Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Well in MY Day, Theologians Were Bishops!

I just started reading Jaroslav Pelikan's "The Emergence of Catholic Tradition". On page 5 he says:

During the years 100-600, most theologians were bishops; from 600 - 1500 in the West, they were monks; since 1500, they have been university professors.
Unfortunately, I think he's right. Am I the only one who finds this trend more than just a bit disturbing?

(As an unrelated side note, this is my 300th post!)


Anonymous said...

Well, remember that Benedict XVI is a very accomplished theologian.

But I think you are right in the sense that church authorities need to be better prepared and I even think they should write more about theology. For example to answer to very smart atheists like Richard Dawkins in an equally smart way.

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Well I'm not necessarily disagreeing with you, but the thing I was trying to point out was that in the early days of the Church - the dominant theologians were bishops - those who inheirited the apostolic authority. Next it was monks - those who had also devoted themselves to a religious life - ok thats good but now we have university professors - those with no authority whatsoever (as far as Church hierarchy goes). They tend to reduce theology to mere academics.

Good theology is a spiritual science not a liberal art.

BTW I love Pope B16 - he's one of the reasons I converted.

Tiber Jumper said...

Congrats on number 300!~

Kevin Jones said...

Here's Edward T. Oakes on the same passage, cut from his essay "Reconciling Judas":

"The situation is especially grim among professional theologians, where the Body Snatchers are working their sci-fi magic with impunity. In the first volume of Jaroslav Pelikan’s Christian Tradition, whose fifth volume was already cited above, the author mentions in passing that in the first several centuries of the Church most theologians were bishops, while in the Middle Ages most were monks, but in the modern period most theologians have been professors. This seemingly irrelevant factoid from the sociology of history actually reveals something important—and dangerous. Liberalism in religion first drew its strength from the Wars of Religion in the wake of the Reformation and then gained strength in the multicultural global setting of vastly different religions and cultures. In order to avoid a repeat of the Thirty Years War, but now on a much worse global scale, governments must regard each religion as equally valid and worthy of rights before the law. But validity before the law is by no means the same thing as validity before the bar of the truth, and when the liberal ethos enters an intentional, believing community constituted by a particular revelation, havoc is bound to follow. Especially in the United States, the values of tolerance and non-discrimination have become more than a mere litmus test for citizenship but are now enshrined in the laws that govern how universities may operate. Combine that ethos with the fact that more and more theology professors owe their allegiance more to norms of academic “respectability” than to the politically incorrect gospel of St. Paul, and suddenly the Pod People have a legally safe redoubt."

Anonymous said...

I am finishing up my PhD in theology and do intend to become a professor. I am a layman, maried with three kids. The idea that I would be a theologian without any responsibility to the Church is unthinkable to me. I am teaching some undergraduate courses now and sought, on my own, the mandatum required.
This mandatum is my link to the hierarchy, I teach with their blessing and if I teach what is not Catholic as Catholic then I should be kicked out and barred from teaching Catholic theology. Many don't take this responsibility either as the professor or as the bishop who grants it. Having theologians who are of the Church and understand that they work for the advancement of the Church should be the issue and not the fact that there are so few that are willing to listen to God's call to the ministerial Priesthood that we have to rely on laymen to pick up the slack.

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Kevin, thanks for that quote.

Anon- We need more like you in our universities - especially Cathoilc ones!

As for the professors turned theologians being caused by lack of men not responding to the call to vocations - I'm not sure how true or untrue that is.

I don't really know of good data sources to look at so I'm not basing these statements on objective facts but my impression is: we have significantly fewer priests now than we would ideally have. There has been a declining trend in vocations since the post VII liberal disaster in the Church. Although now it seems that conservative/orthodox dioceses have been increasing in vocations (funny correlation how if bishops dont take their religion seriously - clown masses/liturgical dancers/ unauthorized modifications to liturgy etc.. - then potential priests see no reason why they should either).

But if Pelikan's anaylsis is true, professors have been the primary theologians for the last 500+ years which I dont think can be linked to a shortage or priests since as far as I know, we haven't had a significant problem until recently.

Again, those are all just my impressions, anyone who has conflicting data - I'd love to see it.

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

er - *lack of men responding*

Johnny Vino said...

What has been especially evident over the last 40 years is how tempting it is for Bishops to stand outside of the major theological movements (good and bad), and instead present themselves as clerical administrators. Even if they had issues with folks like the Maguire, McBrien, Matthew Fox and the like - they hid in their chanceries and let the "intellectuals" lead the way. Or astray.

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Johnny - Excellent point. Where's St. Athanasius when you need him? We should pray that God send the Church the types of bishops she needs - the ones what will stand up against heresy and false teachings even though it be unpopular (which it will be).

undergroundlogician said...

During the golden age of the Church in the 13th century, there were many theologians who were also priests and religious, such as Anselm, Aquinas, Bonaventura, Duns Scotus. Yes, Bishops were theologians, but as literacy rose, so did the number of those who studied the seven liberal arts, and thus a surge in growth of knowledge and theologians occurred. Notwithstanding, the seeds of the Protestant revolt were also present in that same century, bringing on the likes of William of Ockham and Gabriel Biel. Hedonism and greed has been also a perrenial problem in the Clergy throughout history. In saying this, I'm admitting that there really wasn't a "great" time for the Catholic Church.

