Revelation, History, and Truth

A Hermeneutics of Dogma

by Eduardo J. Echeverria (Author)
©2018 Monographs XXIV, 200 Pages
Series: Ecumenical Studies, Volume 2


The general topic of this book concerns the ontology, epistemology, and teleology of the hermeneutics of dogma. In particular, the author addresses contemporary challenges faced by the necessity of maintaining the integrity of dogmatic truth of the Christian faith, of divine revelation and its transmission through tradition, particularly with respect to the relationship between history and doctrinal truth. The author integrates a theological hermeneutics, namely, the Lérinian hermeneutics of Vatican II, with a historically conscious hermeneutics. His aim is to show how we can consider the historical and contextual nature of dogmas, creeds and confessions while at the same time honoring their assertions of dogmatic truth that are permanent, valid and binding for all times.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise for Opening Doors
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: Vatican II’s Hermeneutics of Ressourcement
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter 1: The Hermeneutics of Vatican II: The Essentialist vs. Historicist Dispute
  • Introduction
  • Type 1
  • Type 2
  • Type 3
  • Brief Evaluation
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter 2: The Nature of Revelation: Scripture, Tradition, and the Church
  • A Fundamental Innovation?
  • False Antithesis between God’s Self-revelation and Propositional Revelation
  • Scripture and Tradition in Relation to Revelation and the Church’s Authority
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter 3: Divine Revelation and Foundationalism: Towards a Historically Conscious Foundationalism
  • Introduction
  • The Twin Challenges Faced by Contemporary Christian Faith and Thought
  • Overcoming Relativism?
  • Truth and its Linguistic Expressions
  • Sound Epistemology will be A posteriori
  • Testimony
  • Fallibilism and the Finality of the Christian Faith
  • Toward a Historically Conscious Foundationalism
  • Unqualified and Qualified Fallibilism
  • Theistic Realism
  • A Posteriori Foundationalism
  • Renewed First Philosophy
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter 4: Applying Lérinian Hermeneutics: Berkouwer, “duplex ordo cognitionis,” and the Nouvelle Théologie
  • Vatican I and the “duplex ordo cognitionis”: Is this Crisis Epistemological and Theological?
  • Hermeneutical Principle for Interpreting Ecclesial Texts
  • Faith and Reason, Nature and Grace
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter 5: Conclusion: The Development of Dogma
  • Introduction: The Nature and Types of Dogmatic Development
  • In What Sense Is Faith a Way of Knowing Divine Reality?
  • We Know Much More Than We Can Tell
  • Ecclesial Warrants
  • Notes
  • References
  • Index
  • Series index

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As I begin my fifteenth year at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, the archdiocesan seminary of Detroit, I once again express my deep gratitude to the administration, staff, and colleagues of the seminary who provide me with a sanctuary, indeed, a home for teaching and writing. I am particularly grateful to the administrators of SHMS for granting me a sabbatical in the Winter Term 2017 and for their unfailing support of my work. I am also thankful for the reception I received from Gijsbert van den Brink, head of the division of “Beliefs and Practices,” as “researcher in residence” in the Theology Faculty, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam. Also, I am deeply grateful to the C. J. de Vogel Stichting that awarded me a research grant supporting my work in the area of Catholic and Reformed Ecumenism.

Thanks are also due to those individuals who gave me their comments on chapters, either in their present form or earlier versions, of the manuscript: John Bergsma, Philip Blosser, Hans Boersma, Gavin D’Costa, Ronald Feenstra, Fr. Thomas Guarino, and Jack Mulder. I am also grateful to Christopher Stephenson, the editor of the series in which my book is being published. His remarks urged me to do some revisions that contributed to a better book. For endorsing my book, I am especially grateful to Paul Helm, Michael Horton, Fr. Robert Imbelli, Fr. Aidan Nichols, O. P., and Fred Sanders. I am also grateful to the editorial assistance of Sr. Mary Boersen, SGL.

