This Week’s Discussion Question: Neo-Augustinian vs. Post Vatican II Thomist perspectives on liturgical reform and renewal

In Vatican II: The Battle for Meaning (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2012), Massimo Faggioli contrasts two major interpretations of Vatican II: the “neo-Augustinian” and the “post-Vatican II [neo-] Thomist.” He quotes Ormund Rush in describing the neo-Augustinian school as “wanting to set the church and world in a situation of rivals; it sees the world in a negative light; evil and sin so abound in the world that the church should be always suspicious and distrustful of it. Any openness to the world would be ‘naïve optimism.’” Theologians associated with this perspective would be Henri de Lubac, Jean Danielou, Han Urs von Balthasar, Louis Bouyer, and Joseph Ratzinger. In contrast, Rush identifies “a new ‘progressive’ group wanting to retrieve a re-interpreted Thomism, and counseling openness to the world” and, in Faggioli’s words, “that twentieth century theology should do with modern philosophy and social sciences what Thomas [Aquinas] had done with Aristotle in the thirteenth century, but now based on a new view of the relationship between faith and history….” This group included Yves Congar, Marie-Dominique Chenu, Edward Schillebeeckx, Karl Rahner, and Bernard Lonergan.

I have found this categorization helpful as I’ve reflected on the various stances toward liturgical reform and renewal evident over the past fifty years and marking the contributions of this blog and others concerned with Catholic worship. “Neo-Augustinian” approaches to the liturgy tend to view it in Platonic terms, the heavenly worship offered to the Father by the Son in the unity of the Spirit, joined in by the angels and saints, in which those on earth are privileged to gain some share by grace. “Post Vatican II Thomist” approaches to the liturgy would tend to view it in Aristotelian terms, a “complexus of sensible signs” to use the initial words of Cyprian Vagaggini’s definition, an earthly disclosure through culturally and historically conditioned semiotic systems of the graced condition of the world.

I would pose two questions for our discussion. 1) Does this categorization of two tendencies in the reception of Vatican II shed some light on the underlying assumptions brought to our conversation on liturgical reform and renewal by various partners? 2) If these foundational positions are dialectically related, is the way forward by showing how one position is correct and the other is to be repudiated, how one position subsumes another, or how another position can be generated that capitalizes on the insights of both while avoiding their weaknesses?


46 responses to “This Week’s Discussion Question: Neo-Augustinian vs. Post Vatican II Thomist perspectives on liturgical reform and renewal”

  1. Fritz Bauerschmidt Avatar

    Michael, you quaestio arrives as I am in the midst of trying to write an essay on “Augustinian” and “Thomist” as tropes in modern theological polemic. I had not noticed Fagioli’s book, so I thank you for the reference.

    I do not yet know what my final verdict on the question of the usefulness of these categories will be, though my gut instinct is that whatever utility they have is limited. One thing that inclines me to think this that in the 1950s Danielou, de Lubac, Congar and Chenu were all counted as kindred spirits against the Roman Thomists. How then, after the council, do they split into “Augustinians” and “Thomists”?

    At the same time, it does seem that on any number of concrete issues there was a parting of the ways among the pre-Vatican II “progressives” that seemed roughly to fall into two camps. But I wonder if it is helpful to characterize one group as Augustinian/Platonist and the other as Thomist/Aristotelian — particularly since this might end up giving us a distorted picture of both Augustine and Thomas. I also wonder how the older characterization of positions as “eschatological” and “incarnational” maps onto the “Augustinian” and “Thomist” distinction.

    Obviously, I’m just starting to think this through and I thank you for indulging my ramblings. I’ll try to weigh in later with some more coherent thoughts more directly related to liturgy.

  2. Samuel J. Howard Avatar

    This is a very confusing schema.

    Like Deacon Fritz points out, what becomes of the Roman Thomists and the followers of the group historically designated as Neo-Thomists? Where does von Hildebrand fit in? John Paul II and his many Dominican followers who look to existentialist and phenomenological philosophies along with Aquinas are hardly “progressive” in the applicable sense.

  3. Jack Feehily Avatar
    Jack Feehily

    While I realize both Pray Tell and Worship are associated with St. John’s, I rather thought that this was forum for more practical conversations about matters liturgical. But it may be good for those of us in the trenches of parish life to be reminded that beneath the ongoing controversies about the manner in which the church ought best to celebrate the Sacred Mysteries lies profound academic intrigue.

    The NO was promulgated as the result of a long explored period of resourcement which restored a cognitive dimension to the sacred liturgy. Prior to this reform, the understandibility of the rites either by the clergy or the faithful was of no apparent importance. Liturgical courses in seminaries amounted to a mastery of rubrics. Priests were ordained primarily to bring the Divine Presence down to the altar where It could be adored and even consumed by those who had been to Saturday confession and arose early on Sunday morning. The “folks” were trained from childhood to accept that theirs was not to reason why but rather just to do or die. They did their best to pray, pay, and obey. The Mass was mercifully swift during which one might hope to make a momentary connection with the God who judged them. Churches were full since the alternative to keeping the Sunday obligation was to risk the fires of hell. The prevailing worldview during this time was of a Magic Kingdom like heaven locked in mortal conflict with the world, the flesh, and the devil. The prevailing ecclesiology held that the Pope was the earthly head of that kingdom and that it was his divinely instituted task to make sure that no one got out of line–be they bishops, priests, religious, or laity.
    When the progressives proposed an alternative worldview and ecclesiology not long after the technology to destroy the earth became known in Japan, there was a readiness and appetite for sweeping change. It became time to ask all the forbidden questions. And at Vatican II, the genie was let out of the bottle. Now some are desperate to put the lid back on.

  4. Hans Christoffersen Avatar
    Hans Christoffersen

    Just a gentle correction:
    Massimo Faggioli’s “Vatican II: The Battle for Meaning” is published by Paulist Press. In September, Liturgical Press will publish his “True Reform: Liturgy and Ecclesiology in Sacrosanctum Concilium.”

