The vigor and freshness displayed by Roman Catholic theology in response to the changing theological climate, more particularly on the European continent, are specially interesting features of the modern period. How far the movement has gone, or is likely to go, it is premature to say. But at least we may be thankful for its serious attempt to break out of the impasse of static dogmatizing peculiar to the Roman system, and for evidence in several areas of new and challenging lines of thought.

One may note, for instance, the emergence of a new attitude to past formulations such as those of the Council of Trent. Superficially, it might appear that Trent has fettered constructive theology—for example, in relation to an issue so thoroughly and carefully debated as that of justification. More recently, however, it has been suggested that Trent dealt only with a particular facet of the doctrine, in view of Luther’s sharp insistence on justification by faith alone. Hence, while Trent allegedly makes the “necessary correction” in the circumstances of the time, it does not bind Roman theologians who no longer face this threat, nor does it forbid common ground with other Protestants who find a more substantial place for sanctification. In other words, Trent is the last word only in a particular situation, but not for theology set in the changed or changing situation of a different epoch.

Hand in hand with this development reference must also be made to the more sympathetic handling and criticism of non-Roman theological works, both past and present. The Reformers are no longer condemned point-blank as impious and wicked heretics, but their writings are weighed with care and attention even though they may not command final approval. Modern theologians of the stature of Barth are read and studied with a perspicacity and assiduity often lacking in Protestant readers, and while so pronouncedly anti-Roman dogmatics will not likely be commended, serious attempt is made to understand, misinterpretations are patiently cleared up, and the issues presented gain deep and penetrating attention.

Nor is this study pursued purely in the light of the statements of the Fathers, the teaching of tradition, or the pronouncements of the teaching office. On the contrary, Roman Catholic scholarship has partaken to an astonishing degree in the revived study of biblical theology, and there is a growing inclination to meet evangelical theologians on their own ground. In other words, do they really give a true account of the biblical or New Testament position? Can the Protestant doctrine of grace, or sin, or justification, or the atonement, or regeneration be justified out of Scripture alone? Are there not points in the apostolic writings which are glossed over, or others which are perhaps reinterpreted in the light of different needs or notions, no less in works of the Reformation school than in those of the Fathers or scholastics?

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The final point is particularly important, for it means that direct biblical investigation is opening up the whole situation, at least on the level of scholarship, in a way which would have seemed quite impossible a generation or so ago. To some degree the Bible is again exerting its own authority even in these circles, and giving a freedom from false authority which cannot be attained by other means. Genuine intercommunication has become possible where previously there could be little more than ineffectual good will at best and narrow contentiousness as the more general rule. It is not, of course, that the problems which come down from the Reformation and before have been solved overnight. It is not that a kind of theological bartering has been initiated which may perhaps lead to some uneasy compromise. It is not that there is a mere desire for agreement. But the old problems are being surveyed again in the light both of their historical setting and of the ultimate apostolic witness; and as a result, the constrictions of past formulation are burst through and there is the hope at least of new and more solid construction.

Yet while we welcome these promising signs of vitality, many questions remain to be answered before we can begin to think in terms of any genuine theological reformation in the Roman communion.

Our first question, which must also be our most sympathetic, concerns those who are most active in this dogmatic and biblical revival. It is quite simply the question of how far they are prepared to go as they may perhaps be constrained by the apostolic, and therefore truly catholic, witness itself. It is one thing to evade the force of previous pronouncements, but is any possibility allowed that the pronouncements may be actually wrong? And, if this proves to be the case, can we expect that some at least will find, as Luther did, that their consciences are held fast by the Word of God? Can that which is worked out in the quiet be hazarded in the public arena of the church?

