|On 26 June the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued
this Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian. The
Instruction was presented to journalists at a press conference at the Holy
See's Press Office by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the
1. 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. Indeed, man could not be truly
free were no light shed upon the central questions of his existence including,
in particular, where he comes from and where he is going. When God gives Himself
to man as a friend, man becomes free, in accordance with the Lord's word: «No
longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is
doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I
have made known to you» (Jn 15:15). Man's deliverance from the alienation
of sin and death comes about when Christ, the Truth, becomes the "way" for him
(cf. Jn 14:6).
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. Revelation in fact penetrates human reason, elevates it, and calls
it to give an account of itself (cf. 1 Pet 3:15). For this reason, from
the very beginning of the Church, the "standard of teaching" (cf. Rom
6:17) has been linked with baptism to entrance into the mystery of Christ. The
service of doctrine, implying as it does the believer's search for an
understanding of the faith, i.e., theology, is therefore something indispensable
for the Church.
Theology has importance for the Church in every age so
that it can respond to the plan of God "who desires all men to be saved and to
come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim 2:4). In times of great spiritual and
cultural change, theology is all the more important. Yet it also 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. In our century, in particular, during the periods of preparation for and
implementation of the Second Vatican Council, theology contributed much to a
deeper "understanding of the realities and the words handed on"(1). But it also
experienced and continues to experience moments of crisis and
The Congregation for the Doctrine
of the Faith deems it opportune then to address to the Bishops of the Catholic
Church, and through them her theologians, the present Instruction which seeks to
shed light on the mission of theology in the Church. After having considered
truth as God's gift to His people (I), the instruction will describe the role of
theologians (II), ponder the particular mission of the Church's Pastors (III),
and finally, propose some points on the proper relationship between theologians
and pastors (IV). In this way, it aims to serve the growth in understanding of
the truth (cf. Col 1:10) which ushers us into that freedom which Christ
died and rose to win for us (cf. Gal 5:1).
I. THE TRUTH GOD'S GIFT TO HIS
2. Out of His infinite love, God desired to draw near
to man, as he seeks his own proper identity, and walk with him ( cf. Lk
24:15 ) . He also wanted to free him from the snares of the "father of lies"
(cf. Jn 8:44) and to open the way to intimacy with Himself so that man
could find there, superabundantly, full truth and authentic freedom. This plan
of love, conceived by "the Father of lights" (Jas 1:17; cf. I Pet
2:9; 1 Jn 1:5) and realized by the Son victorious over death (cf.
Jn 8:36), is continually made present by the Spirit who leads "to all
truth" (Jn 16:13) .
3. The truth possesses in itself a unifying force. It
frees men from isolation and the oppositions in which they have been trapped by
ignorance of the truth. And as it opens the way to God, it, at the same time,
unites them to each other. Christ destroyed the wall of separation which had
kept them strangers to God's promise and to the fellowship of the covenant (cf.
Eph 2:12-14). Into the hearts of the faithful He sends His Spirit through
whom we become nothing less than "one" in Him (cf. Rom 5:5; 6 Gal
3:28). Thus thanks to the new birth and the anointing of the Holy Spirit (cf.
Jn 3:5; 1 Jn 2:20. 27), we become the one, new People of God whose
mission it is, with our different vocations and charisms, to preserve and hand
on the gift of truth. Indeed, the whole Church, as the "salt of the earth" and
"the light of the world" (cf. Mt 5:13 f.), must bear witness to the truth
of Christ which sets us free.
