Matthew Levering - "Dogma and Ecumenism"
2:48AM Jul 10, 2020
Jonathan J. Armstrong
Today it's our huge pleasure to be speaking with Dr. Matthew Levering. Dr. Levering is the James N and Mary D Perry Junior Chair of Theology at Mundelein Seminary and the Co-editor of the text that we're discussing today, Dogma and Ecumenism: Vatican II and Karl Barth's Ad Limina Apostolorum, available from the Catholic University of America press in 2020. Dr. Levering, thank you so much for sharing this time with us.
Thank you for having me.
Dr. levering, we understand that this text represents a series of essays that were produced originally for a conference. The conference was titled at Lehman a pasta Laura Vatican two in the future of Catholic Protestant humanism. It was co sponsored by the Bard Center at Princeton Theological Seminary. And the Pontifical faculty of the Immaculate Conception of the Dominican House of studies in Washington DC, if you wouldn't serve what was the overarching aim of this ecumenical gathering?
Well, the whole thing was inspired by my dear friends, Thomas Jefferson white, and Bruce McCormack. Now Now, as you probably know, that dialogue between those two leading lights, they're very influential, wonderful people, and the dialogue between them goes back some way and so I think it'd be helpful to know that they have co taught courses with each other on Aquinas and particularly on Thomas Aquinas and Carl Bart. And the beauty of it really is that they're their collaboration, their friendship, even though they disagree who may disagree entirely on a lot of things, but they, they're both deep Christians, and they, their collaboration has resulted in other books. I did bring one too. To the my work desk here, that's to share the audience. It's called Thomas Aquinas and Carl Bart, an unofficial, Catholic Protestant dialogue. And it's also an edited volume with many leading scholars and but the whole thing began with this, this other book. It's called the analogy of being invention of the Antichrist or the wisdom of God. And so you can see they've been having a lot of fun together and took courses and they're the inspiration really, and I think it's a beautiful thing.
Delivering in what ways do you see that the humanism envisioned by the documents of Vatican two has been fulfilled in our current era?
Well, I think that remember, Catholics and Protestants had shut down the Catholic side, you would have had about 450 years were the main thing to do was to condemn each other. Certainly, that's true on the Catholic side. But if you if you read texts written from the past 450 years and, and I've done so, you find a lot of there would be an apologetic emphasis on defeating various Protestant arguments. And, unfortunately, as it were, neither side ever seemed to persuade the other side, they would fight like cats and dogs condemn each other and ignore the things that we share. And the kind of nations would hurt, but they would continue on with this process, but it never got anywhere. I've never and to me, there was a lack of Christian charity, really, it's understandable. But the Vatican two, I think, introduce a very important shift from the Catholic side, of course, I think on the Protestant side, they'd already been some shifts. But and also then among among young Catholic scholars, I'm leading up to Vatican two carlberg was very influential. And he had a number of Catholic friends and his, there was a circle of Catholic thinkers who were eager to discuss and learn from Protestant brethren. So there was a lot of beautiful things going on in Vatican two brought that to fruition from the Catholic side and sort of an official way.
really grateful for that. Very generous reply. Thank you for that reflection, Dr. Lovering in what ways has the vision this ecumenical vision that Vatican two showcases in what way has that not been fulfilled in our current era?
Well, I think it's been fulfilled. The thing is that, you know, there there will always continue to be disagreements among Christians. You know, so so that me sort of expectations of some sort of regime in which Christians are going to stop disagreeing. You know, that seems that's the Like eschatological hope there. So and then somebody might have you might be though it's, um, the Vatican division has has been fulfilled other than other than for those who expected sort of a full unity
dr levering To what degree does Carl Bart perhaps serve as a point of convergence for Roman Catholic theologians and for Protestant theologians?
