154 Chapter 12
METHOD AND SYSTEM
However, since we can't and shouldn't 'be' Augustinians or Thomists, that does mean that we 'normal
people' can read and reflect on both Catholic theologies whenever we wish.
If we're in the mood for comedy, tragedy, pratfalls, despair, puns, paradoxes, poetry, horrifyingly evil
acts, radiantly good ones, all in the utter surprise of grace, we might try a little Augustinianism. (You can see
why Augustinianism has been the historically more popular choice).
On the other hand, at every Mass, we are not only confronted by the utter surprise of grace, but also by its
utter reality. Then, like the Virgin, we might out of sheer wonder exclaim, "How can this be?" [Luke 1:34
RSV] -- and, at that exact moment, St. Thomas has gotten us interested in his project.
'Normal people' are lucky. We don't have to choose between Augustinianism and Thomism -- but when
theologians do theology, they do, as Fr. Keefe makes absolutely clear.
Another thing regarding method and system needs to be said in this chapter. For the question arises, what
is Fr. Keefe's own method within Covenantal Theology?
His method is both explicit in the text and implicit. A small outline of that method -- its working
assumptions, categories, and starting points -- will thus serve as one more way into the ideas in his book. Fr.
Keefe appears to believe that the Catholic theologian has an obligation to make his method scientific, in the
sense discussed in the previous chapter:
A Catholic theologian is committed a priori, before he begins, and throughout his "searching," to the
reality and inexhaustible intelligibility of his object.
He is also committed a priori in the same way to the fundamental and ineradicable historicity of his own
He is unceasingly skeptical regarding himself, his methods, his questions, and his answers. He never
doubts the reality and the inexhaustible intelligibility of that which he studies. If either commitment is
swerved from even for a moment, at that instant, what he begins to do is anti-scientific and completely pagan,
and for both reasons it is no longer Catholic theology. This outline -- which applies to both the Augustinian
and the Thomist, as each applies his own distinct, incompatible, but thoroughly Catholic theological method -
- is fleshed out as follows:
A Catholic theologian does not assume that he has everything all worked out.
A Catholic theologian does not assume that he has anything all worked out.
He does not assume that Catholic theology has everything all worked out.
He does not assume that Catholic theology has anything all worked out.
He does not assume that Catholic theology will ever have everything all worked out.
In fact, he assumes the reverse: a Catholic Theory of Everything is fundamentally un-Catholic.
By contrast, he knows in advance that both his question and his answer will be insufficient to his object.
On the other hand, he knows that questions and answers in time are the only real ones, and that he must
stand within them in order to understand.
Thus, he does not assume that he will be able to answer any question he poses, for he has no ultimate
confidence in his method, nor his categories, nor his technique, nor his scholarship, nor even in his powers of
'reason,' but only in the reality of his object.
He does not even assume that he will be able to formulate a question of higher quality, for the same
reason: he knows that he is no more sufficient to his object than was Our Lady's juggler.
He may have no idea how to ask or to answer any particular question in Catholic theology.
N.B. This is an html-ized copy of a page from the pdf file, The Knucklehead's Guide to Covenantal Theology.