“It only attracts a beautiful theology, one that has the breath of the Gospel and is not meant to be merely functional”

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(from the Alphonsian Academy Blog)

On December 2, 2019, a great theologian-prophet of the 20th century, Johann Baptist Metz (1928-2019), died. With him we learned that one could not do theology behind the back of Auschwitz, because that holocaust carried with it the symbolic force of being that silent pain of all the poor and exploited of the world. He taught us that one could not make an impassive, complicit and bourgeois theology, because it had to be always a subversive, dangerous memory that dared to shake consciences and open up paths of possible futures. Finally, it urged us to overcome the secular crisis, assuming it and leading it to unexpected paths of full humanity, in interrelation with all religious and cultural traditions.

It is in this context of grateful and committed memory that this phrase of our title, pronounced by Pope Francis in his speech on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the International Theological Commission (29.11.2019), falls to us. “Beautiful theology”, a splendour that attracts and not blinds and obnubile, always with Gospel flavour and breath, that which produces, as the Pope reminds us, a life guided by the Spirit and matured in the life of the Church, which puts itself at the service of reality, of human beings and their present cries. A theology that is always service, because, as the Pope said to the same Commission some years ago (06.12.2013), it is science (investigative depth) and wisdom (sapiential depth); it is discernment from the faith that seeks to understand more and better the will of God in the here and now of history. This theology calls for theologians to be “pioneers of the Church’s dialogue with cultures,” the Pope said, adding that “this dialogue of the Church with cultures is a critical and at the same time benevolent dialogue, which must foster the acceptance of the Word of God by human beings. It is a mission, the Pope said, that “is both fascinating and risky. He added with provocative simplicity that “both do good: the fascination of life, because life is beautiful; and also the risk, because in this way we can go forward. He added that “it is fascinating, because the research and teaching of theology can become a true path to holiness, as many Fathers and Doctors of the Church testify”. But “it is also risky, because it involves temptations: dryness of heart, pride, even ambition”. For this reason, he proposes that, following in the footsteps of Francis of Assisi and Saint Ignatius of Loyola, one should not separate study from prayer and devotion, and that “approaching the little ones helps them to be more intelligent and wiser”. The latter is undoubtedly what can avoid a merely functional theology, carried out in function of merely academic and sometimes ideological interests, as well as favoring the status quo of society and of the Church itself.

The Pope, at the beginning of this last five-year period of the Commission, in his speech (December 5, 2014), said that one of the attitudes to be cultivated in theology, and in theologians, is “listening” to God and to what the Spirit says to the Churches “through the various manifestations of the faith lived by the people of God. In this context, he stressed the importance of the inclusion of women in the life and work of the Commission, although he said – rightly – “not yet so many [Two nuns and three lay women, out of a total of 30 members]. And he hoped that “greater benefit would be drawn from this specific contribution of women to the intelligence of the faith”, since, according to Francis, “women theologians can show, for the benefit of all, certain unexplored aspects of the unfathomable mystery of Christ”. Therefore, a greater presence and something more diversified is to be expected because of their origins and theological contributions.

Recovering these inspired invitations, Francis now invites us to a theology, which, following that line, will be encouraged even more. That is, that “theology is not done individually but in community, at the service of all, to spread the good taste of the Gospel to the brothers and sisters of our time, always with gentleness and respect”, so that each person may feel the faith “closer” and, at the same time, “feel embraced by the Church, holding hands where they are, and accompanied to savour the sweetness of the kerygma and its timeless novelty”. All this undoubtedly encourages us and places us in the line of Vatican II (cf. GS, n. 44).

Francis, in the end, invites us to move forward, to dare to face “the things that are not clear and to take risks in the discussion”, but he asks us to distinguish between what is part of the discussion among experts, let us say, and what should reach the faithful, that is, “always the solid food that nourishes faith”. And this, in large part, is true. But we dare to say that open dialogue also helps, as long as it is done as we saw that he himself says with “gentleness and respect”; a theology that is only done among “experts” is not healthy, even if they are listening to all possible voices. True faith should not be shaken or lost in the face of controversial issues that can sometimes be confusing while seeking new clarity. On the other hand, it must be recognized that one thing the Pope says is good not to let it go, and that is that it is part of the vocation of theologians “the dimension of relativism”, which Francis adds “will always be present in the discussion”, only that he affirms that “it must remain among theologians”. We agree, if it is a question of transmitting to the believing community such and such a discussion as is given within the theological debate of experts, but we insist that, precisely because of this ecclesial dimension that the Pope himself is calling for, there should be a theology in greater communication between experts and the faithful, without fear and with much respect for the life of faith, the truth of the Gospel and the cries of history. In this sense, greater steps should be taken towards an inter- and transdisciplinary theological work (cf. VG, Poremio 4c), not only among specialists but with the inclusion of the ecclesial community and the different voices of our humanity that will help a more plural and fruitful dialogue “for the life of the world” (OT, n. 16).

Fr. Antonio Gerardo Fidalgo, C.Ss.R.

Source: text&photo – http://www.alfonsiana.org; the original text is in Spanish.

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