Well I think very much though because he is um, in he was already in discussion with the with the leading Catholic theologians who emerge at the Council. And these theologians who are his friends include hundreds of volunteers are really meant many others and a number of young younger at that time, you know, his generation, this generation of kind of thinkers and so he was close friends and and of course, there's a couple books I brought. I did bring a couple more books to the show and one is called reforming room Carl barns and Vatican two, but the one that really deserves the attention is talkies book It's called crowbar Catholic renewal and back into these books are absolutely wonderful because they take you back to that time in the 30s 40s and 50s. And you see these friendships emerging and these dialogues emerging between Carl Bart, hundreds of moles are, you know, but many, many other young theologians and the key was that Bart saw them as moving beyond the need to scholasticism and barn saw them as bringing the Bible back into the center stage for Catholic thinking
back to livering. Thank you so much for for those book recommendations and that response that you're laboring for, for we Protestants trying to work with Bart, part of the conversation has become more complex in the last couple years in as far as some studies have uncovered what some have already known. But these studies have made more clear and more detailed account. Bart was involved in a long term essentially an affair with his one of his students for several decades. So many of us are trying to figure out what does this moral scheme endl mean for our appropriation of his theology, you're a seminary professor at a Roman Catholic seminary. What does Carl Bart's this relationship mean to you as a teacher of theology?
Of course, it's a shame, you know, and so on. So, in terms of, I said name, you know, on the other hand, we gotta be careful here because the Catholics are no, no ground to complain, because, as you probably know, there have been revelations about the Catholic. This goes back to the 19th century, there was a Catholic theologian, truly a wonderful theologian in certain ways. His name was Joseph quakin. And Joseph clickin was a key and drafter of the Second Vatican or the first Vatican Council. So if you don't like the first Vatican Council and carpark did not like it and then You, you can blame clicking but the point the point of it is that God has worked to assemble hands. It's I mean, but it's still nothing to nothing to trade cavalierly. There is a real there is a real tragedy and and it's quite possible that there will be elements of Barnes theology. I'm just like there's elements of, of any theology. But certainly, you know, I think there might be elements that have been affected that have been affected by this. I don't I don't know. But I think that I think it's something to think seriously, but certainly not to not to stop reading Carl Bart.
If you're living in what ways is Karl Barth's theology of Scripture perhaps influenced Roman Catholic theology on on the doctrine of Scripture?
I one thing I noticed with carbide on scripture is that he keeps insisting that the church should not dominate or domineer over the Word of God. No, that's that's a crucial point for car parks, you know is that um, you got always kind of watch that church before you know it, the church is gonna be putting itself in place and Word of God. And so you're gonna watch the church and be careful there. I think this is very valuable for Catholic thinking, you know, Bart challenges in his element, post alarm, he challenges the Catholic friends, challenges him a number on a number of places asking them have they ever really been hearing they heard the word of God on this point? Have they been attending to the Word of God in Scripture? And he depresses them to, to live up to, to what they have always claimed. And of course, my county has always claimed is that Catholic doctrine arises from Scripture. You know, that's, that's a Catholic claim. Anyway, I myself believe it, but the thing is that Bart really kind of puts the feet to the fire and so very, very I think for for Catholics and another point, of course, is that Bart has his way of kind of putting his finger on weak spots in the documents the Second Vatican Council. And so therefore he's, he's, he does have biblically, always biblically he quotes scripture and puts his finger on some weak spots. And boy, he was proven right, you know, Bart is remembered
in Protestant seminaries for the founder of this Neo orthodox movement, and a lot of it does center or pivots on this doctrine of Scripture. The the Word of God is within scripture, but it's not necessarily identifiable with Scripture in a one to one correlation. Is there. Is there such a thing as Neo orthodox theology in Catholic circles? What is the Roman Catholic appropriation or conversation visa V, Bart's Neo orthodoxy.