No doubt, many laymen eventually entered the field, and the "brick and mortar" Bishop came of age. This, as you so rightfully identify, is really deplorable, since Bishops are the main pastors and teachers of any Diocese. They are obligated to exercise their apostolic function as teachers of the Church, with their priests in tow.

The modern age spawned this "brick and mortar" idea, I think, along with a decline in Catholicity in our culture. I think it is a temptation to circle the wagons and try to keep a Diocese financially afloat, when attendance drops, offerings drop, and anti-Catholic fervor rises. This is typical of any age, ours not excluded.

What is needed, is a grass roots renewal that can uplift these embattled Bishops and urge them to take the stand we need them to take. They are men too, who need our prayers and verbal and physical support. But, most of all, our learning the faith and forming our minds and consciences is our responsibility. If we take that responsibility, I'm sure the Bishops will more than likely rise to the occasion. They have human fears as well.

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Excellent points underground. But hey what's wrong with Ockham? His is the only razor I use! (PUN intended)

I'll have to do some study on him before I sing his praises too much but you know, his razor has been highly influential in my decision to convert.

Sure, you can come up with a clever Protestant work around for every trouble - passage in Scripture (and of course they have one) but anyone who says the easiest and most obvious readings aren't usually Catholic are either Biblically illiterare or liars.

Catholics have far fewer 'problem' passages to deal with than Protestants.

Of course - just because the answer is simpler doesn't necessarily prove that it's right. But out of answers that have strong explanatory power, the simplest is nearly always the best.

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Joe Schmoe Protestant: "I may 'Biblically illiterare' but at least I can spell!"

Anonymous said...

It's interesting to watch it unfold in history, it's far more fluid. Martin Luther - Monk turned professor. Augustine - professor (to a degree) turned bishop. The Cappodocians, esspecially Gregory, were practically monks but also bishops. Too simplistic.

undergroundlogician said...

Ockham challenged the existence of universals in nature altogether except what exists conceptually. This is a dramatic turn away from essential philosophy and certainly opens the Pandora's Box of Humean Epistemology and Kantian Idealism. Ockham, is certainly not my hero.

Ockham certainly wanted to "cut" through the complexities created by the Scholastics' search for distinctions, which is understandable. But at what cost? Eliminate realism?

Aquinas is the called the Angelic Doctor for a reason, where he assesses his own works as "straw." I'll follow Leo XIII's lead and place him in the center. Ockham...? Way too problematic.

I'd like to know how Ockham affected you positively? I'm open.

undergroundlogician said...


Ultimately, Ockham and the Scholastics signify that which is both the greatness and weakness of human intellectual capacity. We must bow to our Creator...we cannot know truth as He is truth. The attitude of Socrates must prevail. We pursue it, but as people who do not know.

Whataya think?

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Yea I agree. A lot of the earliest Christian apologists made several - explanations as to why Socrates got so many things 'right' without knowing Christ.

As for Ockham - I didn't know anything about him except for that he was a Franciscan friar until now. My history is pretty dim during the middle ages. I just like his razor - 'the simplest solution is usually the best'.

undergroundlogician said...

Ockham's razor may cut too much off!

One of the "accomplishments" of the Ockhamites theology is making Scotus' Voluntarism very popular. They make a clear distinction God's absolute power potentia Dei absoluta and his ordained power potentia Dei ordinata, which can become VERY problematic. For instance, God's ordained power allows for the merits of Christ to be applied to man, but is not required to do so. As a matter of fact, what God calls good is good because he calls it as such. What we call evil could very well be called good by God and that doesn't violate his absolute power. God wills things as they are because he has done just that, willed it.

Ockhamism acts like a razor for it cuts out the huge discourse of distinctions made by the Scholastics. From our perspective, what we see and know as good and true is because God has willed it to be so.

This may preclude our efforts to use reason to understand the mysteries of the Almighty and the non-stop theological distinctions made by the Scholastics. However, the "razor" really separated the union of revelation and reason which, if Ockham didn't, his theological decendants took advantage in the dawn of the Modern Age.

Ever wonder why there is not only a separation between reason and revelation, but reason holds the pre-eminence, especially in the scientific method, in our modern times? Thank Ockham and Scotus for that. He planted the seed, which Biel watered, and then DesCarte fertilized with whatever he fertilizes with in his pursuit of epistemic certainty by using his process of methodic doubt.

My friend, it is good that we simplify in order to cut through the sophistication created by Sophists of our day. However, we cannot and must not apply the razor to theology and philosophy. It is better we humbly say, "We don't know" and have that be enough. We cannot have epistemic certainty about the knowledge of God; it is still a matter of faith.

undergroundlogician said...

addendum: We cannot have epistemic certainty regarding the knowledge of God; it is still a matter of faith. However, we can and have infallible certainty in revelation. Reason clears the way for this to happen by removing the fallacies and inconsistencies in our thinking. Revelation is pre-eminent; philosophy is its handmaid.

Careful with that "razor." You may cut yourself!

I sound like a dad, don't I?