In the end, it may not be satisfying to speak of these four figures as representative of a Catholic Tübingen school, that is, if one is looking for a unified method and doctrinal consistency on certain basic questions. However, if one is willing to work with a wider definition of a theological school as a research program with certain animating questions that occupied the attention of a group of scholars, then one can rightly identify these four as core members of a Catholic Tübingen school. Their similar interests are easily identified: the historical character of Christianity; the religious nature of the human person; the public, institutional involvement of the church in the social and political arena; and the list goes on. But just as important as these common impulses and convictions are the deep-seated and unresolved tensions between the two wings of the Catholic Tübingen theologians: the one recognizing the need for criticism in doctrinal matters and reform in the church, and the other more confessional, confrontational, and conservative. Here these nineteenth-century theologians offered an uncanny harbinger of the very tensions that have defined Catholic theology after the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) between the revisionist and reformist wing associated initially with Karl Rahner, Edward Schillebeeckx, and David Tracy and the ressourcement wing identified with the legacy of Henri de Lubac, Hans Urs von Balthasar, and Joseph Ratzinger. Although emphases differed then and now, basic doctrinal, sacramental, and moral convictions and practices were shared, and perhaps most importantly the positions of one group could mature and evolve in conversation and trenchant disagreement with the other group, and mutual learning could take place.
These Tübingen theologians will long be remembered for their conception of the church and tradition as dynamic living realities. The attention they gave to the kingdom of God, Christology, pneumatology, and Trinitarian theology became the wellspring for some of their most important insights into the sacramental character of the church and the need to be open to the importance of individua-tion and tension in the service of the organic wholeness of the church. Their Christological, even incarnational vision of the church, which supported a sacramental ecclesiology in the twentieth century, is complemented by a prophetic and evangelical vision of the church in modern society and world.
We are left with this question: can a worthy theological legacy be advanced that affirms the assets and achievements of both wings of the Catholic Tübingen School, while avoiding their deficiencies? Can one support strong local, regional, and international church authority against nationalist or globalizing forces, while still acknowledging the need for theological criticism, the expression of public opinion in the church, and the use of synods where bishops, theologians, and the non-ordained might deliberate together about the deepest convictions of faith and the church's need to affirm semper reformanda? Can one advance a robust Christology with an equally strong pneumatology without undermining either within a Trinitarian vision? If some of these issues can be addressed, perhaps there can also be achieved a far more ecumenical approach to theology than these figures were able to attain, and a prophetic vision of the church and society that does not sacrifice their strong sense of church identity, even as it deepens the social analysis and concrete practical responses it supplies.
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