Responding to the question: “What would you yourself see as specific about your theology or the way you do theology?”:
I began with the theme of the Church, and it is present in everything. Only, in dealing with the Church it was important to me, and it has become increasingly important, that the Church not be an end to herself but exist so that God may be seen. In this respect I would say that I study the theeme of the Church with the intention of opening a vista onto God. And in this sense God is the real central theme of my endeavors.
I have never tried to create a system of my own, an individual theology. What is specific, if you want to call it that, is that I simply want to think in communion with the faith of the Church, and that means above all to think in communion with the great thinkers of the faith. The aim is not an isolated theology that I draw out of myself, but one that opens as widely as possible into the common intellectual pathway of the faith. For this reason exegesis was always very important. I couldn’t imagine a purely philosophical theology. The point of departure is first of all the word. That we believe the word of God, that we really try to get to know and understand it, and then, as I said, to think it together with the great masters of the faith. This gives my theology a somewhat biblical character and also bears the stamp of the Fathers, especially Augustine. But it goes without saying that I try not to stop with the ancient Church but to hold fast ot the great high points of thought and at the same time to bring contemporary thought into the discussion.
On conscience and the “primacy of truth over goodness”
The appeal to conscience can, of course, shift into obstinacy, in which you always think you have to be against everything. But, understood in a proper sense, a man who listens to his conscience and for whom the truth that he has recognized, the good, is above approval and acceptance, is really an ideal and a model for me. And personalities like Thomas More
, Cardinal Newman
, and other great witnesses — we have the great men who were persecuted by the Nazi regime, Dietrich Bonhoeffer
, for example — are great examples for me. . . .
There is a willingness to purchase well-being, success, public regard, and approval from the reigning opinion by dispensing with the truth . . . under the pretext of goodness people neglect conscience. They place acceptance, the avoidance of problems, the comfortable pursuuit of their existence, the good opinion of others, and good-naturedness above truth in the scale of values.
On the importance of “[keeping] intact a sense of the joyful beauty of the redeemed creation”:
A joyfulness based on willful blindness to the horrors of history would ultimately be a lie or a fiction, a kind of withdrawal. But the converse is also true. Those who have lost the capacity to see that even in an evil world the Creator still shines through are at the bottom no longer capable of existing. They become cynical, or they have to say farewell to life altogether. In this sense, the two things belong together: the refusal to evade the abysses of history and of man’s existence, and then the insight that faith give sus that the good is present, even if we aren’t always able to connect the two things. Particularly when one has to resist evil it’s all the more important not to fall into the gloomy moralism that doesn’t allow itself any joy but really to see how much beauty there is, too, and to draw from it the strength needed to resist what destroys joy.
Excerpts from Salt of the Earth: The Church at the end of the Millenium (Ignatius Press: 1997), part of this summer’s (re)reading.