4. The People of God respond to this calling "above
all by means of the life of faith and charity, and by offering to God a
sacrifice of praise". More specifically, as far as the "life of faith" is
concerned, the Second Vatican Council makes it clear that "the whole body of the
faithful who have an anointing that comes from the holy one (cf. 1 Jn
2:20. 27) cannot err in matters of belief". And "this characteristic is shown in
the supernatural sense of the faith of the whole people, when 'from the bishops
to the last of the faithful' they manifest a universal consent in matters of
faith and morals".(2)
5. In order to exercise the prophetic function in the
world, the People of God must continually reawaken or "rekindle" its own life of
faith (cf. 2 Tim 1:6). It does this particularly by contemplating ever
more deeply, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the contents of the faith
itself and by dutifully presenting the reasonableness of the faith to those who
ask for an account of it (cf. 1 Pet 3:15). For the sake of this mission,
the Spirit of truth distributes among the faithful of every rank special graces
"for the common good" (1 Cor 12:7-11).
II. THE VOCATION OF THE
6. Among the vocations awakened in this way by the
Spirit in the Church is that of the theologian. His role is to pursue in a
particular way an ever deeper understanding of the Word of God found in the
inspired Scriptures and handed on by the living Tradition of the Church. He does
this in communion with the Magisterium which has been charged with the
responsibility of preserving the deposit of faith.
By its nature, faith
appeals to reason because it reveals to man the truth of his destiny and the way
to attain it. Revealed truth, to be sure, surpasses our telling. All our
concepts fall short of its ultimately unfathomable grandeur (cf. Eph
3:19). Nonetheless, revealed truth beckons reason - God's gift fashioned for the
assimilation of truth - to enter into its light and thereby come to understand
in a certain measure what it has believed. Theological science responds to the
invitation of truth as it seeks to understand the faith. It thereby 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.
7. The theologian's work thus responds to a dynamism
found in the faith itself. Truth, by its nature, seeks to be communicated since
man was created for the perception of truth and from the depths of his being
desires knowledge of it so that he can discover himself in the truth and find
there his salvation (cf. 1 Tim 2:4). For this reason, the Lord sent forth
His apostles to make "disciples" of all nations and teach them (cf. Mt
28:19 f. ). Theology, which seeks the "reasons of faith" and offers these
reasons as a reponse to those seeking them, thus constitutes an integral part of
obedience to the command of Christ, for men cannot become disciples if the truth
found in the word of faith is not presented to them (cf. Rom 10:14
Theology therefore offers its contribution so that the faith might
be communicated. Appealing to the understanding of those who do not yet know
Christ, it helps them to seek and find faith. Obedient to the impulse of truth
which seeks to be communicated, theology also arises from love and love's
dynamism. In the act of faith, man knows God's goodness and begins to love Him.
Love, however, is ever desirous of a better knowledge of the beloved.(3) From
this double origin of theology, inscribed upon the interior life of the People
of God and its missionary vocation, derives the method with which it ought to be
pursued in order to satisfy the requirements of its nature.
8. 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.(4) In this way, he will become more open to the
"supernatural sense of faith" upon which he depends, and it will appear to him
as a sure rule for guiding his reflections and helping him assess the
correctness of his conclusions.
9. Through the course of centuries, theology has
progressively developed into a true and proper science. The theologian must
therefore be attentive to the epistemological requirements of his discipline, to
the demands of rigorous critical standards, and thus to a rational verification
of each stage of his research. The obligation to be critical, however, should
not be identified with the critical spirit which is born of feeling or
prejudice. The theologian must discern in himself the origin of and motivation
for his critical attitude and allow his gaze to be purified by faith. The
commitment to theology requires a spiritual effort to grow in virtue and
10. Even though it transcends human reason, revealed
truth is in profound harmony with it. It presumes that reason by its nature is
ordered to the truth in such a way that, illumined by faith, it can penetrate to
the meaning of Revelation. Despite the assertions of many philosophical
currents, but in conformity with a correct way of thinking which finds
confirmation in Scripture, human reason's ability to attain truth must be
recognized as well as its metaphysical capacity to come to a knowledge of God
from creation. (5)
Theology's proper task
is to understand the meaning of revelation and this, therefore, requires the
utilization of philosophical concepts which provide "a solid and correct
understanding of man, the world, and God" (6) and can be employed in a
reflection upon revealed doctrine. The historical disciplines are likewise
necessary for the theologian's investigations. This is due chiefly to the
historical character of revelation itself which has been communicated to us in
"salvation history". Finally, a consultation of the "human sciences" is also
necessary to understand better the revealed truth about man and the moral norms
for his conduct, setting these in relation to the sound findings of such
It is the theologian's task in this perspective to draw from
the surrounding culture those elements which will allow him better to illumine
one or other aspect of the mysteries of faith. This is certainly an arduous task
that has its risks, but it is legitimate in itself and should be
Here it is important to emphasize that when theology employs
the elements and conceptual tools of philosophy or other disciplines,
discernment is needed. The ultimate normative principle for such discernment is
revealed doctrine which itself must furnish the criteria for the evaluation of
these elements and conceptual tools and not vice versa.
