Print Version    Email to Friend
Theology must accompany cultural and social processes

VATICAN (CNS): The study of theology “is fruitful only if it is done with an open mind and on one’s knees,” so it must be based both on sound academic investigation and a deep faith, Pope Francis wrote, In the apostolic constitution, Veritatis Gaudium (The Joy of Truth).
The document comprises revised norms for what are known as “ecclesiastical universities and faculties”—those that grant Vatican-recognised degrees, which are necessary for teaching most philosophy, theology and canon law courses in seminaries and pontifical universities.
The constitution replaces Sapientia Christiana (Christian Wisdom), an apostolic constitution issued by St. John Paul II in 1979 and includes the amendments made by the late pope in 2002, as well as by Pope Benedict XVI in 2011 and by Pope Francis in 2015.
Giuseppe Cardinal Versaldi, prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, in presenting the document to the press on January 29 at the Vatican, said it “indicates the meaning and, more specifically, the basic criteria for a renewal and relaunching of the contribution of ecclesiastical studies to a missionary Church that ‘goes forth.’”
Pope Francis wrote that it was time “to promote with thoughtful and prophetic determination the renewal of ecclesiastical studies at every level, as part of the new phase of the Church’s mission, marked by witness to the joy born of encountering Jesus and proclaiming his gospel.”
The pope said that a key motivation was to find ways to respond positively to the call of the Second Vatican Council “to overcome this divorce between theology and pastoral care, between faith and life.”
A missionary approach to Catholic philosophy, theology and canon law studies, he said, must take into account the “social and cultural meditation on the Gospel undertaken by the people of God in different continental areas and in dialogue with diverse cultures,” as well as modern scientific discoveries, modern challenges to human life and dignity and threats to the environment.
“Theology must doubtless be rooted and grounded in sacred scripture and in the living tradition, but for this very reason it must simultaneously accompany cultural and social processes and, particularly, difficult transitions,” Pope Francis wrote in the apostolic constitution.
Only when those who teach in the Church’s name know its tradition, love its faith and understand the modern world will they be able to engage in creative apologetics that help people see how the responses to their deepest desires can be fulfilled by faith in Christ, he wrote.
Archbishop Angelo Vincenzo Zani, secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education, told reporters the new constitution will have to be implemented by the Catholic Church’s 289 ecclesiastical faculties and the 503 related institutions that issue Vatican-recognised degrees. 
He stressed that the new constitution does not replace or change the apostolic constitution, Ex Corde Ecclesiae (From the Heart of the Church), which provides more general norms for the world’s 1,365 Catholic colleges and universities, except for the ecclesiastical faculties of theology, philosophy or canon law that may be part of those universities.
However, the archbishop hoped the new document would inspire all Catholic universities to ensure their theology departments “are not left in a corner by themselves,” but are actively in dialogue and wrestling with the questions posed by other university departments, especially as regards Catholic social teaching.
Archbishop Zani said that for the first time, the new constitution makes provisions for those pursuing ecclesiastical degrees to complete a portion of their studies online and, recognising the reality of the migration phenomenon, provides guidance for evaluating the studies completed previously by migrants who do not have the documentation to prove they successfully completed some of their studies.
Many of the articles in the new constitution are taken directly from Sapientia Christiana, including the regulation that from ecclesiastical faculties “honorary doctorates are not to be conferred except with the consent of the chancellor, who, having listened to the opinion of the university or faculty council, has obtained the nihil obstat of the Holy See.”
The new constitution also foresees the possibility of an ecclesiastical faculty which includes professors from other Christian Churches or other religions, he said, although, that they will not teach students in the initial, foundational years of study.
Pointing to Rome’s Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies, Archbishop Zani said it would make little sense not to offer students a chance to learn from and dialogue with professors who have studied Islam from the inside.

More from this section