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Posted July 26, 2006

Book: Modern Christian Thought: The Twentieth Century
Editors: James C. Livingston, Francis Schussler Fiorenza with Sarah Coakley and James H. Evans, Jr.
Fortress Press. MN. 2006. Pp. 544

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

James Livingson's widely acclaimed history of Christian thought - recently substantially revised and expanded - provides full, scholarly accounts of the major movements and thinkers, theologians and philosophers in the Christian tradition since the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, together with solid historical background and critical assessments. Distinctive in format and focus, the work deals with the entire modern period, in both Europe and America, and is the first to include extensive treatments of modern Catholic thinkers, evangelical thought, and Black and Womanist Theology. Volume I, by James C. Livingston and Francis Schussler Fiorenza, with Sarah Coakley and James H. Evans Jr., explores the important movements, theologians, and religious writers of the twentieth century, including the most recent developments at the turn of the twenty-first.

An Excerpt from the Book:

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

Joseph Ratzinger did his doctoral studies in theology at the University of Munich, writing a dissertation on Bonaventure's theology of history under the direction of the famous medieval scholar, Michael Schmaus. He then did a second doctorate, a habilitation, with the fundamental theologian Gottlieb Sohngen, on St. Augustine's understanding of the notion of the people of God. He served as a professor of theology at the University of Bonn and the University of Munster and joined the faculty at Tubingen, where Hans Kung would be his colleague in systematic theology. He taught at Regensburg between 1969 and 1977 when he left to become the Archbishop of Munich. In June 1977, he was named a cardinal. In 1981 John Paul II appointed him the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

. . .Ratzinger argues that relativism has become the prevailing philosophy of modern democratic societies because one assumes that relativism is the philosophical presupposition of democracy.

The notion of truth has been pushed into the zone of intolerance and into what is considered undemocratic. . .the modern notion of democracy appears to be indissolubly bound together with relativism. Relativism appears as the authentic guarantee of freedom, and, indeed, of its essential core: freedom of religion and freedom of conscience.

Ratzinger seeks to address what he views as the challenge of relativism in several ways. First, he argues that democracy rests not so much on the relativistic conviction of the viability of everyone's own opinion, but rather on the validity of basic human rights and dignity. Only a democracy based upon human dignity and rights can prevent that democratic majority from becoming a tyranny of the majority. Democracies should be based not on an ideology of relativism, but on the inviolability of human rights.

Second, Ratzinger discusses the philosophical and religious theories o some contemporary advocates of religious pluralism, especially John Hick and Paul Knitter. He sees this religious pluralism as based on the Kantian critique of reason that considers human reason incapable of metaphysical cognition. Such skepticism of metaphysical claims leads not ot a genuine pluralism and dialogue, but rather to relativism. Ratzinger argues:

To remove from faith its claim to truth, to stated, understandable truth, is an example of that false modesty . . .It is a renunciation of that dignity of being a human person which makes human suffering bearable and endows it with greatness.

With ths criticism, Ratzinger is arguing that relativism not only robs faith of its claim to truth, but does not provide a vision of human dignity that should be the foundation of democracy. Such skepticism and relativism represent the crisis that the post-Vatican II church faces as it enter the third millennium. Ratzinger affirms that "Pluralism in the interplay of Church, Society, and Politics is a fundamental value for Christianity." However, the Christian faith stands opposed to relativism and skepticism, for faith is "an option for the unconditional authority of the truth and of man's bond to the truth."

Table of Contents:

1. The legacy of modernity and the new challenges of historical theology
2. American empirical and naturalistic theology
3. The dialectical theology of Karl Barth, Emil Brunner, and Friedrich Gogarten
4. The theologies of Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer
5. Christian existentialism
6. Christian realism: a post-liberal American theology
7. The new theology and transcendental Thomism
8. Vatican II and the Aggiornamento of Roman Catholic theology
9. Political theology and Latin American liberation theologies
10. Process theology
11. History and hermeneutics
12. Evangelical theology
13. Feminist theology
14. Black theology in America
15. Theology of religions: Christian responses to other faiths
16. Christian thought at the end of the twentieth century