“Jesus and the World of Grace, 1968–2016: An Idiosyncratic Theological Memoir”

William L. Portier, University of Dayton, CTS president

Looking back at the last five decades of my development as a theologian, I offer an impressionistic look at Catholic theology in the United States. At the heart of this story are Christology, the world of grace, and their relationship, starting after the stormy implementation of the Council after 1968. I remember a strong sense that “the world” was somehow more real than our ecclesiocentric subcultural enclaves. American Catholic educators, who authored the 1967 Land O’ Lakes Statement wanted Catholic universities to be “universities first”—real universities.

As the 1970s began, the stock market took a big dip from which it did not really rebound until the Reagan years. In 1971, the Temptations pronounced the “world of today” (the mundus huius temporis of Gaudium et Spes) a “Ball of Confusion” (“that’s how the world is today. . . . Eve of destruction, tax deduction . . . suicide, too many bills, hippies moving to the hills, people all over the world are shouting end the war and the band played on”). That same year, Don McLean released the album “American Pie.” The title song mourned “the day the music died” and closed with these dirge-like lines: “Not a word was spoken, the church bells all were broken. And the three men I admired most, the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost, they caught the last train for the coast, the day the music died.” It is a lament for something precious that was lost, a passage from lost hope to decadence and excess. “American Pie” signaled the end of the 1960s and McLean cast it in theological terms, indeed in Trinitarian terms. It was in 1973 that Karl Rahner began to speak of a “wintry season” in the church.

In the wake of these several tumultuous years, the reelection of Richard Nixon, and in the midst of economic stagflation, I wrote “The Visions of Androphilos Theoreticus,” an apocalypse for renewal refugees. A brief selection captures my mood: “In the beginning was Vatican II, Teilhard and the National Catholic Reporter. Old friends . . . ‘a time of innocence, a time of confidences.’ Now in a more pedestrian time, my ragged Documents of Vatican II can only serve as a sanctuary for pilgrim particles of dust. An Omega of dog-ears and dust for Rahner and Teilhard.”

The full paper, published in Horizons, “Jesus and the World of Grace, 1968–2016: An Idiosyncratic Theological Memoir” by William L. Portier, University of Dayton, CTS president, can be viewed here free of charge until February 28, 2017.

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