Last but certainly not least, I dedicate this book to my wife, Donna Rose Echeverria—always and forever.

| xiii →


Vatican II’s Hermeneutics of Ressourcement

All [Catholics] are led to examine their own faithfulness to Christ’s will for the Church and accordingly to undertake with vigor the task of renewal and reform. … Christ summons the Church to continual reformation as she sojourns here on earth. … Thus if, in various times and circumstances, there have been deficiencies. … in the way that church teaching has been formulated—to be carefully distinguished from the deposit of faith itself—these can and should be set right at the opportune moment.1

A church semper reformanda is enjoying both continuity and change.2

The Second Vatican Council focused not only on the dynamics of the hermeneutics of reform and renewal in the life of the Church but also on the development in her understanding of the truth. This is evident in the above epigraph from the Vatican II decree on ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio. Elsewhere in the dogmatic constitution on divine revelation, Dei Verbum we read: “For there is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the words [of divine revelation] which have been handed down. … For as the centuries succeed one another, the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth until the words of God reach their complete fulfillment in her.”3 Pope Benedict XVI, in his now famous 2005 Christmas address to the Roman Curia, called this hermeneutics of Vatican II “the ‘hermeneutic of reform’, of renewal in the continuity of the one subject-Church which the Lord has given to us. She is a subject which ← xiii | xiv → increases in time and develops, yet always remaining the same, the one subject of the journeying People of God.”4 I will argue in this book, particularly in Chapter 1, that a hermeneutics of creative retrieval, in short, of ressourcement,5 is at the heart of the Second Vatican Council’s Lérinian hermeneutics.

In the first three chapters I will examine the ontology, epistemology, and teleology of this hermeneutics of creative retrieval. The Lérinian hermeneutics is, arguably, based on the distinction between truth and its historically conditioned formulations, between form and content, truth-content and context, in sum, propositions and sentences, which was implied by John XXIII in his opening address at Vatican II, Gaudet Mater Ecclesia. “For the deposit of faith [2 Tim 1:14], the truths contained in our sacred teaching, are one thing; the mode in which they are expressed, but with the same meaning and the same judgment [eodem sensu eademque sententia], is another thing.”6 Yves Congar, for one, has argued that this distinction summarizes the meaning of the entire council.7 Although the truths of the faith may be expressed differently, we must always determine whether those new re-formulations are preserving the same meaning and judgment (eodem sensu eademque sententia), and hence the material continuity, identity, and universality of those truths.

Vatican II’s Lérinian hermeneutics is, arguably, a form of retrieval theology, meaning thereby a “mode or style of theological discernment that looks back [to authoritative sources of faith] in order to move forward.”8 As Kevin Vanhoozer correctly states, “Ressourcement describes a return to authoritative sources for the sake of revitalizing the present.”9 Indeed, adds Vanhoozer, on the one hand, “we ought not to confuse retrieval with either retrenchment or repristination.” Rather, “the main purpose of retrieval is the revitalization of biblical interpretation, theology, and the church today. To retrieve is to look back creatively in order to move forward faithfully.”10 On the other hand, moving faithfully forward involves “aggiornamento,” the meaning of which is best captured in Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes, no. 4:

To carry out such a task, the Church has always had the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel. Thus, in language intelligible to each generation, she can respond to the perennial questions which men ask about this present life and the life to come, and about the relationship of the one to the other. We must therefore recognize and understand the world in which we live, its explanations, its longings, and its often dramatic characteristics.

Significantly, as Oscar Cullman rightly stressed, “aggiornamento should be a consequence, not a starting point,”11 of renewal, of ressourcement. Indeed, ← xiv | xv → he adds, aggiornamento should not be understood as an “isolated motive for renewal.”12 Therefore, in the interplay between ressourcement and aggiornamento, the former has normative priority.

I believe that Vatican II’s Lérinian hermeneutics is of ecumenical significance. The Dutch master of ecumenical and dogmatic theology, G. C. Berkouwer (1903–1996), recognized this hermeneutics’ ecumenical significance almost a half-century back.13 He says,

One of the most important questions that has repeatedly engaged the attention of the Church throughout the centuries pertains to the truth, validity and the meaning of her confessions. Is it a question in the confessions of a clear unchangeability of truth or is it rather a question of development, and in that sense does the expressions of these confessions also have a changing element that betrays the influence of specific times? This question is closely related especially to the much discussed development of dogma in Roman Catholic theology.14

Berkouwer takes ownership of “the problem with which the théologie nouvelle (within the boundaries of infallible dogma) struggled.” He adds, this problem “is certainly for us not a false problem [schijnprobleem].”15 This is “the [perennial] problem of the relationship between truth and its human expression. … This is the problem of variable, historically defined thought forms in different eras when all kinds of philosophical notions have played a definite role. What is the relationship between unchanging truth and theological formulations and doctrinal choices?”16 Indeed, according to Berkouwer, recognizing the ecumenical significance of the théologie nouvelle means taking up the “challenge … of finding a hermeneutics for reinterpreting the affirmations of the Church.”17 This is a hermeneutics that involves explaining the continuity, or material identity, of Christian truth, despite the profound effects of historicity, according to Berkouwer.18

