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On the Function of the Theologian

© 2010 by Steven Schultz

     The theologian’s vocation fulfills a critically important role within the life of the Church.  Pope John Paul II taught, “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth…”  By helping provide reason for faith, the theologian assists the People of God, again as John Paul II put it, “…so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.”  One of the most important documents explaining the role of the theologian is Donum Veritatis.  We shall use this document as our guide in exploring the function of the theologian, as well as showing how dissent from the Magisterium impedes the true function of the theologian.[1]

An important point to contemplate at the outset is the fact, in Donum Veritatis, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith teaches that the role of theologian is a vocation.[2]  The work of a theologian is not simply a “job” or ordinary labor.  Our Sunday Visitor’s Catholic Encyclopedia defines vocation thus: “In the Christian life, the divine calling to follow a certain course of action in life…”[3]  By evoking the term vocation, the Congregation sets apart the work of a theologian as something special.

Donum Veritatis teaches us that “the truth which sets us free is a gift of Jesus Christ (cf. Jn 8:32).  Man’s nature calls him to seek the truth while ignorance keeps him in a condition of servitude… In the Christian faith, knowledge and life, truth and existence are intrinsically connected.  Assuredly, the truth given in God’s revelation exceeds the capacity of human knowledge, but it is not opposed to human reason.”[4]  The Sacrament of Baptism serves as the initiation into the mystery of Christ and sets the believer on a search for deeper understanding, or as St. Paul puts it, “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness” (Rom. 6:17-18).[5]  Theology is the method by which believers “search for an understanding of the faith” and “is therefore something indispensable for the Church.”[6]

This indispensable role of theology has always been important for the Church, particularly “in times of great spiritual and cultural change,” so that She may carry out God’s plan, “Who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4).  In this mission, theology is exposed to risks “since it must strive to ‘abide’ in the truth (cf. Jn 8:31), while at the same time taking into account the new problems which confront the human spirit.”  As we shall see, these risks are greatest when theologians dissent from the Magisterium, but mitigated when theologians operate with reverence and respect for the Magisterium.[7]

The vocation of the theologian is “to pursue in particular way ever deeper understanding of the Word of God found in Sacred Scriptures and handed on by the living Tradition of the Church.”  Fr. Aidan Nichols sums up this function by stating, “The task of theology is the disciplined exploration of what is contained in revelation.”[8]  In order to fulfill their vocation, theologians must operate in communion with the Magisterium, which has the responsibility to safeguard the deposit of faith.  In providing a deeper understanding of the faith, the theologian also “aids the People of God in fulfilling the Apostle’s command (cf. 1 Pet 3:15) to give an accounting for their hope to those who ask it.”[9]

Theology “seeks ‘reasons of faith’ and offers these reasons as a response to those seeking them.”  Through this process, theology becomes obedient to Christ’s command to make “disciples” of all nations and teach them, “for men cannot become disciples if the truth found in the word of faith is not presented to them (cf. Rom 10:14f).”  Theology contributes to the faith by enabling it to be communicated.  By the act of faith, man begins to love God.  This love leads him to seek deeper understanding of the beloved – theology helps satisfy this desire.[10]

The theologian is called to a high standard.  “Since the object of theology is the Truth, which is the living God and His plan for salvation revealed in Jesus Christ, the theologian is called to deepen his own life of faith and continuously unite his scientific research with prayer.”[11]  Similarly, while theology has developed into a true and proper science, and must hold to rigorous critical standards, it must not succumb to a critical spirit of feeling or prejudice.  Commitment to theology requires a spiritual effort to grow in virtue and holiness.[12]  Theologians must also recognize the human ability to know truth.  Divine revelation evaluates other sciences, not vice versa.[13]

