Conclusion: Retrospect and Prospect
The first was Rahner's pre-conciliar essays which managed to integrate a number of the better thoughts of his predecessors since Newman. They did so with a quite admirable balance and comprehensiveness, leaving no major aspect untouched, and drawing all aspects into a unity. The unified quality of Rabner's presentation derived from two things. First, it came from the detailed inter-connexions Rahner was able to suggest, one thesis complementing and supporting another. Second, it was owed to the light provided by some of Rahner's characteristic theological insights, such as the notion that the nexus mysteriorum, the 'criss-crossing of the mysteries', taught by the First Vatican Council, is based ultimately on the fact that all individual doctrines converge on the single mystery of the triune God in his self-communication. If in some future persecution of the Church, or some cultural cataclysm involving the literary production of the race, all the texts to which I have drawn attention in this book perished, Rahner's alone remaining, Catholic theology - as distinct from the history of Catholic theology - would have lost very little. Rahner's work is, therefore, the first reason for saying that, in the decade before the opening of the Second Vatican Council, our subject had come of age.
But secondly, the contributions of both Schillebeeckx and Congar also presuppose that, fundamentally, the problem of doctrinal development has been solved, so that all that remains is to arrange the various authors who helped to bring off this feat in an illuminating order amongst themselves. For Schillebeeckx, whilst the historical, logical and theological approaches to the subject have each their several weaknesses, by a judicious combination of the trio of types we may maximalise the advantages of each and minimise the disadvantages. Like a man sent to fetch water from a well, and provided with a choice of buckets, each of which leaks somewhere, Schillebeeckx does the sensible thing and puts all his buckets inside .each other, in the reasonable hope that the sum-total of three leaky buckets will be one more-or-less watertight set of them. In the living stream of the Church's consciousness, the various ways of doctrinal development converge: the way of historical memory, the way of theological logic, and the way of devotion. And this is so even though only the Church's teaching office, with its charism of infallibility, can declare that this convergence has taken place by means of the Holy Spirit, and not from purely human causes.
The same assumption that, basically, the problem of doctrinal development has been solved, and so all we need is to get the elements of the solution into clearer theological and historical perspective also characterises the work of Congar. Congar in effect agreed with Schillebeeckx that what we need to do is to combine three ways of looking at the subject: (in his chosen terms) the way of historical documentation, the dialectical way of scientific reasoning, and that way which consists in consulting the present mind and practice of the Church, and its magisterium. Like the Schillebeeckx of the 1950s, he gave the palm to the third way, whilst insisting, however, on the importance of not neglecting the contributions of the other two,
Congar's essay, like Schillebeeckx's, breathes a certain air of satisfaction that the solving of a problem which once seemed so intractable, indeed implacable, can at last be serenely docketed among the assured gains of theological reflection.
And there can be little doubt that such was the impression that these three influential periti of the Second Vatican Council gave at that Council itself (technically, Schillebeeckx was simply accredited to the Dutch bishops there). For, if we turn to the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum, we shall find only a single brief reference to the theme of doctrinal development, an allusion eloquent in its very conciseness. Manifestly, for the authors of this great text, the subject of doctrinal development seemed altogether unproblematic.
If the serenity and confidence of this passage is not so tangible in Catholic fundamental theology today, the grounds of this shift in attitude may be summed up in three words: pluralism; hermeneutics; reception. By a convenience of the history of modem theology, each term can be associated with, in turn, the last three authors this book has considered: Rahner, Schillebeeckx, Congar - though the effect of the questions those terms represent on their respective theologies was much more, dramatic in the cases of Rahner and Schillebeeckx than in that of Congar.
Awareness of the pluralism of contemporary intellectual life led Rahner to a less optimistic assessment of the future possibilities of the idea of doctrinal development. In an intellectually pluralistic world, with various ontologies and diverse hermeneutic theories - divergent basic accounts of reality and significance - all jostling for general acceptance and failing to win it, we can no longer, in many areas of reflection, understand each other well enough to have a controversy at all, much less to resolve one. In Rahner's metaphor, a juggler can only 'play with virtuosity' if the number of balls to hand is strictly limited. Today, however, what a learned man knows, compared with what there is to know, seems increasingly microscopic. There are simply, so Rahner fears, too many books, with the result that, not only do the experts know more and more about less and less, but they understand each other less and less as well, and turn into a 'completely dissonant chorus of voices'. 
