On the Range of Reason in Theology

On May 14 2019, David Tracy (Chicago), one of the most influential US-american theologians of our time visited Vienna. After a conference on the work of David Tracy, Tracy himself gave a public lecture entitled “Theology and the Range of Reason. The Question of Mysticism.” In course of the conference, researchers working on David Tracy’s theology offered insights from various perspectives.

Andreas Telser (Linz) and Barnabas Palfrey (Salisbury), on whose initiative the event was organised in cooperation with RaT, gave a short welcoming speech and introduced into the topics.

Mercia McMahon, David Tracy

Gaspar Martinez (Vitoria-Gasteiz) proposed a contextualisation of Tracy’s theology. Referring to Karl Rahner, Johann Baptist Metz and Gustavo Gutiérrez, he emphasised Tracy’s contributions to the reflection on questions of contemporary developments in society and the establishment of political-theological projects. Especially Vatican II was an important starting point for new perspectives on many topics, from biblical studies to political developments. David Tracy was one of the most important protagonists in the reception of these innovations. In his talk, Martinez outlined the interdependence of his work and that of other – exclusively male – theologians of our time and emphasised especially the importance of the contributions by Gutiérrez and Metz.

Entitling his lecture “Interrupted Publics and Theological Endeavors”, Steven Okey (St. Leo, FL) gave an insight into the hermeneutics of David Tracy, that reach beyond mere interpretation of text and concern also the perception of the world in its plurality and of other persons. With every conversation process comes an interruption of our self-centred attitude that makes it necessary to reorientate and open oneself. This moment is particularly evident in religions. Here, one’s own contingency becomes especially evident, and that generates hope for a turn from self-centredness towards the other. Referring to Susan Ross and Sherry Turkle, Steven Okey problematized Tracy’s focus on the individual subject and emphasised the importance of not only reflecting one’s own ambiguities and contradictions, but also structural ones.
Mercia McMahon (London) gave a lecture entitled “The Christ of Faith and the Jesus of Story”, in which she introduced theology as a process of telling, retelling and re-experiencing of biblical narratives. According to her, the central topic in Tracy’s theology is Jesus Christ, who configures the whole reality anew. She emphasised the importance of narrativity and of constantly searching for new narratives, for that can help to find a focus for one’s own life and addresses human beings also on the level of affectivity. Stories ought to be fruitful also for the recipient’s life, and one of the challenges for theology is to develop and reformulate these stories.

Knut Wenzel

During the afternoon session, the gathering was joined by two more entries: one by Kurt Appel and another by Knut Wenzel.

During the afternoon session, the meeting was enriched with by two additional contributions: One by Kurt Appel (Vienna) and another one by Knut Wenzel (Frankfurt). In his response, Kurt Appel has attempted to attach to two central categories that are particularly important for David Tracy’s thoughts – the Infinite and the Dialogue. Through an interpretation of the gospel of John, he tried to show the meaning of the infinite and its entanglement with the name of God (Tetragrammaton). At the center of his reflections was the scene of Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb. 

Following Kurt Appel, Knut Wenzel talked about Daivd Tracy's hermeneutics in connection with further conceptions, such as that of Paul Ricouer and others and emphasized that Tracy’s hermeneutic thinking was right from the start open to secularity and social affairs.

Following this, there was a lengthy exchange on the subordinate contributions of the speakers and some references from David Tracy.


More: Guest Lecture with David Tracy "Theology and the Range of Reason"