Hostname: page-component-7479d7b7d-68ccn Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-07-16T01:31:02.092Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Plurality of Theologies: A Paradigmatic Sketch

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 October 2008

Walter H. Capps
Assistant Professor of Religious Studies, University of California


There has been a great deal of talk recently among historians of Christian reflection about the problem and the possibility of a ‘plurality of theologies’. Directives from such eminent spokesmen as Karl Rahner have underscored the need for a rationale by which to demonstrate that the presence of different orientations does not necessarily violate the unitary character of a Christian tradition. Other Catholic thinkers have offered arguments for ascribing a relative status to the ‘Thomistic style’ of theology, and cases have been made for the inclusion of additional schematic frameworks. Beyond all of this, there are elegant suggestions in the writings of Bernard Lonergan (and others who have come under his influence) that there is sufficient theoretical, even metaphysical, basis to justify plurality in theology. The claim would seem to be that different theological orientations (e.g. those of Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and maybe even Teilhard de Chardin, etc.) are expressive of distinct fields of vision which are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1967

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


page 355 note 1 Some of Karl Rahner's most instructive comments in this regard were given in response to questions by Fr John S. Dunne at the Notre Dame Conference on ‘The Theological Issues of Vatican II’, March 25, 1966 (see Vatican II. An Interfaith Appraisal, edited by Miller, John H.. University of Notre Dame Press, 1966, p. 607Google Scholar), following Rahner's paper on ‘The Task of Theology after Vatican II’. Rahner's attitude is also implicit in the following observation in his essay ‘Exegesis and Dogmatic Theology’, in Vorgrimler, Herbert ed., Dogmatic vs. Biblical Theology (Baltimore. Helicon, 1964)Google Scholar: ‘The Church has always admitted that there are different schools of theology with different outlooks, indeed, that there should be. From the point of view of pure logic, the conflicting principles of these schools could under certain circumstances be dangerous to the faith, even objectively. Two assertions from conflicting schools cannot be true from the same stand-point at the same time. But this danger to the faith has never been felt subjectively. And rightly so. Everyone knows that, historically, each of the conflicting schools maintained whole-heartedly the basic principles which are to be maintained in such open questions, and wished to maintain them. The theologians could therefore be left to their debate without any misgivings. The Church did not intervene, but left room for freedom, to the benefit of theology’ (p. 59).

page 355 note 2 See the discussion of this point in Eugene Fontinell, ‘Reflections on Faith and Metaphysics’, in Cross Currents, vol. XVI, no. 1, 1966, pp. 15–40, and in the unsigned collective statement in Wort und Wahrheit, April 1965, reprinted as ‘Priests for a New Era’, in Cross Currents, vol. XV, no. 3, 1965, pp. 257–273, which reads in part as follows: ‘The resulting intellectual crisis is further intensified by the fact that the traditional marriage of theology to one specific philosophy— Aristotelian scholasticism—is foundering. The cement between philosophical sub-structure and theological super-structure is crumbling. Philosophically engaged Catholics no longer allow themselves to be glued to Thomism or one of the related scholastic systems.…Theologians today are convinced, as before, that theology can only be worked out with the conceptual instrumentation offered by philosophy, and that a theological synthesis without a co-ordinated philosophy is inconceivable—but that many philosophies not inimical to revealed doctrine, nor, therefore to a Christian theology, are possible. The idea of a single, true Christian philosophy, justified by a similarly monolithic theology must be abandoned. It is not philosophia as a perfect closed system that is perennis; continuity can and should characterise the ever-continuing effort at philosophising which is compatible with faith. This means that there cannot be an “eternal” symbiosis of a single theology and a single philosophy’ (pp. 259, 60). See also McCool, Gerald A., ‘Philosophical Pluralism and an Evolving Thomism’, in Continuum. Vol. II, No. 1, 1964, pp. 316Google Scholar, and Metz, Johannes B., Christliche Anthropozentrik (Munich: Kosel, 1962).Google Scholar

page 356 note 1 See Lonergan's, Bernard J. F. suggestions regarding a ‘universalview point’ in his Insight: A Study of Human Understanding (New York. Longmans, Green and Co., 1957), pp. 564 ffGoogle Scholar.; Lonergan's, note on ‘Metaphysics as Horizon’, in Gregorianum, vol. XLIV, 1963, pp. 307318Google Scholar; and Novak, Michael, ‘The Philosophical Roots of Religious Unity’, in Journal of Ecumenical Studies, vol. III, no. 1, 1966, pp. 113129.Google Scholar

