My last semester at Union, I audited Roger Haight’s seminar on Edward Schillebeeckx — when Haight was still allowed to teach. It was quite good, but really, if you aren’t going to read Schillebeeckx anytime soon, or don’t know how to even pronounce his name, watch the much shorter video:
Jesuit theologian Roger Haight, whose writings on Christology, especially in his 1999 book “Jesus: Symbol of God,” led the Vatican to bar him from teaching in Catholic institutions, has received a further punishment: The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) has barred Haight from writing on theology (he may continue a work in progress on Ignatian spirituality) and he is forbidden to teach anywhere, even non-Catholic institutions. That means that at the end of the coming semester Haight, who resides at America House in New York, will stop teaching at Union Theological Seminary in Upper Manhattan.
See an update here:
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has asked U.S. Jesuit Father Roger Haight not to teach Christology at any university — Catholic or not, said the Rome-based spokesman of the Jesuits.
“He can continue to teach, but not systematic theology connected with Christology,” said Father Giuseppe Bellucci, spokesman for the Jesuits.
“The prohibition against teaching is not a condemnation and is not definitive; a committee of Jesuits, in fact, is studying the position of Father Roger, who is willing to collaborate to clarify his positions,” Father Bellucci told Catholic News Service Jan. 5.
For those of you who do not know the background to the controversy, one may look here.
Father Haight was one of my professors at Union. I read through his Christology (Dynamics of Theology, Jesus: Symbol of God, and The Future of Christology), under his supervision and with a few fellow students one summer. A short summary of his work (that he quite liked) I posted here. Why did he do this? Because we asked. And frankly, that kinda surprised him.
This ruling by the curia angers me. A lot. This hurts. A lot. I am indebted to Haight for a number of reasons — teaching me how to think theologically, a terrific example of pedagogy (I plan to follow his way of teaching in the future), and a great Christian model of humility in a process that now chews people up and spits them out.
Haight has been very quiet about the whole process. He isn’t using this in a bid for fame. The Commonweal is indeed correct particularly on Haight’s response: “I think even critics of the Jesuits or Haight’s work would have to give him (as well as other Jesuits, like Tom Reese) credit for the kind of obedience and graciousness that is too often overlooked in criticisms of the order.”
For crying out loud, he took ten years to write Jesus: Symbol of God. His life was and is dedicated to the Church, to which his current obedience attests to. He isn’t trying to ruin the Church. Do I agree with all of Haight’s arguments and conclusions? No. I don’t like Tillichian symbolism to begin with. And that is a pretty big hurdle. And frankly, its just the beginning. But this is what speculative theology does. It plays with boarders — tries out new things — kind of like a chemist in a lab experimenting with new chemical bonds.
But if the first slew of news posts were anywhere close to accurate, this isn’t the right way to handle it. It is still unclear to me if he must leave Union. But to think that Roger Haight is a danger to students at the Protestant Union Theological Seminary is absurd. Protestants at Union were and are glad to have him there. Hell, I even know of very legitimate Catholic institutions and perfectly orthodox Catholic theologians who use Haight’s three volume ecclesiology for their classes. He isn’t cancerous or infectious, he is a human being.
Again, if the first slew of news posts were anywhere close to accurate, this is too far. They’ve already taken away his title as a “Catholic theologian.” They’ve already therefore taken away any way for his christology to be officially Catholic. He has already been declared wrong in his Christology and it is printed in every single copy of Jesus: Symbol of God. This just seems like harassment now, if not punitive (as they very well may go beyond the current, “temporary” silencing). So much for the velvet gloves.
Prof. Roger Haight has written an article for America Magazine. Haight is also on the America podcast in a great little interview extending his article. You can find it here or here. He addresses and clarifies a great deal, ranging from theologian to theologian (Rahner, Metz, Schilleebeckx, Lubac, Sobrino, Johnson, Copeland, etc.), but also touches on the context leading up to Vatican II, church action, theology and science, academia, and the current lay trend to do theology that points to a change in the Catholic church (as opposed to the norm now of clerical theologians). While none of it is largely surprising to those of us who have taken classes from him, I know for many others on the internet, this would be fascinating, so give it a listen.
I debated putting this post up, but decided against it. Then saw Halden’s question on Christology and debated again because the post seems to address some questions put forth, but again decided against it. Then Halden does this and now I figure, what the hell. So here is my thousand word summary of Father Roger Haight’s Christology (using his three books on the subject: Dynamics of Theology, Jesus Symbol of God, and The Future of Christology).
By the way, you will probably pick this up as you read, but I’ll just make it clear – his Christology is conversant with pluralism. Haight defines pluralism as something similar to unicity, that is, unity and diversity, not simply loads of diversity and relativism. The man is sharp and nuanced, so don’t short shrift his argument on simple things you encounter in my summary. Haight’s Christological work is nearly 1,500 pages of intense, coherent thought. However, after reading it all, I do think that he lives or dies by symbol and I’m not sure he has done enough language work on symbol to back up this hermeneutical device. But enough of that, heres the summary:
The Symbolic Nature of Communicating between the Finite by the Infinite
A symbol is “through which something other than itself is made present”; through which all experiences with God and talking about God is mediated (Dynamics, 130). A symbol can be one of two things, concrete (material) or conscious (within the intellectual realm of speech and psyche), but is always dialectical. A symbol is always located within this world of time and space; all symbols are finite (Dynamics, 133). However, the finite symbol attempts to convey to a human’s imagination the transcendent God. As the symbol points to God, it envisions the transcendent, and while the symbol is a flawed envisioning, it is an envisioning nonetheless.
