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Posted July 16, 2003

Book: Catholic Theology Facing the Future: Historical Perspectives
Edited by: Dermot A. Lane
Contributors: Raymond F. Collins, Michael Fahey, Kevin W. Irwin, Philip S. Keane, Alice L. Laffey
Paulist Press, New York, pp.150

Excerpt from Jacket:

The next few decades promise to be a fertile and creative era for Catholic theology. After a protracted period of digesting and making sense of Vatican II, Catholic theologians in the new millennium are now turning to a new question in this age of pluralism. The present volume is an exercise both in looking back over the years since Vatican II closed, and looking forward to what will come next.

The chapters in this book were originally given as talks at a symposium celebrating forty years of the summer graduate program in theology and pastoral ministry at St. Michael’s College, Winooski, Vermont. The symposium brought together some of North America’s leading Catholic theologians and scholars: Raymond F. Collins and Alice L. Laffey on the subject of scripture, Philip S. Keane on moral theology, Kevin W. Irwin on liturgy, in addition to Michael A. Fahey, Monika K. Hellwig, and Terrence W. Tilley. Dermot A. Lane, editor of the volume, summarized the challenge of the future when he encouraged participants to enter the struggle of the coming age by designing a new anthropology, recovering the power of memory, and invoking a new religious imagination.

Excerpt from Book:

The Recovery of Memory

Th second building block required in retrieving the synthesis among God, the cosmos, and the self is memory. The neglect of memory is one of the most outstanding features of the culture of modernity. As noted, one of the central aims of the Enlightenment put forward by Immanuel Kant for the promotion of a truly “objective reason” was to rid reason of the memory of the past so that humanity could face the future in complete freedom. Looking back at the Enlightenment, it is now clear there was what some call a “prejudice against memory” and other refer to as a “flight from memory.”

The exclusion of memory from modernity has had a number of unhappy consequences. In broad terms it has produced a blinkered rationality, namely, reason shorn of memory. This neglect of memory has enabled the specifically modern myth of progress to endure throughout the last century and has helped to promote a misleading evolutionary outlook within politics. Further, this fractured reason has facilitated a large-scale denial of historical sufferings and injustices in the past, especially throughout the twentieth century. But most of all, reason divorced from memory has brought about the great divide between modernity and the biblical tradition, a divide that has resulted in the breakdown of the unity among God, the cosmos and self. Once reason was separated from memory, then the prophetic and healing power of memory became silenced in the period of the Enlightenment.

If these losses within modernity are to be overcome, there must be a recovery of memory, especially the prophetic and disruptive power of memory as well as its healing and liberating dynamic. One of the great secular prophets of memory in the twentieth century has been Walter Benjamin, who in turn has influenced the theology of Johann B. Metz.

Benjamin, a member of the Frankfurt school of critical theory, sought to work out what can only be described as a distinctive non-modern view of history. His thesis was that we must read history against the grain, especially against the grain of the modern myth of progress. In 1937 Benjamin argued that we need to keep history open: “The work of the past is not closed,” Max Horkheimer, a colleague of Benjamin objected that this view of history was far too idealistic, that past injustices are past and therefore cannot be undone and that “those who were slain . . . were truly slain.” Benjamin replied, “The corrective for this kind of thinking lies in the reflection that history is a form of empathetic memory. What science has settled empathetic memory can modify.” History, Benjamin points out, usually has been written by the victors and not by the victims. This fact has led to the neglect of the suffering of the victims, a neglect that allows history to repeat itself. This neglect, however, can be overcome through empathy with the victims of history. The story of the suffering of the victims can be recovered through the victims of history. In this way memory can effect a unity between the past and the present, between the living and the dead. For Benjamin, every great work of civilization has also been at the same time a work of barbarism. If the barbarism of history in the past is to change, if barbarism is not to continue in the present under the guise of progress, then the present must be challenged and interrupted by the power of memory. The writings of Benjamin are scattered and unfinished but sufficiently suggestive to highlight the importance of injecting the memory of the past into the present for the creation of a different time.

This recovery of the power of memory inspired by Benjamin and taken up by Metz has much to offer as critique of both modernity and postmodernity. Memory calls into question the modern myths of progress, exposing the downside of so-called growth and development. Further, memory can keep alive the suffering and injuries endured in the past in a way that can prevent their repetition in the present. Memory, while it cannot change the past as such, it can modify the meaning of the past in the present. Past events can be interpreted differently through the healing power of memory. Memory can effect a reconciliation of past injuries in the present.

Table of Contents:

1. Theology in Transition — Dermot A. Lane
2. Biblical Scholarship: Past, Present, and Future — Alice L. Laffey
3. What has happened to the study of the New Testament in the last forty years? — Raymond F. Collins.
4. Some Trends in American Catholic Systematic Theology since 1965 — Michael A. Fahey
5. Catholic Moral Theology from 1960 to 2040: Accomplishments and Challenges for the Future — Philip S. Keane
6. A Spirited Community Encounters Christ: Liturgical and Sacramental Theology and Practice: Kevin W. Irwin
Concluding Reflections I. A Note on Vatican II in Historical Perspective — Monika K. Hellwig II. Catholic Theology: Contextual, Historical , Inventive — Terrence W. Tilley III. Let’s Begin — not end — Theology with Hope — Dermot A. Lane