De Chirico’s introduction does an excellent job of laying out the issues that he raises. The first question is the ecumenical one: what is the future of Evangelicals and Roman Catholics? He does not presume to answer the question, as too many things are still up in the air. The main thing that De Chirico raises in this regard is the Evangelical approach to Rome, which, in his view, has not typically resulted in understanding RC as a unified system.
A case in point is the Evangelical perplexity on how to interpret RC in the light of Vatican II. Does Vatican II signal a break with the past, or continuity? Of course, this question has been asked with vigor among Roman Catholics as well. De Chirico has the best analysis of this question of any that I’ve seen. He goes back to the principle of “et-et” (Latin for “both-and”). Robert Barron noted in his book on RC that they don’t throw anything away (meaning that anything that can be assimilated to the system is retained). De Chirico agrees and will eventually say that a new idea, which might at first seem antithetical to the system, is drawn into the system, with the “rough edges” taken off, so that it will fit. The RCC has been doing this for centuries. This means that Vatican II is ultimately in continuity with the church of the past, if one considers its results in the light of the “and…and” principle.
One can see this in his definition of what was perhaps the key-word of Vatican II: aggiornamento. Probably the best translation of this word is “renewal.” De Chirico says:
The word does not denote reformation in the Evangelical sense but neither is it a merely political and linguistic device aimed at concealing an unchanging reality. It is instead the Roman Catholic way of responding to the need for some kind of renewal without altering the fundamental structure inherited from the past and its non-negotiable thrust (p. 15).
The result of this insight is that the Evangelical viewpoint can be resolved on the ultimate relationship of Vatican II to the rest of the history of the RCC. It is continuous. However, it is not a static continuity. There were changes. The fundamental system did not change, but it was renewed. Vatican II must, therefore, be taken into account just as much as Trent and Vatican I must be taken into account.
Evangelicals, however, do not think in “et-et” categories, and so Vatican II completely perplexes them. Even David Wells was a bit perplexed at what Vatican II meant for our interpretation of RC. He asked the continuity question, but did not really answer it, instead opting for the “wait-and-see-what-happens” approach. This would certainly be wiser than imposing Evangelical exclusivism on what is usually regarded as an assimilative system. The problem comes when Evangelicals try to critique RC on a static understanding of RC. They wind up interpreting the “semper eadem” (“always the same”) without the assimilative element. This result in confusion and misinterpretation.
As was mentioned in the last post, De Chirico argues that there is a core to RC. He describes it in these words:
This core is a composite one and entails the ways in which the relationship between nature and grace are worked out and the Roman Catholic self-understanding of the Church which is the main subject of the system itself. The Roman Catholic system can be seen as emerging from the range of the nature-grace motifs which are allowed to coexist within it and serve to enrich it, and expressing itself in the paramount role of the church which is basically understood in Christological terms as the prolongation of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ (p. 24).
Given this understanding of a systemic awareness based on this core, De Chirico argues that “Evangelical theology needs to reshape its own perspectives on Roman Catholicism according to a systemic view taking into account its historical trajectory, dogmatic structure, theological dynamics, institutional outlook, and cultural project” (p. 24). I would put it a slightly different way: the systemic awareness based on the core of the nature-grace dynamic and the Christological prolongation of the Incarnation of Christ in the church (this latter point especially will be carefully nuanced by De Chirico in future chapters) needs to be evaluated from a generalist perspective. That is, RC as a system needs to be evaluated from the perspective of a united theological encyclopedia (church history, exegesis, biblical theology, systematic theology, apologetics, and practical theology working not in competition, but in mutual inter-dependence). This is certainly a mountainous task, and it is the one I have set for myself. Please pray for me.