  5. Brendan McInerny Avatar
    Brendan McInerny

    Mr. Feehily,
    I think your narrative obscures the fact that many critics of pre-Vatican II liturgical sensibilities and practice are now accused of ‘trying to put the genie back in the bottle’. While I’m no expert on the history of the movement, it seems the Liturgical Movement and various trends in theology prior to the Council that all aimed at reform in a variety of ways, discovered afterward that there were drastically different ideas of what true reform was during and after the Council. In other words, I simply don’t see Benedict, Balthasar, de Lubac’s, etc, etc. aiming at the kind of pre-reform liturgy you describe.

    As for the Augustinian/Thomistic schema, I too question its usefulness. Though, I would be very interested to read your work on the designations as tropes in modern theology, deacon Fritz. The Augustinian element doesn’t seem to add anything to describing liturgical sensibilities except a kind of suspicion of ‘the world’. The problem however is that the two groupings of theologians each find the world to be good and bad in a variety of ways. Reading Schillebeeckx

  6. Bill deHaas Avatar
    Bill deHaas

    Fr. Joncas and Deacon – if I may contribute to your points of view. As a historican, share some of Peter Steinfel’s concerns when using certain individuals or periods to try to interpret significant events, turning points, etc.

    This response by Steinfel’s to Weigel (altho centered on Bernardin) can readily be applied to *interpreting the meaning of Vatican II”


    – “Few tools in the historian’s kit are as fundamental as periodization. By naming distinct stretches of time, historians give shape to history’s flow: the Dark Ages, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Age of Exploration (or, alternatively, of Colonization), the Age of Democratic Revolutions, the Age of Anxiety. (substitute *schools of thought for periodizations)
    As those names suggest, periodization always carries interpretive, even ideological, baggage. One person’s Enlightenment is someone else ‘s Age of Absolutism. John W. O’Malley, SJ, has written a brilliant little book, Trent and All That: Renaming Catholicism in tfie Early Modern Era, on the significance of such alternative designations as Counter-Reformation, Catholic Reformation, Baroque Catholicism, or Early Modem Catholicism. Naming a period for a dominant figure – the Age of Louis XIV, the Jacksonian Age, the Victorian Era – is similarly fraught, as are the dates that begin and end a period. “The End of the Bemardìn Era,” a recent essay by George Weigel, is such an exercise in periodization.”

    – “Weigel repeatedly refers to “the liberal-consensus politics of the Bernardin Era.” One might dispute exactly how liberal that consensus was, but it was, at least among the bishops, a consensus. (replace Weigel with either of the two *camps* you suggest and put Alberigo in place of Bernardin. For me, the key is *Consensus*)

    Rush appears to be doing a Toynbee approach – good within recognized limits;or generalizations, trends, patterns but begins to break down when you drill down to specifics. Find that certain folks such as deLubac or even Bouyer can not be so easily categorized…..IMO

  7. Brendan McInerny Avatar
    Brendan McInerny

    (sorry, my iPad is acting up) Reading Schillebeeckx’s more political theology, one finds ‘the world’ to be a very ambiguous place. And the emphasis on art found in Benedict’s Spirit of the Liturgy hardly gives a negative view of cultural potential ( granted he certainly doesn’t think highly of some cultural expressions).

    Perhaps a better distinction would be between two different metaphysical visions. One a realism and the other a kind of Kantianism. The former emphasizing the realism of these particular actions as the means of participating in the real heavenly liturgy (this I think better incorporates a variety of strands of this realism, prevalent in Thomists, Augustinians, and Eastern theologies as well). The latter emphasizing the varied and variable symbolic expressions of a hidden noumenal world. I’m sure some will take issue with those descriptions, but they may be relatively adequate types.

  8. Fr. Jan Michael Joncas Avatar
    Fr. Jan Michael Joncas

    Thanks to Hans for correcting my citation. _Vatican II: The Battle for Meaning_ is indeed published by Paulist Press. I was citing from memory and your is a healthy reminder not to do so.

    I fear that in attempting to sketch the two opposing post-Vatican II interpretative tendencies according to Prof. Faggioli’s book, I have simplified and thus mis-represented his thought. To again quote Rush: “The formerly united progressive group of post-Scholastic Thomists, having rejected the Thomism of neo-Scholasticism, have now divided, forming two groups…: 1) a new “progressive” group wanting to retrieve a re-interpreted Thomism, and counseling openness to the world, and 2) a new “conservative” group wanting to retrieve the Augustinian vision, and counseling caution in the Church’s relation to the world.” Thus I think one can point to a “pre-1968” and a “post-1968” Ratzinger, much as one can point to the Louis Bouyer of “Liturgical Piety” and “Rite and Man” and the Louis Bouyer of _La Décomposition du Catholicisme_ (1968) and +Religieux et clercs contre Dieu_ (1975). I think the “neo-Augustinian” group identified above corresponds to Rush’s group #2 and the “Thomist” group to Rush’s group #1.

  9. Fr. Jan Michael Joncas Avatar
    Fr. Jan Michael Joncas

    Re: Mr. Feehily’s comment at #3: I’m one of those old-fashioned academics who believe that ideas matter :-), that theological perspectives have profound implications for pastoral practice (and vice versa). Thus I agree with Mr. McInerny that both of these groups share a commitment to philosophical/theological realism, but their modes of thinking about the Really Real differ, and that has consequences for pastoral practice. (As a side note, it seems to me that both Platonic and Aristotelian world views allow for contingent beings [like us] to genuinely participate in Being [like God], although the understanding of the modes of that participation will differ. My experience as an associate professor in an Upper Midwestern university is that most of the people I encounter are neither Platonists nor Aristotelians, where the Really Real is encountered in an Eternal Idea or a universal, but [if they think about such issues at all] are rather naive nominalists, where the Really Real is encountered only in concretely [and discretely] existing things to which we give common names for the sake of convenience in particular circumstances. Of course, this makes sacramental worship as anything other than a bare calling to mind of a past event or an imaginative projection of future hopes almost impossible and genuine participation in a supernatural reality problematic.)

