LESSON 22: March 2007


By Msgr. John F. McCarthy

148. The Roman Theological Forum. The Roman Theological Forum is a learned society sponsored by the Society of the Oblates of Wisdom to analyze contemporary problems in sacred theology and related fields for the good of the Church and especially for the benefit of those depending upon the guidance of the Oblates of Wisdom. The aims of the Roman Theological Forum were restated in a document that appeared in the March 1997 issue of Living Tradition (organ of the RTF) and which is available on the Website of the Forum at www.rtforum.org (archive of articles). The following is a summary of this document.

149. Faith and reason. For its theological analyses, the Roman Theological Forum recognizes a complex medium of thought: the light of faith and the light of reason, in the sense that its members use the light of reason under the supernatural light of faith while placing special emphasis upon the awareness of the reality of the objects of faith and reason, and thus opposing currents of thought that deny or undermine the reality of the objects of faith and reason. This approach is known as moderate realism, because it acknowledges that things that are known do really exist outside of our minds, but ideas of real things exist in our minds with only a fundament in the reality that is outside of our minds. Opposed to this are some systems of thought circulating even within the Church in our time, falsely teaching that we know only our ideas and not what is outside of our mind. This error is called subjectivism. The RTF maintains that what we know from faith and reason really exists outside of our minds.

150. Thomism. The Roman Theological Forum follows mainly the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas, who combined the fundamental principles of faith with the fundamental principles of reason into a great synthesis of thought. He took the reasonings of ancient Greek philosophy, especially the teachings of Aristotle, and used them to explain the truths of Catholic faith. The logic of St. Thomas’s writings is so consistent that it has always been an object of hatred by those who hate the Church. In our time the works of St. Thomas have been put away in many programs of religious studies, and the RTF is striving to bring them back, in keeping with the desire of the official Church. The works of St. Thomas are important for the study of philosophy and theology, and also for the study of Sacred Scripture. In fact, we consider St. Thomas to be the founder of the neo-patristic method of interpreting Sacred Scripture, and this method is one of the principal pursuits of the RTF. Another area of study is that of apologetics, which means the science of defending the teachings of the Church. St. Thomas has composed great defenses of the teachings of the Church. Guided by the teachings of St. Thomas, the RTF aims to promote Catholic theology in keeping with the authentic Magisterium of the Church.

151. Thomism today. St. Thomas wrote more than seven centuries ago, and many new issues have developed in the meanwhile, for instance, the rise of Protestantism and the rise of modern empirical science. Hence, it is urgent to promote an updating of the synthesis of St. Thomas in order to address the new issues that have arisen. One need is to publish thoroughgoing critiques of influential writings that oppose Catholic philosophy and theology, such as the works of Immanuel Kant, G.W. Hegel, Sigmund Freud, Karl Jung, Karl Marx, Ludwig Feuerbach, Martin Heidegger, and many others. Unfortunately, over the past century or more this work has not been done very completely, and so it is urgent for us to do the work now and to encourage others more capable than we are to join in. It is partly because these erroneous systems of thought and those of their followers have not been adequately analyzed that they are having so much negative influence in the world at large and in the Church. But the analysis of these works is not itself a purely negative undertaking. The effort to understand the elements of truth in these false systems leads to new insights into Catholic philosophy and theology.

152. Frame of reference. When we think about something, we are relating it to something else that is in our mind. We understand something in terms of something else that we know already. When we reason about something, we relate it to some idea that is in our mind, and that idea is called a medium of thought. If the medium of thought is organized in our mind, it is called a frame of reference. The reasoning of St. Thomas is outstanding for the wonderful way in which his medium of thought was so brilliantly organized in his mind. He used the truths of philosophy as a thought-medium for explaining the truths of faith, and that is what we also seek to do today.

153. False presuppositions. Those who use false philosophical presuppositions as a medium of thought will reason to false conclusions. In our time we are faced with many false philosophical and theological conclusions arrived at by the use of false presuppositions. The biggest reason for the need to analyze carefully the false systems of thought circulating inside and outside of the Church is to expose and eliminate the false presuppositions that they contain and the false conclusions that they draw. For instance, then Cardinal Ratzinger, in a well-known paper that he delivered in New York City, pointed out that many Catholic Scripture scholars were drawing false conclusions because they were unwittingly using false presuppositions derived from the works of writers like Martin Dibelius and Rudolf Bultmann.

