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The Task of Theology Must Be to Be ā€œin Tune with the Spirit of the Risen Jesusā€

June 24, 2019. After ‘Veritatis Gaudium’

According to Pope Francis, in the context of the Mediterranean, the task of Theology after Veritatis Gaudium must be to be in tune with the Spirit of the Risen Jesus, with the freedom to go around the world and reach the peripheries, including those of thoughts.”

On Friday, June 21, 2019, at 11:45 am, in the heat of Naples’ midday, Pope Francis offered a profound reflection on “Theology after Veritatis Gaudium in the context of the Mediterranean,” with which he closed the meeting organized by the Pontifical Faculty of Theology of Southern Italy — Saint Louis Section, held on June 20-21, 2019.

The Pope returned the “heartfelt” greeting of the dear brother, Patriarch Bartholomew, who, through a personal message, thanked Pope Francis for taking part in this Congress. The Pontiff called the Patriarch “a great precursor of Laudato Si’: thank you, Bartholomew, dear brother.

After “Veritatis Gaudium”

The Holy Father thanked Monsignor Zani, present at the meeting, for his work in elaborating Veritatis Gaudium.

“It is for theologians to always encourage the task of the encounter of cultures with the sources of Revelation and Tradition,” reminded the Pontiff, clarifying that, in the first place, “it’s necessary to start from the Gospel of mercy” and, in the second place, there must be “a serious assumption of history within theology, as an area open to the encounter with the Lord.”

Theological Freedom

The Pope also affirmed that theological freedom is necessary. Nothing new is created without the possibility of experiencing new ways, and no room is left for the novelty of the Spirit of the Risen One,” pointed out Francis.

“For those that dream of a monolithic doctrine defended by all without nuances, this might seem an imperfect dispersion.  However, the reality is that variety helps to manifest and develop better the different aspects of the inexhaustible richness of the Gospel” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 40).

In regard to freedom for theological reflection, the Holy Father made a distinction” “We must advance among scholars with freedom; then, in the last instance, it will be the Magisterium that says something; however, Theology cannot be made without this freedom. When preaching to the People of God, please don’t harm the faith of the People of God with disputed questions! Disputed questions must remain only among theologians. It’s your task, but it’s necessary to give the People of God the substance that feeds the faith and doesn’t relativize it.”

Woman’s Indispensable Contribution

The Pope called for light and flexible structures, which manifest the priority given to “reception and dialogue,” to inter- and trans-disciplinary work, and to the network.

The statutes, the internal organization, the teaching method, and the organization of studies should reflect the physiognomy of the Church “going forth.” All must be oriented to schedules and ways destined to foster, as much as possible, “the participation of those who wish to study Theology — in addition to seminarians and Religious, also the laity and women, whether lay or religious.”

In particular, the Holy Father requested support for women’s participation in the study of Theology, as the contribution they are making and can give Theology is “indispensable,” he continued. Mentioned must be made of the fact that, before the Pope’s address, Professor Anna Carfora spoke, of the Saint Louis Section of the Faculty, located in Naples.

After almost an hour’s talk, the Holy Father concluded that, after Veritatis Gaudium, Theology is “kerygmatic” (in search of the kerygma), a Theology of discernment,” of “mercy” and of “reception,” which is ”in dialogue with the society, the cultures and religions for building peaceful coexistence between individuals and peoples.”

Six Premises

How can we make the reception of the other and of those that are different –because they belong to a religious and cultural tradition that is different from our own –, prevail in our communities? “How can religions be ways of brotherhood instead of walls of separation?” asked Pope Francis.

To respond to these questions, the Pontiff structured his address around six premises: A Theology of reception and dialogue; examples of dialogue for a theology of reception; an inter-disciplinary Theology, Theology of reception is a Theology of listening; and inter-disciplinary Theology; a Theology on the Net, and Theology after “Veritatis Gaudiumin the context of the Mediterranean.

Evangelization at the Center

On this point, the Pontiff was referring to “sincere” reception and dialogue with the social and civil institutions, with the University and Research Centers, with religious leaders and all women and men of good will, to build in peace an “inclusive and fraternal society” and, also, for the custody of creation.”

When the Forward of Veriutatis Gaudium mentions “deepening of the kerygma” and “dialogue” as “criteria to renew studies,” it means that they are at the service of the journey of a Church that puts increasingly “evangelization at the center,” he said. “Not Apologetics, not manuals <but> to evangelize. Evangelization is at the center, which doesn’t means proselytism,” he clarified.

Discernment Is “a Gift”

Pope Francis also clarified that “spiritual discernment” doesn’t exclude the contributions of human, existential, psychological, sociological or moral wisdom, but “it transcends them.” Not even the wise norms of the Church are sufficient. “Let us remember always that discernment is a grace, a gift,” he said.