A theologian must remember he is part of the People of God and must show respect for them by presenting only “teaching which in no way does harm to the doctrine of the faith” — which is Truth.[14]  Likewise, “the freedom proper to a theological research is exercised within the Church’s faith.”[15]  Consequently, theology, rightly done, “entails in essence an objective discussion, a fraternal dialogue, an openness and willingness to modify one’s own opinions.”[16]  While enjoying academic freedom, the theologian must accept as principles the object of theology as being given by divine Revelation, handed on and interpreted in the Church under the authority of the Magisterium.[17]

The Magisterium has a pastoral role of vigilance over the Faith.  “It seeks to ensure the People of God remain in the truth which sets free.”[18]  Theologians must understand this “proper mission of the Magisterium and collaborate with it.”[19]  The nature of the task to religiously guard and loyally teach the faith (Revelation) “implies the Magisterium can make pronouncements ‘in a definitive way’ on propositions which, even if not contained among the truths of the faith,” derive necessarily from Revelation itself.[20]  Therefore, morality can also be an object of the authentic Magisterium.  “Moral teachings [contained in Revelation] which per se could be known by natural reason” can be infallibly taught by the Magisterium.[21]

The Magisterium and theology “while having different gifts and functions, ultimately share the same goal: preserving the People of God in the Truth which sets free and thereby making them ‘a light to the nations’.”[22]  The Magisterium authentically teaches the doctrine of Jesus and the Apostles; theology provides a deeper meaning to this doctrine.[23]  In obedience to the faith, whatever the Magisterium proclaims, even if not infallible, must be firmly accepted and held.[24]  With this in mind, the theologian is charged with aiding future understanding of the Magisterium’s pronouncements, not refuting them.

Dissent is public opposition to the Magisterium.  Among the factors fostering dissent is growth of the ideology of philosophical liberalism, which places greater credence on individual thought than authority of tradition.  Dissent also comes about when public opinion is manipulated by “mass media” and people are pressured to conform.  However, we must remember the Church has always held “nobody is to be forced to embrace the faith against his will.”[25]

Some believe theologians are not bound to any Magisterial teaching unless it is proclaimed infallibly, especially with regard to specific moral norms, believing it’s largely up to the individual to accept or reject teachings as he sees fit.[26]  Two arguments are often put forth to defend dissent.  The first is a hermeneutical argument which claims the Magisterium is nothing more than debatable theology.  The second is a theological pluralism/relativism which calls the integrity of the faith into question.[27]  Another form of dissent says “truth” is determined only by a majority opinion of a large number of Christians at a particular time on a particular issue.[28]

However, “the freedom of the act of faith cannot justify dissent.”[29]  It is a voluntary act to live in the faith and submit one’s will to the will of God.  Being subjects to the Law of God, we cannot appeal to the rights of man in order to oppose the Magisterium.[30]  Likewise, appealing to the so-called “obligation” to follow one’s conscience is not a justification for dissent since “conscience is not an independent and infallible faculty.”[31]

The mission and responsibility of the Magisterium with regards the Word of God gives it the power to pronounce against the work of theologians who harm the faith.   The Church is organized on a hierarchical structure instituted by Christ; not a democracy or poll for consensus of public opinion.  Therefore, theologians must operate in a spirit of communion to build Christ’s Body in unity and truth.[32]  As Cardinal Avery Dulles writes, “room must be made for responsible dissent [disagreement] in the Church, but dissent must not be glorified as though church authorities were generally ignorant, self-serving, and narrow-minded.”[33]

Bishops and theologians must remember “Christ is the definitive Word of the Father (cf. Heb 1:2)…He is the Truth who sets us free (cf. Jn 8:36; 14:6).”[34]  Consequently, our response to His Word is one of selfless, willing obedience.  The Virgin Mary, in her free and complete surrender of her will to the will of God, serves as our model of accepting and serving the Word of God.[35]

This article is copyright and may not be reporduced or reposted in any form without express written permission of the author.


Endnotes

[1] Pope John Paul II, Fides et Ratio (Boston, MA: Pauline, 1998), 7.

[2] Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Donum Veritatis – On the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian (May 24, 1990), 6.

