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Pope’s video message to the Second International Congress of Theology in Buenos Aires: overcome the divorce between theology and pastoral ministry

Vatican City, 4 September 2015 (VIS) – Yesterday Pope Francis sent a video message to the participants in the Second International Congress of Theology, on the theme “Vatican II: memory, present and prospects”, held in Buenos Aires from 1 to 3 September to commemorate the centenary of the Faculty of Theology at the Catholic University of Argentina (UCA), and the fiftieth anniversary of the conclusion of Vatican Council II. Extensive extracts from the message are published below:

“The anniversary of the Faculty of Theology celebrates the coming to maturity of a particular Church. It celebrates life, history, the faith of the People of God journeying on earth and in search of ‘understanding’ and ‘truth’ from their own positions. … It seems to me of great importance to link this event with the 50th anniversary of the Closing of Vatican Council II. There exists no isolated particular Church that can be said to be the owner and sole interpreter of the reality and the work of the Spirit. No community has a monopoly over interpretation or inculturation just as, on the other hand, there is no universal Church that turns away from, ignores or neglects the local situation”.

“And this leads us to assume that it is not the same to be a Christian … in India, in Canada, or in Rome. Therefore, one of the main tasks of the theologian is to discern and to reflect on what it means to be a Christian today, in the ‘here and now’. How does that original source manage to irrigate these lands today, and to make itself visible and liveable? … To meet this challenge, we must overcome two possible temptations: first, condemning everything: … assuming ‘everything was better in the past’, seeking refuge in conservatism or fundamentalism, or conversely, consecrating everything, disavowing everything that does not have a ‘new flavour’, relativising all the wisdom accumulated in our rich ecclesial heritage. The path to overcoming these temptations lies in reflection, discernment, and taking both the ecclesiastical tradition and current reality very seriously, placing them in dialogue with one another”.

“Not infrequently an opposition between theology and pastoral ministry emerges, as if they were two opposite, separate realities that had nothing to do with each other. We not infrequently identify doctrine with conservatism and antiquity; and on the contrary, we tend to think of pastoral ministry in terms of adaptation, reduction, accommodation. As if they had nothing to do with each other. A false opposition is generated between theology and pastoral ministry, between Christian reflection and Christian life. … The attempt to overcome this divorce between theology and pastoral ministry, between faith and life, was indeed one of the main contributions of Vatican Council II”.

“I cannot overlook the words of John XXIII in the Council’s opening discourse, when he said ‘The substance of the ancient doctrine of the depositum fidei is one thing; and the way in which it is presented is another’. We must turn again … to the arduous task of distinguishing the living message from the form of its transmission, from the cultural elements in which it is codified at a given time”.

“Do not allow the exercise of discernment to lead to a betrayal of the content of the message. The lack of this theological exercise detrimental to the mission we are invited to perform. Doctrine is not a closed, private system deprived of dynamics able to raise questions and doubts. On the contrary, Christian doctrine has a face, a body, flesh; He is called Jesus Christ and it is His Life that is offered from generation to generation to all men and in all places”.

The questions our people pose, their anguish, their quarrels, their dreams, their struggles, their concerns all have hermeneutical value we cannot ignore if we are to take seriously the principal of incarnation. … Our formulations of faith were born of dialogue, encounter, comparison and contact with different cultures, communities and nations in situations calling for greater reflection on matters not previously clarified. For Christians, something becomes suspicious when we no longer admit the need for it to be criticised by others. People and their specific conflicts, their peripheries, are not optional, but rather necessary for a better understanding of faith. Therefore it is important to ask whom we are thinking of when we engage in theology. Let us not forget that the Holy Spirit in a praying people is the subject of theology. A theology that is not born of this would offer something beautiful but not real”.

“In this regard, I would like to explain three features of the identity of the theologian:

1. The theologian is primarily a son of his people. He cannot and does not wish to ignore them. He knows his people, their language, their roots, their histories, their tradition. He is a man who learns to appreciate what he has received as a sign of God’s presence because he knows that faith does not belong to him. This leads him to recognise that the Christian people among whom he was born have a theological sense that he cannot ignore.

2. The theologian is a believer. The theologian is someone who has experience of Jesus Christ and has discovered he cannot live without Him. … The theologian knows that he cannot live without the object / subject of his love, and devotes his life to sharing this with his brothers.

3. The theologian is a prophet. One of the greatest challenges in today’s world is not merely the ease with which it is possible to dispense with God; socially it has taken a step further. The current crisis pivots on the inability of people to believe in anything beyond themselves. … This creates a rift in personal and social identities. This new situation gives rise to a process of alienation, owing to a lack of past and therefore of future. The theologian is thus a prophet, as he keeps alive an awareness of the past and the invitation that comes from the future. He is a able to denounce any alienating form as he intuits, reflecting on the river of Tradition he has received from the Church, the hope to which we are called”.

“Therefore, there is only one way of practising theology: on one’s knees. It is not merely the pious act of prayer before then thinking of theology. It is a dynamic reality of thought and prayer. Practising theology on one’s knees means encouraging thought when praying and prayer when thinking”.


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