    1. Charles Culbreth Avatar
      Charles Culbreth

      Hello Fr. Mike!
      I am not a liturgist, though Todd Flowerday jibes me occasionally for playing one on TV! But, a. “ideas” do very much matter in a profound sense in the milieu of worship. Though contemplating an incomprehensible mystery would appear to be an oxymoronic waste of time, nonetheless it seems the most human act, along with love, that we could literally bring to the table. And, b. I think I followed the dialectic of your experience through, though ill-equipped, to get a sense that these ideas, pardon the cliche, “keep hope alive” that we are not mindless automatons getting “gas and go” sacramentals as the carrot remains on the stick until the day we die.
      It seems a little heady, like quantum physics, but I think it all helps various people with their unique sensibilities to reach for a deeper level of meaning towards the Being, AM. And I conversely despair when academics, uh, grow weary and invite doubt into their equations by way of acquiring lots of data.
      Keep talking about the ghost in the machine.

  10. Paul Inwood Avatar
    Paul Inwood

    This may prove to be a very interesting discussion.

    In talking of Bouyer, Ratzinger, von Balthasar and others, I agree that it is possible for leopards to change their spots.

    I am reminded of Canon “Pilkie” Pilkington of the Archdiocese of Westminster, who before Vatican II was chairman of the Vernacular Society. After Vatican II and the liturgical reforms, he became chairman of the Latin Mass Society……. (which campaigned, and still does so, for the EF).

    Perhaps here was someone who needed a crusade to give meaning to his life. Also interesting might be Fr Clifford Howell SJ, who campaigned ceaselessly across the world over many years for the liturgical reforms which we now enjoy (and was banned from a number of dioceses because of his progressive views). Once those reforms had come about, he found he was unable to cope with them. Effectively what he wanted to do was substitute another set of prescriptive rubrics for the previous set. He was unable to live without a heavily-regimented structure to order his life.

    I can see all sorts of parallels with those who desire reform as an abstract but who are then unable to deal with the concrete aftermath of reform. Categorizing them as neo-Augustinian or Thomist might be a neat way of analyzing their thought, but I wonder if it deals with the underlying emotional basis for their thinking.

    1. Jack Wayne Avatar
      Jack Wayne

      @Paul Inwood – comment #11:
      I’m not sure someone who wanted reform before the council and then was unhappy with the result is an example of a leopard changing its spots. I’ve met a suprising number of older EF advocates who were quite happy with the initial reform of the liturgy in the mid 60s. Wanting things like vernacular and congregational participation have absolutely nothing to do with wanting the Novus Ordo.

      1. Paul Inwood Avatar
        Paul Inwood

        @Jack Wayne – comment #21:
        My question was not so much about the minutiae of whether or not some wanted a particular form of the rite, but rather more about the psychological state(s) of those who campaign for change and then can’t handle it when they get it. I can certainly see Bouyer and Ratzinger fitting in well there.

    2. Mary Wood Avatar
      Mary Wood

      @Paul Inwood – comment #11:
      Paul, thank you so much for these insights. (July 16 2.27pm)They are especially helpful to me, living as I do in a parish where the young (41!) pp is full of retro zeal as regards liturgy, theology and management. He does not explain why he thinks his approach is right or beneficial, nor how he came to adopt views so contrary to the customary understanding in this country.

      He clearly suffers great tension as he “crusades” to build a gathered EF community at the same time as serving an OF local parish which cannot understand his point of view. This balancing act is possible only because the parishioners who still attend the local church, despite distress and confusion, say, “At least we still have the Mass.”

  11. Fr. Jack Feehily Avatar
    Fr. Jack Feehily

    I just noticed that when I was recently asked to enter my name, I omitted to include “Fr.”. I have now changed that. Anything that I offer in this forum has everything to do with my 40 years of experience in public ministry. I have attended professional convocations over the years, including NPM, in an effort to keep abreast of developments in liturgy and pastoral music, but I am not an expert in any academic sense of that term.

  12. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
    Karl Liam Saur

    An interesting question to raise the day after the memorial of St Bonaventure, right? Even more interesting if the experiential aspects raised by Jack F above were integrated into it, because category discussions on their own, untethered from actual experience, are of limited value.

  13. Jack Rakosky Avatar
    Jack Rakosky

    “wanting to set the church and world in a situation of rivals; it sees the world in a negative light; evil and sin so abound in the world that the church should be always suspicious and distrustful of it”

    The World

    The problem with this conceptualization is, as Merton has said, the only world that is at odds with Christianity is the world that exists in each of our hearts, e.g. the love of money, status, and power.

    Protestant sects. Catholic religious orders, and Catholic movements use tension with the world, and by implication tension with fellow church members, as an effective recruiting device. All call Christians to be better Christians. However in this recruitment strategy there are enormous possibilities for self deception and spiritual pride .

    Moreover those outside of sectarian movements in Protestantism and Catholicism are very aware of the extensive hypocrisy that can exist among the leaders of these movements, e.g. the Religious Right and the Legionnaires.

    Benedict and bishops can talk all they want about the dangers of secularism, but as Benedict has begun to admit, the real danger lies in the world that is present within the church, even if he has not quite admitted how deeply it exists among bishops and cardinals, e.g. love of money, status, and power.

    More people, especially the young are becoming very critical of these ideological recruiting devices (e.g. denouncing the evils of modern society) since they find much good in the “world” and much “evil” among church goers and church management.

  14. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
    Karl Liam Saur



    “The problem with this conceptualization is, as Merton has said, the only world that is at odds with Christianity is the world that exists in each of our hearts, e.g. the love of money, status, and power.”

    Yes. That’s what the Desert Fathers learned: the temptations of the city they thought they were getting away from could not be escaped. They could only be even more fiercely engaged once the desert made them realize they were fully internal and there was no excuse of the city to prevent that realization.

    We like to imagine that if the world were a holier-seeming place, it would be easier for us to become holier. That’s an adolescent perspective.

    1. Bryon Gordon Avatar
      Bryon Gordon

      @Karl Liam Saur – comment #15:
      “We like to imagine that if the world were a holier-seeming place, it would be easier for us to become holier. That’s an adolescent perspective.”