That's right. Well, that was a widespread movement. He mentioned that divine revelation and the Word of God are are, are communicated in Scripture, but that scripture itself itself should not be termed on divine revelation. Scripture itself is not it's not the word of God, but it is. In a certain sense it is because it communicates the Word of God. And so God freely speaks through Scripture, virtue, and this is very influential, it probably would have taken on any way, the Catholics, Catholics who hold this view, certainly, certainly, it's very present in the work of Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict the 16th, but then also present in a number of other the new theology or the race or small theologians, among which you would think on way to the back or, or on certain roles are, and so on. So it's it's very present notion. Now the danger of the whole thing is that is that scripture itself? Really, you know, no law. Yeah. The worry is the worry is that scripture itself will not be seen as if scripture is not seen as divine revelation, but Rather as the bearer of divine revelation, and the problem is our people, are people eventually going to sort of move away from the word of Scripture, are they going to downplay or relativized scripture? That can be a concern? That's a concern that I'm actually Catholics share with them some of my image jellicle friends, this is a this is something that's important. We need to be clear that the words of Scripture, the propositions, the words, actual words, are our bare divine revelation, and truth. You know, so we gotta be gotta be kind of clear on that.
Good, I appreciate that. And I freshly listened to the Roman Catholic catechism and an audible format, something that I could recommend to anybody who hasn't yet read the Catechism. And if my memory serves me correctly, and I'm sure it does on this point, the Roman Catholic catechism very straightforwardly affirms that the Scripture is revelation. It is the divine revelation of God do I have Correct Dr. levering and then if I do, it seems to me that Roman Catholic theology clearly diverges from Bart on this point. Do I understand that correctly?
Well, it is it is a little bit complex because I'm Jason Ratzinger on this point, I think would would not diverge from Carl Bart, you know, so they're influential theologians. Who would who think who would not not diverge? But you know, and of course, Ramadan category is always a little bit of a mess in the censors. There's always arguments in different schools, different schools of thought, all sorts of different arguments, and so on going on. So I'm not I'm to my mind that the Roman Catholic position on this as has not, has not been fully stabilized. You know, I wouldn't I don't see it I see this is still a position open to debate and in part in part because you do have Roman Catholic theologians and and they populate many, many universities who who really Do not see scripture. They're they're more than the kind of what you would the classical liberal tradition. They're, they're more like liberationists or contextual theologians. And so these these people see scripture as simply introducing a deliberative model, and so on. And so But the main point, the main point, though, is that I certainly think that the danger that Bart's position represents sort of relativizing of Scripture, revising the words, the actual words, the propositions, that that needs to be.
You know, there needs to be some caretaking there.
Really appreciate your responses there. Dr. levering if I can turn to Lewis errors chapter in the anthology here. It's dedicated to the theology of tradition, on what points concerning the theology of tradition do Protestants and Catholics agree and on and on what points concerning a theology of tradition is there A serious disagreement
when the interesting things about the 20th century and especially the time, which Carl Bart lives is that, um, Catholics were were trying to think through what, what tradition was. And so, the great master is on eco garb. And the basic idea was twofold, you know, on the one hand tradition is evolves and certain content by which he means he tends, he thinks some sort of monuments and tradition. So, tradition would be things like the liturgy, the form of the liturgy, that would be the content, the content would be things like the form of the liturgy, you know, or the or the collection of books, the collection of books that that various major churches had, and then eventually shape the cannon, that type of thing. So, it is You know, it's a tradition when involve issues like, is the Book of Wisdom, part of part of the canon, Mecca? Or are there other other elements but that was the content of tradition, but, but they also talked about tradition as sort of a verb, as as the church is handing on what it had received from Jesus Christ our Lord. So tradition as a verb and tradition as as sort of as a content amount. But everyone was agreed, of course, that that tradition that there's, you know, of this generation in the 20th century, everyone was agreed that tradition is not a sort of a second source where you if you can't, if you can't find the dogma in Scripture, you gotta, you got to look over and maybe it was kind of handed on orally, you know, that's or haven on in some other way. But, so, there there is encountered understanding of dogma. You know, there is a sense of in which there's going to be dogmatic claims that Evan jellicle friends or Protestant friends are not going to find in Scripture. You know, they, they kind of I say, mechanics say, well, we think this is in Scripture. And the and the evangelical friends kind of look for it and find that it's not in Scripture. So there's a little bit of disagreement. And in part it relates to the fact that Catholics when when we say that a doctrine is in Scripture, you know, we can we can mean that it's in Scripture, but scripture understanding the topology present in Scripture, or we can mean that it's in Scripture in some in some way that
some of our products and friends would think this isn't quite right. Dr. levering thank you for that reply.
