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  • The Oxford Handbook of Catholic Theology ed. by Lewis Ayres and Medi Ann Volpe
  • Peter J. Casarella
The Oxford Handbook of Catholic Theology. Edited by Lewis Ayres and Medi Ann Volpe with the assistance of Thomas L. Humphries. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019. Pp. 962. $145.00 (hard). ISBN 978-0-19-956627-3.

Lewis Ayres and Medi Ann Volpe have edited an elegant volume of 962 pages that is laudable for its clarity, thematic focus, and, surprisingly, succinctness. A charitable Thomist spectrum and diverse theologies of ressourcement dominate, and the Latin-Rite worshipper is named as a primary, but not the sole audience. Within this clearly delineated framework, some attention is also paid to the emergence of non-Western and liberationist sources.

A glimpse of the whole is found under the subheading "Anxieties" (intended as a self-interrogating companion to the stances of trust and wonder) in Ayres's otherwise architectonic essay, "What Is Catholic Theology?" (25-30). Having surveyed the contemporary task of Catholic theology as both proclamatory and speculative, Ayres worries about the risk that is inherent in all speculative thought, a risk of losing sight of concrete realities in one's very midst. Among those realities named by Ayres as necessary and necessarily anxiety-ridden risks, I will highlight three. He worries about: (a) the legitimate provocation of recent contextual theologies to a unified sense of catholicity and to the formal unity of theology itself (34-38), (b) the quickly fading memory of the Catholic tradition in a younger generation and the attendant fear of "newness" on the part of their elders (cf. 727-35 on Hans Urs von Balthasar's bold attempt at confronting Catholic amnesia), and (c) the dissipation of a positive (i.e., not socially constructed) understanding of human nature. Each of the fifty-six essays broaches at least one of these three concerns. The guiding pattern, more positively stated, is to proclaim the Christian message of salvation discovered within the communion of triune love to critically reasoning but sinful creatures as that message has been refracted among distinct loci over the course of centuries.

The first half moves mainly synchronically in describing Catholic teaching (a) in a creedal or definitional sense (four foundational essays), (b) through the lens of "God, Creation, and the History of Salvation" (nine essays), (c) in the sacramental life of the Church (seven essays), and (d) in Catholic moral theology (seven essays). The next half of the volume moves historically from Origen and Augustine (again with a programmatic essay by Ayres) up to the present in outlining the sources, trajectory, and problems of "Modern Catholic Theology" (with a total of twenty-nine essays). It is noteworthy that Vatican II and its innovations receive their due in a key essay by Gavin D'Costa and throughout as an integral part of the stream of evolving tradition that includes Trent and Vatican I (cf. Trent Pomplun, Christian Washburn). The rupture thesis is thus intentionally set aside (799) in order to make ample room for such topics as the postmedieval current of spirituality in Pierre de Bérulle and the French school or the insights on renewal from Johann Adam Möhler (616-20), John Henry Newman (620-6), and nineteenth-century Thomism (658-65). The mid-twentieth-century [End Page 146] renewal that immediately preceded Vatican II is not ignored, but it is not treated as the sole or even decisive pivot to modern Catholicism.

Given the overabundance on the banquet table, a selective scrutiny of representative chapters and interesting arguments must suffice. On the enterprise of Catholic theology, for example, William Desmond comments on the philosophical doctrine of analogy. Though shackled by his didactically excessive neologizing, Desmond charts a creatively modern (but not univocally modern) vocation for reason in Catholic theology. He states, "the created is given a share in, participates in this ultimate good of the 'to be'" (91). Secular modernity turns creation into a "project" brought into being by the nonrelational self. Nurtured by analogy's playful (or "plurivocal" in Desmond's jargon) joining of unity and difference, creation retains its dependence but not as a mechanically caused...


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