Philip Egan describes this book as a primer or a vademecum (handbook) of recent Catholic theology. It was first designed for undergraduate honors philosophy students, then revised for seminary students who had studied philosophy but were just beginning the study of theology. It offers a broad overview or ‘lay of the land’ of Catholic theology and its interaction with philosophy.
In the first chapter Egan looks at what theology is and how faith and reason are related in theology. His working definition of theology is “faith-filled reason attempting to better understand its object – God—and humanity in relation to God.” He critically examines this definition in light of Vatican I’s Dei Filius. He distinguishes between theology and religion, between theology and religious studies, and between theology and theological studies. He identifies four differentiations of theology: as experience, as doctrine, as system, and as historical. He introduces Lonergan’s understanding of theology as a mediation between religion and culture. Finally he discusses the relationship between theology and modern science and scholarship.
The second chapter offers a very helpful review of general trends in recent Roman Catholic theology leading up to and away from the Second Vatican Council. Egan considers neoscholasticism, antimodernism, social teaching, the Nouvelle Theologie, biblical scholarship, the liturgical movement, Vatican II, liberation theology, and the present crisis in moral theology. He suggests that the “chief shift in theology that occurred with Vatican II was the overthrow of neo-scholasticism and its ahistorical and universalist worldview in favor of approaches to theology that take seriously the modern world, culture, and historicity.” (48)
Chapter three investigates the questions of why theology needs philosophy, how much philosophy theology needs, and what kinds of philosophy theology needs. Following Lonergan’s understanding of theology as a mediation between culture and religion Egan suggests that theology needs philosophy “to clarify its concepts, methods, and questions, and to articulate those concepts, methods, and questions in terms meaningful to its culture.” (89) He identifies four philosophical requirements within theology: cognitional theory, epistemology, metaphysics, and ethics. He argues that any philosophy used in Catholic theology must be “realistic” to affirm that doctrinal statements have a permanent validity and that the truths being taught are actually true or real. He discusses three streams of philosophies used most in Catholic theology today: epistemological, metaphysical, and linguistic. He covers very cursorily the philosophical families of personalism, phenomenology, and existentialism, Marxism and other sociopolitical movements, analytical philosophies, historicism and process thought, hermeneutics, late-modernism/postmodernism, and Thomism. Key figures in these movements are mentioned in passing.
The fourth and final chapter, on theological method, considers what Egan calls “the ‘philosophy of theology,’ that is, the structure and division of theology, its methods, some of its features, and its current styles.” He traces the developments of structures and methods of theology from the New Testament accounts through the early church’s sermons and meditations, through the development of the creeds and conciliar definitions, through the medieval systematic developments and catechisms, through thesis theology and Neo-Scholasticism. He concludes with a very helpful survey of current styles of Roman Catholic theology. He compares four styles: the doctrinal-catechetical, the critical-historical, the contextual-experiential, and the transcendental. He compares their starting points – the first two start from the object of theology and its sources while the second two start with human subjects and their experience. The first two are concerned with metaphysical truth; the second two are more concerned with transformative action. He compares and contrasts their purposes, their primary concerns, their styles, their epistemological presuppositions, and their understandings of revelation. The section on the transcendental method focuses on the theology of Bernard Lonergan. The influence of Lonergan underlies the entire book, as Egan acknowledges in his preface.
The book contains sixteen “Figures” – charts or diagrams – some of which are very helpful. It does not contain any footnotes despite the numerous references to people and works. The very brief bibliography also does not provide much direction for follow-up on the many movements, people, and ideas introduced in the book. An appendix contains excerpts from Vatican I’s Dei Filius.
This book would be a very helpful overview and orientation for theology majors and beginning graduate students in theology. I think it might also be useful for non-Catholic philosophers teaching in Catholic universities.