[3] Rev Peter M. J. Stravinskas, Ed., Our Sunday Visitor’s Catholic Encyclopedia, Revised Edition (Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 1998), 996.

[4] Donum Veritatis (DV), 1.

[5] DV, 1

[6] DV, 1.

[7] DV, 1.

[8] Aidan Nichols, The Shape of Catholic Theology (Collegville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1991), 32.

[9] DV, 6.

[10] DV, 7.

[11] DV, 8.

[12] DV, 9.

[13] DV, 10.

[14] DV, 11.

[15] DV, 11.

[16] DV, 11.

[17] DV, 12.

[18] DV, 20.

[19] DV, 20.

[20] DV, 16.

[21] DV, 16.

[22] DV, 21.

[23] DV, 21.

[24] DV, 23.

[25] DV, 32.

[26] DV, 33.

[27] DV, 34.

[28] DV, 35.

[29] DV, 36.

[30] DV, 36.

[31] DV, 38.

[32] DV, 37, 39, 40.

[33] Avery Dulles, Craft of Theology (New York: Crossroad, 1992), 14.

[34] DV, 41.

[35] DV, 42.

Bibliography

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.  Donum Veritatis – On the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian.  May 24, 1990.

Dulles, Avery.  The Craft of Theology.  New York: Crossroad, 1992.

Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, New Testament, Second Catholic Edition RSV.  San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2010.

John Paul II.  Fides et Ratio.  Boston, MA: Pauline, 1998.

Nichols, Aidan.  The Shape of Catholic Theology.  Collegville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1991.

Stravinskas, Rev Peter M. J., Ed.  Our Sunday Visitor’s Catholic Encyclopedia, Revised Edition.  Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 1998.

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Holy Trinity

Feast of the Most Holy Trinity

From the Roman Catholic Daily Missal, 1962:

“Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.  As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.  Amen.”

As soon as we have celebrated the Advent of the Holy Ghost, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Trinity in the office of the following Sunday.

The time is well chosen, for, immediately after the descent of this Divine Spirit, began the preaching and belief and Baptism and confession in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. (St. Rupert)

Epistle (Rom. 11:33-36)

The fundamental dogma of our Faith is that of the Holy Trinity.

O the depth of the riches of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God! How incomprehensible are His judgments, and how unsearchable His ways!  For who hath known the mind of the Lord? Or who hath been His counsellor?  Or who hath first given to Him, and recompense shall be made Him?  For of Him, and by Him, and in Him, are all things: to Him be glory for ever. Amen

Gospel (Mt. 28:18-20)

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost that Christians are baptized.  Mission of the Apostles.

At that time Jesus said to His disciples: All power is given to Me in heaven and in earth.  Going therefore, teach ye all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.

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From the Roman Catholic Daily Missal, 1962:

This season begins with the Feast of the Blessed Trinity and is the longest of the Liturgical Year.  It may comprise from twenty-four to twenty-eight weeks and differs considerably from the other liturgical seasons.

In the Liturgical Year there is a historical progression, beginning in Advent with the waiting for the coming of the Messias, followed by His birth at Christmas.  During the Sundays after Epiphany, the Holy Childhood is commemorated, while during Lent we are reminded of the fasting in the desert and the Passion of our Lord.  The sacred cycle is completed at Eastertide, and the Descent of the Holy Ghost upon the Apostles.

In this last part of the ecclesiastical year, the Church, guided by the Holy Ghost, continues the work of the Redemption, realized during the preceding part of the Liturgical Year.

“The Holy Ghost, Whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring all things to your mind whatsoever I shall have said to you.”

This last season of the Liturgical Year is filled with feasts of major importance: those of the Blessed Trinity, Corpus Christi, the Sacred Heart, the Assumption and Nativity of our Lady, All Saints, and All Souls.

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St. Peter

(Fasting and Partial Abstinence Formerly Required on this Day)

Collect

Praesta, quaesumus, omnipotens et misericors Deus: ut Spiritus Sanctus adveniens, templum nos gloriae suae dignanter inhabitando perficiat.  Per Domium…in unitate ejusdem Spiritus Sancti.

