Living Tradition
Editor: Msgr. John F. McCarthy, J.C.D., S.T.D.Distributed several times a year to interested members.
Associate Editor: Rev. Brian W. Harrison, O.S., M.A., S.T.D.  Not to be republished without permission.
Please address all correspondence    e-mail:
Living Tradition, Oblates of Wisdom, P.O. Box 13230, St. Louis, MO 63157, USA

No. 69 Roman Theological Forum | Article Index | Study Program March 1997


by Msgr. John F. McCarthy

The Roman Theological Forum Reaches Out
        At monthly meetings of the Central Committee of the Roman Theological Forum held in January, February, and March of this year, the general purpose of the Forum was reviewed and reformulated in terms of ten specific aims, which will be presented and briefly described in this issue of Living Tradition. At the January meeting officers were renewed, with my reelection as President, Father Brian W. Harrison, O.S., elected as Vice-President, and Father Edward J. Kelty, O.S., elected as Secretary. Father Harrison defended his doctoral thesis in theology at the Pontifical Athenaeum of the Holy Cross in Rome on 23 January, and Father Kelty defended his doctoral thesis in philosophy at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome on 3 February. Both of them began immediately the process of publishing their doctoral dissertations.

        It was decided at these three meetings that the Forum should make its newly-formulated aims known to a wide circle of persons who might subscribe to them and become patrons or associate members, while certain persons with qualifying degrees in theology or philosophy should be invited to become members of the Forum and to contribute their efforts to the accomplishment of its aims.

        The Roman Theological Forum has reaffirmed its intention to work always on the basis of a clear concept of sacred theology. The Forum recognizes that the thought-medium of sacred theology is complex, having both a supernatural and a natural component, namely, the light of faith and the light of reason. How these two components fit together into a unified whole seems to have been lost sight of in much contemporary theological production with consequences that have not been favorable. The Forum depends upon the light of faith instilled in the mind through the Sacrament of Baptism, as it anchors itself to the revealed truth presented in Sacred Scripture and in the authentic teaching of the Catholic Church; it depends upon the light of reason and the use of sound logic within a refined awareness of the concept of reality, which, being the special medium of every true science, is, therefore, also the special medium of the science of sacred theology.

        For decades now many Catholic theological writers have been so influenced by prominent subjectivist thinkers as to have impaired their contact with the real objects of faith. We are faced today with psychological systems that have substituted themselves for the normal contemplation of objective truth. It is, in fact, now common even among Catholics to speak endlessly about the object of faith and about the Inspired Word of God without ever adverting to the question of whether the things that they are talking about are real or not. And, because such discussions are influenced and guided by the false principles of these non-believing thinkers, the supposition is that the objects under discussion are not real. Hence the challenge to Catholic theologians and philosophers to take up the task of bringing Catholic theological discussion back to the reality that is or should be the object of its thought.

        There is no doubt that those many also in our times who adhere to revealed truth in simple faith have its realities clearly impressed upon their minds, as do those learned persons who accept the solid thinking of the great theologians of the past. And the twentieth century has seen its own positive developments in theology, such as, to mention one notable example, the increased awareness of the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary, not only in the life of the Church, but also in the unfolding of sacred theology and in the understanding of Sacred Scripture. And many other doctrinal and theological developments have taken place. Nevertheless, the normal context of much theological thought has been distorted or obscured by false presuppositions which need to be corrected. Thus, the whole approach of modern existentialism needs to be critically examined, and it appears that practically the whole of contemporary Scriptural exegesis, in its use of higher-critical methods, needs to be reexamined and reworked by a careful separation of solid linguistic analyses from the context of unsound exegetical principles and methods. One could say without going too far that virtually the whole of the Bible, from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21 needs to be liberated on the technical level from the false contexts in which it has been presented by one influential exegete or another, often in the name of the whole "community" of exegetes and without notable correction from the others.

        The approach that is supported by the Roman Theological Forum is the classic approach known as moderate realism, which accepts that the human mind can know what really exists outside of itself, but also in the limited way that the human mind is able to perceive and know. Moderate realism recognizes a double object of human understanding: the remote object that really exists objectively and outside of the mind of the human knower and the proximate object which is the intellectual medium or reconstructed object within the mind of the human knower. In the wake of the great wave of subjectivism that has passed into Catholic theological activity, many theologians have lost the clear vision of their own intellectual medium and of their need to analyze and synthesize the elements within that medium in a careful way, based upon valid principles of faith and reason. By drawing attention to the concept of reality as the common and distinctive element in the definition of every science as a science, we hope to clear up some confusion regarding the intellectual medium of certain sciences, especially those of theology, philosophy, and history, and thus to restore access to the remote reality which is the true object of these sciences.

