History of Theology: The Patristic Period edited by Angelo Di Berardino, edited by Basil Studer, translated by Matthew J. O'Connell (History of Theology: Liturgical Press) This valuable book is both more and less than a history of patristic theology. Less because it does not try (a la Quasten et al.) to present virtually every writing of every theologian of the first six centuries. More because in its very selectivity it is able to present patterns and trends with greater clarity. The great bulk (almost 400 pages) of this volume comes from the erudite pen of Studer with contributions from Di Berardino, Prosper Grech, Eric Osborne, Henri Crouzel, and Manilo Simonetti.
As valuable as it is stimulating, this series offers an introduction to a discipline that has rarely been the subject of a comprehensive historical presentation. The multiple volumes that encompass this study bring theology out of its small circle ofexperts, and show it for what it is to all: a cultural expression of faith that is sensitive to the needs of the day and developed in close dialogue with other forms of the culture.
The history of theology presented here is meant to be a history of the whole of Catholic Christian theology, from which the Second Vatican Council has served as both a point of arrival and a point of departure. The authors provide a history of theology that covers the twenty centuries of theological thought beginning with biblical revelation. They focus on the word "theology" and its accepted meaning and offer a careful history that shows what "theology" meant in successive periods, periods that must be seen for what they are in light of the faith journeys and cultural itineraries they represent and for their influence on our lives today.
History of Theology is planned as a 4 volume work that will offers a scholarly summary of theological history for a popular audience.. Volumes cover the entire age of patristic theology from the first to the seventh centuries, medieval and renaissance theology from the late eighth to the fourteenth centuries, and the period from the Council of Trent to the twentieth century. Translated from Italian, this scholarly work is carefully organized and annotated. Text and chronological tables are included along with a list of abbreviations and a topical index.
Chapters in Part One are: "The Beginnings of Christian Theology," "The Greco-Roman World: Challenge and Response," "Defense of Truth and Attack on Heresy," "The School of Alexandria and Its Fortunes," "A Theology Without Learning," "The East After Origen," "The Beginnings of Theological Reflection in the West," and "The Christian Apocrypha and Their Significance."
Chapters in Part Two are: "The Situation of the Church," "Instituta Veterum," "Concluding Thoughts," "Eruditio Veterum," "Sapientia Veterum," "The Characteristics of Theological Work," "The Bible as Read in the Church," "Synodal Orthodoxy," "The Fathers of the Church," "The Beginnings of the Doctrinal Authority," "A Rational Knowledge of the Bible," "A Search for a Synthesis of Biblical Thought," "Summaries of Christian Doctrine," "The Role of Heresies," and "Reflection on Theological Systematization."
The History of Theology II: The Middle Ages edited by Giulio D'Onofrio, translated by Matthew J. O'Connell (History of Theology: Liturgical Press) At last, a thorough, balanced, and readable history of medieval theology for nonspecialist readers! This is that book we so often ask for and so seldom get: written by a scholar for everyone to read. Giulio D’Onofrio, a historian of philosophy and theology, uses his deep and broad-ranging knowledge of the thought of the scholars (Christian, Jewish, and Muslim) of the Middle Ages to describe in a thoroughly readable style the development of ideas from the beginnings of what can rightly be called Western culture to the Renaissance and the eve of the Reformation. No longer can medieval theology be regarded as merely Thomas Aquinas and Bonaventure with appendages fore and aft. This book is a page-turner, as readers are continually invited to join scholars and mystics of another age in the perennial pursuit of “faith seeking understanding.”
It is this quest for a synthesis of faith and reason that guided the medieval thinkers and is the unifying thread running through this book. Readers follow as the Roman world of thought gives way to a Christian world whose philosophy builds on that of Greeks and Romans. That early phase in turn yields to the era of the monastic and cathedral schools, where Christian learning was nurtured until the rise of the universities. In that high flowering, the encounter with Jewish and Arabic thought brought a new energy that issued not only in the work of great masters like Thomas and Bonaventure but also in a flowering of mysticism. Along the way, the great controversies of the era sparked new thinking and new learning, as suppressions of thought proved only temporary setbacks and correctives on the way to greater understanding.
Matthew O’Connell’s translation is masterful. Readers will be
captivated as much by his lucid and readable English as by
D’Onofrio’s clear presentation. It is a work of great merit that
should be on the shelf, and frequently in the hand, of everyone who
is at all curious about how human beings in the past, as in the
present, have sought to understand the faith that is in them.
History of Theology III: The Renaissance by Giulio D'Onofrio, translated byMatthew J. O'Connell (History of Theology: Liturgical Press) In this, the third volume of a multiple-volume series, Giulio D'Onofrio examines the history of theology and the basic innovations in theological thought during the Renaissance era. He explores the councils, people, movements, pedagogy, and theological methods of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
From the beginning of the fifteenth century on, the unresolved crisis that was fragmenting Christendom led to an urgent call for a renewal of the methods, themes, and purposes of theological thought.
To the humanists who had a renewed interest in the works of the Church forebearers the patristic sources were no longer simply authorities to be regularly cited in support of the technical divisions of the questions under discussion. They also represented another way of thinking that followed freer and more fruitful criteria than those rigidly fixed by medieval Aristotelian rationalism. This new relationship with the patristic model was one factor that distinguished the periods of the Renaissance and the Middle Ages.
In History of Theology III: The Renaissance Giulio D'Onofrio points out how this call for a renewal of the methods, themes, and purposes of theological thought established important and unrenouncible premises both positive and negative for the development of philosophical and theological thought in the modern age.
