Final Examination of Robert C. Koerpel
For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
Thursday, April 15, 2010, 10:30 a.m. Caldwell Room 113
Rev. Brian Johnstone, C.SS.R., Ph.D.
Before and After Blondel: Scripture, Tradition, and the Problem of Representation in Modern Catholicism
This dissertation examines the development of the notion of tradition in modern Catholicism, its relationship to the modern problem of representation, and Maurice Blondel’s role and contribution to the development of tradition’s history. It contends that Blondel’s notion of tradition provides modern Catholicism with a new framework within which it is able to attend to the competing claims of reason, as it has been transformed by modernity, and revelation, in the unwavering and particular claims it makes upon humanity. After tracing the late medieval shifts in the notion of God’s power, ecclesial power, and political power and how these shifts created the conceptual climate for the idea of tradition in modern Catholicism to become less an expression of God’s presence embodied in the liturgical practice of the church and more a procedural and institutional reality, the dissertation introduces Blondel’s thought to the development of the notion of tradition, by examining the speculative and conceptual context of his idea of tradition in his philosophy of action. Drawing on the philosophical resources of Blondel’s account of action and the key role it allots to “liturgical action,” the dissertation also describes and analyzes his notion of tradition in the text “History and Dogma.”
The final and constructive part of the dissertation examines the import of Blondel’s idea of tradition for contemporary philosophical and theological debates about the modern understanding of history in the development of Christian doctrine, as well as the philosophical debates surrounding the practice of modern hermeneutics outside of Catholicism. This part of the dissertation argues that Blondel’s theory of tradition envisions tradition as a “sacramental” representation of God’s presence, which shows human understanding how God’s revelation is represented in history through the liturgical action of the church. Tradition calls the church to discover God’s presence in human history not merely as facts and linear phenomena or as a social and cultural reality, but as the event of salvation. It is in its ability to discern the spiritual dimension of history that Blondel’s notion of tradition makes its most important contribution to modern Catholicism.