11. Never forgetting that he is also a member of the
People of God, the theologian must foster respect far them and be committed to
offering them a teaching which in no way does harm to the doctrine of the
The freedom proper to theological research is exercised within
the Church's faith. Thus while the theologian might often feel the urge to be
daring in his work, this will not bear fruit or "edify" unless it is accompanied
by that patience which permits maturation to occur. New proposals advanced for
understanding the faith "are but an offering made to the whole Church. Many
corrections and broadening of perspectives within the context of fraternal
dialogue may be needed before the moment comes when the whole Church can accept
them" . Consequently, "this very disinterested service to the community of the
faithful", which theology is, "entails in essence an objective discussion, a
fraternal dialogue, an openness and willingness to modify one's own
12. Freedom of research, which the academic community
rightly holds most precious, means an openness to accepting the truth that
emerges at the end of an investigation in which no element has intruded that is
foreign to the methodology corresponding to the object under study.
theology this freedom of inquiry is the hallmark of a rational discipline whose
object is given by Revelation, handed on and interpreted in the Church under the
authority of the Magisterium, and received by faith. These givens have the force
of principles. To eliminate them would mean to cease doing theology. In order to
set forth precisely the ways in which the theologian relates to the Church's
teaching authority, it is appropriate now to reflect upon the role of the
Magisterium in the Church.
III. THE MAGISTERIUM OF THE
13. "God graciously arranged that the things he had
once revealed for the salvation of all peoples should remain in their entirety,
throughout the ages, and be transmitted to all generations"(8) He bestowed upon
His Church, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, a participation in His own
infallibility.(9) Thanks to the "supernatural sense of Faith", the People of God
enjoys this privilege under the guidance of the Church's living Magisterium,
which is the sole authentic interpreter of the Word of God, written or handed
down, by virtue of the authority which it exercises in the name of Christ.
14. As successors of the apostles, the bishops of the
Church "receive from the Lord, to whom all power is given in heaven and on
earth, the mission of teaching all peoples, and of preaching the Gospel to every
creature, so that all men may attain to salvation...".(11) They have been
entrusted then with the task of preserving, explaining, and spreading the Word
of God of which they are servants.(12)
It is the mission of the Magisterium to affirm the definitive character of the Covenant established by
God through Christ with His People in a way which is consistent with the
"eschatological" nature of the event of Jesus Christ. It must protect God's
People from the danger of deviations and confusion, guaranteeing them the
objective possibility of professing the authentic faith free from error, at all
times and in diverse situations. It follows that the sense and the weight of the
Magisterium's authority are only intelligible in relation to the truth of
Christian doctrine and the preaching of the true Word. The function of the
Magisterium is not, then, something extrinsic to Christian truth nor is it set
above the faith. It arises directly from the economy of the faith itself,
inasmuch as the Magisterium is, in its service to the Word of God, an
institution positively willed by Christ as a constitutive element of His Church.
The service to Christian truth which the Magisterium renders is thus for the
benefit of the whole People of God called to enter the liberty of the truth
revealed by God in Christ.