      Peter Maurin, co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, once wrote, “We need to build a society where it makes it easier for people to be good.” There is nothing adolescent about this; rather, it is profoundly our apostolic mission as Church to do so.

      1. Dominic Montini Avatar
        Dominic Montini

        @Bryon Gordon – comment #25:
        I think this is a situation in which a both/and way to look at it is in order. The Desert Fathers indeed rightly found that sinfulness is within-we cannot project blame for our faults onto our environment as if we were hapless puppets being pushed to sinfulness by “the World”, meaning other people, the city, the Empire, etc. etc. The mystics speak of the reality that holiness can be had in any situation. They might provide ready occasions of sin, but no matter how far away you get, your proud heart will create occasions aplenty. In a monastic context, one notion that sometimes manifests itself among those that have more zeal than wisdom in their begining spiritualities imagine that if only they were in a “better” monastery, progess in holiness would happen quickly and be evident! The wise know that that is your cross-there is no “perfect” monastery that you could transfer to that would catapult you into the inner castle or highest rung of the ladder in short order. The difficulties, the imperfections of your superiors, your spats with your brethren etc. are the things polishing up your rough edges.

        That said, Peter Maurin is also right in that the Catholic Church has always held that we do need to make the world a better place, we need to do our part to remake the pagan world along Catholic lines. Everyone still needs to deal with their inner sinfulness and that will never change no matter how “perfect” a world we might build. Catholicism is a social religion, it needs culture to thrive, in needs to create a totalizing structure in which men can “marinate” in their religion. When it becomes just one voice among many, it is much harder to hear because all of the false voices of “the World” are so much more appealing to our fallen appetites.

  15. Jack Rakosky Avatar
    Jack Rakosky

    “wanting to set the church and world in a situation of rivals; it sees the world in a negative light; evil and sin so abound in the world that the church should be always suspicious and distrustful of it”

    The Church

    As a social scientist I avoid “church” as much as possible since it misleads people into focusing on religious leaders, or buildings.

    I prefer to talk about Christianity and Catholicism using a multidimensional approach based on three forms of religious resources (i.e. wealth, assets, capital).

    In this model Catholicism is composed of its human capital (people who are Catholics), its social capital (institutions and their associated networks, e.g. Catholic families, parishes, schools, etc) and its cultural capital (the Bible, Missal, Divine Office, Catechism, etc.).

    Catholicism stretches beyond Catholic persons since many other people benefit and participate in its institutions, their associated networks, and share its cultural capital (e.g. the Bible).

    What about the word “ecclesia” in the NT? I translate this word as “network” e.g. the network in a house, in a certain city or a certain region and throughout the world. (Paul uses ecclesia in all these ways).

    While it is difficult to say what “Jesus founded a church” might mean in sociological language, empirically it is clear than Jesus did “begin a network.” Or more correctly he was born as is everyone else into his own personal network, that began with Mary’s “yes.” Of course as time went on, more and more people began to recognize the importance of Jesus and his “network.” Over his lifetime this network, i.e. nascent Christianity, accumulated more and more human capital, and appropriated more family networks into this growing network, began to organize house networks, and organized growing cultural capital (first the OT, then the NT) around a deeper understanding of Jesus and his religious movement.

    This model provides for dynamic continuity of Christianity’s present and future with its past, and with the world as well as Judaism, and for a dynamic understanding of Catholicism in relation to all of this.

  16. Fr. Jan Michael Joncas Avatar
    Fr. Jan Michael Joncas

    My first question was about the utility of applying the conceptualization of two trends in the interpretation of Vatican II, called here “neo-Augustinian”/Platonist and “post-Vatican II Thomist”/Aristotelian for want of anything better, to illuminate our discussions of the liturgy. So far the consensus seems to be “not particularly.” If so, that would make my second question of little interest.
    Perhaps I could illustrate what I’m thinking by reference to Mr. Rakosky’s contributions at ##13 and 15. As an Thomist shaped by Lonergan’s _Insight_ and _Method in Theology_ (although there are some Thomists who would claim that Lonergan did not so much extend as destroy Thomism), my initial instinct would be to find out how the sociological model of Catholicism as human capital, social capital, and cultural capital might both illuminate liturgical worship (insofar as it is a corporate act) and be brought into conversation with theology (while respecting the limits of each discipline). Such a project takes a long time and involves a lot of difficult inter-disciplinary work (think of Gregory Baum’s theological engagement with sociology) but could ultimately be of great value in helping us understand the way the world works (in faith: as God has ordered the world). In my experience, a Platonist would tend to see such inquiry as beside the point. At best, sociology could illustrate how a sin-touched humanity organizes itself which might have pastoral interest for communication, but would not be brought into genuine conversation with theology. I’m going to venture a reason for this in my next combos and see where our conversation goes.

  17. Fr. Jan Michael Joncas Avatar
    Fr. Jan Michael Joncas

    Here, in very broad strokes, is where I see a divergence between neo-Augustinians and Thomists. I find that Augustine, for all his philosophical speculation as in the concluding chapters of the _Confessions_ and segments of _The City of God_, is fundamentally a narrative theologian employing the two fundamental categories of sin and grace. These fundamentally narrative categories describing the eschatological triumph of God in and beyond history become reified as states of being. This is not to say that Augustine is wrong, given his philosophical assumptions, just that there is a differentiation of consciousness that is not available to him. That differentiation did occur in Thomas Aquinas, who functioned as a genuinely systematic theologian, employing the categories of sin and grace, but also adverting to a _tertium quid_ that sin debased and grace elevated: nature. Notice that while sinful or grace-filled nature may be the only conditions in which nature is existentially existent, it may be considered intellectually in itself. This “discovery” of nature as category freed the mind to consider the imminent structures of the universe as objects of inquiry by themselves without deducing their necessary structures from some previous revelation.
    I realize that what I’ve just written is VERY broad-stroke, but I hope in a cap box tomorrow to discuss the implications of these two perspectives on our discussions of the liturgy’s renewal and reform.