Theology mirrors this universal state of affairs. The systematic theologian can no longer cope with all the balls which the historian of doctrine, or the exegete, throws in his direction. In particular, the exegete's science has become so complex that he can expect to master only the merest fragment of his subject matter. And so the ever more technical character of exact scholarship, combined with conflict about the basic presuppositions of theological method, now renders the theologian impotent to judge theology as a whole.
Perhaps, in the Catholic context, it should suffice for the theologian simply to follow the Church's teaching - a rock of strength in an epistemologically uncertain world. But even here 'gnoseological concupiscence', Rahner's term for the desire to know run wild, can find no repose. As soon as we begin to interpret that teaching, and not simply to repeat it, the same problem rears its head. It is reassuring if the bishops and people of the Church like one's interpretation of Church teaching, but suppose that they have not really understood what one was saying? After all, Jansen died in the Church's peace years before there was Jansenism. I can expect no infallible decision about my theology, and so far as the non-infallible interventions of the magisterium are concerned, who would dare say with absolute confidence that it is right in all its deliverances at all points? Rahner concludes his account of theological pluralism by confessing that, while unity of faith brings with it a certain unity in theology, nevertheless, for the rest, theologians must simply live and work, accepting the faith of the Church as their intended norm, and hoping that their partially incommensurable theologies will be shown to be identical eschatologically, at the end of time. 
What are the implications of this for the idea of doctrinal development? Such a pluralism is, for Rahner, so radical that one must not only speak of the 'end' of the old type of doctrinal development, but assume that, in the future, the magisterium will be unable to formulate new doctrinal pronouncements.
The 'common theology' which once assisted the magisterium in formulating new teachings is no longer there. Despite the unity of the Creed, the existence of pluralism in theology is a reality that cannot be passed over or ignored. The most that the Church of the future can do is to repeat old doctrines in a fresh way for the sake of guarding them against distortion. And this does not trouble the post-conciliar Rahner, since, as he points out:
Thus, the 'relinquishing' of doctrinal development should not impoverish the Church's life of faith, or ossify her faith-awareness. Instead, or so Rahner hopes, it will lead the Church to concentrate her attention on the central doctrines of Christian revelation, interpreting those doctrines by means of diverse and pluralistic theologies, without attempting to recreate a theological uniformity from the multitude of differing hermeneutical schemas.
If, then, pluralism led Rahner to distance himself from his own pre-conciliar theology of development, the same role in Schillebeeckx's work may be ascribed to the idea of hermeneutics thus briefly mentioned. Writing shortly after the Council, Schillebeeckx claimed that theories of doctrinal development were the Catholic answer to the problem of hermeneutics.  Even at the time, this claim was not entirely convincing. For, first, the traditional form that hermeneutics has taken in Catholic theology has been twofold: not a theory of doctrinal development only, but also its elder brother, a theory of the senses of Scripture. These two kinds of reflection, concerned as they are with the meaning of apostolic revelation, and notably as found in the texts of the New Testament, seen as a fulfilment of the Old, share patristic roots and a mediaeval flourishing which warrants our calling them 'traditional' in Catholicism. But secondly, and more importantly, if these two enterprises - a theory of doctrinal development and a theory of the senses of Scripture - have been 'hermeneutical', they have been so in a modest, restricted, sense. On the whole, their practitioners have taken meaning for granted and concerned themselves rather with truth. They have assumed that, broadly speaking, when we discuss the Fourth Gospel or the doctrine of justification we know what it is that we are talking about. The very fact that we are able to disagree - that, for example, Catholics and Lutherans might differ about the groundness of the notion of Eucharistic Sacrifice in the passion narratives of the Synoptics, or Dominicans and Franciscans about the consonance of the Immaculate Conception with the universality of Christ's redeeming work - only confirms that this is so. You do not disagree with someone who belongs to another semantic universe; you simply fail to comprehend them. But in three essays of 1967 to 1969, Schillebeeckx put forward a much more radical concept of theological hermeneutics than this.  He argued that, thanks to the historicity of man, and more especially, to the overwhelming change of consciousness that humanity was undergoing through the process of secularisation, something more ambitious than this was needful.  It would be necessary to go back to scratch, and seek to look at the New Testament using the full set of lenses offered by contemporary philosophical hermeneutics, and notably by structuralist linguistics, logical analysis, phenomenology and the emerging concept of orthopraxy, indebted as this was - in Schillebeeckx's increasing use of it - to the Frankfurt school of critical sociology, itself Marxist, though in a highly revisionist sense. 
