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AMERICAN OATHOLlC THEOLOGY AT CENTURY'S END: POS'I100NCIL!IAR, POSTMODERN, POST...THOMISTIC * J. A. D1No1A, O.P. Domiinican House of Studies Washiington, D.O. I N CENTURY'S END-.a iascinaiting recent hook describing the decades at the turn of the centuries from the 990s throiUgh the 1990s-cultural historian Hillel Schwartz writes: "The millennial year ~000 has gravitamona1l tides of maximal reach. Its entire precedirng hundred years, our century , has come to he felt as a final epoch, a time of grotesque·extremity. . . ." 1 Along with other modern intellectual inquiries , American Catholic theology has felt the pull of the app :voaching miHenium. Any interpretation of its current stateas well as of the 'l:"ole that the ·thought of St. Thomas Aquinas may continue to play in it--'ll.eeds to take account of long range intellectual and theological trends. Clearly, the main currents in fate 20th century American Catholic theology result at least in part from the play of large tides reaching over the past hundred years and hey;ond. Among the most significant of these is Ohrist]anity's continuing endeavor to meet the pl'leS'sing surge of modernity. This endeavor engaged the energies of Catholics and Protestants for nearly two centuries, :before reaching 1someth:ing orf a climax in the Second Vatican C01Uncil. Assimilating the 1Work of several *A version of this paper was presented on May 4, 1990 in Rome at an Angelicum University symposium on the role of St. Thomas in contemporary thought. 1.Hillel .Schwartz, Oentury's End: A Oultural History of the Fiin de Siecle from the 990s through the 1990s (New York: Doubleday, 1990), p. 239. 499 500 J. A. DI NOIA1 O.P. generrutions of ,bishops and theologians, the Council oombined a reaffirmation of the Catholic Christian identity of the Church with a positive, a:lbeit critical, approach to modernity. Now, just when disagreements about the conciliar stance to modernity preoccupy and divide eurrent American Catholic theologians , the advent of " :postmodernity " is being hailed in a1,chitecbure, literary oriticism, science, philosophy, and other fields. No wonder the decades ushering in the 21st century have seemed to many "a final epoch, a time of grotesque extremity " in theology an:d in Church life. The condition of late 20th century American theology is intelligible, I shall af'gue here, only when viewed in the perspective of the complex responses of Catholic and Protestant Christianity to the once swelling and now receding tides of modernity. The fortunes of the study of Aquinas ha,V'e shifted in tandem with these :fluctuations. In both Aquinas's late 19th century 11evival and, at least in American CathoJic circles, his late 20th century eclipse, alternative Christian assessments of the challenge of moderniity figured prominently. But the situation is again in flux. There is a recovery of Aquinas underway, in connection with theological developments that encompass at least a measure of the refreshing postmodern agenda. It is here, I shall suggest, that we can identify some of the most creative currents at work in present-day American theology. I Although united in their appeal to the authority of Vatican II, rival American Catholic theological positions are divided by two opposed readings of the nature of the conciliar response to modernity and its implioataions for the theo1ogica:l a:genida. Acco1 •ding to one reading, the Coundl is understood to commend ,a strong reaffirmation o.f Catho·lic Christian identity, taking the broadest view of its historic traditions, yet open to the cultural and religious pluralism characteristic of our times. But in the eyes of a numerous and influential group of American theologians, such a reading reverses the true priorities of AMERICAN CATHOLIC THEOLOGY 501 the Council. It was not resfomtion, ibut modernization, dialogue , a.nd social oommitment that V:atican IT chiefly sought to culti¥ate in the contemporary Church. To a. large extent, the state of theology in the U.S. (and perhaps elsewhere as well) refLects the predominance of the second interpreta.tion of the Council. Ressourcement or aggiornamento? As the conciliar documents reveal, both of these progmms were ruddressed and embraced by Viatican II. But which of them has priority? The documents themselrves...


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