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An Open Discussion of Difficult Theological Issues

Theology is no good if done in isolation. God is a community of Persons; so are we. As followers of Christ, we are called to engage with the content of our Tradition(s), in order to better understand why we believe the timeless truths that have been handed down in Scripture. Conciliar Post is an apt forum for just this sort of activity. As an author on this website, I do not claim to hold a position of authority over anyone else when it comes to theological matters. Rather, I aim to teach what I know and be taught what I do not. Today’s post falls under in the latter category.

In the spirit of cooperation and co-learning, I am sharing a list of “unresolved theological topics.” I welcome feedback in the comments section, and encourage follow-up pieces from our authors and contributors as time permits. Hopefully you all will find these questions to be interesting and intellectually stimulating. Many are written from a specifically Catholic standpoint; but the comments section is open to anyone. Let us seek always to give an answer for the hope that lies within us (1 Peter 3:15).

As a practical note, please include the number (#) of the topic to which you are responding in your comments. Also, please feel free to point me toward resources for exploring these topics further.


#1 •Is it ever appropriate to talk about the concept of “time” in purgatory? Why have so many premodern theologians and Church leaders described purgatory with the language of time, and were they speaking metaphorically?


#2 •For Catholics, is it possible to dissent from the doctrine of Papal infallibility as it was expressed at The First Vatican Council? For instance, John Henry Newman wrote in a letter with regard to this doctrine: “Let us be patient, let us have faith, and a new Pope, and a re-assembled Council may trim the boat.”


#3 •What is the significance of Enoch and Elijah, in general? These men were taken directly to heaven without dying. Why is there such a paucity of theological reflection on this subject? How do their lives relate to the human path towards God and perfection?


#4 •Is the difference between East and West on original sin truly significant? If Augustine took things too far in one direction, is also it possible that unqualified proponents of free will take it too far in the other? A specific conduit to address this question involves the label “Semi-Pelagianism,” which some might attribute to Eastern documents like this one, pages 39–42: “Even if salvation is by grace, yet man himself, through whose achievements and the sweat of his brow attracts the grace of God, is also the cause.”


#5 •Can a human will be forever oriented against God’s will? Must the answer be yes if we are to have freedom as God’s creatures?


#6 •Why is penance for the Sacrament of Reconciliation so quick and easy to complete today, at least in many Catholic parishes? For example, many of my penances are prayers that can be said in less than five minutes. The history of the Sacrament of Reconciliation is long and complex, with types of penance changing drastically over the years, but I would still like to know more about why we are where we are today!


#7 •Is it acceptable (or at least understandable) to feel a conviction that Mary is some kind of deity? What are the implications of this conviction given that, in Central and South American Christianity, Mary is oftentimes seen as the primary conduit toward God? How do these ideas relate to the Marian title “Mediatrix,” and to the theological maxim that Mary always leads devotees to Christ?


#8 •What leadership roles should women hold in the Church? More specifically, would (re)instituting an order of women deaconesses necessarily mandate that the priestly office also be open for women?


#9 •How lenient can we be about people who are seeking truth in this life, but are not Christian? Certainly we can pray for their souls, but how does this practice relate to the doctrine that if a person dies in mortal sin he/she is condemned to hell?


#10 •Is it actually meaningful to say something like: “We must do good works, but we can’t trust in them for our salvation.”? Why separate works and salvation out like this? This is related to the final sentences of #4, above.


#11 •What is at stake in the early heresy of Patripassianism? Does God die on cross? Or just the man Jesus?


#12 •What exactly is signified by the statement: “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:18)? Specifically, in the Beatific Vision do we lose who we are in God, or retain some form of separation from God forever? Or is this a false dichotomy, and it’s a little bit of both? If so, Beatitude is something that can (appropriately) only be understood with the eyes of faith.


#13 •What is at stake in the contemporary practice of preferring the Masoretic Text for scholarly translations of Scripture? The Septuagint (LXX) has an older manuscript tradition, but clearly reinterprets (i.e. “changes”) Hebrew texts in light of Christianity. Should we embrace the LXX in order to tie ourselves more closely to the practices of the earliest Christians? Does insight gleaned from the Masoretic text nonetheless tell us something new about Christianity? Finally, where does the Vulgate (still?) fit in?


#14 •Origen spoke of an eternal gospel. Do his reflections, or those of other theologians about what happens to this world after it is destroyed by fire (2 Pet 3:7), have anything to say about a Christian perspective on the possibility of multiple worlds/universes?

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Benjamin Winter

Benjamin Winter

Dr. Benjamin Winter is assistant professor of theology at Divine Word College. His research interests include scholasticism, Christian mysticism, science and religion, and philosophical theology. Before matriculating from Saint Louis University with a doctorate in Historical Theology, Ben completed a Master of Arts in Theology at Villanova University. His undergraduate degree comes from Truman State University, where he studied English and Philosophy. His interests outside the academy include creating electronic music, travel, swimming, science fiction, and podcasts of all sorts.

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