Pope's Video Message to Theology Conference in Argentina

“There is only one way of doing theology: on one’s knees”

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Here is a ZENIT  translation of the transcript of the video message recorded by Pope Francis and transmitted last Thursday at the end of the International Congress of Theology held in Buenos Aires, Sept. 1-3, on “Vatican II: Memory, Present and Prospects.” The conference was a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Faculty of Theology of the Argentine Catholic University (UCA) and the 50th anniversary of the closing of Vatican II:

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I am happy to be able to communicate with you in this very important event for our Church in Argentina. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to join you in this thanksgiving for 100 years of UCA’s Faculty of Theology, linking them with the 50 years since the Second Vatican Council.

You were gathered for three days making this celebration an opportunity to remember, to recover, the memory of God’s passage through our ecclesial life and to make this passage a reason for gratitude. Memory enables us to remember from where we come and, in this way, we join the many who weaved this history, this ecclesial life in its many phases, and thank goodness they have not been few. Memory that moves us to discover, in the midst of our journey, that the faithful People of God have not been alone. This pilgrimaging people, has always counted with the Spirit, which guided and supported it, and stimulated it from within itself and from outside. This grateful memory that today becomes a reflection, encourages our heart. It rekindles our hope to ask the question today that our fathers asked yesterday: Church, what do you say of yourself?

We are not celebrating two minor events, but we are before two moments of intense ecclesial awareness. The years of the Faculty of Theology are the celebration of the process of maturation of a particular Church. It is to celebrate the life, the history and the faith of the People of God pilgrimaging in that land and which has sought to “understand itself” and “speak to itself” from its coordinates. It is to celebrate the 100 years of a faith that attempts to reflect, in face of the specificities of the People of God that live, believe, hope and love in the Argentine soil — a faith that seeks to root itself, to incarnate itself, to represent itself, to interpret itself facing the life of its people and not on the margin.

To unite this event with the 50 years of the closing of Vatican II seems to me to make a clear emphasis and one of great importance.  There is no isolated particular Church, which can say she is alone, pretending that she is the owner and sole interpreter of the reality and action of the Spirit. There is no community that has a monopoly on interpretation or on inculturation. As, on the contrary, there is no universal Church that turns her back, ignores, or is not interested in the local reality. Catholicity demands, requests that two-poled tension between the particular and the universal, between the one and the multiple, between the simple and the complex. To annihilate this tension goes against the life of the Spirit. Every attempt, every desire to reduce communication, to break the relation between the Tradition received and the concrete reality, puts at risk the faith of the People of God. To consider one of the two instances insignificant is to put ourselves in a labyrinth that will not be a bearer of life for our people. To break this communication will easily lead us to make of our view, of our theology, an ideology. So I am happy that the celebration of 100 years of the Faculty of Theology goes hand in hand with the celebration of the 50 years of the Council. The local and the universal aspects meet to nourish and stimulate one another in the prophetic character of which the whole Faculty of Theology is the bearer. Let us recall the words of Pope John one month before the beginning of the Council:

For the first time in the history of the Fathers of the Council they will really belong to all the peoples and nations, and each one of them will contribute his intelligence and his experience to cure and heal the scars of the two great conflicts  which have changed profoundly the face of all nations. And then he stressed that one of the main contributions of the developing countries in this universal context  is the vision of the Church that they have. And he continues thus: “the Church presents herself as she is and as she wants to be, as Church of all, in particular as the Church of the poor” (John XXIII, Discorsi-Messaggi-Colloqui of the Holy Father John XXIII, AAS 54 (91962) 520-528).

There is an image that Benedict XVI proposed, which I like very much. Referring to the Tradition of the Church, he stated: it “is not the transmission of things or words, a collection of dead things. Tradition is the living river that links us to the origins, the living river in which the origins are ever present(Benedict XVI, General Audience, 26.04.2006). This river waters different lands, it nourishes different geographies, making the best of that land, the best of that culture germinate. Thus the Gospel continues to be incarnated in all the corners of the world in an ever new way (cf. EG 115).

