Papal Address to International Theological Commission

«A Truly Catholic Theology … Is Necessary Today More Than Ever»

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VATICAN CITY, DEC. 6, 2011 ( Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave last Friday to the members of the International Theological Commission.

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Lord Cardinal,

Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate,

Illustrious Professors, dear Co-workers!

It is a great joy for me to be able to receive you at the conclusion of the annual plenary session of the International Theological Commission. I would like first of all to express sincere gratitude for the words Cardinal William Levada wished to address to me in your name in his capacity of president of the Commission.

This year the work of this session coincided with the first week of Advent, an occasion that brings to mind that every theologian is called to be a man of advent, a witness of vigilant expectation, who sheds light on the ways of the intelligence of the Word made flesh. We can say that the knowledge of the true God looks to and continually lives from that «hour,» unknown to us, when the Lord will return. Maintaining this vigilance and keeping alive the hope of this expectation are not, therefore, a secondary task for proper theology, which finds its reason for being in the Person of him who comes to meet us and enlightens our knowledge of salvation.

Today I would like to reflect briefly with you on the three themes that the International Theological Commission has been studying in recent years. The first, as was said, regards the basic question for all theological reflection: the question of God and in particular the understanding of monotheism. Within this broad doctrinal horizon you have also studied a topic of an ecclesial nature: the meaning of the social doctrine of the Church, paying special attention to a theme that has relevance in contemporary theological thought about God: the question of the status itself of theology today, its prospects [«prospettive»], its principles and criteria.

Behind the Christian faith’s profession of the one God we find the daily profession of faith of the people of Israel: «Here, O Israel: the Lord is our God. The Lord is the only God» (Deuteronomy 6:4). The unheard of fulfillment of the free bestowal of God’s love on all men was realized in the incarnation of the Son in Jesus Christ. In this revelation of God’s intimacy with man and his bond of love with man, the monotheism of the one God is illumined by a completely new light: the trinitarian light. And in the trinitarian mystery, fraternity among men is also illumined. Christian theology, together with Christian life, must restore the happy and clear evidence of the impact of the trinitarian revelation on our community. While the ethnic and religious conflicts in the world make it more difficult to accept the singularity of Christian thinking about God and the humanism inspired by it, men can recognize in the Name of Jesus Christ the truth of God the Father toward which the Holy Spirit draws every longing of creatures (cf. Romans 8). Theology, in fruitful dialogue with philosophy, can help believers to become aware and bear witness that trinitarian monotheism shows us the true face of God, and this monotheism is not the cause of violence, but is a force for personal and universal peace.

The point of departure of every Christian theology is the acceptance of this divine revelation: the personal acceptance of the Word made flesh, listening to the Word of God in Scripture. From this starting point theology assists the believing intelligence of faith and its transmission. But the whole history of the Church shows that to reach the unity of faith, the acknowledgement of the point of departure is not enough. The Bible is always read in a given context and the only context in which the believer can be in full communion with Christ is the Church and her living Tradition. We must always re-live the experience of the first disciples, who «persevered in the teaching of the apostles and in communion, in the breaking of the bread and the prayers» (Acts 2:42). From this perspective the Commission studied the principles and criteria according to which a theology can be Catholic, and also reflected on the contribution of contemporary theology. It is important to remember that Catholic theology, always attentive to the link between faith and reason, had an historical role in the birth of the university. A truly Catholic theology, with the two movements, «intellectus quaerens fidem et fide quaerens intellectum» (understanding seeking faith and faith seeking understanding), is necessary today more than ever, to make a symphony of the sciences possible and to avoid the violent derivations of a religiosity that opposes itself to reason and a reason that opposes itself to religion.

The Theological Commission has studied the relation between the social doctrine of the Church and Christian teaching as a whole. The Church’s social engagement is not merely something human nor is it a mere social theory. The transformation of society carried out by Christians over the centuries is a response to the coming of the Son of God into the world: the splendor of this Truth and Charity enlightens every culture and society. St. John says: «By this we know love; that he laid down his life for us and we ought to lay down our life for the brethren» (1 John 3:16). The disciples of Christ the Redeemer know that without the solicitude for the other, forgiveness, love even for enemies, no human community can live in peace; and this begins in the first and fundamental society that is the family. In the necessary collaboration on behalf of the common good even with those who do not share our faith, we must make the true and profound religious reasons for our social commitment present so that the joint effort occurs with transparency. Those who have recognized the bases for Christian social action can also thus have a motivation to take the same faith in Jesus Christ into consideration.

Dear friends, our meeting confirms in a significant way how much the Church needs the competent and faithful reflection of theologians on the mystery of the God of Jesus Christ and his Church. Without healthy and vigorous theological reflection the Church runs the risk of not fully expressing the harmony between faith and reason. At the same time, without the faithful living of communion with the Church and adherence to the Magisterium, which is the vital space of its existence, theology would not succeed in giving an adequate reason for the gift of faith.

Extending, through you, greetings and encouragement to all brother and sister theologians working in various ecclesial contexts, I invoke for you the intercession of Mary, the Woman of Advent and the Mother of the Incarnate Word, who is for us, in her carrying of the Word in her heart, the paradigm of proper theologizing, the sublime model of the true knowledge of the Son of God. May she, the Star of Hope, guide and protect the precious work that you undertake for the Church and in the name of the Church. With these sentiments of gratitude, I renew my Apostolic Benediction. Thank you.

[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]
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