  18. Bill deHaas Avatar
    Bill deHaas

    And, Fr. Joncas, given what you have laid out in *broad strokes*, can we not advance that there is now a third or fourth level of development of Aquinas (based upon hundreds of years of differentiation of consciousness) by folks such as Rahner, Lonergan, Congar, etc…..? And that this had an impact on Vatican II and on liturgical development?

    And would you see others taking Augustine to a new level? or is Augustine, in many ways, solidified in a Platonic phase of understanding?

  19. Kimberly Hope Belcher Avatar
    Kimberly Hope Belcher

    Another thing that would be interesting here would be the comparison of the appropriation of Augustinian and Thomistic understandings of sign/signifier in these modern theological debates. My first instinct, looking at your categories, is that the “neo-Augustinians” do not universally use Augustinian understandings of sign (nor Thomistic ones, to be honest). Nor would I call their use of sign/signifier distinctions wholly Platonic (nor even universally Platonic relative to the “neo-Thomists”). I could be persuaded, though. I’m not even looking at texts at the moment, but my first thought is that the characters described above are supported by very different kinds of sign/signifier models in these different theologians.

  20. Joe O'Leary Avatar
    Joe O’Leary

    Augustine’s attitude to liturgy is quite down to earth. I think it’s more Pseudo-Dionysius who brings in a Platonic cult of transcendence. Aquinas might be closer to Dionysius than Augustine in his notions of liturgy. Bouyer wrote a book on the Eucharist that roots it in Jewish worship, hardly fitting the simplistic categorization being sported here.

  21. Jack Rakosky Avatar
    Jack Rakosky

    Rakosky #14, #16, Joncas #17, #18

    Although I have been exposed to philosophy and systematic theology, I have had little interest in them, but I have much interest in the more empirical, historically oriented disciplines of liturgy, spirituality and scripture.

    My own two disciplines, psychology and sociology, both went through a phrase of separation from philosophy in which theoretical approaches (schools of psychology and sociology) predominated. Those are studied today as history but most agree that that progress is proceeding because of work at the mid-level of theory (e.g. forms of capital) and even more at micro-level (e.g. the study of religious movements).

    Looking at the relationship of the theological disciplines to social science disciplines, it has been apparent to me that seeking conceptual integration (e.g. the appeal of Jungian psychology) would be a less productive approach (like Platonism) than a full acceptance of a scientific approach (like Aristotle) and the natural world (like Thomas).

    Capital theory is a good illustration; its association with Marx and money seems unpromising. However capital understood as ‘accumulated labor,” is promising. Human capital includes our habits of virtue. Church institutions, e.g. parishes and their networks are the accumulation of the labor of participants (past as well as present) Culture, e.g. the Bible is as accumulated human labor, from Christ’s words to evangelists pen, to today’s book. One can begin talking about “church” as not some “mystical entity” existing beyond the world but as being incarnated in the natural world.

    I deliberately used the question of “whether Jesus had founded a church” to illustrate that at a very natural level one can show Jesus to be at the center of his own social network, (as is everyone) and therefore as the initiator of a social network that would mature into Christianity (which at least by the time of Paul people were fully conscious of as ecclesia, gatherings, networks).

    Capital as accumulated labor transferred across time and space is even more theologically promising.

    1. Jack Rakosky Avatar
      Jack Rakosky

      @Jack Rakosky – comment #26:

      Rahner has an interesting article on the meaning of interdisciplinary study suggesting that it could mean that two disciplines, e.g. psychology and sociology, are interdisplinary because they really share a common disciplinary framework of concepts and methodology or are working toward that, e.g. the social sciences.

      However disciplines could related to one another because they focus upon a common object, what we today would call multi-disciplinary study. Most of the relationship of the theological disciplines and the social sciences are multi-disciplinary, i.e. neither can be reduced to each other or some common discipline.

      Rather seems to be saying that that what we would call multidisciplinary study implies an openess to a horizon beyond the disciplines and is based on a kind of “faith” that what theologians talk about as “church” and what I as a social scientist would call “network” and discuss as forms of capital (accumulated labor) comes together in some ultimate reality, and therefore such multidisciplinary study could be seen as more “transcendental” than theological study by itself. That is we are attempting to go beyond gnoseological concupiscence.

      Gnoseological concupiscence: I mean the fact that in human awareness there is a pluralism between various branches of knowledge such that we can never achieve a full or comprehensive view of them all together, and that they can never be integrated into a unified system by human beings in a way which makes them controllable or comprehensive to them’

      1. Jack Rakosky Avatar
        Jack Rakosky

        @Jack Rakosky – comment #27:

        While looking through my materials on Rahner I found this which might be relevant to our discussion.

        Concupiscence in Augustine and Aquinas
        Steve Riker, SUNY Albany

        from his summary (I suggest you head there to decide whether you want to read the rest). Sounds like this scholar is a philosopher not a theologian. That is he is using only the arguments of Augustine and Acquinas that are not based on faith alone.

        Another problem with Augustine’s view of concupiscence was that it conflicts in a major way with his moral theory. Augustine believed that only chosen actions were morally culpable. Yet his view that concupiscence entails a radical weakening of the will seems to point to a lack of free will,
        and thus to a lack of freely chosen actions.

        Aquinas thought, with Augustine, that human beings after the Fall were inclined toward evil. Yet Aquinas differed with Augustine as to the degree of damage original sin inflicted of humanity. Aquinas felt that human beings could also still be inclined toward doing good. Thus, for Aquinas, concupiscence, after once again cutting away all the indefensible entailments, was the pool of all human desires, which can be either good or evil.

        In the end, then, the question raised at the beginning of this thesis, namely, why are human beings evil, has been answered. To be sure, one does not have to accept the Judaeo-Christian view that human beings are inclined toward evil as punishment for original sin. Yet the idea of concupiscence, cut free of its religious entailments, and seen as a part of human nature, is one that is philosophically defensible. Thus, whether one is a theist or an atheist, a theologian or a philosopher, an idea such as concupiscence, which recognizes the prevalence of evil in the world, as both Augustine and Aquinas did, yet at the same time acknowledges that human goodness is possible, as Aquinas did, is most plausible.