And this leads us to reflect that one is not a Christian in the same way in the Argentina of today as in the Argentina of 100 years ago. One is not a Christian in the same way in India, in Canada as in Rome. Therefore, one of the main tasks of the theologian is to discern, to reflect: What does it mean to be a Christian today? — “in the here and now”; how is that river of the origins able to water these lands today and make itself visible and livable? How can Saint Vincent of Lerins’ succinct expression “ut annis consolidetur, dilatetur tempore, sublimetuer aetate?” be made alive? (Saint Vincent of Lerins, Commonitorio primo, Chapter XXIII)?

In this Argentina, facing the multiple challenges and situations that the existing multi-diversity presents to us, the inter-culturalism and the effects of a standarizing globalization that relativizes the dignity of persons, making it a good to exchange; in this Argentina, we are asked to rethink how Christianity becomes flesh; how the living river of the Gospel continues to make itself present to satiate the thirst of our people.

And to address this challenge, we must overcome two possible temptations: to condemn everything, coining the now known phrase “all the past was better,” seeking refuge in conservative or fundamentalist stances or, on the contrary, consecrating everything, not allowing anything that does not have the “flavor of novelty,” relativizing all the wisdom coined by the rich ecclesial patrimony.

The way to overcome these temptations is to reflect, to discern, to take seriously the Ecclesial Tradition and the reality, making them dialogue with one another.

In this context I think that the study of Theology acquires a value of supreme importance, an irreplaceable service in ecclesial life.

Not few are the times when opposition is generated between Theology and Pastoral Care, as if they were two opposed, separate realities, which have nothing to do with one another. Not few are the times that we identify Doctrine with being conservative and retrograde and, on the contrary, we think of Pastoral Care from the point of view of adaptation, reduction, accommodation, as if they had nothing to do with one another. Thus, a false opposition is generated between the so-called “pastors” and “academics,” those that are on the side of the people and those that are on the side of Doctrine. A false opposition is generated between Theology and Pastoral Care, between believing reflection and believing life, then life has no room for reflection and reflection finds no room in life. The great Fathers of the Church: Irenaeus, Augustine, Basil, Ambrose, to name a few, were great theologians because they were great pastors.

One of the main contributions of Vatican II was, precisely
, to seek to overcome this divorce between Theology and Pastoral Care. I dare say that, in a certain measure, it has revolutionized the statute of Theology, the believing way to do and think.

I cannot forget John XXIII’s words in the opening address of the Council when he said: One thing is the substance of the ancient Doctrine, of the “depositum fidei,” and another the way of formulating its expression.

We must do the work, the arduous work of distinguishing the message of Life from its way of transmission, from its cultural elements when it was codified. A Theology responds to the questions of a time and it never does so in another way than in the terms themselves, which are the ones that the men of a society live and speak (M. de Certeau, The Weakness of Believing, 51).

To fail to do this exercise of discernment leads, one way or another, to betray the content of the message. It makes the Good News no longer new and especially good, becoming a sterile word, empty of all its creative, healing, reviving force, thus putting in danger the faith of the people of our time. The lack of this ecclesial theological exercise is a mutilation of the mission that we are invited to carry out. The Doctrine, is not a closed system, deprived of dynamics capable of generating questions, doubts, questioning. On the contrary, Christian Doctrine has a face, has a body, has flesh, is called Jesus Christ and it is his Life that is offered from generation to generation to all men and in all corners. To protect the Doctrine calls for fidelity to what has been received and, at the same time, to take into account the interlocutor, its recipient, to know him and to love him.

This meeting between Doctrine and Pastoral Care is not optional. It is constitutive of a Theology that wishes to be ecclesial.

The questions of our people, their anxieties, their quarrels, their dreams, their struggles, their worries have hermeneutical value that we cannot ignore if we want to take seriously the principle of incarnation — their questions help us to question ourselves, their questioning questions us. All this helps us to reflect further on the mystery of the Word of God, Word that calls for and asks for dialogue, for entering into communication. Therefore, we cannot ignore our people when it comes to doing Theology. Our God has chosen this way. He incarnated himself in this world, run through by conflicts, injustices, violence — run through by hopes and dreams. Therefore, we have no other place to seek it than in this concrete world, this concrete Argentina, in her streets, in her neighborhoods, in her people. He is already saving there.

