77 – Teaching and studying theology means living on a frontier. Good theologians, like good shepherds, have the odor of the people and of the street

The mission of a theologian is of prime importance for the growth of the Church, because his conclusions flow from the treasure of Revelation and from delving attentively into the wisdom found in the depths of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The whole Church rejoices when a true theological reflection brings clearly into light an obscure aspect of doctrine or opens a new path to deepen our knowledge of the richness of our faith.

So sublime is the theologian’s task that, according to Saint Thomas, he is raised above earth and are close to heaven by the elevation of his doctrine, being the first to receive the rays of divine wisdom.

This is the kind of theologian that for the last two thousand years has been giving fruit in the Church, favoring the evangelization, fomenting the fervor of the faithful, and providing the basis for the apologetics of the faith.

Nonetheless, certain recent notions on the way of being of a theologian suggest a different vision, in which they would be more like agents of social assistance, inspired by expressions of unclear significance.

So…what type of theologian does the Church really need?

Francis

Dear Brother,
The celebration of 100 years of the Faculty of Theology of the Catholic University is an important moment for the Church in Argentina. This anniversary coincides with that of 50 years from the closing of the Second Vatican Council, which was an updating, a re-reading of the Gospel from the perspective of contemporary culture. It produced an irreversible movement of renewal which comes from the Gospel. And now, we must go forward.
How, then, do we go forward? Teaching and studying theology means living on a frontier, one in which the Gospel meets the needs of the people to whom it should be proclaimed in an understandable and meaningful way. We must guard against a theology that is exhausted in academic dispute or one that looks at humanity from a glass castle. You learn so as to live: theology and holiness are inseparable.
Let the theology that you elaborate therefore be rooted and based on Revelation, on Tradition, but also correspond with the cultural and social processes, in particular difficult transitions. At this time theology must address conflicts: not only those that we experience within the Church, but also those that concern the world as a whole and those which are lived on the streets of Latin America. Do not settle for a desktop theology. Your place for reflection is the frontier. Do not fall into the temptation to embellish, to add fragrance, to adjust them to some degree and domesticate them. Even good theologians, like good shepherds, have the odour of the people and of the street and, by their reflection, pour oil and wine onto the wounds of mankind.
Theology is an expression of a Church which is a ‘field hospital’, which lives her mission of salvation and healing in the world. Mercy is not just a pastoral attitude but it is the very substance of the Gospel of Jesus. I encourage you to study how the various disciplines — dogma, morality, spirituality, law, and so on — may reflect the centrality of mercy.
Without mercy our theology, our law, our pastoral care run the risk of collapsing into bureaucratic narrow-mindedness or ideology, which by their nature seeks to domesticate the mystery. Understanding theology is understanding God, who is Love.
Who then is the student of theology that the UCA is called to form? Certainly not a ‘museum’ theologian who gathers data and information on Revelation without, however, really knowing what to do with it. Nor a passive onlooker on history.
The theologian formed at the UCA should be a person capable of building humanity around him, passing on the divine Christian truth in a truly human dimension, and not a talentless intellectual, an ethicist lacking in goodwill or a bureaucrat of the sacred.
I ask Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom and Mother of Divine Grace, to accompany us in the celebration of this centenary. I ask you to greet the students, staff, professors and the Faculty leaders, who do not forget to pray for me. May Jesus bless you and may the Holy Virgin protect you.
Fraternally,
From the Vatican, 3 March 2015 (Letter to Cardinal Mario Aurelio Poli, Archbishop of Buenos Aires and Grand Chancellor of the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina on the occasion of the 100th Anniversary of the founding of the faculty of theology)

Teachings of the Magisterium

Table of contents

I – The Theologian’s Mission
II –
The Role of Theology


I – The Theologian’s Mission


Saint Thomas Aquinas
– Because of the height of the doctrine they teach, they should despise earthly things
– The theologians are illumined by the first beams of divine wisdom
– They must stand against errors in defense of the faith

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
– The theologian’s role is to pursue in a particular way an understanding of the Word of God
– The theologian should give an accounting for their hope to those who ask it
– Theology constitutes an integral part of obedience to Christ’s command to make disciples of all nations and teach them

International Theological Commission
– The life of the theologian cannot fail to be affected by the sustained effort to know the living God

John Paul II
– The service of the doctrine about God constitutes an act of love towards man
– Tradition is the true bridge between Scripture and the present
– Tradition makes the theologian more sensitive to the present
– Virtues of the theologian: fidelity to the Magisterium and modesty in personal opinion