The increasing estrangement of a substantial portion of the Dutch church from Rome, and Schillebeeckx's
decision to become a theological spokesman for its 'critical communities'; the student rebellions of 1968, which first introduced him to the Frankfurt writers; personal tours
of both the United States and Latin America where he encountered, respectively, 'Death
of God' theology and the beginnings of liberation theology; and encounters with French
university chaplains concerned with the vanishing piety of their charges all contributed to Schillebeeckx's distancing
from his earlier picture of what, in the Catholic tradition, theology should be. In the face of the fundamental
scepticism about the very possibility of revelation which he discerned among his contemporaries, the theologian
could no longer, so Schillebeeckx thought, presume the starting-point of belief as expressed in dogma, 'revelation-in-word', and merely search for fresh ways in which
to express the deeper underlying reality, 'revelation-in-reality' itself. The theologian must now begin by listening to contemporary secular experience until, from out
In its scanning of the Jesus tradition, theology will pay especial attention, so Schillebeeckx's massive investigation into the founder of Christianity, Jesus, would maintain, to the importance of narratives. Through narrative, celebrated in worship and pronounced tellingly over situations of injustice and oppression, the disturbing memory of the One who stood at the turn of the ages, the 'eschatological prophet', is both fêted in the joy of God and also brought to bear on the inhumanity of man in all its hard facticity. An 'argumentative' Christology - one, namely, which asks after the truth of the Figure at the Church's origin -
Schillebeeckx's' new theological method carries with it, in addition to the promise of rich insight into the gospels and their spiritual application to the present, seeds of destruction not found in the more classical theological terrain which he has abandoned. Most notably: here revelation and salvation tremble on the brink of absorption into the sea of human consciousness at large. Refusing the luxury of an metaphysic, how can one state the difference between the Church's liturgical remembering of Jesus and, say, Herbert Marcuse's critical remembering of Orpheus?  Where our own topic, that of doctrinal development, is concerned, it is difficult to think that the later Schillebeeckx has left sufficient room for the rôle of the Church's public doctrine in his account of Christian believing. While not denying - indeed, affirming - the christological and Trinitarian dogmas, he has ceased to seek their re-formulation, leaving them, in the main, to one side as conceptual icons that tempt one to pure contemplation rather than the engaged mysticism of political commitment. Such an emancipatory and critical praxis will fmd greater encouragement in a new christology founded rather on the Synoptic Gospels than on the Gospel of John. Although Schillebeeckx regards the concilar christology as a faithful reflection, within the Greek patristic framework, of the original New Testament kerygma, proclaiming as it does a Jesus who is at once wholly on God's side and wholly on ours as well, he considers it, nevertheless, a unilateral development, which set restrictive limits to the image of Jesus in the later Church. For the later Christology is too frequently merely occasioned by the concrete Jesus of history:
Our own time, in its preoccupation with suffering in a search for meaning and liberation, renders newly pertinent the ante-Nicene christologies which are closer, in Schillebeeckx's view, to the impression left by the Jesus of history in the Synoptic tradition. In thus defining the Christian world of meaning by reference to a triangle - the life of Jesus, contemporary experience, and the theology that mediates between these two, one may, however, miss the crucial help of dogmatic utterances as a raising into intelligibility of the content of the Gospel in ways that are to shape the response to revelation of the Catholic Christian believer for ever afterwards. [15a] The truth of the Gospel falls through our fmgers, a quicksilver promise of enlightenment only at the end of time, or becomes a mere fleeting contact, like that of the Haemorrhetic Woman, with the hem of the garments of the Word as he passes by.
