Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 4, 2002
French theologian impressed Potworowski
Newmwn head authors book on ground breaking Dominican
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
The theology of Marie-Dominique Chenu has been important in the life of Newman Theological College president Christophe Potworowski, helping to colour his own theology.
So much so that he completed his doctorate at the University of St. Michael's College in Toronto in 1988 with a dissertation on Chenu's theology.
Now Potworowski is releasing a book on the French theologian, a key figure in the revitalization of theology and renewal of the Catholic Church that culminated in the Second Vatican Council.
Chenu successfully combined a return to medieval sources of theological reflection with a new sensitivity to the contemporary circumstances of the Church while grounding the theological enterprise in the contemplative experience.
Contemplation and Incarnation: The Theology of Marie-Dominique Chenu will be launched Feb. 8 at Newman Theological College on St. Albert Trail.
Potworowski said he bumped into Chenu almost by accident while researching French theology, which he considers to be at the root of Catholic renewal. "The more I learned about him, the more I realized he was an interesting character," he said in an interview.
"While he was working on the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century he was also working on burning social justice issues of his time."
Chenu was involved in peace and justice issues as well as in the worker priest movement. "He was a medievalist involved in front-line issues."
Potworowski began researching Chenu's work in the early 1980s while working on his doctoral dissertation. He came back to Chenu in the 1990s, making several trips to the Dominican Archives in Paris. "I went to Paris shortly after his death and helped to sort out his papers," he said. "So I sat on his desk."
Relying on both Chenu's previously unpublished materials and his many publications, Potworowski examines the role of faith and contemplation in the Dominican life and in theology as well as considering the historical and social dimensions of the human situation in terms of individual and ecclesial existence. He discusses the prophetic role of the theologian and the problems this involves.
Chenu was "very influential" in the whole area of the "signs of the times," a popular Church term calling on Catholics to apply the Gospel teaching to real life. "He did not invent the term but he is really is the theologian who popularized it," Potworowski said. "He said the theologian should be interested in the Gospel in action."
Chenu also said theology, no matter how complicated, always depends on faith because it always receives its substance from revelation.
In the book, Potworowski raised the question of how incarnation as an overall structure is related to the particularities of Christology and provides insight into the development of Catholic theology in the crucial period leading to Vatican II.
"The centrality of the incarnation has become important for me," Potworowski said. "It has become an important aspect of my (own) theology."
The 350-page book, published by McGill-Queen's University Press, also includes a complete bibliography of Chenu's complete writings. "The bibliography, unavailable elsewhere, is a valuable instrument of theological research," says Paul Beaudette of the department of religious studies at Mount St. Vincent University.
"A major contribution to research. . . . Potworowski demonstrates an enviable familiarity with the relevant literature, both primary and secondary. His bibliography demonstrates an exhaustive knowledge of Chenu's writings, both published and unpublished."