Of Giants and Jesuits

Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, during Hanukkah celebrations in Buenos Aires, Argentina . December 12, 2012.

Ever since Pope Paul III promulgated Regimini Militantes Ecclesiae (on the Governance of the Church Militant) in 1540, a race of giants roamed the earth. Their name – the Jesuits. While their charism was to be Mother Church’s Fifth Column, St. Ignatius recognized they would fail this high vocation without the cultivation of surpassing sanctity and razor-sharp intellects. Other than the Dominicans, no Order in the Roman Catholic Church imposed upon its members such fiercely exacting formation.

Both soul and mind underwent rigors that produced nothing less than giants. With obedience as their signature, they scattered to the four ends of the world in search of lost souls. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises was the magic elixir that steeled their souls; but manuals such as Sacra Theologiae Summa shaped their Catholics intellects into cannon balls for the Faith.

Very few of those Jesuit giants still roam the earth today. Oh yes, we still have Jesuits with us, but their grander has become so dimmed as to make them barely recognizable to their sainted founder. One of those extant giants of the Society of Jesus is Fr. Kenneth Baker. Like so many of his kind, his accomplishments are too numerous to list. When you’re working for Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam, who’s counting. Most know him from steering the editorial helm of Homiletic and Pastoral Review for over three decades. But in that glittering tradition of the Jesuits, even in retirement his theological work has a velocity that younger theologians can only envy.

For his latest project, he has taken upon himself the Herculean labor of translating (from Latin) the multi-volume theological/philosophical cursus studiorum, Sacrae Theologiae Summa, which was the spine of Jesuit seminary training for much of the Twentieth Century. Though not complete, two volumes are presently being published and distributed by Keep the Faith. The first, On the One and Triune God by Joseph M. Dalmau, S.J., and On God the Creator and Sanctifier and On Sins by Joseph F. Sagues, S.J. Other volumes will follow.

These works are not breezy reads; that would betray their high purpose. They are Olympian in their reach and scope. They furnish a minutely systematic exposition of all matters that touch upon the Faith. Exhaustive comes to mind. Nothing else would do when training ambassadors of Christ to reconquer the world. Sadly, the present temper in the Church’s theological circles treats certitude as some kind of atavistic tick. From the outbreak of Modernism in the Twentieth Century’s infancy, more and more theologians replaced “certitude” with “ambiguity”. The steal trap logic and elegantly structures presentations of these manuals were gradually seen as embarrassments to the modern Catholic mind. Uppermost to this new theological method was elbow room for subjective expression and emancipation from the suffocating fixities of the classical theological method of the Church. Jargon preempts clarity; narrative squeezes out dogmatic formulas; experience supplants truth; historical consciousness buries immutable doctrines.

Against this dreary backdrop, with the corresponding empirical collapse of the Church’s apostolic mission and credibility, Fr. Baker’s translation of this monumental theological masterpiece gallops toward us like a conquering white horse. Every theological school and seminary should install this work as the standard curriculum. If so, the much vaunted New Evangelization will take flight and giants will walk the earth once more.

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