        The Roman Theological Forum is determined to take the great synthesis of St. Thomas Aquinas as the starting point of its own speculation and to follow his method in an attempt to incorporate new elements and to answer new questions. Since more than seven centuries have passed since St. Thomas produced his magnificent works, it is obvious that many areas need to be revised with all due respect to the consistent insights that he provides and with appropriate caution in attempting to synthesize the new insights that may be present in subsequent systems of thought, especially if they originate from outside of Catholic circles. And the works of other great Catholic thinkers are also to be taken up through the revision and updating, where indicated, of their written works in such manner as to restore their impact without impairing the substance of their thought. What about the legitimate positions on arguable questions taken by other great Catholic theologians and philosophers? In beginning from the writings of St. Thomas, the Forum is not so concerned about other traditional Catholic approaches as it is about extraneous approaches that have invaded Catholic thinking. The Forum encourages healthy debate on open issues and may even favor non-Thomist positions on some issues, but in accordance with its formulated aims.

        A Brief Explanation of the Aims of the Roman Theological Forum  
  1. To promote Catholic theology consistently in keeping with the authentic Magisterium of the Church, including the role of Our Lady in the Church. The theological work of the Roman Theological Forum takes place under the light of divine revelation as interpreted by the authentic Magisterium of the Church. It does not admit a radical pluralism which would make authentic doctrine only one factor amongst others that would be the controlling principles of its thought.

  2. To promote a concept of science, including historical science, philosophical science, and theological science, based on a realist metaphysics and which is thoroughly aware of its own scientific medium of thought. The Roman Theological Forum considers to be too restricted the modern definitions of science that are currently in use. It defends the idea that there do exist valid sciences of history, philosophy, and theology. It works on the assumption that, not only natural science, but also historical science and philosophical science help to provide middle terms for valid theological conclusions. A fundamental principle for the Roman Theological Forum is that true science, in order to be true science, is always aware of its scientific medium of thought. This scientific framework of thought contains revealed and theological elements, philosophical, historical, and physical elements, and the valid experience of common sense. The forum maintains that adherence to reality is the central formative activity of all science, including theological science, and it takes as its ultimate principles the real objects of Catholic Faith. The Roman Theological Forum rejects the assumption that the objects of faith are not real but imaginary and it also rejects any philosophical approach that is not based upon realism.

  3. To foster an historical method based upon clear concepts and aimed at the whole of reality, both natural and supernatural. The Roman Theological Forum rejects definitions of historical science that limit its purview to natural experience alone. The Forum aims to develop a theory of history that is scientific in character and that is based upon clear concepts of reason and true historical method.

  4. To promote an approach to Divine Revelation which includes both the historical reality of the deeds and words recorded in Sacred Scripture and their transhistorical truth. This approach is new in the sense that it uses organized historical concepts (dealing with concrete individual things) to develop in a traditional way an area of sacred theology that is presently burdened with anti-traditional elements. It does not seek to replace the great theological works of the past, but rather to construct or develop a bridge of theological understanding of the Sacred Scriptures by way of these great works, with particular emphasis upon the Patristic tradition and the teachings of the Doctors of the Church. The Roman Theological Forum sees the true science of historical theology as a field largely waiting to be developed because of the misuse of historical method in many contemporary theological writings, often published in the name of historical method. By keeping in focus the whole of reality, both natural and supernatural, the Forum will undertake to reexamine accepted conclusions of contemporary exegesis in an attempt to correct oversights due to faulty method or narrowness of outlook.

  5. To promote a neo-Patristic approach to Sacred Scripture, that is, an updated method of interpretation, rooted faithfully in the perennial tradition of the Fathers of the Church, which takes into account the Four Senses of the Inspired Word of God (cf. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 115-119) and which upholds its complete inerrancy. In the interpretation of Sacred Scripture, the Roman Theological Forum takes as its guide an updated technical framework based upon a search for the Four Senses of the Sacred Text. Passages of Sacred Scripture are examined systematically with reference to these Four Senses, always beginning with the historical sense. One objective of this method is to analyze and refute interpretations that are not based upon valid historical method, such as the approach known as "form-criticism" and various similar approaches that uncritically follow the presuppositions of "higher-criticism." Following studies of the historical sense, which will seek to defend the complete historical truth and inerrancy of the text, researchers will go on, guided by the writings of the Fathers of the Church, to probe the objective pattern of inspired spiritual senses in the Inspired Text.

  6. To promote in general the method and teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas, and, as regards Sacred Scripture, including the metaphysical dimension of his teachings. The Roman Theological Forum is aware that some elements of the teachings of St. Thomas need to be updated and revised, especially where natural science has made proven discoveries that were not known in his day or where the doctrine of the Church has been clarified, such as in defining the dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and the bodily Assumption into Heaven of the Blessed Virgin Mary. But the Forum promotes the formative value of the writings of St. Thomas and adheres to his insights and method as it pursues its own historical work. The metaphysical dimension of his teachings is operative in the work of the Forum.

