Essays in Theology

Vatican II themes: The church as mystery, or sacrament


“The best preparation for the new millennium,” the late Pope John Paul II wrote in his apostolic letter of 1994, Tertio millennio adveniente (“On the approaching third millennium”), “can only be expressed in a renewed commitment to apply, as faithfully as possible, the teachings of Vatican II to the life of every individual and of the whole Church.”

The Center of Concern


Only my close boyhood friends knew this, until now, but I was the playing manager of a baseball team in the Jaycee-Courant League in Hartford, Connecticut, many summers ago. “Jaycee” was short for “Junior Chamber of Commerce,” and “Courant” referred to The Hartford Courant, the oldest continuing daily newspaper in the United States.

The column at 45


This Friday “Essays in Theology” will mark its 45th anniversary. The column began on July 8, 1966, seven months after the adjournment of the Second Vatican Council.

Most of the commentary which this column has provided over the years has been designed to assist Catholics to appreciate the significance of the council and to apply its teachings to the life of the Church in their parishes, dioceses, and nations, and indeed to the universal Church itself.

The column began quite unintentionally. After returning from two years of doctoral studies in Rome, I wrote a three-part series on the task of theology today with the hope of having it published in my archdiocesan paper, The Catholic Transcript.

When I submitted the articles to the editor, Msgr. John S. Kennedy, he suggested that I do a weekly column.

And so these essays began to be published in early July, 1966, and have been published ever since. The only time the column had to be suspended, for health reasons, was for three months last fall and into January of this year.

Bishops as umpires


A few weeks ago I devoted space to Cardinal Donald Wuerl’s reference to bishops as umpires in matters of doctrinal disputes. I noted in that column that the problem with the analogy is that it doesn’t take into account that bishops, like judges, can and do differ along ideological grounds. That is why there are so many 5-4 decisions even at the level of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The strike zone (that is, the leeway given to theologians like Sr. Elizabeth Johnson of Fordham University) is interpreted more liberally by some bishops than others. Instant replays also show that umpires can be wrong, not only in calling balls and strikes but also in calling players out or safe on the bases.

One of my faithful readers, perplexed by the recent action of the Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine against Johnson, pointed out that there is still another angle to be addressed, namely, whether bishops can legitimately fulfill their role as “umpires” if they lack the necessary competence in theology or Sacred Scripture to serve as umpires in theological or biblical disputes.

Infallibility on women's ordination in question


One of the most perplexing aspects of the sacking of William Morris, bishop of the Australian diocese of Toowoomba, Queensland, is Pope Benedict XVI’s claim that the Catholic Church’s prohibition of the ordination of women to the priesthood is the product of an infallible teaching.

In 2006 Morris issued a pastoral letter before the beginning of Advent in which he called attention to the alarming decrease in the number of active priests who will continue to serve the needs of the diocese by Easter 2014.

Bishops and the Pope


The sacking of William Morris as bishop of the Australian diocese of Toowoomba raises more than a few theological questions about the relationship between bishops and the Bishop of Rome.

Many Catholics believe, and so apparently does Benedict XVI, that the Bishop of Rome is free, by the will of Christ, not only to appoint all bishops in the Roman Catholic church, but to dismiss them as well.

The resurrection of the dead


Catholics and other Christians profess their faith in “the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” Like so many of the creedal statements, however, they can easily degenerate into religious boilerplate, which is to say that they can become no more than empty words, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” (Shakespeare, Macbeth, V, 17).


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In This Issue

June 16-29, 2017