Within symbol lays the ultimate source for envisioning the transcendent, one’s own imagination. Symbols spark the human conscious as it opens the mind and pushes the vision of relating to God beyond the now and into an open future. Through this imagination the symbol becomes the point at which the transcendent touches the particular as the symbol become the focal point for the human. The symbol undergoes a transformation in the eyes of the beholder as it opens the particular, human mind to the mystery of the transcendent God and pulls the human into the mystagogical. God becomes both immanent and transcendent in our experience.
Symbol to Salvation: Hermeneutically Forming a Christology from Below
“To understand anything is to interpret it…to be human is to interpret” and it is from this anthropology that interpretation can begin mediating the Christian symbol of God, Jesus of Nazareth (Symbol, 41). To understand the symbol and its conditioned past, a method of critical correlation is necessary to compare and contrast past and present contexts so as to understand where the context ends and the symbol begins (Symbol, 45). It is after the nature of the symbol is identified, only then can the symbol be brought to our own space and time with a specific relevance and intelligibility to the current audience (Symbol, 46).
However, critical correlation or historical understanding cannot be done without imagination. Imagination is necessary whether one talks of ontology or anthropology and the relationships between subjects. Simply put, in order for a human to reach back through time, they cannot re-experience and nor can they actually meet the transcendent from a position of finitude, rather, imagination is mandatory in our particular for we construct (Symbol, 39). The imagination of a Christology from below is not superficial or incomplete at conceiving the duality of Jesus, but has the ability to be mature and encompassing of all parts in Christology (Future, 28).
Christian Salvations and the Jesus Therein
Salvation specifics, as in what humans are saved from, have never truly been agreed upon (Symbol, 335); however, one statement that can be said is that salvation is liberative. Salvation saves humanity from evil and meets human needs with the mediated God through Jesus and God’s kingdom (Symbol, 365-382). Salvation is pervasive; the salvation of the individual person extends into the social just as social salvation affects the individual (Symbol, 356). Salvation also has a progressive character, moving eschatologically as it is informed by creation and the history of salvation, reaching and moving human freedom into an expanding horizon of greater liberation (Symbol, 392).
Salvation is the point at which humanity meets with the divine for it is salvation that lifts us beyond our unfulfilled humanity and captivity (Symbol, 455). And, in the Christian context, Jesus is the Christian mediation of the transcendent God: “insofar as Jesus Christ is the central medium for Christianity’s conception of ultimate reality, it is impossible by definition for Christ to be less than normative for a Christian appropriation of ultimate reality” (Symbol, 407). This Christological focus has two dimensions: the objective, “the work of Jesus Christ,” and subjective, “the appropriation of this salvific effect by human beings” (Symbol, 336). Historically Jesus preached and lived the Kingdom of God, extending the divine to his immediate context; however, as contexts change, both in space and time, the liberative, salvific Kingdom of God must be translated from the dynamic symbol of God (Symbol, 337). It is within the context of the need for salvation that Jesus of Nazareth mediates the liberative, transcendent God.
The Dialectical Nature of Jesus as Symbol
Jesus Symbol of God recognizes that it was not Jesus alone who was the symbol, but rather, Jesus was empowered. Quite simply stated: “Empowerment presumes the indwelling of god as Spirit to the human person” (Symbol, 455). As a deduction from Jesus’ empowerment, no matter which Christology one chooses, a Logos or Spirit, Jesus was indwelt by “nothing less than God” (Symbol, 451). This is also how Jesus saved, by being the mediating revelation of God in act and being. To speak about divinity of Jesus Christ is to also speak of his humanity. It is quite simply a dialectical relationship of divine and human in one and any explanation of divinity will also be an explanation of humanity (Symbol, 462).
A Pluralistic Christology and Christology with Pluralism
According to Haight, an orthodox Christology must be: intelligible, faithful to tradition, and empower the Christian life (Future, 159-160; Symbol, 428-429). It must be all three of these characteristics, a careful combination of the three criteria in balance (Future, 163). However, these three criteria are not necessarily in competition with each other and more importantly do none of the criteria – the dialectic between Nicaea and Chalcedon, intelligibility, faithfulness and empowerment – actually work in competition to one another. There is no seemingly guiding principle that states one Christology must be chosen, and likewise none of the criteria assumes one Christology, instead the criteria function as boundaries in which to explore Christology. Also, this Christology is not necessarily in competition with other religious truths about the transcendent God that are similarly mediated by symbol. Instead, a pluralistic Christology identifies both the unity in religious truth and the necessary diversity through which the truth is mediated.
So a few days back I made the decision to switch my summer reading from Current (New) Progressive Roman Catholic theologies to Roger Haight’s Christology. I still have the packet from Prof. Haight’s class on the Catholic theologies which I still plan on reading through sometime in the future. If you’re curious as to who made the list, he includes the following in the readings: Amaladoss, Aquino, Copeland, Ellacuría, Espín, Goizueta, Gutiérrez, Haight, Johnson, Lonergan, Metz, Nyamiti, Rahner, Schillebeeckx, Schüssler Fiorenza, Sobrino and Tracy.
However, despite such an interesting reading list, I decided to go with Haight’s Christology (you can see the one of the fruits of the class here). I didn’t want to regret not taking a guided reading from the author on his own material, particularly when AAR itself has held sessions titled “Haight’s Thought.” So now the blog will get a dose of some hard core spirit Christology that the Vatican (read here: Ratzinger) really doesn’t like (but is still faithful to Vatican II, or so Haight claims).
In other news, I finished Volf’s The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World and I’ll write about it later.