Paul VI
– Theologians should avoid consenting to the desire of popularity in detriment to the Truth
– Interpreters of the Truth

Pius XII
– Theologians must always return to Tradition


II – The Role of Theology


Saint Thomas Aquinas
– God is the object of this sacred science
– In this science all things are dealt with, but only so far as they have reference to God

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
– The object of theology: Truth

Benedict XVI
– Theology is essentially the interpretation of Scripture

John Paul II
– All syncretism and every kind of false particularism are to be excluded
– Systems and methods incompatible with Christian faith must not be accepted

Pius XII
– Speculation which neglects a deeper search into the deposit of faith, proves sterile
– It is supreme imprudence to neglect, reject or to devalue Tradition

International Theological Commission
– The proper place for theology is within the Church
– Theology implies a striving for holiness


I – The Theologian’s Mission


Saint Thomas Aquinas

  • Because of the height of the doctrine they teach, they should despise earthly things

Because of the height of this doctrine, there is required dignity in those who teach it, which is why they are symbolized by mountains when it is said, ‘from your upper rooms’, and this for three reasons. First, because of the height of mountains. For they are elevated above the earth and neighbours of the sky. Thus the holy teachers by despising earthly things cleave to heavenly things alone. Philippians 3:20: ‘But our citizenship is in heaven from which also we eagerly await a Saviour, Our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Hence of the teacher of teachers, Christ, it is said in Isaiah 2:2, ‘And in the last days the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be prepared on the top of the mountain… and all nations shall flow unto it.’ (Saint Thomas Aquinas. Principium Ringans Montes, 2)

  • The theologians are illumined by the first beams of divine wisdom

For the mountains are illumined by beams. Similarly the sacred teachers of minds first receive the splendour. Like mountains the teachers are illumined by the first beams of divine wisdom. Psalm 75:5: ‘You came shining with light, powerful, from the everlasting hills. The foolish of heart have been despoiled,’ that is, by the teachers who participate in eternity. Philippians 2:15: ‘You shine like stars in the world.’ (Saint Thomas Aquinas. Principium Ringans Montes, 2)

  • They must stand against errors in defense of the faith

[…] the doctors of the Church must in defense of the faith stand against errors. The sons of Israel do not put their trust in lance or bow, but the mountains defend them. Ezekiel 13.5: ‘You have not gone up to face the enemy, nor have you set up a wall for the house of Israel to stand in battle in the day of the Lord.’ Therefore all the teachers of Sacred Scripture should give high thanks to their eminence of life, that they might be worthy to preach efficaciously, because as Gregory says in On Pastoral Care, ‘The preaching of those whose life is despised will also be despised.’ Ecclesiastes 12:11: ‘The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails deeply fastened in, which by the counsels of masters are given from one shepherd.’ For the heart cannot be stimulated or stirred to fear of God unless it is fixed in highness of life. They should be enlightened, that they might fittingly teach by reading. Ephesians 3:8-9: ‘Yes, to me, the very least of all the saints, there was given this grace, to announce among the Gentiles the good tidings of the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to enlighten all men as to what is the dispensation of the mystery which has been hidden from eternity in God.’ Armed, that they might refute errors in disputation. Luke 21:15: ‘For I myself will give you utterance and wisdom, which all your adversaries will not be able to resist.’ Of these three offices, namely, to preach, to lecture and to dispute, it is said in Titus 1:9, ‘that he may be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to confute opponents’. (Saint Thomas Aquinas. Principium Ringans Montes, 2)

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

  • The theologian’s role is to pursue in a particular way an understanding of the Word of God

Among the vocations awakened in this way by the Spirit in the Church is that of the theologian. His role is to pursue in a particular way an ever deeper understanding of the Word of God found in the inspired Scriptures and handed on by the living Tradition of the Church. (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction Donum Veritatis, May 24, 1990)

  • The theologian should give an accounting for their hope to those who ask it

Theological science responds to the invitation of truth as it seeks to understand the faith. It thereby aids the People of God in fulfilling the Apostle’s command (cf. 1Pet 3:15) to give an accounting for their hope to those who ask it. (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction Donum Veritatis, no. 6, May 24, 1990)

  • Theology constitutes an integral part of obedience to Christ’s command to make disciples of all nations and teach them

