- What Is and What Ought to Be: The Dialectic of Experience, Theology and Church by Michael G. Lawler (review)
- The Thomist: A Speculative Quarterly Review
- The Catholic University of America Press
- Volume 70, Number 1, January 2006
- pp. 129-133
- View Citation
- Additional Information
BOOK REVIEWS 129 contrast between Aquinas and Scotus. If Burrell's argument about interfaith and cultural sensitivity is valid (and I believe it is), then one might bring just this sort of sensitivity to the Franciscan voice as an alternate approach to questions within the Christian tradition. Scotist thought is centered on the Incarnation and divine initiative; it is not philosophically structured along the lines of the essence/existence distinction and analogy. While such differences in approach do not interfere with a Christian-Jewish-Islamic dialogue, they do appear to be insurmountable within Christianity. Despite his claims to the contrary, Burrell's Scotus functions largely as a foil for Aquinas, allowing the latter to emerge as the significant Christian voice. A more complete presentation of Scotist thought (not simply those aspects that differ from Aquinas), more direct textual references, and less reliance on secondary literature would have strengthened the cogency of arguments that make use of the Franciscan's thought. Loyola Marymount University Los Angeles, California MARY BETH INGHAM What Is and What Ought to Be: The Dialectic of Experience, Theology and Church. By MICHAEL G. LAWLER. New York: Continuum, 2005. Pp. 205. $49.95 (cloth), $22.95 (paper). ISBN 0-8264-1703-5 (cloth), 0-82641704 -3 (paper). At first glance, one might think that the title of Michael Lawler's book is inspired by Hume's distinction between descriptive and prescriptive statements. In fact, the author tells us, the title's immediate source is an essay by Karl Rahner, who defines practical theology as informed reflection on what the Church is and what it ought to be (Theological Investigations, 9: 102). It is precisely this reflective task that characterizes Lawler's book; in particular, he argues for the confluence of sociology (which tells us what is) and theology (which tells us what the Church should believe). A major thesis ofLawler's work, in fact, is that sociological description can aid theology in finding proper prescriptions for pressing contemporary questions. Two disputed issues occupy the book's central argument: the ban on artificial contraception and the possibility of divorce and remarriage absent an annulment. On both of these points, Lawler says in his prologue, a dramatic development and re-reception is now under way, similar to other reinterpretations that have taken place over the course of history (xii). He recognizes, however, that to be able to speak with authority on this claim several antecedent points need to be settled: the nature of theological methodology, the relationship between theology and the 130 BOOK REVIEWS disciplines, and the value of reception and the sensus fidei. A direct discussion, then, of the two issues at stake is sensibly postponed until the final chapter. One important step in the argument is, as noted, the theoretical conjunction oftheology and sociology. Lawler adduces the positive endorsement ofsociology offered by Gaudium et spes 62, while making quite clear that the social sciences are affected by their own tacit assumptions (38) and cannot be conflated with theology. Later in the book, he speaks of sociology as a "handmaiden" to theology, recognizing that the formal object of the latter discipline is unique compared to those of other sciences (168). At the same time, he resists speaking of any "superiority" of theology, preferring to see sociology and theology as equals, each mediating important lessons to the other (169). In general, he makes a good case for the conjunctive nature of the two disciplines, resisting any attempt to collapse their specific modes ofinquiry. One wonders, however, ifthe book would not have been strengthened by a more intensive consideration of the relationship of theology to other forms of wisdom, a topic on which there has been sustained Christian reflection from Clement ofAlexandria to John Paul II's Fides et ratio. Some deliberation, too, would have been helpful on Aquinas's point that no science can be presented as an ultimate competitor to theology's foundational claims because these claims derive their authority and certitude not from fallible human reason but from revelation itself (STh I, q. 1, a. 5). A second step in Lawler's argument concerns the nature of theological reflection. Theology, he says, brings the tradition to bear on...