The theology of Abp. Joseph Augustine DiNoia, O.P.

Archbishop Joseph Augustine DiNoia, O.P., is a very fine theologian who taught theology for decades and has written extensively.  Several questions about his teachings are probably on the minds of Traditionalist Catholics since his recent appointment as vice-president of the Pontifical Ecclesia Dei Commission.  A few hours in a seminary library were enough to answer some of them. 

1) What does the new vice-president of the Ecclesia Dei Commission teach about the Eucharist?

Then-Father DiNoia contributed a chapter to a Book of Readings on the Eucharist published in 2006 by the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.  Although the essay, entitled “Eucharist and Trinity”, is focused on “communio theology”, the author refers to the Mass as a “sacrificial banquet”.  A few excerpts follow: 

The Church is a creation of the triune God:  from the Father, who sends his Son and his Spirit to transform creaturely persons so that they come to share, with the uncreated Persons of the Trinity and with one another, a communion of divine life.  (p. 41)

We have been invited from the highways and byways to be guests at a wedding banquet that we did not prepare and in which our participation is confirmed only by our being suitably clothed in Christ, in robes “washed … in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev 7:14;  see Mt 22:1-14). (p. 41)

The prayer of consecration involves a solemn invocation of the Holy Spirit, by whose power the death and Resurrection of Christ are made present, and the bread and wine are transformed into his Body and Blood.  Then, by worthily consuming the Body and Blood of Christ, the faithful are made divine and brought into union with the Father and with one another, through Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit.  (p. 44)

2) What does Archbishop DiNoia think about ecumenism and interreligious dialogue?

Young Fr. DiNoia earned a doctorate from Yale University in 1980 by writing a dissertation on “Catholic Theology of Religions and Interreligious Dialogue”;  one of his advisors was Prof. George Lindbeck, who had been a Lutheran observer at the Second Vatican Council.  The Dominican friar subsequently refined his thoughts on the subject and wrote a book, The Diversity of Religions: A Christian Perspective, published by Catholic University of America Press in 1992. 

As the dissertation title suggests, DiNoia carefully distinguishes pragmatic considerations about dialogue among representatives of different world religions (e.g. Buddhists and Muslims), on the one hand, from dogmatic considerations about how the Catholic Church ought to view and treat non-Christian religions, on the other hand.  With great courtesy and considerable subtlety, he develops what has been called a philosophy of interreligious dialogue, which neither reduces all religions to some anthropological common denominator nor affirms them all as equally valid paths to heaven.  DiNoia’s approach to interreligious dialogue respects the real and essential differences between the major religions.  He also points out that many world religions are not particularly concerned about salvation as Christians understand it, and recommends that they seek other subjects with which to begin their dialogue.  Note that DiNoia is not saying that salvation is unimportant or “negotiable”.  He simply makes a pragmatic observation about cultural realities.

In discussing “the Catholic theology of religions”, DiNoia restates all the traditional Catholic teachings about Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world and the sole Mediator between God and humankind.  On that basis, he then examines ways in which the Church can identify and affirm partial truths that may be found in other religions. 

This twofold approach could be summed up:  “Grounded in faith, willing to converse.” 

3) What does Abp. DiNoia think about Vatican II?

In an oft-quoted essay that appeared in the scholarly journal The Thomist in 1990, then-Fr. DiNoia surveyed “American Catholic Theology at Century’s End:  Postconciliar, Postmodern, Post-Thomistic”.  “Assimilating the work of several generations of bishops and theologians, the [Second Vatican] Council combined a reaffirmation of the Catholic Christian identity of the Church with a positive, albeit critical, approach to modernity,” that is, to the post-Enlightenment intellectual heritage of the Western world.  With the conclusion of the twentieth century, however, came “the advent of ‘postmodernity’”.  “The fortunes of the study of Aquinas have shifted in tandem with these fluctuations.” 

DiNoia reviews two important concepts that provided a program for the Council.  The first is ressourcement, a French word meaning return to and “creative reappropriation of [the] principal formative sources” of Catholicism:  “Scripture, liturgy, and the Fathers of the Church”.  The second is aggiornamento, an Italian word meaning “updating”.  Whereas the Council tried to balance ressourcement and aggiornamento, tradition and renewal, in the media and among the general public “reform and renewal were widely viewed as equivalent with modernization…. the program of aggiornamento prevailed in the American Catholic reception [understanding] of the Council from the outset.”  The author’s language is polite, but he clearly does not approve of that one-sided “reading” of the Council. 

Neo-Thomism—the dry, systematized Thomistic theology of the Latin manuals used for generations in seminaries—“supplied the means to refute the errors of modernity rather than to engage its challenge”.  This almost airtight academic system could not deal either with the pluralism of twentieth-century ressourcement:  the proliferation of new theological approaches (e.g. the Liturgical Movement, Biblical theology, more in-depth studies in patristics).  “Many American theologians drew the conclusion that neo-Thomism was incorrigibly anti-modern and obscurantist, and that it had so far crippled the Church in its encounter with [the modern world].” 

As a Dominican Friar who taught his confreres theology for decades, DiNoia is aware that “there is a post-Thomistic Aquinas, an Aquinas unencumbered by the enormous weight of commentary, debate, and systematization that has made his thought seem inaccessible to modern theologians and unusable for their theological work, an Aquinas who speaks with pristine clarity to a host of urgently postmodern theological questions.” 

Things to take away from DiNoia’s turn-of-the-century discussion:  the theology of Thomas Aquinas is a great treasure for the Church.  The dry Latin theology manuals in the seminaries were not necessarily the same thing.  The documents of the Second Vatican Council have lasting value because they were produced and approved by an Ecumenical Council under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  The interpretations of those documents by enthusiasts who emphasized “renewal” and ignored “tradition” were not necessarily the same thing. 

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About Michael J. Miller 127 Articles
Michael J. Miller Michael J. Miller translated Priesthood and Diaconate by Gerhard Ludwig Müller for Ignatius Press and Eucharist and Divorce: A Change in Doctrine? for the Pontifical John Paul II Institute.