The Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak was born in Nyack, New York, in 1939. He was educated at Cathedral College, New York, and at St. Joseph’s Seminary, Yonkers, New York, from which he received an A.B. degree in 1960. From 1960 to 1964 he studied at the North American College and at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. He was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of New York in 1963 and earned a Licentiate in Sacred Theology at the Gregorian in 1964.
From 1964 to 1967 he served as a curate at St. Bartholomew’s Church in Yonkers, N.Y., while also teaching theology at the College of New Rochelle. In 1967 he joined the theology faculty at St. Joseph's Seminary, where he taught until 1977. He received his PhD in theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York in 1976. Since 1977 he has taught theology in the Department of Religion and Religious Education at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. He has taught courses on the Church, on ministry, on the Church’s social teaching, on modern and contemporary Catholic theology, on the thought of John Courtney Murray, and on the history and theology of Vatican II. In 1996 he was named the first occupant of the John C. and Gertrude P. Hubbard Chair in Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America.
He is the chief editor of The New Dictionary of Theology. A specialist in the history and theology of the Second Vatican Council, he is the editor of the English edition of the five-volume History of Vatican II. He is the author also of Foundations in Ecclesiology (Boston: Lonergan Workshop, 1995). He has published well over a hundred articles in journals such as Concilium, Cristianiesimo nella Storia, The Journal of Religion, The Review of Politics, Revue d’Histoire Ecclésiastique, Theological Studies, and The Thomist.
In the present lecture, Professor Komonchak shows why many consider him the dean of American ecclesiologists. He explores the hypothesis that for every statement one makes about the Church, one should be ready to answer the question, “Of whom am I speaking?” This takes him into the relationship between the statements made about the Church in scripture and tradition, on the one hand, and the community of sinful persons who gather as Church, on the other. He supports his own position with the authority of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, and relates his views to those of Hans Urs von Balthasar and Avery Dulles. He draws on Bernard Lonergan’s notion of constitutive meaning to answer the question, “What sort of entity is the Church?” And he displays an unfailing command of relevant texts from the Church’s official teaching bodies.