Date of Award


Document Type

Dissertation - Restricted

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Joseph A. Murphy

Second Advisor

Donald J. Keefe

Third Advisor

Patrick W. Carey

Fourth Advisor

William J. Kelly

Fifth Advisor

Earl Muller


This dissertation examines interpretations of the phrase "the hierarchy of truths" (from Vatican II's Decree on Ecumenism) within a methodological framework off our positions. The central discussion is between position two, which defends the truth of doctrines (Christ and Trinity) at the foundation of the hierarchy while seeing others (Mary, infallibility) as less important or negotiable, and position three, which affirms the integral and non-negotiable nature of the full doctrinal heritage. Positions one and four are extremes of two and three respectively. One calls all doctrines inadequate to truth, while four over-identifies doctrinal propositions with truth.

In chapter 1, we explain the history and context of the phrase "the hierarchy of truths" in the Decree on Ecumenism to find its original meaning, and then we examine the many interpretations theologians have offered since the Council.

Chapter 2 examines five areas in the hermeneutics of dogma affecting the interpretation of the hierarchy: Historical consciousness, development of doctrine, the relationship between doctrine and Revelation, the experiential quest for meaning, and the meaning and viability of the term dogma. The debate over the meaning of the hierarchy is largely a debate over areas such as these.

Chapter 3 examines Karl Rahner's interpretation of the hierarchy because his methodology, rooted in the theology of the realsymbol, posits both an identity and non-identity between Truth and doctrine, and attempts to hold our positions two and three together. Also, his understanding of the hierarchy is the basis for his, and much other, ecumenical theology.

In chapter 4, we propose a covenantal and sacramental basis for interpreting doctrine and the hierarchy of truths, critically using the theologies of von Balthasar, de Lubac, Ratzinger, and Rahner. We contend that the efficaciousness of the sacraments grounds the doctrinal heritage and we clarify differing presuppositions that underlie or restrict current ecumenical dialogue.



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