15. Jesus Christ promised the assistance of the Holy
Spirit to the Church's Pastors so that they could fulfill their assigned task of
teaching the Gospel and authentically interpreting Revelation. In particular, He
bestowed on them the charism of infallibility in matters of faith and morals.
This charism is manifested when the Pastors propose a doctrine as contained in
Revelation and can be exercised in various ways. Thus it is exercised
particularly when the bishops in union with their visible head proclaim a
doctrine by a collegial act, as is the case in an ecumenical council, or when
the Roman Pontiff, fulfilling his mission as supreme Pastor and Teacher of all
Christians, proclaims a doctrine "ex cathedra". (13)
16. By its nature, the task of religiously guarding
and loyally expounding the deposit of divine Revelation (in all its integrity
and purity), implies that the Magisterium can make a pronouncement "in a
definitive way" (14) on propositions which, even if not contained among the
truths of faith, are nonetheless intimately connected with them, in such a way,
that the definitive character of such affirmations derives in the final analysis
from revelation itself.(15).
What concerns morality can also be
the object of the authentic Magisterium because the Gospel, being the Word of
Life, inspires and guides the whole sphere of human behavior. The Magisterium,
therefore, has the task of discerning, by means of judgments normative for the
consciences of believers, those acts which in themselves conform to the demands
of faith and foster their expression in life and those which, on the contrary,
because intrinsically evil, are incompatible with such demands. By reason of the
connection between the orders of creation and redemption and by reason of the
necessity, in view of salvation, of knowing and observing the whole moral law,
the competence of the Magisterium also extends to that which concerns the
Revelation also contains moral teachings which per
se could be known by natural reason. Access to them, however, is made
difficult by man's sinful condition. It is a doctrine of faith that these moral
norms can be infallibly taught by the Magisterium (17).
17. Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles
teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and in a particular way, to
the Roman Pontiff as Pastor of the whole Church, when exercising their ordinary
Magisterium, even should this not issue in an infallible definition or in a
"definitive" pronouncement but in the proposal of some teaching which leads to a
better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals and to moral
directives derived from such teaching.
One must therefore take into
account the proper character of every exercise of the Magisterium, considering
the extent to which its authority is engaged. It is also to be borne in mind
that all acts of the Magisterium derive from the same source, that is, from
Christ who desires that His People walk in the entire truth. For this same
reason, magisterial decisions in matters of discipline, even if they are not
guaranteed by the charism of infallibility, are not without divine assistance
and call for the adherence of the faithful.
18. The Roman Pontiff fulfills his universal mission with the help of the
various bodies of the Roman Curia and in particular with that of the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in matters of doctrine and morals.
Consequently, the documents issued by this Congregation expressly approved by
the Pope participate in the ordinary magisterium of the successor of
19. Within the particular Churches, it is the bishop's responsibility to
guard and interpret the Word of God and to make authoritative judgments as to
what is or is not in conformity with it. The teaching of each bishop, taken
individually, is exercised in communion with the Roman Pontiff, Pastor of the
universal Church, and with the other bishops dispersed throughout the world or
gathered in an ecumenical council. Such communion is a condition for its
Member of the Episcopal College by virtue of his
sacramental ordination and hierarchical communion, the bishop represents his
Church just as all the bishops, in union with the Pope, represent the Church
universal in the bonds of peace, love, unity, and truth. As they come together
in unity, the local Churches, with their own proper patrimonies, manifest the
Church's catholicity. The episcopal conferences for their part contribute to the
concrete realization of the collegial spirit ("affectus").(19)
20. The pastoral task of the Magisterium is one of vigilance. It seeks to
ensure that the People of God remain in the truth which sets free. It is
therefore a complex and diversified reality. The theologian, to be faithful to
his role of service to the truth, must take into account the proper mission of
the Magisterium and collaborate with it. How should this collaboration be
understood? How is it put into practice and what are the obstacles it may face?