page 356 note 2 Duméry's, Henry definition, in Critique et Religion (Paris. Sedes, 1957), p. 271Google Scholar, is placed in the following context: ‘Ainsi, les responsabilités sont mieux définies: la foi transcende tous les systèmes; mais, sans recours à un systeme, elle ne saurait recevoir une expression cohérente au plan intellectuel. Dans ce sens, une théologie, c'est d'abord le choix d'une philosophic en vue de “reflechir” la foi.’ The relation between philosophy and religion is the subject of the discussion with Duméry recorded in the Bulletin de la Société francaise de Philosophic, vol. LXIX, no. 2, 1965.

page 356 note 3 Brumbaugh, Robert S., Plato on the One: The Hypotheses in the ‘Parmenides’ (New Haven. Yale University Press, 1961).Google Scholar

page 357 note 1 A fuller expression of the correlation of these relationships in early Christian theology is presented in my article ‘“Being and Becoming” and “God and the World”: Whitehead's Account of Their Early Association’, in Revue Philosophique de Louvain. vol. 63, 11 1965, pp. 572–590.

page 358 note 1 For evaluations of the influence of asymmetry upon Christian theological formulation, see Audet, T. Andre, ‘Orientations theologiques chez Saint Irénée’, in Traditio vol. I, no. 1, 1943, pp. 2554Google Scholar; Tresmontant, Claude, La Metáphysique du Christianisme et la Naissance de la Philosophie Chrétienne (Paris. Seuil, 1961)Google Scholar; Christian, William A., ‘God and the World’, in Journal of Religion, vol. XXVIII, no. 4, 1948, pp. 255262CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Christian, William A., ‘The Creation of the World’, in Roy, Batten-house ed., A Companion to the Study of St. Augustine (New York. Oxford University Press, 1955), PP. 315342.Google Scholar

page 359 note 1 Brumbaugh, op. cit. p. 209.

page 359 note 2 Ibid. p. 207.

page 360 note 1 It is conceivable to view the conflict between Ireneaus and the variety of Gnostic-oriented spokesmen referred to in the Adversus Haereses in terms of a clash between methods and principles. Irenaeus declares, for example, that the emanationist scale to which Gnostic thought refers does not provide opportunity to fix either of the two necessary poles of theological reflection.

page 361 note 1 This sort of understanding of Thomas' theological method is in keeping with the suggestions of Coffey, Brian, ‘The Notion of Order According to St Thomas Aquinas’, in The Modern Schoolman, vol. XXVII, no. 1, 1949, pp. 118CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and O'Brien, James F., ‘Structural and Operational Approaches to the Physical World’, in The Thomist, vol. XXII, no. 3, 1959, pp. 389400.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

page 362 note 1 I am suggesting that there is compatibility between the ‘atomism’ herein described and the nominalistic framework within which Luther worked and against which he reacted.

page 363 note 1 Brumbaugh, op. cit. p. 197.

page 364 note 1 I am indebted to William A. Christian's article, ‘The Creation of the World’, op. cit., for the force of this observation.

page 364 note 2 Whitehead, Alfred North, Adventures of Ideas (New York. Macmillan, 1933), p. 168.Google Scholar A similar line is taken by Hoffman, Ernst, ‘Platonism in Augustine's Philosophy of History’, in Raymond, Klibansky and Paton, H. J. ed., Philosophy and History: Essays Presented to Ernst Cassirer (New York. Harper Torchbook, 1963), pp. 173190.Google Scholar

page 365 note 1 A fuller (though partial) treatment of this thesis is presented in my article ‘Two Contrasting Approaches to Christology’, in The Heythrop Journal, vol. VI, no. 2, 1965, pp. 133–144.

page 366 note 1 Luther, Martin, ‘The Freedom of a Christian, 1520’, in Luther's Works, vol. XXXI (Philadelphia. Muhlenberg Press, 1957), p. 344.Google Scholar

page 367 note 1 Brumbaugh, op. cit. p. 234.