Theology, which seeks the ‘reasons of faith’ and offers these reasons as a response to those seeking them, thus constitutes an integral part of obedience to the command of Christ [cf. to make ‘disciples’ of all nations and teach them, Mt 28:19 f] for men cannot become disciples if the truth found in the word of faith is not presented to them (cf. Rom 10:14 f). (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction Donum Veritatis, no. 7, May 24, 1990)

International Theological Commission

  • The life of the theologian cannot fail to be affected by the sustained effort to know the living God

The object of theology is the living God, and the life of the theologian cannot fail to be affected by the sustained effort to know the living God. The theologian cannot exclude his or her own life from the endeavour to understand all of reality with regard to God. Obedience to the truth purifies the soul (cf. 1Pet 1:22), and ‘the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy’ (Jas 3:17). It follows that the pursuit of theology should purify the mind and heart of the theologian [Cf. ITC, The Interpretation of Dogma, B, III, 4: ‘the theological interpretation of dogmas is not an intellectual process only. At a deeper level still, it is a spiritual enterprise, brought about by the Spirit of Truth and possible only when preceded by a purification of the ‘eyes of the heart’’]. (International Theological Commission, Theology today: Perspectives, principles and criteria, no. 93, November 29, 2011)

John Paul II

  • The service of the doctrine about God constitutes an act of love towards man

The task of the theologian at the service of the doctrine about God constitutes, at the same time, according to the teachings of Saint Thomas Aquinas, an act of love towards man. (John Paul II. Address to theologians in Altötting, no. 1, November 18, 1980)

  • Tradition is the true bridge between Scripture and the present

The Catholic theologian cannot build a bridge between Scripture and the concerns of the present without taking into account the mediation of Tradition. This does not substitute the Word of God in the Bible; but rather gives witness to it, throughout the course of historical epochs, by means of new interpretations. […] Make the members of the Church see that acting in this way, you do not abandon yourselves to relics of the past, but rather that our great inheritance, which extends from the Apostles unto our days, encloses a rich potential, capable of giving responses to the questions of the present. (John Paul II. Address to theologians in Altötting, no. 2, November 18, 1980)

  • Tradition makes the theologian more sensitive to the present

If we [theologians] are capable of discovering the value of Sacred Scripture and of perceiving the echo it has left in the living Tradition of the Church, we will then be able to better transmit the Gospel of God. We will become more critical and sensitive regarding our own present. (John Paul II. Address to theologians in Altötting, no. 2, November 18, 1980)

  • Virtues of the theologian: fidelity to the Magisterium and modesty in personal opinion

In studying and teaching the Catholic doctrine, fidelity to the Magisterium of the Church is always to be emphasized. In the carrying out of teaching duties, especially in the basic cycle, those things are, above all, to be imparted which belong to the received patrimony of the Church. Hypothetical or personal opinions which come from new research are to be modestly presented as such. (John Paul II. Apostolic Constitution Sapientia Christiana, Art. 70, April 29, 1979)

Paul VI

  • Theologians should avoid consenting to the desire of popularity in detriment to the Truth

Their [the theologians] greatest care shall be that of being faithful to the truth of the faith and the doctrine of the Church; they shall avoid therefore consenting to the desire of being easy received and of popularity, in detriment to the security of the doctrine taught by the Magisterium, which in the Church represents the person of Jesus Christ the Teacher. (Paul VI. Address to the participants in the International Congress of Theology of Vatican Council II, October 1, 1966)

  • Interpreters of the Truth

They shall place their greatest honor in being faithful and wise interpreters of the teachings of the Magisterium, knowing that nothing is so beneficial to the Christian people and to the whole of mankind as the correct knowledge of the truths of salvation, and that these are found with those to whom Jesus said: ‘Those who hear you, hear me.’ (Paul VI. Address to the participants in the International Congress of Theology of Vatican Council II, October 1, 1966)

Pius XII

  • Theologians must always return to Tradition

It is also true that theologians must always return to the sources of divine revelation: for it belongs to them to point out how the doctrine of the living Teaching Authority is to be found either explicitly or implicitly in the Scriptures and in Tradition (cf. Pius IX, Inter gravissimas, Oct. 28, 1870). (Pius XII. Encyclical Humani Generis, no. 21, August 12, 1950)


II – The Role of Theology


Saint Thomas Aquinas

  • God is the object of this sacred science

I answer that, God is the object of this science. The relation between a science and its object is the same as that between a habit or faculty and its object. […] but in sacred science, all things are treated of under the aspect of God: either because they are God Himself or because they refer to God as their beginning and end. Hence it follows that God is in very truth the object of this science. (Saint Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica, I, q.1, a.7)

