ON CHILDREN, GRANDMOTHERS, AND GROWN-UPS
may be that creative, that deep, and that fruitful for future generations.
However history judges, already we know that Fr. Keefe's work has
something in common with Einstein's. It was the product of the type of
question that only Einsteins ask; that is, the type of question only
children ask, because adults think that its answer is obvious.
Thus Covenantal Theology began when Fr. Keefe began to ask the
childish questions, What is nature? What is grace?, and when he really
asked those questions, he discovered that the answers the grown-ups
had given to them -- even grown-ups like St. Thomas and St.
Augustine -- could not possibly be fully correct, if Jesus really were
Lord, if "This is My Body" really means what it says, if, in a word,
Catholic sacramental worship really were real and the Catholic
proclamation really were true.
Again, for a theological scientist to find a mistake in the thinking
of another theological scientist is something to want, not something to
fear. A mistake in the science of theology no more alters the reality
under study than does a similar mistake in physics. The nature of
reality is not going to change, just because a good scientist makes a
mistake in his account of it. Furthermore, things like television sets, as
well as any other man-made glory, including theological ones, really
arise (much contrary to some people's grand claims) not from advances
in 'knowledge,' but from better questions, higher-quality mistakes. The
knowledge that any true science possesses is always, in a way, a
negative kind; scientific knowledge always comes down to saying,
"Boy, I hope I don't make that stupid mistake in my thinking again!"
Being able to say that, and nothing else, is human "progress," and no
man-made glory has any other proximate source.
One day my Mary B., my wife, asked me why I couldn't translate
Fr. Keefe's argument into "words used by normal people." On the one
hand, this would be possible. The research psychologist Mr. Jerome
Bruner spoke well when he said that "any subject can be taught
effectively in some intellectually honest form to any child at any stage
Mr. Bruner's remark, contrary to American
educational cant, has been confirmed over and over within mainstream
1. Bruner J (1960). The process of education.
Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University
Press. p. 33.
On the other hand, the truth of Mr. Bruner's remark in no way
implies the truth of that other pernicious dogma of American life, that
everybody is an expert. It is not true that you, if you just had the spare
hour, and really, really wanted to, could sit down and figure out the
So, as I said to my Mary B., there are still two problems. Imagine
using really small words (instead of the really big ones Fr. Keefe uses
all the time) to explain what television is, and how it works -- to people
N.B. This is an html-ized copy of a page from the pdf file, The Knucklehead's Guide to Covenantal Theology.