Although Vanhoozer acknowledges that ressourcement is generally associated with Vatican II and the nouveaux théologiens, he fails to understand, unlike Berkouwer, that his hermeneutics for reinterpreting the affirmations of the Church is reminiscent of their hermeneutics, particularly the French Jesuit Henri Bouillard who held that “since truth resides not in the concept but in the judgment … the councils do not sanction notions, but propositions.”19 Similarly, Vanhoozer writes,

In short, Vanhoozer holds that “theology may move beyond the words and concepts of the Bible, but not beyond its underlying pattern of judgments. My main thesis will be that the same basic judgment can be preserved across a variety of languages, concepts, and contexts.”21 In my discussion of the hermeneutics of Vatican II in Chapter 1, it will become evident that Vanhoozer’s hermeneutics of creative retrieval dovetails with that of Vatican II’s Lérinian hermeneutics.

For now, I wish to note that Vanhoozer denies in his recent book, Biblical Authority after Babel, that Catholicism as such can embrace a hermeneutics of creative retrieval. He approvingly cites, in his recent book, the claims of Robert McAfee Brown who insists that Catholic ecclesiology and its corresponding notion of the Church’s teaching authority is such that its position is “‘incompatible with the notion that the church is semper reformanda, always to be reformed’.”22 Adds Vanhoozer, this position, “along with the teaching about the indefectibility of the church, effectively forecloses the possibility of reforming the church’s teaching.”23 In short, again approvingly citing Brown, Vanhoozer concludes, “‘Roman Catholicism has become master of the gospel rather than servant’.”24 Vanhoozer’s claims open up onto a field of questions to which I will respond throughout this book. I will refute his claims in Chapters 1 and 2 when addressing the issue of the hermeneutics of Vatican II, particularly the essentialist vs. historicist dispute regarding the truth-status of dogmatic formulations, as well as the question of Scripture, tradition, and the Church.

The general topic of this book concerns the contemporary challenges faced by the necessity of maintaining the integrity of dogmatic truth of the Christian faith, of divine revelation and its transmission through tradition, particularly with respect to the relationship between history and doctrinal truth. In modern Christianity, the normativity of dogmas, creeds and confessions is a problematic one. Why this opposition between history and permanent truth?

Dogmas, creeds, and confessions are historical and contextual by nature, meaning thereby that responsible interpretation should show respect for their historical context and background, sensitivity for their conceptual frameworks, ← xvi | xvii → their polemical nature because of the specific controversies in which and the positions against which they were written in the first place. Of course all of this is right and proper. Emphasizing their historical influences, however, has led some to set up an opposition between history and permanent truth, that is, to denying that their dogmatic formulations express something that is valid and binding for all times.

In this book, I integrate a theological hermeneutic, in particular, the Lérinian hermeneutics of Vatican II, with a historically conscious hermeneutic. My aim is to show how we can consider the historical and contextual nature of dogmas, creeds and confessions while at the same time honoring their assertions of truth that are permanent. Chapter 1 addresses the question about the relationship between history and truth, in particular, the essentialist versus the historicist dispute regarding the truth-status of dogmatic formulations.

In Chapter 2, I address the question regarding the nature of revelation in Vatican II’s Dei Verbum, the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, especially the question of propositional revelation, as well as the relationship between Scripture and tradition. In particular, I consider the dogmatic topic of Scripture and tradition in relation to revelation and to the Church’s teaching authority.25

Chapter 3 examines the relation between foundationalism and a doctrine of revelation. It attempts to clarify the question whether foundationalism—epistemological or metaphysical—is demanded by the very notion of Christian revelation and, if so, what sort of foundationalism.

In Chapter 4, which follows the development of a Lérinian hermeneutics, I provide a case study in which this hermeneutics of continuity and renewal is applied to the following issue: the duplex ordo of nature and grace, and the corresponding epistemological distinctions of faith and reason. The chief question addressed in this case study is how can the Church both maintain continuity and at the same time change?

