No What Without a How: Theological Method and the Theologies of Original Sin in Modern Catholic Thought

Theology is not a monolithic discipline. It allows for variety, not only in terms of content but also in terms of method. Theology can be done in many ways, but the question of method is rarely given much prominence. Much attention is given to what a theologian is saying, but the question of how he or she is saying it elicits little attention. Barth’s Prolegomena to the Church Dogmatics and Lonergan’s Method in Theology are some rare exceptions. Nevertheless, every what presupposes a how. One cannot answer a theological question without making, at least implicitly, a methodological choice.

This research seminar—conducted through a combination of readings, papers and discussions—will investigate the symbiotic relationship between content and method in theology. It will show that not only is there no what without a how, but also that the how influences the what. The methodological choices that the author makes do not leave his or her arguments unchanged.

The seminar will focus on the question of original sin in 20th century Catholic theology. Theologians have approached this question through various methods—scriptural, doctrinal, anthropological, sociological, and many more—and this seminar wishes to explore the methodological choices behind different theologies of original sin. Moreover, through this choice of authors, the seminar wishes to deconstruct a certain superficial division of theological methods along confessional lines. Not all Protestant theologies start from scripture, just as not all Catholic theologies start from the teaching of the Magisterium or Thomistic philosophy. For this reason, the seminar will study six 20th century Catholic authors and show how there is a plurality of methods even within the Catholic theological tradition.

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