  7. To analyze for both positive and negative content from a Catholic and Thomist point of view the outlook of "modern man" by means of thoroughgoing critiques of the philosophical and theological works that have produced it. The Roman Theological Forum does not accept as a given the so-called "outlook of modern man." Instead, the Forum is aware that this outlook has been largely produced by the impact of influential philosophical and theological writings. While distinguishing between technological advance and the solid discoveries of natural science on the one hand and the theories and attitudes that have been devised regarding them on the other, the Forum analyzes the content of these theories and attitudes in an effort to build or maintain a "world view" that is Catholic and Thomist.

  8. In all Christian charity to restore Catholic apologetics to its pristine vigor. Just as every science defends the truth of its conclusions, so should Catholic faith always defend the truth of its beliefs, and so should Catholic theology assist in this need. Following the example of St. Thomas and of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, the Roman Theological Forum undertakes to show the credibility of Catholic faith in the present era. In the exercise of Christian charity, not only will the Forum abstain from apologetic methods that are offensive or disrespectful to persons, but it will also treat their sincere beliefs with respect and understanding.

  9. To update the best Catholic manuals of philosophy and theology. A practical way which the Roman Theological Forum uses to promote Catholic theology sub luce fidei and Catholic philosophy e luce fidei is to update the best Catholic manuals of the past, including manuals of Catholic apologetics.

  10. To approach the study of liturgical reform from a viewpoint that is fully in keeping with the latreutic and mystical dimensions of Catholic liturgical tradition. The Roman Theological Forum feels the need to study liturgical reform from a viewpoint that includes an awareness of the latreutic and mystical dimensions of the sacred liturgy, not excluding a return to this dimension where it has been underplayed in recent liturgical changes. This study implies another look at some researches into the history of the liturgy which appear to have been conducted in an overly superficial manner.

The Opportunity That This Challenge Presents  

        There is no shortage of books and articles pointing out that deceptive systems of psychology are usurping the place of religion in the minds of many. 1 How such alien psychologies as those of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung have captured the thinking of so many Christians is an historical study in itself, but the fact exists, both in the field of theoretical psychology and in the practical area of human response, where it appears often in the form of liberal Christianity and secular humanism. In describing the typical progression of liberal religious thinking, James Hitchcock points out that from some more shallow consideration, such as that the creation accounts and certain other passages of the Bible are to be rejected as incompatible with the findings of modern science, the liberal mind goes on finally to conclude that the very idea of a personal God and Creator is just a projection of our own self-awareness. 2 Such progressions, which resemble the act of "peeling the petals off of the rose" are themselves exercises in modern existentialist meditation as it has come to affect the thinking of religious believers, Catholics included. And this situation presents to theologians and philosophers who agree with the aims of the Roman Theological Forum both a challenge and an opportunity. It is a challenge, because true Christian faith is radically nullified by meditation based upon alien psychologies, and it is an opportunity, because new insights can be drawn from the residue of liberal thinking that has been analyzed properly and synthesized with the corpus of authentic Catholic thought. The Roman Theological Forum has taken up the challenge presented by liberal thinking within the Church by rejecting the radical pluralism of a mind admitting alien principles into its theological framework and by proceeding to analyze the results of liberal theology (cf. aim no. 1).

        A fundamental reason for the confusion of religious liberals regarding the historical truth of the biblical account of creation (Gen 1-3) is their lack of sufficient reflection on the nature of historical science. I have treated elsewhere at length the nature of science and of historical science, 3 Religious liberals imagine that the question of creation is basically a problem of empirical science, whereas it is actually and most directly a problem of historical science, an area poorly perceived by most empirical scientists and distorted by their refusal to accept acts of God as real happenings (cf. aim no. 3).

        Since the Second Vatican Council, Catholic teachers of theology have reacted against the use of manuals for the inculcation of knowledge. Manuals of theology were alleged to be overly rigid, casuistic, cramping to thought, and the glaring fact was ignored that manuals are employed in almost every other academic subject for the simple reason that they organize the material in a succinct manner and facilitate study. What was the real reason for the reaction against manuals of theology was an underlying rebellion against some of the truths that were enshrined in the manuals. The most efficient way to suppress the truths was to abolish the books which expounded the truths. Now the Roman Theological Forum, in collaboration with everyone else of the same mind, wishes to reinstate the classic manuals of theology, updating them where necessary to conform to new provisions of the Magisterium of the Church and accommodating them to new insights and new problematics. A theological position is necessary for this work of updating, and the Forum has expressed its position in the formulation of its aims. Thus, it begins from the position of classic Catholic theology and adheres to it as much as possible. Where adaptation is indicated, it first critically analyzes new elements before attempting to synthesize them with the doctrine of the past; it does not admit alien elements or principles pluralistically into its system. Where new ideas appear pluralistically in recent Catholic theological writings, it will analyze them to see to what extent they can be consistently synthesized with the inherited corpus of Catholic theology and to what extent they need to be refuted and rejected (cf. aims nos. 7 and 9).

