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Inside NCR

Exciting theology and a ‘best of century’ poll

One thing is quickly clear in Pam Schaeffer’s story: Theologian Gary Macy is enjoying himself. A sleuth who chases around the world for medieval manuscripts, Macy not only takes pleasure in deciphering the overlooked and obscure but also does today’s church a big service by showing the relevance of his discoveries for our own day. His findings about medieval liturgists’ understanding of the Eucharist is especially interesting and topical.

The article is one in an ongoing Schaeffer series that profiles interesting theologians who may not be making headlines but whose work demonstrates how far from boring theology can be when not hindered by thought patrols, when researchers are allowed freely to follow the truth wherever it takes them. Thus, Schaeffer’s article about the surprising romance of the great Fr. Karl Rahner (NCR, Dec. 19) was in the first place a profile of theologian Pamela Kirk, who has studied the letters German novelist Luise Rinser wrote to Rahner over the 22 years of their relationship.

Theology, Schaeffer’s series shows, need not be dry. It’s about God, for one thing, but it also makes sense to assume that scholars who spend a lifetime chasing God professionally will end up a little bit more interesting, or even odd, than the rest of us.

The series will continue.

Spencer Stopa, who has on occasion written for NCR, writes to suggest that we solicit readers’ views on “the hundred greatest Catholics of the century.” His idea came from Time magazine which, of course, is not confining itself to Catholics but to all ilks.

Although it’s not yet the end of the century, it’s probably OK to go ahead because it can probably be assumed that anyone who hasn’t achieved greatness by now won’t make the cut in the next two years.

So, yes, this is our formal launching of “20th Century Greats.” We are, however, prepared to settle for a less ambitious tally than Stopa suggests: We invite folks to list their 20 greatest people of the century. Since we assume people will be palpitating with enthusiasm, we propose to do this with dispatch: Deadline is the end of January. Assuming there is more than one submission, we will tabulate as follows: Your #1 is worth 20 points, #2 19 points and so on down to your last choice, who gets only one point.

All this begs the question of what is greatness anyway. Time didn’t mention sanctity, and Stopa suggested it only as one of five categories within which to judge: statespersons, scholars, saints, social justice doers, seers. You may be underwhelmed by this particular fragmentation of grandeur. So, ignore it. Tell us how you see greatness and who qualifies.

The folks in Phoenix took on a rather ambitious millennial task and turned out a sprightly musical (see story). If anyone is interested in having the original cast perform the show in your area or in receiving a promotional package, call (602) 954-0938. If you are interested in putting on your own performance, call (602) 548-8827. To purchase a CD or cassette of the music, call (602) 897-0842.

National Catholic Reporter, January, 9, 1998