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Scheeben and Theological Method August 30, 2018 13:43 1 Comment

We continue our series on Matthias Scheeben's Mariology by guest contributor Andrew Kuiper. This is the third of four posts.

Scheeben’s time at Rome’s Collegium Germanicum during the 1850s gave him a unique theological preparation. Not only did he move in the same circles as Kleutgen, Perrone, and Franzelin—later to be prominent players in the Leonine revival of Thomism—but he was also close with figures like Passaglia and Schrader, who were interested in reviving positive theology (a mode of dogmatics attentive to specifically Scriptural images and historical development). His association with these great minds cultivated his hunger for scientific precision and his synthetic imagination, both of which are evident in his Mariology.

In his survey of previous Marian literature, Scheeben has little praise for works that merely edify without communicating intellectual depth. For Scheeben, images drawn from and allusions made to Scripture and tradition ought not to be decorative rhetoric meant to elicit the correct devotional passions; no, they are the very stuff of theology. He did not treat symbols as things to be dispensed with after the so-called real propositional content had been extracted and systematized. For these symbols are an inexhaustible source for new insights; and in the context of these symbols that propositional content can actually live.

His unique theological approach is excellently exemplified in his chapter on the Virginal Conception. Scheeben places the conception of Christ by the Holy Spirit within the frame of the prologue of the Gospel of John. There, the adoption and rebirth of believers into divine sonship is described as taking place not by means of blood, nor from the human will, nor by the will of the flesh (Jn 1:13). Scheeben notes that the bypassing of these natural means applies even more preeminently to the virginal conception of Christ (Scheeben interprets ‘of blood’ to mean more generally the natural physical means of insemination). This correspondence forms an organic connection between Mary as the Mother of God and Mary as the Mother of all believers and Mary as the prototype of the Church’s own virginal motherhood, by which, “as the instrument of the Holy Ghost, [the Church] cooperates in the regeneration of men as children of God” (71).

Scheeben here uses allusions, symbols, and images, as real exegetical derivations that can function as theological reasons. In this way he is reminiscent of St. Anselm whose rational speculations are simultaneously rigorous and aesthetically pleasing. Not unsurprisingly, then, Scheeben cites in this same section Anselm’s treatment of the four possible modes of human origin from Cur Deus Homo (2.8). Put briefly, these four modes are: a) without human involvement, like Adam; b) woman from man alone, like Eve; c) woman and man together according to nature; and d) man from woman alone. The virginal conception of Christ therefore “completes the series of all conceivable modes, and, as the most perfect, bears in itself what is most perfect in each” (69). Scheeben wishes his arguments to be worthy of the praise given to Anselm by his interlocutor within the dialogue. They are both reasonable and beautiful.

Recently, scholars have called the circles that Scheeben worked in a “Roman School” that deserves just as much attention as any other period currently attended to in the history of theology. Some, like C. Michael Shea have even argued for the significance of this theological school for John Henry Newman.[1] Shea calls this period in Rome—combining figures at the Collegio Romano with the Collegio Germanicum and even the Propoganda Fidei—as an “eclectic Scholasticsm” that was as comfortable citing Adam Mohler and the fathers as they were making use of Suarez and Petavius.

Perhaps the variegated sources of Scheeben’s theological development should inspire us to continue moving beyond the (perceived) opposition between Scholasticism and humanism or (more recently) the polemics between the scholastics and the nouvelle theologie and their successors—all of which, while rooted in real differences and legitimate concerns, do now, as fixed points in a flattened narrative, tend to constrain what might be a more productive eclecticism. Scheeben shows us a way forward in which the faith is undistorted even as the theologian draws on multiple sources and methods of proceeding. As Dr. Ulrich Lehner has recently said in a talk at the University of Notre Dame, it is spiritual virtue to receive as generously as possible the work of the Church in every age and a vice to write off entire ages as bankrupt. Like Scheeben himself, we would do well to glean the good seed from every field.

—Andrew Kuiper

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[1] C. Michael Shea, Newman’s Early Roman Catholic Legacy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017).

Mary and the Old Testament's Wisdom in Matthias Scheeben's "Mariology" August 18, 2018 17:09

Scheeben relates Mary to the Old Testament by a reflection on the scriptural figure of Lady Wisdom. The theological tradition has treated her as a literary personification of multiple actually-existent realities, of which Scheeben attends especially to three: a divine Person; a cosmological reality; and Mary. He does not conflate these distinct realities but finds in each deep significance, worthy of consideration according to their representation by scriptural Wisdom.

Mariology and Matthias Scheeben August 12, 2018 13:57

Scheeben’s genius lies in the formal union of the mystery of the Church with the mystery of Mary as a matter of dogmatics. While others had tried to locate Mary’s significance primarily in her conciliar title of theotokos or in the exegetical image of the New Eve, Scheeben attempted to unite these two formally in a “bridal motherhood.”

Anselm of Canterbury April 21, 2016 09:46

Anselm - Cur Deus Homo (Book)A new book, just in time for the traditional Feast of St. Anselm of Canterbury: A small, affordable edition of Anselm's famous Cur Deus Homo, a meditation on the Incarnation and the coherence of the Cross. This modern translation, by professor of medieval philosophy Jasper Hopkins, is a pleasure to read.

Anselm writes to show "unbelievers" (very likely Jewish thinkers) that the Incarnation and the Cross are neither incoherent nor unbefitting of God: God lived and died as a human in order to pay the debt of justice and obedience that humankind owed by its very nature, but which humankind had not and could not pay being burdened with past sins and already owing all future obedience.This argument, in its essence, is one not of suffering but of self-offering love.

Anselm wishes to show that, in a contingent way, they might even be thought of as "necessary." He does not claim that God operates under such a necessity, but that within the order of things that God has established, and which even the "unbeliever" could agree to, the Incarnation and the Cross have their fitting and compelling place. For Anselm, this sort of reasoned argument was itself an exercise in prayer. He passed to his reward 907 years ago today.

Newman and the Presentation of the Lord February 2, 2016 15:41

On this date, in 1843, Newman preached his famous sermon on the development of Christian doctrine at St. Mary's Church in Oxford. At the time Newman was an Anglican clergyman and a fellow at Oriel college, but he would later be received into the Roman Catholic Church where, in recognition of his considerable spiritual and intellectual contributions, he would become a Cardinal at the behest of Pope Leo XIII. Newman's groundbreaking sermon is available in Ex Fontibus's edition of Newman's Oxford University Sermons.

$2 Shipping! November 27, 2015 13:38

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