        Thus, from the aspect of theory of knowledge, the task of the Roman Theological Forum is twofold: a)in opposition to neo-Kantianism, Fideism, and other operating strains of subjectivism among Catholics, to bring out convincingly the vocation of human beings to know the reality that exists outside of the human mind, above all the reality of God and of revealed truth, but also of natural truth; and b) in opposition to such prominent existentialist philosophers as Martin Heidegger and John Paul Sartre and to the subjective theologizing and exegetical speculation of Rudolf Bultmann and a host of other Scripture scholars who have followed similar lines of thinking, to focus attention once again upon the intellectual medium that enables theology and exegesis to be scientific activities. This task implies a now almost revolutionary return to the solid thinking of the great theologians of the past, but taking into account and synthesizing with this medium all true intervening insights and discoveries. Contemporary theology and philosophy are still sound and solid in many ways, but so much confusion has crept in that the fields of theology, philosophy, and Scriptural exegesis can now be regarded as an abundant source of raw material from which to construct a contemporary synthesis that would constitute a homogeneous step forward from the great theology and philosophy of the past.

        Cardinal Ratzinger and others have even recently pointed out how relativism has come in to ravage Catholic thinking. We are looking at the roots of relativism when we talk about subjectivism and modern existentialism, but other false philosophies are also implied. In identifying other false and harmful influences, one could justifiably use such terms as modernist, neo-modernist, semi-modernist, etc., as well as other terms. The Forum is reaching out to writers interested in cleansing the structure of Catholic theology of all such presuppositions, in the effort to integrate the positive elements into a solid intellectual framework. The invitation is, therefore, extended to all qualified persons with this interest at heart, to join in this movement, while, to those who may already have preceded us in working toward this goal, we gratefully extend our efforts and make their goal our own. This immense undertaking is greater than the Roman Theological Forum can accomplish on its own; it is a task for the universal people of God, and it will not be accomplished without the grace and assistance of God through Our Lord Jesus Christ and the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, but we must not let ourselves be daunted by the greatness of the challenge. What we are hoping and praying for is a new expression of the great theological syntheses of the past, most notably that of St. Thomas Aquinas, in a way that addresses the problems that have arisen since and that finds new insights and rewarding solutions.

        It is our intention to bring out in subsequent issues of Living Tradition, along with other subjects of scholarly interest, a series of articles that will illustrate and more adequately explain the ten formulated aims of the Roman Theological Forum. Among many other things, we would like to print articles on the true nature of historical, philosophical, and theological science; on the Patristic approach to Sacred Scripture according to its Four Senses, as called for in the Catechism of the Catholic Church; on the great synthesis of St. Thomas Aquinas and the method of his thinking; on the works of other great writers in the history of Catholic theology; on the important works that have fashioned the "outlook of modern man," in an attempt to encourage the production of thoroughgoing critiques from a traditionally Catholic viewpoint of works that have served to undermine Catholic thought; on manuals of Catholic philosophy and theology that have served well in their day and especially in this century; and on the latreutic and mystical dimensions of the sacred liturgy.

        During the past half-century, windows and doors have been opened in what could be called the cloister of Catholic thought, and unsynthesized ideas of non-Catholic thinkers have occupied an influential place in the new pluralism that has caused so much confusion in Catholic theology. We can see more clearly in retrospect what was seen prophetically even before the time that Catholic academic circles were not ready for this invasion. Painstaking critiques of systems that were seeking to come in, such as Kantianism, Freudianism, Jungianism, Heideggerianism, Bultmannianism, even Marxism, and so many other "isms" had never been fully critiqued. What should have been done in their own time of appearance needs to be done now. The Roman Theological Forum is by no means in a position to accomplish by itself this gigantic task, but by taking up the work it can hope to encourage others to join in the endeavor and thus produce the new synthesis that our time is awaiting.


1. Cf., e.g., Paul Vitz, Psychology as Religion: The Cult of Self-Worship (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,1977); William Kilpatrick, Psychological Seduction: The Failure of Modern Psychology (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1983).

2. Cf. James Hitchcock, What Is Secular Humanism? (Ann Arbor: Servant Books, 1982), pp. 121-122.

3. J.F. McCarthy, The Science of Historical Theology (2d printing, Rockford: Tan Books, 1991), esp. pp. 15-86.

Go to: Roman Theological Forum | Living Tradition Index | Previous Issue | Next Issue