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Theology and Academia

February 22, 2007

The two most significant and influential Catholic theologians of the past century differed greatly in their fundamental approach and method in theological inquiry. Yet, what Hans Urs von Balthasar and Karl Rahner both agreed upon is the principle that all theology must ultimately be grounded in deep spirituality. Balthasar described theology as “kneeling” (think of the old Patristic aphorism: The theologian is one who prays well) and Rahner described the goal of theology as a quest into the darkness and mystery of God (think St. John of the Cross). Would that more of their contemporary disciples followed their example!

Henry Karlson has a very thoughtful and honest post over at The Well at the World’s End entitled On Academic Theology in which he describes the tension between theology and modern academia. If you are considering the pursuit of a civil or ecclesiastical degree in theology, or if you have earned a degree in theology, I heartily recommend you give Henry’s post a careful read.

There are some who will despair of the current state of academic theology, often shunning programs or characterizing them as “liberal”. But such a feeble and escapist caricatures do little to disclose the reality of theology in the academic institution. Others may believe that they can acquire a solid and erudite theological formation without the classes, the seminars, the active exchange of ideas and the faculty guidance found in academic institutions. Such a notion stretches credulity.

Henry, who is earning a doctorate, commits none of these blunders despite his disillusionment with academic machinery. He has a profound respect for theological inquiry while maintaining a sober outlook at the current state of academia. I am sure this is not the last we will hear of his experiences.
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