Schools of Theology are renewed “with the practice of discernment and with a dialogic way of proceeding, capable of creating a corresponding atmosphere of spiritual and intellectual practice. A dialogue “capable of integrating the living criterion of Jesus’ Easter with the movement of analogy, which “reads in the reality,” in creation and in history theological nexuses, signs and references.

The Holy Father made reference to Saint Francis of Assisi in this important theological and intellectual event. “ “I am so impressed by that advice of Francis to the friars: ‘Preach the Gospel; if necessary, also with words.’ It’s witness!” he stressed to the academics, theologians and professors, gathered this morning in Naples.

The Pope also warned against the “dangerous syndrome,” which is the “syndrome of Babel.” “We think that the ‘syndrome of Babel’ is the confusion that originates in not understanding what the other says. This is the first step. However, the real ‘syndrome of Babel’ is that of not listening to what the other says and to believe that I know what the other thinks and what the other will say. This is the plague!”

Fraternity and Coexistence

Students of Theology should be educated to dialogue with Judaism and Islam, “to understand the common roots and the differences of our religious identities,” and thus contribute more effectively to building a society that “appreciates diversity and fosters respect, fraternity and peaceful coexistence,” he stressed.

In this context, the document was presented in the Conference on “Human Fraternity for World Peace and Coexistence,” which the Holy Father signed with his brother and friend, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar on February 4, 2019, in Abu Dhabi, the first visit of a Pope to the Arabian Peninsula.

Two Examples of Dialogue

The Pontiff gave two concrete examples of how the dialogue that characterizes a Theology of reception can be applied to ecclesiastical studies.

He said in the first place that dialogue can be a method of study, as well as of teaching. The texts of the great monotheist traditions — the Bible, the Talmud and the Koran — are, in some cases, “the result of a dialogue between them,” he explained.

The second example is that dialogue can be carried out as “theological hermeneutics in a specific time and place, in our case the Mediterranean at the beginning of the third millennium. “It’s not possible to read this area in a realistic way if it isn’t in dialogue and as a historical-geographic human bridge between Europe, Africa and Asia.”

“Conscientious Listening”

The Pope points out “conscientious listening” as one of the principal keys for progress in the field of Theology.

He was thinking of the Faculties of Theology or “secular” Universities or others of religious inspiration. “When the Church — and we can add, Theology — abandons rigid schemes and opens to listening available and attentive to young people,  she is enriched by this empathy because “it enables young people to make their contribution to the community, helping it to open itself to new sensibilities and to ask itself “unheard of” questions.

Theology “on One’s Knees”

It’s important that theologians “be compassionate men and women,” he said, pausing to stress this point. So that they are “touched by the oppressed life of many, by today’s slavery, by the social wounds, by the violence, by the wars and by the enormous injustices suffered by the many poor that live on the shores of this ‘common sea.’”

“Without communion and without compassion, constantly fed by prayer — this is important: Theology can only be done on ‘ones’ knees’ – Theology not only loses its soul, but losses its intelligence and its capacity to interpret the reality in a Christian way.”

Theology Open to a Trans-Disciplinary Approach

The Pope appealed to theologians to work together in an inter-disciplinary way. “We need theologians (men and women, presbyters, laymen and Religious) that, in a profound historical and ecclesial rootedness and, at the same time, open to the inexhaustible innovations of the Spirit, know how to escape from the self-referential, competitive and, in fact, blinding logic that often exists also in our academic institutions and many times hidden between the Theological Schools.”

The inter-disciplinary approach that interprets history, “can be a deepening of the kerygma and, if it’s animated by mercy, can be open to the trans-disciplinary approach,” said Francis referring “in particular, to all aggressive and war-like attitudes that have marked the way of inhabiting the Mediterranean area of the peoples that call themselves Christians,” adding that “we have also been persecutors.”

The interdisciplinary approach “as criterion for the renewal of Theology, and the ecclesiastical studies implies the “commitment to revisit  and question continually the tradition.” “To re-visit the tradition! And question again,” exhorted the Pope.

Theology on the Net

Theology cannot be done in an atmosphere of fear.  Theology, after Veritatis Gaudium, can help the Church  and civil society to “take up again the path in the company of many shipwrecked persons,” encouraging the Mediterranean peoples to “reject any temptation of re-conquest and closure of identity.”

The work of the Faculties of Theology and of the Ecclesiastical Universities must lead to work in the “evangelical net,” namely, in communion with the Spirit of Jesus, which is the Spirit of peace, the Spirit of love that acts in creation and in the hearts of men and women of good will of all races, cultures and religions . . . “Beginning from understanding of the Word of God in its original Mediterranean context, it’s possible to discern the signs of the times in new contexts,” he concluded.