Mark Armitage - Theologian
[Mark has a particular gift in making complex theology understandable to people who have not the necessary theological background]
Here are some notes on five books by Aidan Nichols which I think are very useful reading for anyone who wishes to promote an understanding of Catholicism that is (a) totally traditional and orthodox and (b) based on solid academic and intellectual foundations.
1)The Shape of Catholic Theology (T&TClark, 1991) deals with the sources of theology - scripture, tradition, sacred art, liturgy, the magisterium, etc., and thus establishes the authority for what might be termed 'Catholic orthodoxy'.
2) Looking at the Liturgy (Ignatius Press, 199?) focuses on the liturgical aspect which is sketched out in (1), and comes to the conclusion that the liturgical reforms of Vatican 2 are defective in the extreme. As I understand it (I do not posess the book), Fr Nichols advocates the reintegration of parts of the old (Tridentine) mass into the new (1969) mass, thus offering a way of uniting mainstream conservatives and actual traditionalists (e.g. the Latin Mass Society).
3) Epiphany: A Theological Introduction to Catholicism. Liturgical Press, 1996), effectively carries on from (1), inasmuch as, having established what the 'sources' of Catholicism are, Fr Nichols offers a survey of what orthodox Catholicism actually teaches - in a way that is aimed at the educated layman but that also exhibits a certain academic creativity and originality of approach. The title 'Epiphany' (which represents an accurate expression of the underlying theology) would, suggestively, also be a rather apt one-word summary of von Balthasar's Christology.
4) Catholic Thought Since the Enlightenment (Gracewing, 1998) offers a brief but comprehensive survey of Catholic theology from the Enlightenment to the present day, and can be seen as setting 1), (2) and (3) in their historical context.
5) The Word Has Been Abroad (T&T Clark, 1998) is an interpretative summary of von Balthasar's 7-volume masterpiece 'Herrlichkeit' ('The Glory of the Lord'). Together with the proposed volumes on 'Theodrama' and 'Theologik' it should eventually constitute the single most important introduction to von Balthasar in English (or, indeed, in any other language). Even by itself 'The Word has Been Abroad' gets right to the heart of von Balthasar, and points to the way in which von Balthasar draws together and assimilates the various strands of scripture, the fathers, ancient and modern philosophy, the scholastics, mediaeval and arly-modern spirituality and mediaeval and modern literature in order to expound his vision of the 'form' of the self-revelation of God in Jesus Christ - a 'form' which shines through most gloriously on the Cross and in the descent into hell, and which is reflected in our own lives when we ourselves imitate the via crucis. (To summarise von Balthasar in one sentence is like describing Shakespeare or Mozart in a entence - it's bound to sound superficial and trite!)
Items (1) to (4) provide a kind of programme for the rediscovery of an intellectually respectable Catholic orthodoxy in the wake of the post-Vatican 2 crisis of faith, and item (5) offers a paradigm of a theological enterprise (proposed by von Balthasar) which fulfils (and even transcends) the criteria for a truly 'modern' yet entirely 'orthodox' approach to Catholicism.
I have put together this brief bibliography in the hope that some or all of the items therein might suggest a starting-point for anyone who wishes to promote traditional Catholicism in a 'modern' and 'relevant' way. Of course, there are other good writers around, but not many who combine academic excellence with impeccable orthodoxy to the extent that Aidan Nichols does.
The overall thesis, which will be regarded as controversial in liberal circles, is that the Catholic
Church needs to re-energise herself by rediscovering that which is best in her own traditions, and that only when
she has reacquainted herself with her own historical identity that she can embark upon a process of resacralising
In the years before Vatican 2 there were two 'movements' at work in the Church - the 'ressourcement'
('back to the sources') movement and the 'aggiornamento' ('updating') movement.