These questions should now be examined more closely.
IV. THE MAGISTERIUM AND
A. Collaborative Relations
21. The living Magisterium of the Church and
theology, while having different gifts and functions, ultimately have the same
goal: preserving the People of God in the truth which sets free and thereby
making them "a light to the nations". This service to the ecclesial community
brings the theologian and the Magisterium into a reciprocal relationship. The
latter authentically teaches the doctrine of the Apostles. And, benefiting from
the work of theologians, it refutes objections to and distortions of the faith
and promotes, with the authority received from Jesus Christ, new and deeper
comprehension, clarification, and application of revealed doctrine. Theology,
for its part, gains, by way of reflection, an ever deeper understanding of the
Word of God found in the Scripture and handed on faithfully by the Church's
living Tradition under the guidance of the Magisterium. Theology strives to
clarify the teaching of Revelation with regard to reason and gives it finally an
organic and systematic form.(20)
22. Collaboration between the theologian and the
Magisterium occurs in a special way when the theologian receives the canonical
mission or the mandate to teach. In a certain sense, such collaboration becomes
a participation in the work of the Magisterium, linked, as it then is, by a
juridic bond. The theologian's code of conduct, which obviously has its origin
in the service of the Word of God, is here reinforced by the commitment the
theologian assumes in accepting his office, making the profession of faith, and
taking the oath of fidelity.(21)
From this moment on, the theologian is
officially charged with the task of presenting and illustrating the doctrine of
the faith in its integrity and with full accuracy.
23. When the Magisterium of the Church makes an
infallible pronouncement and solemnly declares that a teaching is found in
Revelation, the assent called for is that of theological faith. This kind of
adherence is to be given even to the teaching of the ordinary and universal
Magisterium when it proposes for belief a teaching of faith as divinely
When the Magisterium proposes "in a definitive way" truths
concerning faith and morals, which, even if not divinely revealed, are
nevertheless strictly and intimately connected with Revelation, these must be
firmly accepted and held.(22)
Magisterium, not intending to act "definitively", teaches a doctrine to aid a
better understanding of Revelation and make explicit its contents, or to recall
how some teaching is in conformity with the truths of faith, or finally to guard
against ideas that are incompatible with these truths, the response called for
is that of the religious submission of will and intellect.(23) This kind of
response cannot be simply exterior or disciplinary but must be understood within
the logic of faith and under the impulse of obedience to the faith.
24. Finally, in order to serve the People of God as
well as possible, in particular, by warning them of dangerous opinions which
could lead to error, the Magisterium can intervene in questions under discussion
which involve, in addition to solid principles, certain contingent and
conjectural elements. It often only becomes possible with the passage of time to
distinguish between what is necessary and what is contingent.
willingness to submit loyally to the teaching of the Magisterium on matters
per se not irreformable must be the rule. It can happen, however, that a
theologian may, according to the case, raise questions regarding the timeliness,
the form, or even the contents of magisterial interventions. Here the theologian
will need, first of all, to assess accurately the authoritativeness of the
interventions which becomes clear from the nature of the documents, the
insistence with which a teaching is repeated, and the very way in which it is
When it comes to the
question of interventions in the prudential order, it could happen that some
Magisterial documents might not be free from all deficiencies. Bishops and their
advisors have not always taken into immediate consideration every aspect or the
entire complexity of a question. But it would be contrary to the truth, if,
proceeding from some particular cases, one were to conclude that the Church's
Magisterium can be habitually mistaken in its prudential judgments, or that it
does not enjoy divine assistance in the integral exercise of its mission. In
fact, the theologian, who cannot pursue his discipline well without a certain
competence in history, is aware of the filtering which occurs with the passage
of time. This is not to be understood in the sense of a relativization of the
tenets of the faith. The theologian knows that some judgments of the Magisterium
could be justified at the time in which they were made, because while the
pronouncements contained true assertions and others which were not sure, both
types were inextricably connected. Only time has permitted discernment and,
after deeper study, the attainment of true doctrinal progress.