The second concerns the more solid mass of scholarship in the Roman communion with its not unnatural tendency to static traditionalism. In this case, it is a question whether the majority will ultimately suspect and obstruct those who are moving in a more creative direction, or whether they will be prepared to be taught and guided. The problem is in no sense an easy one in any church, for many new movements have demanded attention and allegiance which could only lead in dangerous directions. The problem is particularly acute in Romanism, however, for by its very nature it insists upon the maintenance of accepted dogmas as necessary to eternal salvation. On the face of it, it would appear that the newer tendencies have only to become a little “too pronounced” and the voice of orthodoxy will speak against them, and past history shows us that the verdict of the less instructed majority can be crippling in its effects.

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Even more serious, perhaps, is the question to be addressed to the hierarchy. In this case there is a twofold temptation: first, that the movement should be rigidly controlled and, if necessary, suppressed, but second, that it should be used, if possible, for the attainment of ecclesiastical goals. The recent opening up of the whole problem of interchurch relationships suggests that something may perhaps be attempted in the second direction. But either way the result would be an unhealthy subjection of theological truth to ecclesiastic needs and purposes. Can the hierarchy really learn to think in other terms? Are they prepared to face the question of the Gospel itself and to bring their programs as well as their thinking under its critical but constructive scrutiny? If so be that even at this late hour a new chance of reformation is being held out, will they be prepared for the direction of the divine Word and Spirit? It is here perhaps that the decisive answer will be given.

But if it is to be favorable, the final question must be raised whether there is a readiness to resist popular clamor as an initiatory or instrumental force in dogmatic development. The sinister influence of the piety or superstition of the people is one of the astonishing phenomena in the Roman system. Preventing the emergence of a genuinely instructed and responsible laity, Rome often finds itself carried along by an ill-instructed and irresponsible laity in a caricature of Christian democracy. In these circumstances, the problem is a serious one whether a true attempt at theological reformation or even rethinking can penetrate to the church at large or exercise any widespread or lasting influence. The answer is not, of course, to form a theological elite to whom all such questions may be referred for final arbitration. The only satisfactory answer is the initiation of a genuine and biblical instruction of the laity in order that they should not be swayed by ill-founded conceptions but begin to play their proper part as adequately prepared members of the body.

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In spite of the promising signs, therefore, an attitude of caution is necessary on the part of the Protestant world. Too much should not be expected, nor should those who move in these new directions be hampered by our overzealous or perhaps even misplaced enthusiasm. Yet the fact remains that there are new developments of real life and promise at the theological level, and that we should be prepared to follow them, not merely with our interest, but with prayer that the Word of God may have free course and be glorified, and with a willingness to play such part as may be open to us in theological discussion and conversation under this normative Word.


Pressures On Education Call For Spiritual Alertness

The impact of world tensions on American education is arousing many anxieties. Some observers, with good reason, deplore the lack of campus familiarity with the basic principles and evils of communism, and the consequent left-wing tendency to exploit this ignorance for socialist ends. Others, also with good reason, lament the growing emphasis on science and technology, and the parallel neglect of the humanities, especially those philosophical and ethical studies likely to focus attention on the ideological crisis.

The National Defense Education Act is provoking additional criticism. It might be expected, of course, that pacifists who want to give Communists advance assurance that the West will avoid war at any price will criticize any intensification of military preparedness. But even those who disapprove such views and advocate national security are concerned nonetheless over aspects of the National Defense Education Act. Not only will it insinuate enlarging Federal influence into the educational structure, but more and more it threatens to shape education one-sidedly for a technological society relying specially on science for national destiny.

Since benefits of the bill—currently hemmed in somewhat by the Treasury’s forced economy drive—are available also to church-related colleges, themselves already in critical straits, the problem becomes the more complex. The Act is a fait accompli, and in the absence of political courage to challenge it, only budgetary factors and amendments are likely to hold it in line. But some ecclesiastical leaders are now asking: Do the loan features compromise Church-State relations? Is a form of control involved in the government’s responsible supervision of credit relations? Is there a “hidden subsidy” which involves taxpayers in involuntary support of religious objectives? These are questions that give great concern to those who would maintain the traditional separation of Church and State.