154. Radical pluralism. Radical pluralism is the presence of conflicting systems of thought in a person’s mind. Apart from social pluralism, which is the use of tolerance for one another in a society in which there are people with conflicting ideas about life and religion, there is a certain legitimate theological pluralism of approach to Catholic faith and spirituality, such as the Carmelite, Benedictine, Franciscan, Dominican, and Basilian spiritualities. But then there is the radical pluralism that is widespread today, a philosophy based on the idea that there is no ultimate unity of truth. The Roman Theological Forum is opposed to radical pluralism.

155. Historical method. Very much emphasized in Catholic theology today is the use of an historical method that is called "scientific," but which actually is not, because it is based upon false presuppositions of the "historical-critical school" that was fostered by rationalist Protestant scholars in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The Forum aims to promote the use of truly scientific historical method in the interpretation of Sacred Scripture, and to help to develop a theory of history that is rooted in reality and founded on solid historical principles. For instance, it does not exclude the historical truth of supernatural events reported in Sacred Scripture merely on the ground that there could not be any truly supernatural events, as rationalist scholars do. But the RTF does favor the use of all of the contemporary methods of historical research that are truly scientific. By keeping in mind the whole of reality, both natural and supernatural, the RTF reexamines the accepted conclusions of historical-critical Scripture scholars in an attempt to correct mistakes that might be due to faulty method or narrowness of outlook.

156. The whole truth of Sacred Scripture. The Fathers of the Church brilliantly brought out the complementary senses of Sacred Scripture, the literal sense and the three spiritual senses indicated already in the Gospels and in other books of the New Testament. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (nos. 115-119) teaches that these four senses are to be recognized in interpreting Sacred Scripture. But in our time most interpreters of the Bible have lost sight of the spiritual senses, even as clearly identified by St. Thomas and other great theologians. The Roman Theological Forum is fostering the neo-patristic approach to Sacred Scripture, which is a return to the teaching of the Fathers of the Church through a framework that includes all of the truly scientific methods of historical research.

157. Catholic apologetics. Following the example of so many Fathers and Doctors of the Church and of many zealous Catholics in our day, the Roman Theological Forum also undertakes to show the credibility of the Catholic Faith, treating the sincere beliefs of non-Catholics firmly but with respect and understanding. There is great opportunity to study the reasoned arguments of non-believers and to discover where they go wrong.

158. Manuals of philosophy and theology. After the Second Vatican Council, there was a reaction in many academic quarters against the use of manuals of Catholic philosophy and theology, and the very idea of using manuals was discarded. Manuals of philosophy and theology were claimed to be overly rigid and narrow, and the glaring fact was ignored that manuals of study were still being employed in almost every other academic subject, because manuals organize the material in a succinct manner and make it easier to study. The motivation for this reaction is suspicious. It is now important to promote the availability of new manuals of philosophy and theology, preserving the truths in the former manuals and presenting them with an awareness of contemporary needs. This task implies a now almost revolutionary return to the solid thinking of the great theologians of the past, especially of St. Thomas Aquinas, while taking into account and synthesizing with his frame of reference all true intervening insights and discoveries.

159. Liturgical reform. The Roman Theological Forum has undertaken in cooperation with others what is known as the "reform of the reform" of the Sacred Liturgy. It is becoming more and more evident to all objective observers that some of the changes brought into the liturgy of the Western Church after the Second Vatican Council have not been beneficial. Under the leadership of the Pope and of the Holy See, the Forum is promoting scholarship that reviews some of the new liturgical ideas used since the Council and seeks to bring them into harmony with the liturgical traditions of the Church.

160. Living Tradition. The Roman Theological Forum has the aim of using articles in its publication Living Tradition to illustrate and explain its formulated aims. These articles regard such things as the true nature of historical, philosophical, and theological science, the neo-patristic approach to Sacred Scripture, the works of the great writers of Catholic theology and philosophy, and works that have been influential, for weal or for woe, in shaping what is called "the outlook of modern man." Some of these articles have already appeared and are available in the archive of articles on the Website of the Forum, www.rtforum.org. These already published articles include several on the literal and historical senses of passages of Sacred Scripture, interpreted according to the neo-patristic method, articles critical of the Protestant notion of justification by faith alone, articles on the ideology of evolutionism, on the historicity of Sacred Scripture, on sound sexual morality, on the false presuppositions of the historical-critical school, on the continuing threat of modernism, and on various other topics.


1. Oblates of Wisdom Study Center, P.O. Box 13230, St. Louis, Missouri 63157.