Despite, however, these concessions to theological agnosticism at the transcendent pole of doctrine, Schillebeeckx's proposals have contributed to theological culture in a variety of projects. These include the enterprises both of 'political theology' and 'narrative theology', as well as the influential school of 'hermeneutical theology', now found in, especially French-speaking Europe and of which the philosopher Jean Ladrière and the theologian Claude Geffré are the two great luminaries. For such hermeneutical theologians, the theories of doctrinal development which we have been studying seem not so much wrong as impossibly innocent and naive.
The final key-word in any account of the fate of the idea of doctrinal development must be reception, with which term we may link the name of Congar. The notion of the ecclesial reception of doctrine achieved prominence in the 1960s by two quite distinct routes. In part, it arose among historians of the Councils, who noted the way in which successive patristic synods claimed to be 'receiving' the teaching of their predecessors in a fashion that differed from the mere canonical, judicial, confirmation of their acta. The idea that a Council or a pope speaking ex cathedra may be, not so much the final stamp of approval on a prior process of doctrinal development, working through historical memory, theological logic, and devout contemplation, but, rather, the beginning of a subsequent process of theological reception was a perhaps inevitable follow-up to this discovery by historians - though, by an unexpected twist of theological history, the Greek Orthodox bishop-theologian John Zizioulas has proposed that the interventions of the Roman popes in disputes over councils, or debated points of doctrine, be understood as, precisely, the final sealing of such an activity of reception. 
The second point of entrance of the idea of reception into Catholic theology was the Ecumenical Movement. In the later 1960s, such Catholic ecumenists as Congar discovered the potential of the notion of reception for the movement towards an organically reunited Christendom. A teaching put forward in the Great Church and rejected by a significant body of Christians who then disappeared into schism might more happily be described, not as rejected but as 'not- received'. If someone rejects some tenet, and then is asked to think again, he is being asked to eat his words, if not his hat. But were we simply to say that his spiritual ancestors simply declined to receive an earlier teaching, which teaching we may all sit down and re-receive together, then the ecumenical state of affairs looks much rosier - though the amelioration is achieved at a price. When treated prudently the idea can be a valuable one. By and large, it is so treated by Congar, for whom re-reception is essentially the supplementing - not the supplanting! - of Catholic doctrine by other insights. Thus the Dominican ecclesiologist writes, first, of reception:
And, again, of re-reception:
But when handled less carefully than here, the ideas of reception and re-reception can be made to throw the entire process of doctrinal development into an indefmitely unattainable future. For who is to say what the result of constant re-reception of magisterial determinations of doctrinal development will be? We shall be cast onto the not so tender mercies of futurologists, and theologians who struggled to bring forward the solutions to the problem of doctrinal development which this book has expounded cannot, after their exhausting efforts, reasonably be expected to turn into prophets as well.
