ON “SCIENTIFIC” THEOLOGY
(via Sandro Magister)
Q: Your Holiness, I am Mathias Agnero and I come from Africa, specifically from Côte d’Ivoire. You are a pope theologian, while we, when we are able, read only a few books of theology for formation. It seems to us, nonetheless, that a fracture has been created between theology and doctrine, and, even more, between theology and spirituality. The need is felt for study not to be entirely academic, but to nourish our spirituality. We feel the need for this in pastoral ministry itself. Sometimes theology does not seem to have God at the center and Jesus Christ as the first “theological locus,” but instead has scattered tastes and tendencies; and the result is the proliferation of subjective opinions that permit the introduction, even in the Church, of non–Catholic thought. How can we keep from becoming disoriented in our lives and our ministry, when it is the world that judges faith and not the other way around? We feel “off center!”
A: You touch upon a very difficult and painful problem. There really is a theology that wants above all to be academic, to appear scientific and forgets the vital reality, the presence of God, his presence among us, his speaking today, not only in the past. Saint Bonaventure distinguished two forms of theology in his time; he said: “There is a theology that comes from the arrogance of reason, that wants to dominate everything, to turn God from a subject into an object that we study, while he should be the subject who speaks to us and guides us.”
There really is this abuse of theology, which is arrogance on the part of reason and does not nourish faith, but obscures the presence of God in the world. Then there is a theology that wants to know more out of love for the beloved, is stimulated by love and guided by love, and wants to know more about the beloved. This is true theology, which comes from love of God, of Christ, and wants to enter more deeply into communion with Christ.
In reality, the temptations today are great; above all, the so-called “modern vision of the world” (Bultmann: “modernes Weltbild”) is imposed, which becomes the criterion of what is claimed to be possible or impossible. And so, precisely with this criterion that everything is as it always has been, that all historical events are of the same kind, the very novelty of the Gospel is excluded, the intervention of God is excluded, the true novelty that is the joy of our faith.
What should be done? I would say first of all to the theologians: have courage. And I would also like to express great thanks to the many theologians who are doing good work. There are abuses, we know that, but in all parts of the world there are many theologians who truly live by the Word of God, nourish themselves on meditation, live the faith of the Church and want to help make faith present in our day.
And I would say to theologians in general: “Do not be afraid of this phantasm of the scientific!” I have been following theology since 1946; I began to study theology in January of 1946, and so I have seen almost three generations of theologians, and I can say: the hypotheses that at that time and then in the 1960’s and ‘80’s were the most new, absolutely scientific, absolutely almost dogmatic, in the meantime have become outdated and no longer apply! Many of them appear almost ridiculous. So have the courage to resist what is apparently scientific, not to submit to all the hypotheses of the moment, but really to think on the basis of the great faith of the Church, which is present in all times and gives us access to the truth. Above all, also, do not think that positivistic reason, which excludes the transcendent – which cannot be accessible – is true reason! This weak form of reason, which presents only things that can be experienced, is really an insufficient reason. We theologians must use the greater form of reason, which is open to the greatness of God. We must have the courage to go beyond positivism to the question of the roots of being.
This seems of great importance to me. So, it is necessary to have the courage for grand, broad reason, to have the humility not to submit to all the hypotheses of the moment, to live by the great faith of the Church of all times. There is no majority versus the majority of the saints: the true majority is the saints in the Church, and we must orient ourselves by the saints!
Then, to the seminarians and the priests I say the same thing: consider that the Sacred Scripture is not an isolated book: it is living in the living community of the Church, which is the same subject in all centuries and guarantees the presence of the Word of God. The Lord has given us the Church as a living subject, with the structure of the bishops in communion with the pope, and this great reality of the bishops of the world in communion with the pope guarantees for us the testimony of permanent truth. Let us trust in this permanent magisterium of the communion of the bishops with the pope, who represent to us the presence of the Word; let us trust in the life of the Church.
And then we must be critical. Certainly theological formation – I would like to say this to the seminarians – is very important. In our time, we must know the Sacred Scripture well, partly because of the attacks of the sects; we really must be friends of the Word. We must also know the currents of our time in order to respond reasonably, in order to be able to give – as Saint Peter says – “reasons for our faith.” Formation is very important. But we must also be critical: the criterion of faith is the criterion that we must also use to view theologians and theologies. Pope John Paul II gave us an absolutely sure criterion in the catechism of the Catholic Church: here we see the synthesis of our faith, and this catechism is truly the criterion for seeing where there is an acceptable or unacceptable theology. Therefore, I recommend the reading, the study of this text, and so we can move forward with a critical theology in the positive sense, meaning critical of the fashionable tendencies and open to the true novelties, to the inexhaustible depth of the Word of God, which reveals itself as new in all times, including in our time.