Where do you see the real impasses to ecumenical progress today? Well,
being pastors in part, it's in part, you have a need for all Christians. You know, to to re reassert what is proper to their own tradition? I mean, that's an important thing today because, you know, all traditions of our faith are sort of feeling very vulnerable to the culture and also having trouble handing on the faith to young people. So oftentimes, um, you know, what young people are attracted to, and what they what they really need is they need some firm some firm lines, you know, and so you got to say, look, we're, we're, we're Catholic, and you accentuate the differences. You don't, you don't exaggerate them, but you accentuate them. And you just say, this is what it is, you know, this is the truth and that can be attractive to young people. And the same thing can happen from the reform side, or it can happen from from any side. Just this is the truth. And the other people are just playing playing wrong. And so certain certain nuances and you know, the river of course, the Ecumenical Movement depends upon a certain generosity and trying to treat people with charity, in the sense of seeing what, what, what in what they're saying, Can can be understood from one's own perspective and can enrich one's own perspective and valued. You know, because because it's true. I mean, there's always going to be truth, Catholics and Protestants really share quite a lot. And so there's going to be a lot of truths that can be shared.
I resonate strongly with what you're saying. I'm also a teacher of students and all of us, I would say in our spiritual journeys, we need particular disciplines, we need particular approaches to spirituality, whether it's Franciscan or or whatever. We need particular approaches to school ourselves in that and then at times, do it We can get myopic and can be self destructive in our relationships. But those are tricky things to balance. So yeah, I'm very, very grateful for your response. Dr. levering if I can close this interview with a question that we have been asking all of the interviewees on this program, and that is this? What would it mean for the church to be united today? How would we even recognize a United Church? And what is it that we can do as Christians to pursue the Unity for which Jesus prayed and john 17?
Well, what a wonderful question I love. I love thinking about that. Now, I think that I believe I believe in a humanism of friendship. And really, that's that's what I believe in and try to devote a large part of my life to, you know, is, is finding things that are talking together about Christian mysteries, and therefore building friendships. So sharing the fact that we believe in Jesus Christ, we believe in him as the incarnate Lord. We We believe in him as the Redeemer the Savior. And so we might, we might articulate aspects of this differently. But that's, that's quite, quite a common it's it's not, of course, it's not going it's not something that should surprise us, we can rejoice together and thinking about our God the Holy Trinity. You know, we can rejoice together as friends and thinking about our Lord Jesus Christ, and, and so on. So friendships I think can can really be built and sustained. But, of course, the friendships will have they have a certain pain in them in the fact that we are we are divided in certain ways. But But I can also you know, you can be divided from friends, even even very close friends on the faculty, one is one is reformed and one is Lutheran, they might be divided also a little bit. So I don't want to either exaggerate or minimize differences. My main point is that I think that our best way forward is to continue to work on friendships as we talked about the things Especially talking about the things that we share that we love. And then also sometimes talking about things that we don't share and trying to understand each other. You know, where we're coming from, in the end, um, unity among Christians, I think is, is a gift of God that God that God will give, but I just I suspect, it will not be till the end till the end to the eschaton to becoming our Lord Jesus Christ, because people, people just, it's hard for people to not disagree with each other and it would be very difficult to reclaim a full unity. I don't I don't see that happening myself.
It's been our wonderful pleasure to be speaking with Dr. Matthew levering James and and Mary de Perry, Jr, chair of theology at mundelein seminary, also co editor of the text that we've been discussing today, dogma and humanism, Vatican, two and choral parts of Lumina, a pasta Laura. Dr. livering, thank you so much for your time and responses today.
Thank you. It's wonderful to be here.