Fr. Thomas Weinandy, O.F.M, Cap., who is executive director of the U.S. Bishops’ Secretariat of Doctrine, in an unofficial capacity criticizes an address of Fordham University theology chair Dr. Terrence Tilley, given to the Catholic Theological Society of America in June 2009.The title of Tilley’s address was (read Tilly's speech >) “Three Impasses in Christology.” Fr. Weinandy argues that much of the address’s
“theological argumentation was superficial and fallacious,”and much of the address’s
“Christological content and many of its suggested proposals contain doctrinal ambiguities and even errors.” Fr. Weinandy argued, “In attempting to revive and authorize a form of adoptionism (which the Church condemned as heretical very early on), Tilley has merely raised the red-herring that the New Testament itself offers a variety of competing and even conflicting Christologies from which to choose.”Fr. Weinandy wrote, “For Tilley, it is not consistency of argumentation that is important but rhetorical sound bites.” Towards the end of the essay he wrote,
“Those who argue in a manner similar to Tilley with regard to what is to be the content of faith also often espouse contraception, abortion, fornication, adultery, divorce and remarriage, masturbation, homosexual activity, same-sex marriage, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, etc.”Read Fr. Thomas Weinandy’s entire essay here.
Link (here) to the original Cardinal Newman Society article.
An Open Letter to Fr. Thomas Weinandy
In the fall semester of 1976 we both began our teaching careers at Georgetown University. Then and now we have agreed on some theological issues and disagreed on others, both methodologically and substantially. I have followed you stalwart defense of the doctrine of divine impassibility with interest.
However, I was very disappointed by your essay, “Terrence Tilley’s Christological Impasses: The Demise of the Doctrine of the Incarnation. ” The main reason is that you fault my presidential address for superficial scholarship. However, your essay never mentions over three decades of my published scholarship that underlies the address and was cited in the notes. This is especially disappointing coming from the Executive Director for the Secretariat of Doctrine of the USCCB and the Convener of the Christology Section of the CTSA.
First, you misrepresent my views. I affirm the doctrine of the Incarnation. See my The Disciples’ Jesus (Orbis, 2008) especially 36-37; 224-231. I do not support adoptionism. I never say that the classic councils were “complete failures,” although for reasons stated I do think that the central problem was not resolved.
Second, you misinterpret my views. I do understand the centuries of discussion and debate that led to the orthodox formulae differently from you. I simply point out the political issues were also involved. I am not a cultural relativist as you suggest (see Inventing Catholic Tradition [Orbis, 2000], especially 156-170, and History, Theology and Faith Dissolving the Modern Problematic [Orbis, 2004]). Nor do I hold that “the present culture always trumps the content” of the gospel. I do hold—and have argued—that the contemporary use of terms like “nature” do not mean what “phusis” or “natura” meant in the Patristic era and so cannot be used to communicate the tradition accurately today (unless, of course, one expects all believers to have graduate degrees in theology). Your inference that I challenge the authority of the magisterium is inaccurate; I do question how some magistri have exercised their authority.
Third, you fault my rhetoric, yet you tar the approach I use by rhetorically associating it with other approaches that lead to positions I never address and that you find abhorrent. In so doing, you at least neglect the maxim “abusus non tollit usum.” This sort of rhetoric implying “guilt by association” is hardly fair, especially from a person of your status.
There are other issues that I find you misread or misinterpret. That contributes to my sadness at the tone and content of your essay. But they are too many for discussion in a brief note.
I hope that you will begin to emulate the theologian whose name graces the chair that I have agreed to take up in January, 2010. His practice was always to read others’ work thoroughly, interpret it charitably, and report it accurately—especially when he disagreed with them.
Terrence W. Tilley
Avery Cardinal Dulles Professor of Catholic Theology(elect) and
Chairperson of the Theology Department
* * *
Weinandy has offered the following reply, which is posted with his permission.
My response to your open letter to me is quite brief. I would simply ask that all those interested in this academic debate to read your Presidential address and my response to it. After reading both the reader can make his or her own considered judgment.