  • In this science all things are dealt with, but only so far as they have reference to God

This is clear also from the principles of this science, namely, the articles of faith, for faith is about God. The object of the principles and of the whole science must be the same, since the whole science is contained virtually in its principles. Some, however, looking to what is treated of in this science, and not to the aspect under which it is treated, have asserted the object of this science to be something other than God – that is, either things and signs; or the works of salvation; or the whole Christ, as the head and members. Of all these things, in truth, we treat in this science, but so far as they have reference to God. (Saint Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica, I, q.1, a.7)

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

  • The object of theology: Truth

Since the object of theology is the Truth which is the living God and His plan for salvation revealed in Jesus Christ, the theologian is called to deepen his own life of faith and continuously unite his scientific research with prayer (cf. John Paul II, ‘Discorso in occasione della consegna del premio internazionale Paulo VI a Hans Urs von Balthasar’, June 23, 1984). (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction Donum Veritatis, no. 8, March 20, 1990)

Benedict XVI

  • Theology is essentially the interpretation of Scripture

In a word, ‘where exegesis is not theology, Scripture cannot be the soul of theology, and conversely, where theology is not essentially the interpretation of the Church’s Scripture, such a theology no longer has a foundation’ (Benedict XVI, Intervention at the Fourteenth General Congregation of the Synod – 14 October 2008). (Benedict XVI. Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini, September 30, 2010)

John Paul II

  • All syncretism and every kind of false particularism are to be excluded

Revealed truth must be considered also in connection with contemporary, evolving, scientific accomplishments, so that it can be seen ‘how faith and reason give harmonious witness to the unity of all truth’. Also, its exposition is to be such that, without any change of the truth, there is adaptation to the nature and character of every culture, taking special account of the philosophy and the wisdom of various peoples. However, all syncretism and every kind of false particularism are to be excluded (cf. Vatican Council II, Decree Ad Gentes, 22). (John Paul II. Constitution Sapientia Christiana, Art. 68, no. 1, April 15, 1979)

  • Systems and methods incompatible with Christian faith must not be accepted

The positive values in the various cultures and philosophies are to be sought out, carefully examined, and taken up. However, systems and methods incompatible with Christian faith must not be accepted. (John Paul II. Constitution Sapientia Christiana, Art. 68, no. 2, April 15, 1979)

Pius XII

  • Speculation which neglects a deeper search into the deposit of faith, proves sterile

Hence it is that theology through the study of its sacred sources remains ever fresh; on the other hand, speculation which neglects a deeper search into the deposit of faith, proves sterile, as we know from experience. (Denzinger-Hünermann 3886. Pius XII. Encyclical Humani Generis, no. 21, August 12, 1950)

  • It is supreme imprudence to neglect, or to reject or to devalue Tradition

Hence to neglect, or to reject, or to devalue so many and such great resources which have been conceived, expressed and perfected so often by the age-old work of men endowed with no common talent and holiness, working under the vigilant supervision of the holy magisterium and with the light and leadership of the Holy Ghost in order to state the truths of the faith ever more accurately, to do this so that these things may be replaced by conjectural notions and by some formless and unstable tenets of a new philosophy, tenets which, like the flowers of the field, are in existence today and die tomorrow; this is supreme imprudence and something that would make dogma itself a reed shaken by the wind. The contempt for terms and notions habitually used by scholastic theologians leads of itself to the weakening of what they call speculative theology, a discipline which these men consider devoid of true certitude because it is based on theological reasoning. (Pius XII. Encyclical Humani Generis, no. 17, August 12, 1950)

International Theological Commission

  • The proper place for theology is within the Church

The proper place for theology is within the Church, which is gathered together by the Word of God. The ecclesiality of theology is a constitutive aspect of the theological task, because theology is based on faith, and faith itself is both personal and ecclesial. The revelation of God is directed towards the convocation and renewal of the people of God, and it is through the Church that theologians receive the object of their enquiry. (International Theological Commission, Theology today: Perspectives, principles and criteria, no. 20, November 29, 2011)

  • Theology implies a striving for holiness

As it strives for true wisdom in its study of the Mystery of God, theology acknowledges God’s utter priority; it seeks not to possess but to be possessed by God. It must therefore be attentive to what the Spirit is saying to the churches by means of ‘the knowledge of the saints’. Theology implies a striving for holiness and an ever-deeper awareness of the transcendence of the Mystery of God. (International Theological Commission, Theology today: Perspectives, principles and criteria, no. 99, November 29, 2011)


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