The Sources of Catholic Dogma Paperback – 29 May 2013
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Citations to The Denzinger from other works can be a bit tricky given the numerous editions but there are four main abbreviations used:
D - Denzinger, the versions edited by Denzinger himself from 1854
DB - Denzinger-Banwart, the editions updated by Clemens Banwart up to 1921
DR - Denzinger-Rahner, updated by Karl Rahner up to 1954 (there is a 1957 31st edition with corrigenda)
DS - Denzinger-Schonmetzer, updated by Adolph Schönmetzer up to 1965
The editions from 1957 and before (D, DB, DR) use one numbering scheme for its paragraphs, while post-1957 editions use a different one. Ludwig Ott in Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma follows the first scheme, The CCC follows the second. The recently published Loreto 1954 edition has a concordance in the front that enables you to look up CCC citations in the 1954 edition. As far as I can determine, the last edition translated into English is the 1954 30th edition (updated in 1957 with corrections and released as the 31st edition); the latest revision, including the one referenced in the Catechism, is in Latin. Other recent editions are available in Spanish, French, and Italian.
Speaking of the 1954 edition (the 30th), which is the one most sellers seem to be offering and the subject of this review, the name Karl Rahner may have jumped off the page as the reviser. Yes, it's *that* Karl Rahner: one of the founders of the Nouvelle Théologie and a major force in Vatican II updating a work by a pioneer of Positive Theology. The involvement of Rahner on The Denzinger seems to have raised some question about whether he (Rahner) chose to include some documents that are not wholly representative of Church Teaching. The question is somewhat plausible - specifically because one or two entries left me scratching my head, and generally because it is acknowledged that not every document ever written by a Pope or Council is considered by the Church to be de fide, "of the faith"; and, lastly, it's important that all teachings are placed in their proper context. So it's possible that someone could gather pieces and excerpts which support a particular agenda to the exclusion of others that might put the subject matter in a different light. In my humble, unlearned opinion, I don't think the criticism that there is widespread bias in Rahner's editing is valid.
A couple of criticisms of The Denzinger are that the entries are not marked (as they are in Ott) as to how closely the teaching must be held; also, in a few instances, the background of the issues under examination are not as fully drawn as I would have liked. This highlights the fact that while this manual is a great resource, you should always double check entries that seem contradictory or obscure against other reliable sources to be sure of the correct interpretation. Using the Catechism, The Vulgate, Ott's work, the Denzinger, and the writings of the Early Church Father's together should clarify things nicely, keeping in mind that even greatly revered Fathers of the Church (Origen and Tertullian, for example), have sometimes fallen into error.
I would estimate that about half the entries in The Denzinger are written in the negative. For example, in dealing with the Errors of Baius, the errors are stated from Baius' view, and then they are pronounced as heretical, dangerous, scandalous, etc., as appropriate. The piece that's missing is that most of the time the correct teaching is not stated anywhere in the work; usually it's an obvious error, but sometimes they can be fairly nuanced. To find out the correct teaching, you have to look that up on your own in one of the resources mentioned above. This is one reason why I think Ludwig Ott's work is more user-friendly, as the positive teaching is usually laid out first, then the errors addressed in-line with some explanation of why it's in error.
If you have the time, you should try reading the Denzinger from cover to cover and not just have it as a once-in-a-while reference resource. Reading it through beginning to end, it gives the seeker of Catholic teaching a perspective on how the understanding of Truth was deepened in response to the numerous errors over the centuries; you would also do yourself a big favor if you read a good Church History, like Warren Carroll's A History Of Christendom (all 5 volumes) for a solid background of what was happening in the world and the Church that prompted clarification of Church teaching.
I recommend The Denzinger for anyone that wants to know Catholic teaching more widely and more deeply. Apparently, the 1957 version of the "green" Denzinger in English has corrections (about 15 or so I'm told) that were missed in the 1954 edition. Not worth my running out and buying that version, but it may be something you look at if you're considering a purchase.
This book should be on the shelves of every English speaking Catholic, beside a copy of The Haydock Bible (The Douay-Rheims Old and New Testament) and Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma. The Bible is the only perfect book but these books will provide a lifetime of contemplation of "those mysteries of faith which must be known and believed in order to be numbered among the elect" (Pope Pius X, Acerbo Nimis, 2).
The editorial review is correct in saying, "Although not every entry in this 653 page compendium of Church teaching is definitional (i.e. ex cathedra) it still should be considered the "locutus est" for every wayfaring Catholic whose patria, this side of heaven, is Roma." There are a number of statements in the book that do not command the consciences of Catholics with the same certainty.
The book font is about a 10 in Times New Roman. It is bound nicely and has some very helpful indexes. You will not regret the investment.
For the more modern reader, it provides perspective and direction from which to explore new arguments and avoid re-inventing the theological wheel. For the traditionalist, it gives essentials from which to begin a journey of faith. It should not be read with an idea that theology is something which is 'over, done & decided' but as a history of the development of dogma and support for faith seeking understanding.
Some highlights and features of this book:
- Declarations and teachings of General and Local Synods.
- The entire text of the Council of Trent.
- Excerpts from Papal encyclicals and bulls (to Pius XII).
- A list of the Creeds of the Catholic Church (e.g. Apostles, Niceno-Constantinopalitan, Athanasian).
- General and scriptural indexes for navigation.
- A subject/topical index which in itself is invaluable.
- A corrigenda to correct typing and grammatical errors contained in the book.
Although other theological works are of great value to Catholic instruction and Apologetics, Denziger's Sources of Catholic Dogma contains none of the subjectivity that may be found in certain of that genre. This is one of my most favourite books. Again I say, you will not be disappointed.
p.s. It must be noted that the translation is very practical and easy to read, while avoiding a loss of correct meaning.