of us who teach should learn from those of you who learn from us.