Our formulations of faith were born in dialogue, in encounter, in confrontation, in contact with different cultures, communities, nations, situations that called for greater reflection in face of what was not made explicit before. Hence pastoral events have an important value. And our formulations of faith are the expression of a life lived and reflected in an ecclesial way.

A Christian becomes suspicious when he fails to admit the need to be criticized by other interlocutors. Persons and their different conflicts, the peripheries are not optional but necessary for a greater understanding of the faith. Therefore, it is important to ask: Of whom are we thinking when we do Theology? Who are the persons we have before us? Without this encounter with the family, with the People of God, then Theology runs the great risk of becoming ideology. Let us not forget, in the praying people, the Holy Spirit is the subject of Theology. A Theology that is not born in its heart has that slight smell of a proposal that can be beautiful, but not real.

This reveals to us the challenge facing the vocation of the theologian, the stimulation that the study of Theology offers and the great responsibility one has in engaging in it. In this connection, allow me to explicit three features of the theologian’s identity:

1. In the first instance, the theologian is a child of his people. He cannot and does not want to have nothing to do with his own. He knows his people, their language, their roots, their histories, and their tradition. He is the man that learns to value what he has received, as sign of the presence of God given that he knows that the faith does not belong to him. He received it freely from the Tradition of the Church, thanks to the witness, catechesis and generosity of so many. This leads him to acknowledge that the believing People in which he was born, has a theological sense that he cannot ignore. He knows he is “grafted” in an ecclesial awareness and he swims in those waters.

2. The theologian is a believer. The theologian is someone who has experienced Jesus Christ, and who discovers that he can no longer live without Him. He knows that God makes himself present, as Word, as silence, as wound, as healing, as death and as resurrection. The theologian is one who knows that his life is marked by that imprint, by that mark, which has left open his thirst, his longing, his curiosity, and his living. The theologian is one who knows that he cannot live without the object/subject of his love and he consecrates his life to be able to share it with his brothers. He is not a theologian who cannot say: “I cannot live without Christ” and, therefore, who does not want, does not try to develop in himself the same sentiments of the Son.

3. The theologian is a prophet. One of the great challenges posed in the contemporary world is not only the ease with which one can do without God, but, socially, a further step has been taken. The present crisis is centered on the inability of persons to believe in anything beyond themselves. The individual conscience has become the measure of all things. This generates a fissure in personal and social identities. This new reality causes a whole process of alienation due to the lack of a past and therefore of a future. That is why the theologian is a prophet, because he keeps alive the awareness of the past and the invitation that comes from the future. He is the man able to criticize every alienating way because he intuits, he reflects in the river of the Tradition that he received from the Church, the hope to which we are called. And from that perspective he invites to awaken the slumbering conscience. He is not the man who conforms, who gets accustomed. On the contrary, he is the man who is attentive to all that can harm and destroy his own.

Therefore, there is only one way of doing Theology: on one’s knees. It is not only a pious act of prayer to then think the Theology. There is a dynamic reality between thought and prayer. A Theology on one’s knees is to encourage oneself  to think while praying and to pray while thinking. It entails a play, between the past and the present, between the present and the future, between the now and the not yet. It is reciprocity between Easter and so many unfulfilled lives that wonder: Where is God?

It is holiness of thought and prayerful lucidity. Above all, it is humility that enables us to put our heart, our mind in tune with the “Deus semper maior.” Let us not be afraid to kneel in the altar of reflection and to do so with “the joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted,” (GS 1) before the gaze of Him who makes all things new (Revelation 21:5).

Then we are increasingly inserted in the believing people that prophesizes, believing people that proclaims the beauty of the Gospel, believing people that “does not curse but is hospitable and is able to fulfil life by blessing it. Thus he seeks a creative correspondence with the problems of our time” (O. Clement, “An Essay of Orthodox Reading of the Constitution,” 651).

[Original text: Spanish] [Translation by ZENIT]
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