Anthony GODZIEBA and Bradley HINZE, eds. Beyond Dogmatism and Innocence. Hermeneutics, Critique, and Catholic Theology. Collegeville, Minn.: 2017. Pp. 270. $39.95 pb. ISBN 9780814684153. Reviewed by Kathleen BORRES, St. Vincent Seminary, Latrobe, PA. 15650.


Beyond Dogmatism and Innocence: Hermeneutics, Critique, and Catholic Theology is the culmination of three years of seminar work at annual conventions for the Catholic Theological Society of America. In this collection of twelve articles, divided into three equal parts, Catholic theologians explore the fundamental relationships between Catholic theology, ecclesial life, history, culture, and hermeneutics. Is there one way to do Catholic theology, one view, one way forward when confronted with any number of challenges and limits, including the limits of language, of dialogue, of understanding “other,” etc.? As a whole, the obvious conclusion of the authors is “no.” Confronted with a choice between “mountain peaks” and “crumpled handkerchiefs” (Francis Schussler Fiorenza), between “a classical aesthetics of tradition” and “a developmental aesthetics of tradition” (John Thiel), between a biblical scholarship determined to save the Church’s Tradition,  that leans toward “magisterial fundamentalism,” and a biblical scholarship enamored with “methodological experimentation” (Sandra Schneiders), between an “intercultural hermeneutic” that focuses on differences and another that focuses on commonality or globality (Robert Schreiter), the authors suggest, in typical Catholic thought, “both/and,” and then some. The “then some” is the transcendent reality of the Living Tradition and the freedom that this reality must suppose if the Catholic theological tradition is to be faithful to its own tradition, expressed and implied. The “then some” is the reality that the Catholic faith is more than any one method is capable of representing, that “borders” must be crossed and even welcomed if we are to engage in “theological hermeneutics” (Robert Schreiter), ever faithful to the Trinitarian God who in the Son became incarnate and who “continues to open new vistas” in the Spirit. All this, in many developed ways, is addressed in Part 1 of the book.

Part 2 takes up more disputed questions, Part 1 having laid the groundwork for Part 2. The first essayist in Part 2 (Dominic Doyle) challenges his readers to reconsider the “dialectical opposition” of us vs. them to see instead a “disjunctive hermeneutic” that is more realistically us vs. us, that is, that challenges us to become/be the willing pilgrims we are called to be, willing to cross the threshold of hope, to experience “cognitive dissonance – i.e., injunction- between his [or her] idealized view of the Church’s identity and the sorry state of some of its actual life.” The second essayist (Fernando Segovia) challenges his readers to think of biblical studies not as an historical enterprise that focuses on the past but as a hermeneutical enterprise that engages the scholar to consider critical questions facing the world today. The third essayist (Andrew Prevot) likewise challenges his readers, this time to consider Catholic theology AS critical theology. Catholic theology is not opposed to (or by) critical theology  but is most itself when engaged in critical theology. Finally, the fourth essayist in Part 2 (Ormond Rush) offers his readers a “synodal,” Catholic theological lens to reflect on the significance of Catholic theology and the relationship between hermeneutics and the Church’s sensus fidei. To Rush, the Church is a “hermeneutical community” called to “listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.”

In Part 3 of the book, the four essayists explore ways to rewrite the questions that inform the theological and hermeneutical enterprises “in light of rapidly changing cultural contexts.” The first essayist in Part 3 (Judith Gruber) delves into the relationship between knowledge and power and the resources that the Church has to subvert the earthly assertions of knowledge and power so as to give faithful witness to God’s kingdom. The second essayist (Susan Abraham) critiques what she sees as an essentialist hermeneutic of cultural borders proposed by a prominent social theorist and argues, with others, that no single or master narrative, methodology, or critical theology can do justice to the human reality of the unique otherness of every “body” and, as such, that a certain vulnerable identity with “other” must be admitted in Catholic theology. “The incarnation of God confirms the revelatory value of that vulnerable mediation.” The third essayist (Anthony Godzieba), in a quite beautiful way illustrated metaphorically through the lens of music, writes of a “performance hermeneutic” as a reminder to his readers that they, the disciples, “followed him on the Way.” He cautions us against a mere score or musical work mentality that ignores the history, effects and/or performances of that score as essential pieces in their own right.  “The intended truth of the musical work occurs in its authentic fulfillment only when realized in particular and therefore varied performances in space and time.” His caution against the adoption of any form of idealism and his call to a “performance hermeneutic” is an important one.   “To express the fundamental truths of Christianity simply as a set of infinitely repeatable identity markers or propositions [i.e., the score is merely always and everywhere the same] is an attempt to take an immovable stand within the temporal flow of applications and to articulate a complete synthesis of temporally situated practices and reflections. The gospel injunction to ‘go and do likewise’ always renders such stasis inadequate.” Finally, the fourth essayist (Bradford Hinze), while applauding a dialogical hermeneutic in the work and play of Catholic theology, rightfully writes of the limits of dialogue without lament. If the lamenter is not welcome at the table of Catholic theological dialogue, the search for meaning, ultimately about meaningfulness, will be found wanting.

All in all, the essayists provide readers with thoughtful methodological considerations that not only challenge them but also encourage them to see how wide and deep is the Catholic tradition, faith, and purpose. The book is appropriate for graduate studies. Readers would do well to also review the introduction by Anthony Godzieba and Bradley Hinze.