The concluding chapter sets forth the outline of a theory of dogmatic development, inspired by the early writings both of Karl Rahner and Edward Schillebeeckx, as the capstone of the hermeneutics of dogma.

An earlier version of Chapter 1 was published in Nova et Vetera, Vol. 15, No. 1, 2017, 255–290; and earlier versions of Chapters 2 and 3 were published in the Josephinum Journal of Theology, Vol. 23, Nos. 1–2, 2016, 250–280, and Vol. 19, No. 2, 2012, 283–321, respectively. An earlier version of Chapter 4 was presented at a conference on “Neo-Calvinism and Roman Catholicism” in Rome, Italy, September 4–5, 2014. ← xvii | xviii →


1. Vatican II, Unitatis Redintegratio, nos. 4, 6, respectively. See also, Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, December 7, 1965, no. 43.

2. Paul Helm, “Does the Authority of a Tradition Exclude the Possibility of Change?,” in Identity and Change in the Christian Tradition, eds. Marcel Sarot and Gijsbert van den Brink (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 1999), 119–137, and at 122.

3. Vatican II, Dei Verbum, November 21, 1964, nos. 8–9. See also, Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, November 21, 1964, no. 8.

4. Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI to the Roman Curia Offering Them His Christmas Greetings, Thursday, 22 December 2005.

5. Regarding the term ressourcement Gabriel Flynn writes, “The word ressourcement was coined by the poet and social critic Charles Péguy (1873–1914). …The liturgical changes inaugurated by Pope Pius X (1835–1914) were also an inspiration for ressourcement” (“A Renaissance in Twentieth-Century Catholic Theology”), Irish Theological Quarterly 76 (2011): 323–338, and at 327.

6. John XXIII, “Gaudet Mater Ecclesia,” Opening speech at Vatican II, October 11, 1962. “Est enim aliud ipsum depositum Fidei, seu veritates, quae veneranda doctrina nostra continentur, aliud modus, quo eaedem enuntiantur, eodem tamen sensu eademque sententia,” Ioannes XXIII, “Allocutio habita d. 11 oct. 1962, in initio Concilii,” Acta Apostolicae Sedis (1962), 792. The Latin clause “eodem sensu eademque sententia” has been either omitted in translations, such as the English and Spanish, or translated in the Dutch and German versions of the opening speech. It is also missing in Gaudium et spes, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (no. 62). When that subordinate clause has been translated it has almost always been inadequately translated as “provided their sense and meaning are retained,” “with their meaning preserved intact” or “retaining the same meaning and message.” These last two translations are used by Gavin D’Costa, Vatican II: Catholic Doctrines on Jews & Muslims (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 30, 45. The Flannery translation renders it: “For the deposit of faith or revealed truths is one thing; the manner in which they are formulated without violence to their meaning and significance is another.” In my view, because of the connection between meaning and truth such that what is meant is judged to be true to reality, the most fitting translation is “according to the same meaning and the same judgment”—I follow Joseph Komonchak’s translation of the official Latin text (https://jakomonchak.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/john-xxiii-opening-speech.pdf). This also happens to be the translation in Denzinger, Heinrich. Compendium of Creeds, Definitions, and Declarations on Matters of Faith and Morals, Latin-English, ed. Peter Hünermann, 43rd ed., English edition, eds. Robert Fastiggi and Anne Englund Nash (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2012), no. 3020.

7. Regarding Congar’s point I am grateful to Thomas Guarino for referring me to Yves Congar, A History of Theology, Translated by Hunter Guthrie (Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday, 1968), 18–19. So, too, Benedict XVI, Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI to the Roman Curia Offering Them His Christmas Greetings, Thursday, 22 December 2005.

8. Buschart, W. David and Eilers, Kent D, Theology as Retrieval: Receiving the Past, Renewing the Church (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2015), 12. ← xviii | xix →


XXIV, 200
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2017 (December)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2018. XXIV, 200 pp.

Biographical notes

Eduardo J. Echeverria (Author)

Eduardo J. Echeverria is Professor of Philosophy and Systematic Theology, Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit. He earned his doctorate in philosophy from the Free University in Amsterdam and his Licentiate in Sacred Theology (S.T.L.) from the University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum) in Rome. His publications include Berkouwer and Catholicism: Disputed Questions (2013), Pope Francis: The Legacy of Vatican II (2015), and Divine Election: A Catholic Orientation in Dogmatic and Ecumenical Perspective (2016).


Title: Revelation, History, and Truth
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226 pages