Grant, we beseech Thee, almighty and merciful God, that the Holy Ghost may deign to come and dwell in us, making us the temples of His glory.  Through out Lord…in the unity of the same Holy Ghost.

Epistle (Acts 5:12-16)

The number of believers in Jesus was greatly increased through the miracles wrought by the apostles.

In those days by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people.  And they were all with one accord in Solomon’s porch.  But of the rest no man durst join himself unto them; but the people magnified them.  And the multitude of men and women who believed in the Lord, was more increased: Insomuch that they brought forth the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and couches, that when Peter came, his shadow at the least, might overshadow any of them, and they might be delivered from their infirmities.  And there came also together to Jerusalem a multitude out of the neighbouring cities, bringing sick persons, and such as were troubled with unclean spirits; who were all healed.

Gospel (John 6:44-52)

Jesus gives spiritual life.  He gives us the heavenly Manna to eat: Hi Body and Blood, that will make us live for ever.

At that time Jesus said to the multitude of the Jews: No man can come to Me, except the Father, Who hath sent Me, draw him; and I will raise him up in the last day.  It is written in the prophets: And they shall all be taught of God. Every one that hath heard of the Father, and hath learned, cometh to Me.  Not that any man hath seen the Father; but He Who is of God, He hath seen the Father.  Amen, amen I say unto you: He that believeth in Me, hath everlasting life.  I am the bread of life.  Your fathers did eat manna in the desert, and are dead.  This is the bread which cometh down from heaven; that if any man eat of it, he may not die.  I am the living bread which came down from heaven.  If any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever; and the bread that I will give, is My flesh, for the life of the world.

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Pentecost

From the Roman Catholic Daily Missal, 1962:

The Liturgy recalls the Descent of the Holy Ghost on the Apostles; and the Church extends the commemoration over eight days. 

Collect 

Adsit nobis quaesumus, Domine, virtus Spiritus Saneti: quae et corda nostra elementer expurget, et ab omnibus tueatur adversis.  Per Dominum…in unitate ejusdem Spiritus Sancti. 

We beseech Thee, O Lord, may the power of the Holy Ghost be ever with us; may it mercifully purify our hearts, and safeguard them from all harm.  Through out Lord…in the unity of the same Holy Ghost.

Epistle (Acts 8:14-17)

The neophytes of Samaria received the Sacrament of Confirmation and with the Sacraments of the Holy Ghost and His gifts.

In those days, when the apostles, who were in Jerusalem, had heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John.  Who, when they were come, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost.  For He was not as yet come upon any of them; but they were only baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.  Then they laid their hands upon them, and they received the Holy Ghost.

Gospel (John 10:1-10)

Jesus is the Divine Shephard of the faithful sheep (the Church): the faithful sheep hearken to the teaching of His Word given by the Holy Ghost Who assists the Ministers of the Church (the Pope and Bishops).

At that time Jesus said to the Pharisees: Amen, amen I say to you: He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up another way, the same is a thief and a robber.  But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.  To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out.  And when he hath let out his own sheep, he goeth before them: and the sheep follow him, because they know his voice.  But a stranger they follow not, but fly from him, because they know not the voice of strangers.  This proverb Jesus spoke to them. But they understood not what he spoke to them.  Jesus therefore said to them again: Amen, amen I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.  All others, as many as have come, are thieves and robbers: and the sheep heard them not.  I am the door.  By me, if any man enter in, he shall be saved: and he shall go in, and go out, and shall find pastures.  The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I am come that they may have life, and may have it more abundantly.

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Pentecost

From the Roman Catholic Daily Missal, 1962:

The Liturgy recalls the Descent of the Holy Ghost on the Apostles; and the Church extends the commemoration over eight days.

Collect

Deus, qui apostolis tuis Sanctum dedisti Spiritum: concede plebe tuae piae petitionis effectum; ut, quibus dedisti fidem, largiaris, et pacem.  Per Dominum…in unitate ejusdem Spiritus Sancti.