It is, then, desirable for the health of the idea of doctrinal development, as, in general, for the doctrinal consciousness of the Catholic Church, that the operation of these three notions - pluralism, hermeneutics, reception - be kept within determinate bounds. The fundamental strategies by which this may be done are not far to seek. Where pluralism is concerned, we must work towards the recreation of a common theological culture, in which each particular theology strives to draw within itself whatever is of value in its rivals, as well as maintaining its own transparency to the public doctrine of the Church. Where hermeneutics is concerned, we must insist that the fundamental hermeneutical vantage point to be occupied by the Catholic theologian - whether in his reading of Scripture, or in his evaluation of the human condition - must be that represented by the Church's tradition itself. In that tradition - grasped through its 'monuments', ranging from the Liturgy and sacred art, through the Fathers, the Creeds and the Councils, to the 'sense of the faithful', as these loci, 'places', are charted in the classical theologies of the Church - there unfolds, thanks to the Spirit of divine Providence, the authorised interpretation of both Bible and human living. Finally, where reception is concerned, we must treat the idea of re-reception, not as a mortgaging of the achieved fruits of doctrinal development in the name of the future, but as the amplification of the results of that process by the elements of truth found in the teaching of other Christian confessions - elements which are, often enough, simply the forgotten truths of Catholicism itself. [19a]
In the last analysis, what is at stake here is the continuing accessibility of an objective Christian truth. The Scots theologian T. F. Torrance, speaking of the 'conceptual or epistemic consent' which is, for the Greek fathers, at the heart of listening obedience to God's Word, reminds us that, in the religion of which the Nicene Creed is the first great doctrinal confession
And while, in divine revelation, images are of the greatest importance as carriers of meaning, though they are always to be interpreted 'according to the sense given them by the Scriptures' and 'within the whole scope and framework of the biblical narrative and message',  there must also be judgement - and hence doctrinal determinations - concerning the significance of what these images connote. It is this objective evangelical truth, expressed in a body of doctrine, which bonds the Church to the 'creative source of its being in the Gospel', and structures its life and mission in accordance with the 'pattern of divine truth' embodied in Christ.  This is, of course the very conviction to which Catholicism has given testimony by its continuing fruitfulness in bringing forth doctrine. Dogmatic and ecumenical theology are happily married when the former can, thanks to the latter, borrow from such non-Catholic divines the perspicuous statement of Catholic truth.
2. Dei Verbum 8.
3. K. Rahner-H. Fries, Einigung der Kirchen
- reale Möglichkeit (Freiburg 1983).
4. lbid., p. 144.
5. 'The Concept of Infallibility in Catholic Theology', in Theological
6. K. Rahner, 'Magisterium', Sacramentum Mundi III (London 1969), p. 358. See
7. E. Schillebeeckx, 'Naar een katholiek gebruik van de hermeneutiek:
8. lbid., pp. 51-140. These essays are 'Secularisation and Christian Belief'; 'Secular Worship and Church Liturgy'; 'The Church as the Sacrament of Dialogue'.
9. One must recognise the pastoral concern which underlay this new attitude: 'I felt' (Schillebeeckx wrote) 'an almost feverish sense of urgency', ibid., p. 169.
10. E. Schillebeeckx, Geloofsverstaan: interpretatie en kritiek (Bloemendaal 1972); Et The Understanding of Faith. Interpretation and Criticism (London 5974), pp. 20-44; 102-55.
11. D. Held, Introduction to Critical Theory. Horkheimer to Habermas (London 1980) offers perhaps the best survey in English of the work of the Frankfurt SchooL Its earlier period is charted in M. Jay, The Dialectical Imagination (Boston, Massachusetts 1973).
12. E. Schillebeeckx, The Understanding of Faith, op. cit., pp. 143-4.
13. ldem., Jezus, het verhaal van een levende (Bloemendaal 1974); Et Jesus. An Experiment in Christology (London 1979), p. 74.
14. 'The criticism, this, of W. L. Portier, 'Schillebeeckx as Critical Theorist: the Impact of
Neo-Marxist Social Thought on his Recent Theology', Thomist
15a. The further sections of Schillebeeckx' Christological trilogy: Gerechtigheid
16. God the Future of Man, op. cit., p. 40.
17. J. Zizioulat, 'The Theological Problem of "Reception", Centro pro Unione Bulletin 26 (1984), pp. 3-6.
18. Y. Congar, O.P., 'La Réception comme réalité ecclésiologique', Revue des Sciences Philosophiques et Théologiques 56 (1972), p. 399.
19. Idem., Le Concile de Vatican II (Paris 1984), p. 84.
19a. I offer a fuller view of the proper character of distinctively Catholic theology, in conjunction with an overview of its story, in my forthcoming The Shape of Catholic Theology. An Introduction to its Sources, Principles and History.
20. T. F. Torrance, The Trinitarian Faith. The Evangelical Theology of the Ancient Catholic Church (Edinburgh 1988), p. 20.
21.lbid., p. 120.
22. Ibid., p. 31.
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