Below is a Zenit translation of the address that Pope Francis gave to the Italian Theological Association, for the 50th anniversary of their founding, in the Vatican this morning>
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I welcome you and thank your President for his words. In these days we are immersed in the joyful contemplation of the mystery of our God, who involved and committed Himself to such a point with our poor humanity as to send His Son and to take, in Him, our frail flesh. Every Christian theological thought cannot but begin always and incessantly from here, in a reflection that will never exhaust the living source of divine Love, who let Himself be touched, looked at and savored in the stable of Bethlehem.
In 2017 the Italian Theological Association has existed for half a century. I’m pleased to join you in thanking the Lord for those who had the courage, fifty years ago, to take the initiative and give life to the Italian Theological Association; for all those that have adhered to it in this time, offering their presence, their intelligence and the effort of a free and responsible reflection and, above all, for your Association’s contribution to theological development and to the life of the Church, with research that was always proposed – with the critical effort that befits it – to be attuned to the fundamental stages and challenges of Italian ecclesial life.
It’s worth noting the fact that the Italian Theological Association was born, as the first Article of your Statute states, “in the spirit of service and of communion indicated by the Second Ecumenical Council.” The Church must always refer to that event, with which “a new stage of evangelization” began ((Bull Misericordiae Vultus, 4) and with which it assumed the responsibility to proclaim the Gospel in a new way, more consonant with a profoundly changed world and culture. It’s evident how that effort asks the whole Church, and the theologians in particular, to be implemented in the sign of a “creative fidelity”: in the awareness that in these 50 years further changes have happened and in the confidence that the Gospel can also continue to touch the women and men of today. Therefore, I ask you to continue to be faithful and anchored, in your theological work, in the Council and in the capacity that the Church showed there to let herself be fecundated by the perennial novelty of the Gospel of Christ, just as you have done, moreover, in these decades, as the topics attest which you have chosen and addressed in Congresses and in refresher Courses, in addition to the recent powerful work of commentary to all the Documents of Vatican II. In particular, a clear fruit of the Council and a richness not to be wasted is the fact that you perceived and continue to feel the need to “do theology together,” as an Association, which numbers today more than 330 theologians. This aspect is a fact of style, which already expresses something essential of the Truth in whose service theology places itself. In fact, one can’t think of serving the Truth of a God who is Love, eternal communion of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and whose saving design is that of the communion of men with Him and among themselves, by doing it in an individualistic, particularistic or, worse still, in a competitive logic. That of theologians cannot but be personal research, but of persons who are immersed in a theological community that is the widest possible, of which they feel and are truly a part, involved in bonds of solidarity and also of genuine friendship. This isn’t an accessory aspect of theological ministry!
It’s a ministry of which there continues to be a great need in the Church today. In fact, it’s true that to be genuinely believers it’s not necessary to have taken academic courses in theology. There is a sense of the realities of the faith that belongs to the whole people of God, also of those that don’t have particular intellectual means to express it, and which asks to be intercepted and heard – I’m thinking of the famous infallible in credendo: we must go there often — and there are even very simple persons that are able to sharpen the “eyes of the faith.” It’s in this living faith of the holy people of God that every theologian must feel himself immersed and of which he must know himself also to be supported, transported and embraced. However, this does not take away the necessity that there always be that specific theological work through which, as the holy Doctor Bonaventure said, one can come to the credibile ut intelligibile, to what one believes in as much as it is understood. It’s a need of the full humanity of the believers themselves, first of all, so that our believing is fully human and doesn’t flee from the thirst of conscience and of understanding, the most profound and ample possible, of what we believe. And it’s an exigency of the communication of the faith, so that it appears always and everywhere that not only does it not mutilate what is human, but presents itself always as an appeal to the freedom of persons.
It’s above all in the desire and the perspective of a Church in a missionary going forth that the theological ministry results, in this historical juncture, particularly important and urgent. In fact, a Church that rethinks itself thus is concerned, as I said in Evangelii Gaudium, to make evident to women and men what is the center and fundamental nucleus of the Gospel, or “the beauty of God’s saving love manifested in Jesus Christ, dead and risen” (n. 36). Such a task of essentiality, in a time of complexity and of unprecedented scientific and technical development, and in a culture that was permeated, in the past, by Christianity but in which today distorted visions can meander of the very heart of the Gospel, makes indispensable, in fact, a great theological work. The task of theology, with its effort to rethink the great subjects of the Christian faith within a profoundly changed culture, is indispensable, so that the Church can continue to have the center of the Gospel heard by the women and men of today, so that the Gospel truly reaches persons in their singularity and so that it permeates society in all its dimensions.
There is need of a theology that helps all Christians to proclaim and to show, above all, the saving face of God, the merciful God, especially in the presence of some unheard of challenges that involve the human today, such as that of the ecological crisis, of the development of the neurosciences or of the techniques that can modify man, such as that of the ever greater social inequalities or the migrations of entire peoples, as that of the theoretic relativism but also of the practical relativism. Therefore, there is need of a theology that, as in the best tradition of the Italian Theological Association, of Christian men and women that don’t think of talking only among themselves, but are able to be at the service of the different Churches and of the Church, and who also assume the task of rethinking the Church so that she is in conformity with the Gospel she must proclaim.
I’m pleased to know that many times and in different ways, also recently, you have already done so, addressing explicitly the subject of the proclamation of the Gospel and of the forma Ecclesiae, of synodality, of the ecclesial presence in the context of secularism and democracy, of power in the Church. Therefore, I hope that your researches will be able to fecundate and enrich the whole people of God. And I would like to add a thought that came to me while you were speaking. Don’t lose the capacity to be amazed; do theology in amazement, amazement that leads us to Christ, to the encounter with Christ. It’s like the air in which our reflection is more fruitful. And I also repeat something else I said: the theologian is he who studies, thinks, reflects, but does so kneeling; do theology kneeling, as the great Fathers. The great Fathers who thought, prayed, adored, praised: a strong theology, which is the foundation of all Christian theological development. And I also repeat a third thing I said here, but I want to repeat it because it’s important: do theology in the Church, namely, in the holy faithful people of God, that have – I will say it with a non-theological word – that have the “smell” of the faith. I remember, once, in a confession, the conversation I had with a Portuguese elderly lady who accused herself of sins that didn’t exist, but she was that much of a believer! And I asked her some questions and she answered well. And, at the end, I said to her: “But tell me, lady, did you study at the Gregorian?” She was in fact a simple, simple woman but she had the “smell,” she had the sensus fidei, which can never err in the faith. Vatican II takes this up.
I bless you from my heart and, please, don’t forget to pray for me.[Original text: Italian] [ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]