Oriel Theology and ‘reformed catholicism’ – introductory thoughts.

Several months ago, in a post offering an Alternative Manifesto for Oriel Theology, I suggested that the current ‘Oriel School’ of theology tends towards what I called ‘reformed catholicism’. Here I present a few thoughts suggestive of what I mean by that term, to serve as both an introduction to more things which I have to say, and as a springboard for others to discuss some of our collective theological tendencies.

Introductory theses

To my mind, ‘reformed catholicism’ entails something along the lines of the following theses:

(1) That Holy Scripture ought to be held as the ultimate arbiter and highest theological authority available to the Church on earth.

(To paraphrase N.T. Wright, a proper account of Scripture’s ultimate authority in the Church is to recognise the authority of God exercised through those writings of the people of Israel and the apostolic Church which the same Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, has come to recognise as inspired by the same Spirit).

(2) That Holy Scripture must be interpreted according to a rule of faith, passed down from generation to generation, within the proper context of the Church as divinely constituted.

(This includes the interpretation of the Scriptures within an ecclesial and liturgical context, and in particular in the context of the Eucharist celebrated by a clergy in historic and theological continuity with the Church of the apostles).

(3) That this involves accepting a theological heritage rooted in the oecumenical catholicism of the great church of Late Antiquity (i.e. the Niceno-constantinopolitan creed; the Chalcedonian definition, etc.).

(4) That the above theses are based on the dynamic and active Lordship of Christ over the Church as underpinning the teaching authority of both Scripture and the Church; the Church’s sacramental worship as a function of Christ’s own priesthood; and a recognition of divine providence in the historical development of the Church.

(5) That the oecumenical catholicism of Late Antiquity is mediated to us (particularly in an Oxford college) through both the mediaeval Latin Church and the Reformation-event.

(6) Accepting the authority of Scripture involves letting the Scriptures speak, to a certain extent, on their own terms; they must be read critically as well as within the tradition. In this, both analytic modes of thinking and historical-critical Biblical scholarship are useful tools.


While I feel that the above theses are the basis of a dominant tendency in ‘Oriel school’ theology today, a few issues arising must be noted. Here are three; I am sure you will come up with more.

(I) Oriel Theology benefits from and encourages differing viewpoints, including those of teachers and students from non-Christian religious traditions or none, and that this in turn benefits those of us inclined towards a ‘reformed catholicism’.

(II) That while Oriel as an institution, and many of its members as individual theologians, have historic and personal connections to the Church of England, and while ‘reformed catholicism’ is what the Church of England aims for in claiming to be “the ancient Church of this land, catholic and reformed” (the Revised Catechism), ‘reformed catholicism’ per se need not be ‘Anglican’. None of the above seems to me to preclude orthodox Roman Catholicism, or various other theologies.

(III) That the borders of ‘reformed catholic’ doctrine are ill-defined. Many of us would likely agree on the importance of Cyriline and Chalcedonian Christology on the basis of a historical and theological reading of the Church’s interpretation of the Scriptures; it seems likely to me that it would be harder to reach a similar consensus on more peripheral points of doctrine, e.g. with regard to individual theologians of the Reformation and modern eras, or on modern social-theological issues such as same sex relationships.

As I said, these thoughts and theses are only introductory. I have a few specific suggestions as to where a reformed catholic agenda might take us, both in general terms and with regard to particularly academic theology, but I’d like to hear yours too.


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