Fresh Breezes Expand Theology: Thomas P. Rausch

Introduction by Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove

Hello readers.  An article was sent to me from a member of my former Sunday Community at the Paulist Centre in Toronto, with a heading:” Theologies We’re Going to Hear About.”

In the document, I learned that Christian theological study is growing in humanity and vision.  Far from absorption with totally abstract questions (famously, how many angels can dance on the head of a pin), it’s increasingly focussed outward, looking at the world, people in community, humans and how we are actually made.  How to understand and include all that is alive and true, to grasp what is the nature of God and what is our role in this relationship with God? And are we co-creating the world with God?  Rigorously and logically, students are addressing these questions.  Some of their ideas will enter societies and be taken up. 

This direction is, in my view, truly enlightened: inclusive, respectful and international.  And hopeful.  We know that some religions, notably the Roman Catholic Church, the second largest in the world, (Muslims being the largest), has not – for all its positive contributions – led the way toward a progressive and harmonious world.  How encouraging to realize that in its own study halls, a developing theology grows that suggests a solid basis for something different: a more human amalgam of spirituality, social justice, compassion and respect for religion even among those who don’t engage in any.  About time that we were invited to stop dividing ourselves into warring parts.

Some faiths, primarily Buddhism, have practiced balance of body, spirit, mind, for centuries.  Other major religions, Christianity and Islam, have been more attached to theory, to dogma, to what we must believe within our faith group.  Hinduism has, I think, embodied the mystical and practical within its symbolic mythical view.  All faiths have taught the importance of loving others as one does oneself.  But otherworldliness has tended to dominate what we think religion is about.

Times are changing.  The world needs our attention, so here comes help!!

Two segments of the essay are included below – the beginning and the final section.  To read the whole piece, search in Google: America, The National Catholic Review, February 2, 2015 in MAGAZINE, article by Rausch..

To some readers, the language and Catholicism of the essay may be unappealing or daunting.  The writer can’t help being who he is!  And it’s all quite accessible, really, even for the non-religious.  The whole point is the opening up of traditional thinking in one of the most traditional – and still influential – institutions of learning and teaching.  So give it a try.  The sections of the article, not included below, include Post-colonialism, Feminism, Queer Studies, Eco-Theology, and how these have to be included in “a new conversation”.  Yay!!



Theology’s New Turn

by Thomas P. Rausch, S.J., is the T. Marie Chilton Professor of Catholic Theology at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, Calif.


The words had a vaguely alien sound: postcolonial, mujerista, queer, eco-theological. But as I sat on our theology department’s hiring committee and read applicants’ dossiers, it was clear that the thinking behind these labels is shaping the work of many who are finishing doctoral studies in theology today and are moving into the schools. Disciplines once considered marginal now dominate the academy.


A New Conversation

As the Catholic Church begins to function more and more as a world church, there will be new tensions between the postcolonial churches of the global South and those of the West, the periphery and the center, and with those who feel their inclusion is less than full. The church needs to embrace all God’s children, women and men, gay and straight, the gifted, the wounded and hurting, and those on the margins.

There are signs that a new, broader and much needed conversation has begun under Pope Francis. He has spoken several times of the jurisdictional status of episcopal conferences. He mentioned this again in his apostolic exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel,” saying that their status, including genuine doctrinal authority, has not been sufficiently elaborated and citing at several points the concerns of the bishops of Asia, Africa and Latin America. Also unprecedented was the survey on contraception, same-sex unions, cohabitation, marriage and divorce sent by Rome to all the bishops of the world in preparation for the Synod of Bishops on the Family this October.

In July the International Theological Commission released a study, “The Sensus Fidei in the Life of the Church.” Reflecting on the “sense of the faith” both of the individual believer and of the whole church, the study called attention to “the role played by the laity with regard to the development of the moral teaching of the Church,” commenting that the “magisterium needs means by which to consult the faithful” (Nos. 73-74). Even more remarkable, it responded affirmatively to the question of whether separated Christians should be understood as participating in and contributing to the sensus fidelium in some manner (No. 86), suggesting that the Catholic Church might learn something from other churches.

How is the sensus fidei formed? The study recognizes that it cannot be reduced to an expression of popular opinion. The study points to active participation in the liturgical and sacramental life of the church as fundamental, in addition to listening to the word of God, openness to reason and adherence to the magisterium. A deeper appreciation for the sensus fidei means that the church is becoming a true communion, not a structure of the teachers and the taught (No. 4).



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