New Book from Lawrence Feingold: An Introduction to Fundamental Theology

As the various debates and crises of the 20th century illustrate, the specific focus of fundamental theology addresses some of the most contentious and pertinent aspects of theological and ecclesial reflection within the (post-) modern milieu. Dr. Lawrence Feingold’s recent volume, Faith Comes from What Is Heard: An Introduction to Fundamental Theology, published by Emmaus Academic, provides the reader with a much-needed “textbook” (xix) that faithfully and perspicaciously navigates the decisive waters of fundamental theology.

The astonishing breadth of Dr. Feingold’s work is matched by the lucidity of his prose; clarity of expression remains even when treating the more difficult and nuanced aspects of revelation, theology, and the scriptures. As this indication of topics suggests, the author’s conception of fundamental theology is also quite full-blooded: it is “theology’s reflection on itself as a discipline, its method, and its foundation in God’s Revelation transmitted to us through Scripture and Tradition” (xix). The timely nature of such a robust reflection is manifest in perhaps its greatest strength (at the most general level): it is a work characterized by a theological “hermeneutic of continuity,” as it were, inasmuch as it takes Dei Verbum, the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, as its magisterial heart, while proceeding (most often) in a deeply Thomistic key. But this should not lead us to overlook the other obvious strengths of the text, such as its remarkably balanced presentation of sources—the Fathers, Thomas, John Henry Newman, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, and Pope St. John Paul II all make very meaningful contributions, to say nothing of magisterial documents and the Catechism—its plentiful but not overwhelming number of footnotes, and its well-detailed index of subjects and persons, as well as its helpful index of scriptural citations.

The ordering of the text is uncomplicated and immediately intelligible, rendering the work easy to navigate for the student or simple to reference as an expert. The book is divided into six parts, each with three chapters of various lengths (though the average length of a given chapter is around 25 pages). The explanation of the topical progression is given by Dr. Feingold in the Introduction: “(1) Revelation and faith as man’s response to God’s Word; (2) the nature of Theology and theological method; (3) the transmission of Revelation through Tradition and the Magisterium; (4) the inspiration and truth of Scripture and principles of biblical interpretation; (5) the historical character of the Gospels; and (6) Biblical Typology. Since Scripture is the principal foundation and ‘soul’ of theology, half of the book deals with Scripture and its interpretation” (xix-xx). Here revelation is treated first, inasmuch as it is the very center of faith and theology. Then theology is considered, which (taken in a specific sense) is the particular knowledge of God that follows upon divine revelation (93). Finally, the two “complementary forms” by which God has willed the (guaranteed) transmission of revelation in his Church, Tradition and Scripture (193).

Each chapter attempts to treat astutely the essential contours of the matter at hand, often without directly engaging in the debates among specialists. To give a sense of the sheer scope of these chapters, I will simply list a selection of particular topics treated therein: the mediation of revelation, revelation and prophecy, the dimensions of faith, motives of credibility, the possibility of miracles, rationalist and agnostic objections to theology, the science of theology (essentially a 36-page commentary on Thomas’s pertinent question in the Summa), the ecclesial character of theology, sacred Tradition and its function, apostolic succession, the primacy of Peter, papal infallibility, the Magisterium, the inspiration of Scripture, inerrancy, methods of exegesis, the figure of Christ and myth, the apostolic origin and historical character of the four Gospels, and biblical typology.

It goes without saying that this would make a terrific book for seminary courses, since this book owes its existence to Dr. Feingold’s ten years of teaching fundamental theology at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis, as well as in the Institute of Pastoral Theology of Ave Maria University. But, as Dr. Feingold himself intends (see xix), it would also serve deftly as a text for introductory undergraduate courses that address these topics. The attention given to scriptural matters makes Dr. Feingold’s book especially apt for use in Scripture courses. Yet it remains the case that all Catholics—even theological specialists—will benefit from reading Feingold’s discerning treatments of the foundations of Catholic theology. If for no other reason, such benefit will arise from the ordering of the text towards a personal encounter with God himself; as Dr. Feingold writes, “the work is inspired by the conviction that theology ought to inform both the mind and heart, bringing them together to foster growth in faith, hope, and charity" (xix). A few lines of Thomas's commentary on Psalm 33, cited by Dr. Feingold (144), serve as a fitting articulation of the truth behind this inspiration: "in material things we see first, and then we taste. But in spiritual things we taste first so that we can see, because no one knows who does not taste. And thus he says first taste, and then see." Anyone who wishes to see, but also to be encouraged to taste, is encouraged to take up this extraordinary text by Dr. Feingold, Faith Comes from What is Heard

N.B. Readers will likely be interested in additional volumes from Emmaus Academic, the academic publishing arm of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, whose mission is "to participate in the renewal of Catholic theology through publishing the very best in faithful scholarship."

- Reviewed by Matthew Kuhner