A Red Hat That Could Invigorate "World of Theology"

Papal Household Theologian Among Cardinals-Designate

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VATICAN CITY, OCT. 2, 2003 (ZENIT.orgAvvenire).- Father Georges Cottier, the Papal Household theologian, says the Pope’s recent decision to name him a cardinal is “a great stimulus for the world of theology.”

Dominican Father Cottier is scheduled to receive the cardinal’s hat in the Oct. 21 consistory. He received the news of his designation “with great emotion and a sense of gratitude for the trust and affection that yet again the Pope has wished to express to me,” he said.

“To become cardinal will mean to have a more marked public presence,” the Swiss-born theologian said. “And this poses, even more to my conscience, the problem of responsibility. This is the reason I am asking my friends to pray so that the purity of my evangelical witness will grow.”

A native of Celigny, in the canton of Geneva, where he was born on April 25, 1922, Father Cottier is one of the Pope’s closest aides and protagonists of the theological debate since the Second Vatican Council.

John Paul II has named other theologians as cardinals, including Henri de Lubac (1983), Ives Congar (1994) and Avery Dulles (2001). Hans Urs von Balthasar was named a cardinal, but died in 1988 before receiving the red hat.

“This attention is a great stimulus for the world of theology — a sign of the respect the Pope has for this role, but also the indication of a path,” Father Cottier said. “As, in fact, he has said many times, the theologian’s vocation is ecclesial. One does not make theology for oneself.”

A scholar of 19th-century philosophy, Father Cottier has been a member of the International Theological Commission. In December 1989, he was appointed to succeed Father Mario Luigi Ciappi as Papal Household theologian.

“They have been 14 very enriching years,” the Swiss theologian said. “The daily work in Rome has made me open my eyes to many issues that previously I never thought of addressing. I think it is a privilege which becomes possible given the universal perspective of the Catholic Church.”

The topics that the Papal Household theologian has addressed, together with John Paul II, include “inculturation, so important in certain areas of the world” and “ecumenism and dialogue with other religions.”

“Personally, however, I remember above all the day, March 12, 2000, with the great theme of the petition for forgiveness,” he said. “With this gesture, we have reflected on the mystery of the Church, which is holy but at the same time is made up by us, who are sinners.”

That “was a most beautiful witness of the power of the Spirit, which sustains the Church and makes it advance in history to become ever more like Christ,” Father Cottier added. “Because the imitation of Christ is not just an individual but also a communal path.”

The priest also mentioned the great challenges posed in the area of morality and bioethics and, in the light of experience over the past few months, the reflection on peace.

“The Assisi meetings have been an important occasion,” he said. “We have seen how man is the custodian of the religious sense which, if not diverted, has a longing for peace inscribed within it.”

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