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The Catholic Historical Review 87.4 (2001) 752-753

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Book Review

Entstehung und Entfaltung der theologischen Enzyklopädie

Entstehung und Entfaltung der theologischen Enzyklopädie. By Leonhard Hell. [Veröffentlichungen des Instituts für Europäische Geschichte Mainz, Abteilung abendländische Religionsgeschichte, Band 176.] (Mainz: Verlag Philipp von Zabern. 1999. Pp. ix, 233. DM 58,00.)

An encyclopedia in the modern period can mean an ordered collection of information as it does from the eighteenth to the twenty-first centuries, but it can also mean a kind of intellectual system, a philosophically directed approach to an area like natural science or history, a genre of the German idealists. The topic of this book is the theological encyclopedia, and Leonhard Hell, author of a previous book on Catholic theologians of the Enlightenment, focuses on the time when the lexical encyclopedia becomes the intellectual system. He looks at the prior forms of the theological encyclopedia, both Protestant and Catholic, and then at the process (forms of tradition and reception, pedagogical and cultural stimuli) by which they yield to the more philosophical form, a final transition occurring at the beginning of the nineteenth century. At that time both Romanticism and idealism have inserted their dynamic directions into a post-Enlightenment culture; theology is divided into biblical, historical, systematic, and practical and yet exists within the context of an all-encompassing philosophy. Much of Hell's book, however, considers in detail the prior encyclopedic realizations in religion from the sixteenth century to the nineteenth century and is a valuable survey of early humanistic works and programs. Jean Gerson, Erasmus, Bullinger, and Melanchthon are followed by the Ratio studiorum of the Jesuits, by August Hermann Francke and Jean Mabillion. Into this history come the preliminary stages of the more philosophical encyclopedic form for theology in the works of the Protestants at Göttingen and of Catholics like Stephan Wiest (Ý1797) and Franz Oberthür (Ý1831). A methodological introduction to theology is followed by a description of the areas of theology and of the auxiliary fields assisting that "discipline of disciplines" (p. 179). The stimulus for a final, innovative stage at that [End Page 752] time is F. W. J. Schelling's lectures on the academic world from 1803, the Vorlesungen über die Methode des akademischen Studium (similar works by Fichte and Schleiermacher come later). Schelling offered a new understanding of Wissenschaft and its university, an overview of various faculties, and an interpretation of theology and its subject, revelation. The rational and symbolic approach of the Enlightenment is over. Religion must be concerned directly with the absolute; the highest ideas of the divine being are manifest in nature, history, philosophy as the revelation of God, the realizations of the ideal. The Schellingian pattern of the realization of the ideal modes and directions of natural and cultural history in concrete forms influences the expression of Christianity.

With the idealists "the theological encyclopedia is not only a text describing the foundations of theology but is theology itself, theology in a basic summary" (p. 186). That kind of work had not only a theological format but a theological content. Thus the German modification of a referential encyclopedia finds its orientation in the form and content of a philosophy. "On the basis of the philosophy of German idealism, in its form of the first years of the nineteenth century as its appeared in Schelling's system of identity the history of the theological encyclopedia executes its final important step" (p. 187).

The positive reception of Schelling's book by Catholics is given through its earliest figures, Carl Daub and Ignaz Thanner, and not through its climax in J. S. Drey and the early J. A. Möhler.

Hell's book is a richly researched but readable, insightful study of a significant segment of the history of theology in the modern period. It reaches from Renaissance scholars to figures of Romantic idealism. It even goes beyond its intended historical framework to today's modern issues, since an interesting concluding essay shows the importance of this history of a formalization of...


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