  22. Gordon E. Trruitt Avatar
    Gordon E. Trruitt

    It seems to me that the attitude one embraces toward existence, rooted in such categories as Neo-Platonism or Transcendental Thomism (Rahner, Lonergan) has profound implications for how one understands and practices the liturgy. If, for instance, one begins with a distrust of sensory data, one would focus on a minimal use of sensory input in the liturgy, concentratiing on mind, purified ideas, and the quest for the Ideal. If, on the other hand, one admits that there is nothing in the intellect that doesn’t come through the senses and that experience is the foundation for all reflective thinking, then one is more apt to embrace fully conscious and active participation and the use of rich signs and communicative language to provide the experience on which people can build an understanding of who God is, who we are, and what the world is about.

    1. Fritz Bauerschmidt Avatar

      @Gordon E. Trruitt – comment #28:
      This all makes sense on one level, but it is when we look at the actual views of the folks who get placed in categories like Platonist/Augustinian or Aristotelian/Thomist that things become more complicated.

      To take one example: one key aspect of Aquinas’s sacramental theology is the importance he places on Augustine’s understanding of sacraments as “signs.” This way of looking at sacraments had fallen under a cloud after the controversy over Berengar’s views on the Eucharist, being replaced with an understanding of sacraments as causes of grace. The Augustinian approach experienced something of a revival with Peter Lombard, but it was really Aquinas who saw that sacraments are not simply both causes and signs, but are causes because they are signs. So in terms of the sacraments (and, correlatively, liturgy), Thomas is by some measures more “Augustinian” than his contemporaries who are usually identified by this label. And the “Augustinian” postion on the sacraments (in the sense of the position that Augustine and Aquinas share on the sacraments as signs) turns out to give a much more important role to the senses than the view of sacraments as simply causes or containers of grace.

      Likewise, Aquinas’s mature views on grace are also much closer to those of Augustine than the views of most of his contemporaries. All of which is to say that a thinker’s views in practice do not always conform to type, particularly when it is a type that has been invented after the fact and which the thinker himself might not recognize (i.e. I am convinced that Aquinas would have been shocked if he were told that his views were not “Augustinian”).

      PS: sorry if I slipped into lecture mode. It’s a professional hazard.

  23. Brendan McInerny Avatar
    Brendan McInerny

    Echoing/adding to Deacon Bauerschmidt – comment #31 to Gordon Trruitt – comment #29

    I’d also add that neo-Platonic or Aristotelian types of ‘attitudes toward existence’ are too restrictive for Christian theologians. I don’t think any of the neo-Platonists above reject the place of the senses in any and all knowledge, nor would I characterize them as searching for a liturgical Ideal that has minimal sensory input.
    I guess I see the ‘neo-Augustinians’ above as more likely to emphasize the revelatory role of the sensory dimensions of liturgy – art, architecture, musical form, smells and bells – than the neo-Thomists above.
    Perhaps its not so much about who is ‘pro-sensory’ but again, as I clumsily put above in terms of some kind of realism and a Kantian one, the operative metaphysics and theology of revelation that separates these two groups. A potential unifying factor would be the ‘from above’ emphasis in those termed neo-Augustinian and a ‘from below’ emphasis in those named neo-Thomist. The former see the visible signs of the liturgy participating in the movement from God to the world in the Incarnation and the responding movement of the world to God. The concrete form of the Incarnation leads to an emphasis on the concrete form of a liturgical ethos – which allows for historical and cultural variations (but not variability as a virtue) all of which are tested by this ‘from above’ understanding.

    The latter understand the visible signs of the liturgy more as a historical, cultural expressions of an a priori experience of a graced world. The signs are thereby foci for our connection with the noumenal, but since they arise ‘from below’ they are far more variable as our relation to the signs and symbols change over time. The criteria for ‘good’ liturgy would thereby be more dependent on the concrete and contemporary community’s evaluation of how the signs speak to them.

    That was all grossly oversimplified and far too dependent on the above-thinkers I know. But again, perhaps it helps.

  24. Fr. Jan Michael Joncas Avatar
    Fr. Jan Michael Joncas

    I find that the conversation has gone in directions quite apart from my original questions and that, of course, is fine and of the nature of blog communication. My difficulty is in finding time to respond to each of these interesting comments in an intelligent way. I will attempt to at least glancingly touch on some of the remarks that have sparked my interest.
    Re: Mr. deHaas at #19 and Deacon Bauerschmidt at #31. Part of the reason that I am so attracted to Aquinas’ sacramental theology is precisely because he achieves (in my opinion) an integration of the best aspects of Augustinian/Platonic though in his Aristotelian framework. I think for Aquinas these two tendencies were not opposed horizons, but either one sublated the other or Aquinas achieved a synthesis from the dialectic of these two horizons (and I don’t consider myself enough of a scholar to know which of those two possibilities is accurate). I do tend to see another differentiation of consciousness in the development of historicity as an intellectual category. I also see a differentiation of consciousness in developments in epistemology/cognitive theory as found in Lonergan’s work.
    Having said all of that, Mr. McInerny at #32 has articulated exactly my intuition about how these two tendencies play out in liturgical discussions. And I would like to go to another com box to give an example that would illustrate the distinction he so helpfully made.

  25. Fr. Jan Michael Joncas Avatar
    Fr. Jan Michael Joncas

    Some years ago I attended a conference of scholars who would be associated with the reform of the reform. One of the participants was an architect who quite seriously proffered the theory that the basilica architectural form was revealed by God as the appropriate shape for Christian worship. I was fascinated that the other participants all seemed to buy into this theory. I found the assertion ludicrous, simply because we have little or no data about what architectural forms housed Christian worship prior to the 3rd C (and presumably much of it would be domestic in character or houses modified for the assembly’s use such as at Dura Europos) AND because there are many examples of architectural forms quite congruent with Christian worship that are not basilica (e.g., Armenian churches). But once I understood that this scholar held that the basilica was a “visible sign of the liturgy participating in the movement from God to the world in the Incarnation and the responding movement of the world to God” and was the revelatory “concrete form of a liturgical ethos” like the “concrete form of the Incarnation” (to use Mr. McInerny’s terms) I could try to enter into his thought world, a world I associated with Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite’s method of liturgical “exegesis” in his _Ecclesiastical Hierarchy_. My thought world, given my graduate studies in semiotics, was precisely as Mr. McInerny described it above: the basilica as architectural form was one among many “visible signs of the liturgy (developed) as…historical, cultural expressions of an a priori experience of a graced world.” I suppose what I’m trying to do by posing this question is to find a way, like Aquinas (if I’m reading him correctly), to incorporate the revelatory reading of liturgical signs found among the “Platonists” with the deep understanding of their historical genesis and cultural structuring found among the “Aristotelians.”
    I’m going to wait until tomorrow to respond to Mr. Rakosky.

