Theologians Descend on Trent to Discuss Tradition and Contemporary Culture


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(27 Jul 10 - RV) Six hundred theologians from all five continents descended on the Northern Italian city of Trent this week to discuss "Catholic Theological Ethics in World Culture".

With over 50 sessions on topics ranging from family to environmental protection, from sexuality to good governance, the theologians sought to approach each issue from the point of view of the Catholic Church tradition in Moral Theology and contemporary culture.

Theologians of the stature of Italian Archbishop Bruno Forte, the Archbishop of Munich and Freising Reinhard Marx, chaired sessions alongside lay men and women theologians from the US Latin America, Asia and Africa.

Jesuit Priest James Keenan is professor of Theology at Boston College in the US. He is also the co- chairman of the convention. He pointed out that where once most theologians were formed in Rome, Paris or Holland, over the past thirty years, major faculties of theology have arisen in Brazil, the Philippines and India, making meetings such as this one in Trent an important focal point for Catholic theologians.

Of the numerous interventions, Fr Keenan highlighted the presentation made by American Theologian Julie Hanlon Rubio, on Family practise and Archbishop Reinhard Marx's intervention on the Future of Moral Theology: "He gave us this discourse about the need to work with one another to be able to appreciate how social ethics is a deep part of our own theological tradition and about how we need to get to a moral objectivity that is really rooted in tradition".

Fr Keenan noted that there is often tension between the need to root research in tradition and the need for theologians to engage with contemporary culture.

Asked about what Pope Benedict XVI has termed as a "creeping secularism" and his call to address the moral relativism of today's society, Fr Keenan said that the notion of relativism " cuts two ways".

"We can have a relativism in which we simply say; ‘what the church once taught in 1548 has never changed and always remains the same'", which Fr Keenan notes, is not possible. "There is the relativism of those who want to objectify tradition is such as way that they want us to be living in the past with rules that do not address some of the contemporary challenges that we have. So there is a relativism that comes from objectifying the tradition".

But then notes Fr Keenan, "there is a relativism that is subjective, that is very liberal, that is very progressive, that says that tradition can be anything that I want it to be, that we don't read the scriptures, that we don't read tradition itself. This is another type of relativism. We shouldn't think that relativism comes simply from the left, it can also come from the right. What I think a real Church is looking at, if it wants to be harmonious and integrated, is to really find the tradition as it needs to be now, in light of what it once was and what it will be".