The Challenges That Theology Is Facing

According to Monsignor Angelini, Director of the Journal «Teologia»

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MILAN, Italy, JAN. 15, 2002 (ZENIT.orgAvvenire).- Teologia, the journal of the school of theology of Northern Italy, is celebrating its 25th anniversary.

Here, the director of the journal, Monsignor Giuseppe Angelini, who is also professor of moral theology, and the president of the school since 1994, spoke about the challenges facing theology.

Q: It has often been said that Christianity should be witnessed in deed more than in thought. Is this still true today?

Monsignor Angelini: The concept is still valid. The truth of the Gospel certainly calls for witness, but theology has a different and more precise competence: It is concerned with knowledge of the faith.

Secular intellectuals today prefer the theologian who is a poet, witness and prophet, rather than the theologian who thinks. The latter would compel them to revise prejudices that are too deep-rooted. This sentimental conception of Christianity sanctions the substantial rejection of the latter as truth. However, after the [Second Vatican] Council, the same theologians have often shown themselves to be condescending to this conception.

Q: How, then, do these secular currents conceive of Christianity?

Monsignor Angelini: There are two consequent and decadent images of Christianity: that of a strictly interior religion, almost mystical, exposed to the esoteric; and that of a civil ethic that defends human rights, peace, the Third World, the environment, etc.

Both images avoid the essential question, namely, the aspect of the Gospel as challenge to liberty, as call to conversion. This aspect, which is proper to Christianity, is tendentiously rejected. Christianity becomes a repertoire of symbols to which one appeals in order to express what each one feels.

Q: Has this attempt to favor civil ethics also been reflected in theology, with the proliferation of sectorial interpretations: feminist, ecologist, political, etc.?

Monsignor Angelini: Yes. Since the Council, the privilege that theology often grants to dialogue with so-called secular thought feeds dispersion. It sanctions the substantial censure of the essential questions, which each man´s conscience regards, instead, as more profound and urgent; those related to radical experiences: birth and death, generation and education, love and hate.

Q: What has been the relation of theology with ecclesial institutions over the past 25 years?

Monsignor Angelini: Above all, I detect a defect of relation. The consultation of theologians was essential in Vatican Council II´s debate. Later, however, there has been — in part because of the fragmentation of which we have spoken — a consistent tendency to dispense with theologians in the elaboration of pastoral questions.

Ecclesiastical marginalization has encouraged theologians to move to the front of public communication, becoming virtual catechists for educated people.

Q: Given the progress in new technologies, what could be the new frontiers of theological reflection?

Monsignor Angelini: We must always keep in mind the principle enunciated by Martin Heidegger: «The meaning of science is not a scientific question.» With respect to new scientific knowledge, its integration is urgent in the synthetic perspective of conscience.

Theology should reflect on the complex relation between science and society, overcoming the simple representation of science as aseptic and mere instrumental knowledge. Like it or not, know it or not, science appeals to conscience through the practices it induces.

The diffusion of practices of assisted procreation, for example, runs the risk of leading to a significant alteration in the profound perception of the meaning of procreation. Sadly, today the bioethical debate seems to be more juridical than moral. There is not positing of the problem of what it means for the very conscience of parents to choose to produce a child in a test tube.

An appreciation of this type is only possible when there is recognition that to generate is an act that always entails the conscience. I think theology has the resources to help the conscience of every person to see this.

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