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The nation is in a world struggle for its life today, and when national defense is at stake, it is irrelevant whether citizens come from public, private, or parochial schools. The whole college population must be kept in view. Enrollment in private colleges today almost equals that in public colleges and universities. Many private colleges, moreover, differ little from public colleges, being now only nominally religious (for example, few people think of Northwestern University any longer as essentially a Methodist school).

At the same time, the cold war shift of educational emphasis to “national defense-national destiny” lines may affect American education for years to come. Defense education carries subtle ideological overtones deflecting the cultural outlook even more sharply toward materialistic priorities. Some educators complain that “since Sputnik” education has set sights more toward Caesar and national security than toward the welfare of the people and toward the development of the fullest personality (pacifist-minded critics would, of course, regard these as wholly incompatible interests). Some observers fear that “defense education” may sooner or later reach beyond the scientific disciplines into the humanities.

Concern is voiced lest church agencies become gradually subverted as submissive agents of a technological ideology through the enlarging process of Federal aid to education shaped by present “emergency demands” in the national interest. Many church-related colleges are likely to welcome any financial bolster—even if marginal to their objectives—to assure their continued existence “in strength.” Yet gratitude for gifts has a way of modifying academic judgment, especially when community pressures are added to the official view. If technological supremacy is the main goal of education and is the surest key to national survival—a premise that seems not lacking in Pentagon support—and this thesis comes to inspire the educational realm in the modern war of ideas, what would be the ultimate result of financial pressure on church-schools?

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Patriotism has its proper place, and pacifist interpretations of it are seldom if ever authentic. The thesis that survival is the key to life needs to be brought under searching scrutiny today, with an eye on the values that determine the quality of a people and shape their destiny. It remains the task of the churches especially, and of the church schools, to emphasize the chief ends for which men should live. The strategic propaganda center for the ideological warfare is in the theological institutions of the land. Theological seminaries will need, above all, to bind fast the national destiny to the purpose and plan of the living God by strengthening and deepening devotion to his revealed will.


Go And Sin Some More; But With Impunity

The shocking increase of illegitimacy is giving great concern to social agencies throughout the United States. The highest rate of illegitimacy is in the District of Columbia, with 188.1 children per 1,000 born. The Youth Council of the District engaged an independent researcher, Stanley K. Bigman, to make a study of this problem and make recommendations. According to The Evening Star of Washington, Mr. Bigman recommended “more public birth control information, sterilization by patients’ consent in some cases and abortion in rarer instances.” While these recommendations were controversial, Mr. Bigman said all of them had been adopted in some other communities.

The preventive measures recommended, as reported by The Evening Star, are: (1) “That the Health Department incorporate into its maternal and child health program a contraceptive service.… (2) That this service include supplies for the medically indigent and should be regarded as routine after the birth of the child without regard to marital status. (3) That voluntary social agencies concerned with the care of unmarried pregnant girls and mothers participate in a program of birth control education. (4) That any program of education for family living in or outside the schools, designed for senior high school students or older groups, include some discussion of birth control.” Voluntary sterilization was also recommended and abortion in cases of extreme youth, mental deficiency, rape, incest, and socio-economic conditions.

The adoption of these recommendations would ignore and annul the moral law of God as revealed in the Decalogue and the Sermon on the Mount. The recommendations compromise the moral law to the evil climate of the time. Where Christ states “Go and sin no more,” the spirit of these recommendations says, “Go and sin some more; but with impunity.” Only the physical consequences are considered and not the terrible moral and spiritual harm. The distribution of contraceptives to “potential” unmarried mothers would only increase the transgression of the moral law. Some justify the arresting of pregnancy when it would save a mother’s life or in the case of rape; but to consider abortion because socio-economic conditions make the birth of a child an extreme hardship is abhorrent. Ethics, evidently, are to be determined by man’s social needs rather than the law of God. If it be true that some communities already practice what Mr. Bigman has recommended in his report, then let the Church beware lest a system of morals prevails that is foreign and antagonistic to Christian morality. The Church must protest and vigorously impress upon the public mind the moral principles taught by her Lord.

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