(Review by Victor Klimoski)

Perhaps this era has grown too cynical to appreciate claims about vision of any sort. The media derided George Bush over the “vision thing” and continue to unmask any person or movement that suggests it has a vision of what society might be. Catholic intellectuals take seriously the notion that we dwell within a vision of the world that is, despite any shortcomings or irritations, compelling. It is how we understand ourselves and order our relationships to the world and the rest of humanity. If Catholics once presumed that the theological vision inherent in their denominational identity would persist from generation to generation despite the currents of cultural change, that naiveté is quickly fading. Like our sisters and brothers in other denominational families, we have been struggling with identity questions that go beyond the demographics of membership. The questions of what it means to be Catholic and how the distinctive character of Catholicity will be transmitted as both the expression of faith in God and the ways we think about God demand the attention of theologians and bishops. As in all attempts at self-criticism and reflection, articulating the questions clearly and providing a variety of angles of vision are critical first steps.

Theological Education in the Catholic Tradition makes its contribution to the current discussions among Catholics about Catholicism by sharpening the question from a variety of perspectives. Resulting from a symposium convoked by Marquette University in 1995, this wide-ranging collection of essays attempts to lay out the issues that are posed by and that confront theological education in this country. As one would expect, there is both darkness and light in the analyses offered. Monika Hellwig offers a key insight in suggesting that an inevitable tension had to emerge as we attempted to combine, especially in this country, Enlightenment and Catholic ideals. The former hold up free, unhindered examination of all ideas; the latter calls us to an intellectual and spiritual heritage based on certain normative principles of faith. While we esteem the dialogue between faith and reason, how is that to be carried out in a culture as intellectually pluralistic as our own? How do we balance the scholarly role of the theologian and the expectations of the teaching office of the bishop? How do we encourage Catholics to be open to life in a pluralistic society while maintaining a vision of the world that unites them?

These sorts of questions are examined from different key points in the discussion. The opening section of the book provides an important historical framework, lest one assume the debate has no mooring. Other sections examine the questions posed from the point of view of the undergraduate department of theology, graduate programs, the seminary, and the catechetical mission of the church. While a number of the contributors touch on the role of the professional theologian, Matthew Lamb and William Shea offer contrasting but helpful articulations of the issues involved in understanding the demands upon that role from the perspective of both the church and the academy. The essays on the relationship between theologians and bishops raise interesting points that could be developed further but tackle in only the most gentle way the tension between scholarship and the teaching office of the bishop.

One of the most interesting sections of the book is that dealing with integration and inculturation in the theological curriculum. Although this last section does not seem directly related to the preceding six, the essays are valuable efforts to move from a discussion about the issues impacting theological education to the heart of theological education itself. While struggling with the challenges of handing on a rich, deep theological tradition in a culture that competes with our vision of the world and humanity, theologians need to attend to what the content of that tradition represents. The authors in this final section provide thoughtful analyses of their disciplines (Bible, historical theology, liturgy, spirituality) and raise questions that should engage faculties in productive critique of the curricula of a school or seminary. Austin Doran’s essay on the integration of theology and spirituality within a seminary context sheds light on the particular concerns seminary educators have about the intellectual commitment of contemporary seminarians. Shawn Copeland and Robert Goizueta address the particular urgencies about theological education in serving those from African American or Hispanic communities. Their insights deepen the conversation and encourage greater creativity in thinking about the responsibilities of the church for the education and formation of all its members.

Theological Education in the Catholic Tradition is certainly not a definitive statement on the issues of Catholic theological education. The editors, Patrick W. Carey, professor of theology at Marquette University, and Earl C. Muller, S.J., professor of theology at the Gregorian University in Rome, did not intend it to be. The essays, however, succeed in laying out the complex framework with which we must deal if we take seriously the work of developing and passing on the tradition we have received. Muller’s concluding essay focuses the energy and insight of the essays, and Pamela Young’s extensive bibliography aids the serious student of theological education in the pursuit of issues, ideas, or questions provoked by the book. While it would be difficult to identify a common theme in these twenty-six essays, one does come away from reading the text with a sense of the profound commitment each author has to the “Catholic vision.” What comes close to conveying a sense of that commitment can be found in an observation by John Courtney Murray, S.J., cited by contributor Joseph Komonchak. Murray captures the complexity and the beauty of the theological educator’s task:

... Adulthood in religious intelligence involves (1) a movement from the surface (Catholic practices, devotions, etc.) to the center, which is Christ viewed in his full, living reality; (2) an insight into Catholicism ... as an organic whole, whose principle of unity is again Christ; (3) a personal possession of the whole truth of Christ, through a personal “discovery” of it; (4) a grasp of the relationship of Catholic truth to all other truth, and to the whole of life and its problems; (5) the development of the faculty of Christian judgment of all that is secular....

Murray understood well that theology ultimately serves Christian formation. Theological Education in the Catholic Tradition is a helpful introduction to how demanding that task is.


What is being expected of theology in terms of the integration of society and culture is enormous. If the Middle Ages are any indication, it is the task of centuries, not decades. The obstacles are formidable and the resources are restricted. What is called for, if discouragement is to be avoided, is the development of broad strategies for dealing with “the impossible.” It was our hope to stimulate this sort of broader thinking.

—from Theological Education in the Catholic Tradition

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