A study of George Tyrrell's final position on dogmatic development in the light of modern Catholic theology

Thomas Andrew McCarthy, Fordham University


This dissertation asks whether the enigmatic, brilliant George Tyrrell is any more acceptable to the Magisterium today than he was during his lifetime. The answer comes from an analysis of his final theological position concerning dogma and its development, and from comparing this position with currently acceptable Catholic Theology. To arrive at a judgement in this matter it is necessary to review the history of dogma and its development. After we have done this, we must examine George Tyrrell's contribution as it is seen in his many writings. Once we have seen the history of the problem and the approach of Tyrrell, the comparison between Tyrrell and contemporary theologians becomes clear. Perhaps the most important factor in studying George Tyrrell is to remember that two key elements, revelation and dogma, do not always mean the same thing to each theologian. So, during George Tyrrell's time, revelation was considered strictly propositional by the majority of Catholic theologians, while Tyrrell equated it with an experience which need not have been considered propositional. And for Tyrrell, any proposition which came from experience did not have to be considered as revelation. Dogma, for the theologian of Tyrrell's time, was an intelligible presentation of divine truth. For Tyrrell, it did not need the same intelligibility. Thus, wording of one era could contradict that of another, since the wording had only illustrative value, falling short of the commonly understood analogical attribution. With all of this, modern Catholic theology has come a long way in opening epistemological and theological opportunities to establish a hermeneutic for dogma and its development. Catholic theologians should appreciate the efforts of Tyrrell to understand truth and historicity. And whether their conclusions are the same as his, or not, he should be viewed as a true predecessor of modern day efforts. We shall conclude that Tyrrell did contribute valuably to the study of revelation, and less accurately to the study of dogma. However, because of his too immanent idea of revelation, and his lack of appreciation for the meaning of dogma, he would still not be acceptable today.

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Recommended Citation

McCarthy, Thomas Andrew, "A study of George Tyrrell's final position on dogmatic development in the light of modern Catholic theology" (1991). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9118839.