  26. Martin Browne OSB Avatar

    Sincere apologies for intruding an entirely off-topic comment into this erudite thread (which I have actually been following), but I wanted to make sure that Michael Joncas sees this…. Greetings from Ireland, Father Mike!

    Since you published a post about Mark Scweizer’s Liturgical Mysteries several months ago, I have worked my way through all of these silly, amusing crime ‘thrillers’…. I have begun my summer vacation by reading the very latest addition to the oeuvre, ‘The Treble Wore Trouble’. I’m wondering if you know that a character dies in this book, while singing a self-composed additional verse to your ‘On Eagle’s Wings’??? (That’s what happens to people who mess with the editio typica!) I’m amused that the author associated the song with the Nashville Praise and Worship genre.

    Apologies again for interrupting the debate. I shan’t do it again..

  27. Fr. Jan Michael Joncas Avatar
    Fr. Jan Michael Joncas

    Re: Martin Browne #35. What a delightful break from our conversation on thought worlds and greetings back to you from the sweltering Midwest. I haven’t read “The Treble Wore Trouble” so don’t know about “Eagle’s Wings” making an appearance as the sound of judgment. Thanks for letting me know and blessings on you and your work!

    Now back to the conversation….

  28. Bill deHaas Avatar
    Bill deHaas

    Fr. Joncas – look, my comments and current theological understandings are dated…..most of my Thomistic and Augustinian thinking came via philosophy and my theology was thoroughly based upon Rahner’s development of Thomistic thought. (disclaimer – not sure if I was a poor student or that my profs did not start with patristics/Augustine/Thomas and then begin to explicate Rahner – but my comments come more from Rahner and Lonergan’s use of Thomistic thinking e.g. reframing the problem as *grace builds on nature* and seeing sacramental theology through this lense. Did use G. Baum’s works.

    So, would agree with your comment: “….I think for Aquinas these two tendencies were not opposed horizons, but either one sublated the other or Aquinas achieved a synthesis from the dialectic of these two horizons (and I don’t consider myself enough of a scholar to know which of those two possibilities is accurate). I do tend to see another differentiation of consciousness in the development of historicity as an intellectual category. I also see a differentiation of consciousness in developments in epistemology/cognitive theory as found in Lonergan’s work.”

    In terms of how this is linked or foundational to liturgical decisions, do believe that symbols convey communal faith and thus grace. He seemed to reinterpret so that sacramental theology was not mechanistic; legalistic, etc. (e.g. ex opere operato) (Rahner did try to distinguish between signs and symbols).

    Last thought – it does appear that some folks started with liturgical concerns and then changed/moved to seek a theological/sacramental foundation. e.g. Ratzinger appears to have definite liturgical reactions over time and now seeks to undergird that with a re-interpretation rather than to move via continuity from the sacramental theology that was foundational to VII and S? fyi – have repeatedly asked David Gibson about Ratzinger’s *change* – he will not base it upon the 60s societal unrest – he feels that there is something else going on there. Fr. Ruff in a prior post alluded to the same thing in terms of some positing the SSPX reconciliation with his *reform of the reform*……he stated that there were other motivations, etc.
    To be honest, your project outline looks interesting but my own cautions are that some of these folks in your camps seem to have made decisions, liturgical tastes, etc. that are significantly different from what the council fathers laid out and are now in search of rewriting a theological basis (thus, reworking Augustine; etc.) As you laid out, some started with Consilium, then moved to Communio, and now further splits in Communio. Differences continue to increase and grow substantially creating polarizations, labelling, etc. especially when current liturgical decisions are made based upon a faction or a feeling. Not exactly the way research and studies are developed in the academic world where you have peer review, professional feedback, testing, and eventually consensus.

  29. Joe O'Leary Avatar
    Joe O’Leary

    “Aquinas’s mature views on grace are also much closer to those of Augustine than the views of most of his contemporaries. ”

    Excellent point. Also, which medieval thinker received Augustine’s trinitarian theology more intelligently than Aquinas?

  30. Joseph A. Komonchak Avatar

    Here is my take on an effort to construct “a post-modern Augustinian Thomism”!

    1. Fritz Bauerschmidt Avatar

      @Joseph A. Komonchak – comment #39:
      I think this link works.

      I read this article last week (I got it through inter-library loan, not knowing it was online) and found myself wondering if, given the problems with Rowland’s version of post-modern Augustinian Thomism that you point out, there might be some other form of Augustinian Thomism (whether one wanted to call it “postmodern” or not) that might work better. In other words, is the problem with the idea of “Augustinian Thomism” (i.e. it’s like the idea of a square circle) or is the problem with Rowland’s version of it?

    2. Jack Rakosky Avatar
      Jack Rakosky

      @Joseph A. Komonchak – comment #39:

      Thanks, I particularly liked this quote from Thomas

      A person is free when he is causa sui, while a slave is for the sake of a lord. Whoever acts on his own initiative (ex seipso), therefore, acts freely, while whoever acts because moved by another, does not act freely.

      A person, then, who avoids evil not because it is evil but because of the Lord’s commandment, is not free. But if a person avoids evil because it is evil, he is free.

      And this is what the Holy Spirit effects when he inwardly perfects the soul by means of a good habit so that out of love he avoids something as if the divine law had commanded it. And thus he is called free, not because he is not subject to the divine law, but because by the good habit he is inclined to do that which the divine law ordains.