Translated from Italian, this scholarly work is carefully organized and annotated. Text and chronological tables are included along with a list of abbreviations, a topic index, and an index of names.
Chapters are: "The Theology of Italian Humanism in the Early Fifteenth Century," "Italian Scholasticism and Ecclesiastical Culture in the Fifteenth Century: Continuity and Innovation," "The Theology of Nicholas of Cusa," "The Mature Stage of Humanist Theology in Italy," "Theology in Fifteenth-Century Spain," "Scholastic Culture and Humanist Culture in France in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries," "Traditionalism, Humanism, and Mystical Experience in Northern Europe and in the Germanic Regions in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries," and "The Crisis of Late Humanism and the Expectations of Reform in Italy at the End of the Fifteenth and Beginning of the Early Sixteenth Centuries."
This massive volume is part of a monumental series originally published in Italian, beginning in 1993. To my knowledge, only the first volume, on the patristic era, has previously been published. Volume 3, which appeared in Italian in 1995, represents a major contribution to the theological, intellectual and ideological history of the early-modern era in Western Europe. Along with 457 pages of text, there is an additional 33 pages of notes. Each of the eight chapters includes a substantial bibliography, and D'Onofrio himself added 134 pages of chronological tables tracing ecclesiastical events, doctrinal and cultural developments, and historical context. Three of the first four chapters (and four of the eight overall) were written by Cesare Vasoli. Hence, the book reads like a study of early-modern Italian Christian theology, with supplementary chapters on related topics, such as the thought of Nicolas of Cusa, and on theological developments :in France, Germany, and Spain in the 15th and 16th centuries.
In the introduction, D. nicely summarized the central question at stake in the analysis of the five contributing authors. To what extent, he asked, did the Renaissance plan for the reform of theology go beyond simple criticism of Scholasticism and accomplish genuine renewal of religious perspectives? After reading the four chapters by Vasoli, the two on France and on Northern Europe by Anna Morisi, the chapter on Cusa by Graziella Federici Vescovini, and that on Spanish theology by Isaac Vazquez Janiero, their collective conclusion is clear: only to a brief and inconsistent extent. They confirm what D. called the "image of a failed Renaissance revolution" (14), as moderate doctrinal positions were lost to one-sided opinions and a return to theological Aristotelianism. In short, Renaissance theology wound up at odds with the very anti-Scholastic premises with which it began.
This conclusion will surprise no one familiar with the traditional interpretation of either the Renaissance or the Reformation that followed it. But there is more to the book than just this. D. declares in the introduction that there was a stunning lack of agreement among theological authors at the beginning of the 16th century. He correctly interprets Luther as a result. The German reformer was, in many ways, the concluding voice in a process of theological experimentation and reconsideration fueled by the competition among a variety of theological schools and by the variety of voices within each school. D. therefore brings into focus the relevance of medieval reform ideology to this early-modern story, a fact that is all too often forgotten by those who see Luther fundamentally as a revolutionary.
The end of this volume, on the other hand, is not as interesting or convincing. Vasoli wrote the final, and longest, section of the book on the "crisis of late humanism and expectations of reform in Italy." In that section he makes a neat, but in my opinion overly facile, separation between those reformers who concentrated on ecclesiastical government and those with a biblical focus. He similarly differentiates simply between the promotion of real renewal and the pursuit of disciplinary severity. Such distinctions leave him with little choice other than to reiterate one of the most resilient commonplaces associated with the late Renaissance and the coming of the Counter Reformation. The death of Gasparo Contarini and the exile of Bernardino Ochino and Pietro Vermigli, he argues, marked the turning point for Romanists during the Reformation. They turned to create a Catholic movement that systematically repressed all vestiges of moderation. That characterization of ecclesiastical thought and practice no longer informs textbook literature to the degree that it did in the past, but it is unfortunate to encounter it in a work of such high scholarship as this one.
The unstated definition of "renewal," of course, is at the heart of the problem. For Vasoli and the other writers here, it would seem that a "renewed perspective" on theology would be a moderate, not rigorist or absolute, position. This ignores the fact that persons on all sides in the doctrinal disputes of this age--and in every other age--considered themselves in possession of a portion of the truth that was not understood`by the majority of their contemporaries. This is true, albeit to a greater or lesser degree, whether one looks at Martin Luther or Gasparo Contarini or Gian Pietro Carafa. Revolutionary changes in thought never bring about moderation or tolerance in the short run, and hence to consider the Renaissance a failed theological revolution is to miss the point. It brought about a redefinition of theological positions. But in the end, the redefined positions resembled more the argumentative views of Scholastic theologians who preceded the Renaissance than they resembled the theological moderation that we, in democratic societies, esteem in the late-20th-century world.
One might quibble with certain editorial choices made in composing this book, such as the placement of the notes and the bibliographies. Perhaps the few notes would be more likely to be read if placed at the bottom of the page; the bibliographies would have been less intrusive if held to the end of the volume. I would quibble more vigorously with the choice by the translator and the press to anglicize beautiful Italian names--but only when there was a simple English equivalent--giving us Leonard Bruni, Lawrence Valla, and John Boccaccio, but also Guarino Guarini, Cola di Rienzo, and Coluccio Salutati. If the translator was willing to leave us with such relatively obscure phrases as "latreutic veneration" (115), why not also with a consistent use of names in their original version?
Still, this is an important book in a series that, when completed, will belong in all research libraries and in the collections of all institutions with a serious interest in Christian theology.
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