O God, Who gavest the Holy Ghost to Thine Apostles, grant The people the fruit of their loving petition, that on those to whom Thou hast given faith, Thos mayest also bestow peace.  Through out Lord…in the unity of the same Holy Ghost.

Epistle (Acts 10:34, 42-48)

St. Peter, the Head of the Church, gives testimony to Jesus before the Jews and the Gentiles.

In those days Peter opening his mouth, said: Men brethren, the Lord commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that it is He Who was appointed by God to be judge of the living and of the dead.  To Him all the prophets give testimony, that by His name all receive remission of sins, who believe in Him.  While Peter was yet speaking these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them that heard the word.  And the faithful of the circumcision, who came with Peter, were astonished, for that the grace of the Holy Ghost was poured out upon the Gentiles also.  For they heard them speaking with tongues, and magnifying God.  Then Peter answered: Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, who have received the Holy Ghost, as well as we?  And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Gospel (John 3:16-21)

God sent not His Son unto the world to judge the world, but that the world may be saved by Him.”

At that time Jesus said to Nicodemus: For God so loved the world, as to give His only begotten Son; that whosoever believeth in Him, may not perish, but may have life everlasting.  For God sent not His Son into the world, to judge the world, but that the world may be saved by Him.  He that believeth in Him is not judged. But he that doth not believe, is already judged: because he believeth not in the name of the only begotten Son of God.  And this is the judgment: because the light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than the light: for their works were evil.  For every one that doth evil hateth the light, and cometh not to the light, that his works may not be reproved.  But he that doth truth, cometh to the light, that his works may be made manifest, because they are done in God.

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Pentecost

From the Roman Catholic Daily Missal, 1962:

Our Lord Jesus Christ, being seated on the right hand of God, sent, as He had promised, the Holy Ghost upon the Apostles, who, after His Ascension, continued in prayer at Jerusalem, in company with the Blessed Virgin, awaiting the fulfillment of His promise.

Let us pray in like manner with the Church: “Come, O Holy Ghost, fill the hearts of Thy faithful and kindle in them the fire of Thy love.”

Epistle (Acts 2:1-11)

St. Luke, in the Acts, shows us how the promise of our Lord Jesus Christ is fulfilled: “But if I go I will send Him to you…the Spirit of truth.”

When the days of the Pentecost were accomplished, they were all together in one place; and suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a mighty wind coming, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.  And there appeared to them parted tongues as it were of fire, and it sat upon every one of them; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they began to speak with divers tongues, according as the Holy Ghost gave them to speak.  Now there were dwelling at Jerusalem, Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven.  And when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded in mind, because that every man heard them speak in his own tongue.  And they were all amazed, and wondered, saying: Behold, are not all these, that speak, Galileans? And how have we heard, every man our own tongue wherein we were born?  Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, Egypt, and the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews also, and proselytes, Cretes, and Arabians: we have heard them speak in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.

Gospel (John 14:23-31)

St. John tells us that Jesus had foretold to His disciples the coming of the Holy Ghost: it was left for the Paraclete to complete the training of the Apostles and to endow them with strength and divine light.

At that time Jesus said to His disciples: If any one love me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and will make Our abode with him.  He that loveth Me not, keepeth not My words. And the word which you have heard, is not Mine; but the Father’s who sent Me.  These things have I spoken to you, abiding with you.  But the Paraclete, the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring all things to your mind, whatsoever I shall have said to you.  Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, do I give unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be afraid.  You have heard that I said to you: I go away, and I come unto you. If you loved me, you would indeed be glad, because I go to the Father: for the Father is greater than I.  And now I have told you before it comes to pass: that when it shall come to pass, you may believe.  I will not now speak many things with you. For the prince of this world cometh, and in Me he hath not any thing.  But that the world may know, that I love the Father: and as the Father hath given Me commandment, so do I.

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