      Many religious people and social scientists place great emphasis upon religion as social capital (institutions such as parishes and Sunday worship, and their social networks) and upon religion as cultural capital (shared beliefs and values). Social and cultural capital as religious goods are shared among persons.

      However religion in my model is also human capital such as talents and virtues which cannot be separated from the person. In my model, spiritual capital is defined as a subcategory of human capital, i.e. as the asset of a personal relationship to the Divine. It is works somewhat like the concept of charism.

      The social capital and cultural capital of religion may produce good in our behavior because we want to act in conformity with other people. However our human capital, including our spiritual capital, enables us to act freely as ourselves.

  31. Bill deHaas Avatar
    Bill deHaas

    Thanks, Fr, K – especially like your opening paragraphs and framing the questions and B16’s starting points.

  32. Fr. Jan Michael Joncas Avatar
    Fr. Jan Michael Joncas

    I was not able to get back to this blog because of some pastoral issues that arose yesterday and I will only be able to get back to it later today after a funeral, but I wanted to say how much I appreciated Fr. Komonchak’s article. His articulation of “ideal-types” at the beginning of the article elegantly articulated what I have much more messily tried to describe. (I am also amazed that a theologian of his stature would be willing to share his knowledge with the readers of this blog. It really is like having Karl Rahner offer one of his “Theological Investigations” to a group of interested conversational partners. Thanks so much.) So the question still remains if these “ideal-types” might be helpful in our thinking about various proposals concerning the reform and renewal of the liturgy.
    I would still like to address at least two issues that have arisen in the conversation so far:
    1) Mr. Rakosky on inter-disciplinary and multi-disciplinary conversations OR the conversation of social sciences and theology
    2) Ms. Belcher’s fascinating comments about the various theories of signification in Augustine, Thomas and, presumably, those concerned with liturgical renewal and reform today.
    I hope to get to them later today and tomorrow.

  33. Fr. Jan Michael Joncas Avatar
    Fr. Jan Michael Joncas

    Re: Mr. Rakovsky’s comment @ ##26 and 27: If I understand you correctly, I think of inter- and multi-disciplinarity (if that’s even a word) as part of the necessary “division of labor” as humanity explores the universe, itself, and (possible) transcendent Being. So one could explore the humanum from the perspectives of, e.g., biological sciences, human sciences (psychology, anthropology, sociology), economics, history, philosophy, theology, each of which would have a different perspective on the humanum, raise differing questions about it, have different ways of evaluating data, etc. For example, I suspect the biological sciences might now define the humanum in relation to the human genome, while the human sciences (not denying the humanum’s genetic heritage) would be more interested in its cognitive and emotive development, individually and in groups. When a philosopher defines the humanum as a rational animal, the philosopher would have to take into account the data provided by the biological sciences (for animality), the social sciences, economics, history, etc., (for rationality, understood in a very particular way) in order for that definition to be formulated. (And the philosopher could speculate about rational non-animals, whether with the medievals investigating angels or with the contemporary developers of artificial intelligence.) When I as a theologian define the humanum as that life-form possessing the potential for embodying the Second Person of the Trinity, nothing discovered through any of the other disciplines can be ignored, but since I take the incarnation as a revealed datum (which would not be appropriate for any of the other disciplines I’ve mentioned), I appropriate their insights for the illumination they might bring to my interests. (E.g., the discovery of the unconscious raises fascinating questions for the theologian about, e.g., modes of revelation, the consciousness of Jesus, etc.). I’m going to the next combox for a final note.

  34. Fr. Jan Michael Joncas Avatar
    Fr. Jan Michael Joncas

    My intellectual hero, Bernard Lonergan, noted that as the disciplines multiplied, it became more and more difficult to have fruitful conversations across and among disciplinary boundaries. Nevertheless he believed that since all disciplines were engendered by human beings, the thread that made conversation possible across and among disciplinary boundaries was a recognition of the invariant structure of human knowing, moving from the data of sense and consciousness through insight(s) to understanding to judgment to decision. He knew that this structure was invariant because in order to disprove it, one would in fact have to use it. His invitation to all engaged in this “division of intellectual labor” was to claim the structure of their own knowing, to realize that it was more than simply “taking a look at what’s out there” or “introspecting” but being involved in critical realism. Such a process of claiming one’s own knowing processes is lengthy and difficult and may involve intellectual, moral, and/or religious conversions, but it also provides a way of promoting genuine understanding between and among humans, across and among disciplinary lines, consolidating and advancing human development.
    Thus I find it perfectly acceptable to explore the Church (or the liturgy) from a sociological (or anthropological or semiotic or historical….) perspective AS LONG AS no claim is made that this is the ONLY perspective in which to consider it. As a theologian of the Aristotelian ideal-type, I would have to take these investigations seriously, while correlating them with the data of revelation concerning the Church (or the liturgy). I also believe that the truths these sciences and scholarly investigations discover pose new questions and may generate new insights for theologians, so I expect the conversations to continue. I just wish I had a better sense of how to promote the conversations fruitfully.

  35. Jack Rakosky Avatar
    Jack Rakosky

    Joncas #45 as the disciplines multiplied, it became more and more difficult to have fruitful conversations across and among disciplinary boundaries.

    Rahner has in Theological Investigations several articles which deal with this question. I assembled them for a paper on “spirituality as an interdisciplinary study” which I did for Jim Bacik’s course on Rahner at ND.

    In one article Rahner argues that theology needs to go beyond its historical base in the humanities to embrace the social sciences.

    The article I liked best was on himself as an “amateur” philosopher given on the occasion of his acceptance of an award by a major philosophical society. After noting that most disciplinary knowledge is headed in the direction of knowing more and more about less and less and therefore being of interest to fewer and fewer people, Rahner argued that disciplinary work that wants to be of relevance to many people needs to take the risk of being “amateur” in other disciplines. He then proceeded to discuss why he had become an amateur philosopher in order be a professional theologian, and concluded that being an “amateur” was a designation that he would gladly accept as an honor rather than an insult.

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