New Insights on the Gospels

March for Life 2012

Evil triumphs when good men do nothing - Edmund Burke

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The relationship between the Magisterium and theology - Pope John Paul II

The Church particularly needs her theologians in this day and age, which is so deeply marked by radical change in every sphere of life and society. The Bishops of the Church, to whom our Lord has entrusted the task of preserving the unity of the Faith and the proclamation of the message - individually for their dioceses and collegially with Peter's Successor for the Universal Church - all need your work as theologians, your dedication and the fruit of your reflections. We want to hear you and are eager to receive the great help which your training as responsible scientists can be to us.

But this authentic theological training and, by the same, token, your teaching of theology cannot be sound and fruitful unless you concentrate on what inspires it and where it comes from - that is to say, the word of God contained in Sacred Scripture and the Sacred Tradition of the Church, as intetpreted by the authentic Magisterium down the ages ( Dei verbum 10). True academic freedom must be seen in relation to the final purpose of academic work, which looks to the total truth of the human person.

The theologian's contribution will only enrich the Church if it takes into proper account the proper function of Bishops and the rights of the faithful. To Bishops, theology attributes the duty of safeguarding Christian authenticity, the unity of the Faith and moral instruction, in accordance with the Apostle Paul's exhortations: 'Proclaim the message and, welcome or unwelcome, insist on it. Refute falsehood, correct error,' recall to obedience ...it is the right of the faithful not to be disturbed by theories and hypothesis on which they are not qualified to pass judgement, or which can easily be simplified or manipulated by public opinion for purposes remote from the truth. On the day he died, John Paul I stated: 'Among the rights of the faithful, one of the greatest is to receive the word of God in all its entirety and purity .. .' (28 September 19791. It is right that the
theologian should be free, but that freedom should be an openness to the truth and light that come from faith and from loyalty to the Church. The Church wants theological research to be independent and not identified with the Church's magisterium, but to recognize that, with the magisterium, it is committed in common service to the truth of the Faith and to the People of God. That tensions and even conflicts will arise cannot be ruled out. But this cannot be ruled out either regarding relations between the Church and science. The reason for this
is to be found in the finite nature of the human mind, which is limited in its scope and therefore open to error. Nonetheless, we can always hope for a re-conciliatory solution, if we take our stand precisely on the ability of the human mind to reach the truth. 
Theology is a science with all the potentialities of human knowledge. It is free as to the way it applies its methods and analyses. Yet, theology must be mindful of the relationship in which it stands to the Church. We do not owe the Faith to ourselves; it is 'founded on the Apostles, and Christ himself is the corner-stone' (Ephesians 2:20). Even theology has to presuppose the Faith. It can clarify and promote it, but it cannot produce it. Even theology must always stand on the shoulders of the Fathers in the Faith. It knows that its specific sphere doesn't consist of dates and historical facts in a vas ciusum, but rather of the living Faith of the Church. So theologians teach on behalf of and by the mandate of the Church - that is, of the communion of faith. They can and should put forward new suggestions for understanding the Faith, but these are only offered to the Church at large. Many corrections and adaptations are needed before the Church at large can accept them.

Theology is a very disinterested service to the community of believers, in the deepest sense, for it essentially entails objective discussion, brotherly dialogue, openness and a readiness to change its own opinion. Believers have the right to know how far they can go regarding the Faith. Theology should show us
where to call a halt. The magisterium intervenes only to state the truth of God's word, above all when this is threatened by distortions and false interpretations. In this context too is to be seen the infallibility of the Church's magisterium.
Love for the institutional Church, which also involves loyalty to the witness of faith and to the Church's magisterium, does not distract theologians from their work, nor does it take away any of their inalienable independence. Magisterium and theology each have a different task. Hence neither can diminish the other. Both of them serve the same cause. Precisely because they are so linked, constant dialogue
has to be maintained between them. In the years since the Council there have been many examples of good collaboration between theology and magisteriurn. Strengthen this foundation and, even though new conflicts will probably arise, go on with your common work in the spirit of the common Faith, of that same hope and the love that unites us all."
This studying of theology, here and everywhere in the Church, is thinking about the Faith, and thinking within the Faith. A theology that doesn't deepen faith, that doesn't lead to prayer, may discourse eloquently about God; but the discourse can never be truly about God, the Living God, the God who Is, and whose Being is Love. From this it follows that theology can be authentic only within the Church, within the community of faith. Only when the teaching of theologians conforms to the teaching of the Bishops united with the Pope, can the People of God know with certainty that this teaching is 'the faith which has been once and for all entrusted to the saints' (Jude 3).
This is no limitation for theologians but a liberation, since it preserves them from changes in fashion and keeps them safely bound to Christ's unchangeable truth, the truth that sets us free (John 7:32)