25. Even when collaboration takes place under the
best conditions, the possibility cannot be excluded that tensions may arise
between the theologian and the Magisterium. The meaning attributed to such
tensions and the spirit with which they are faced are not matters of
indifference. If tensions do not spring from hostile and contrary feelings, they
can become a dynamic factor, a stimulus to both the Magisterium and theologians
to fulfill their respective roles while practicing dialogue.
26. In the dialogue, a two-fold rule should prevail.
When there is a question of the communion of faith, the principle of the "unity
of truth" (unitas veritatis) applies. When it is a question of
differences which do not jeopardize this communion, the "unity of charity"
(unitas caritatis) should be safeguarded.
27. Even if the doctrine of the faith is not in
question, the theologian will not present his own opinions or divergent
hypotheses as though they were non-arguable conclusions. Respect for the truth
as well as for the People of God requires this discretion (cf. Rom
14:1-15; 1 Cor 8; 10: 23-33 ) . For the same reasons, the theologian will
refrain from giving untimely public expression to them.
28. The preceding considerations have a particular
application to the case of the theologian who might have serious difficulties,
for reasons which appear to him wellfounded, in accepting a non-irreformable
Such a disagreement
could not be justified if it were based solely upon the fact that the validity
of the given teaching is not evident or upon the opinion that the opposite
position would be the more probable. Nor, furthermore, would the judgment of the
subjective conscience of the theologian justify it because conscience does not
constitute an autonomous and exclusive authority for deciding the truth of a
29. In any case there should never be a diminishment
of that fundamental openness loyally to accept the teaching of the Magisterium
as is fitting for every believer by reason of the obedience of faith. The
theologian will strive then to understand this teaching in its contents,
arguments, and purposes. This will mean an intense and patient reflection on his
part and a readiness, if need be, to revise his own opinions and examine the
objections which his colleagues might offer him.
30. If, despite a loyal effort on the theologian's
part, the difficulties persist, the theologian has the duty to make known to the
Magisterial authorities the problems raised by the teaching in itself, in the
arguments proposed to justify it, or even in the manner in which it is
presented. He should do this in an evangelical spirit and with a profound desire
to resolve the difficulties. His objections could then contribute to real
progress and provide a stimulus to the Magisterium to propose the teaching of
the Church in greater depth and with a clearer presentation of the
In cases like these, the theologian should avoid turning to
the "mass media", but have recourse to the responsible authority, for it is not
by seeking to exert the pressure of public opinion that one contributes to the
clarification of doctrinal issues and renders servite to the truth.
31. It can also happen that at the conclusion of a
serious study, undertaken with the desire to heed the Magisterium's teaching
without hesitation, the theologian's difficulty remains because the arguments to
the contrary seem more persuasive to him. Faced with a proposition to which he
feels he cannot give his intellectual assent, the theologian nevertheless has
the duty to remain open to a deeper examination of the question.
loyal spirit, animated by love for the Church, such a situation can certainly
prove a difficult trial. It can be a call to suffer for the truth, in silence
and prayer, but with the certainty, that if the truth really is at stake, it
will ultimately prevail.
B. The problem of dissent
32. The Magisterium has drawn attention several times
to the serious harm done to the community of the Church by attitudes of general
opposition to Church teaching which even come to expression in organized groups.
In his apostolic exhortation Paterna cum benevolentia, Paul VI offered a
diagnosis of this problem which is still apropos.(25) In particular, he
addresses here that public opposition to the Magisterium of the Church also
called "dissent", which must be distinguished from the situation of personal
difficulties treated above. The phenomenon of dissent can have diverse forms.
Its remote and proximate causes are multiple.
The ideology of philosophical liberalism, which permeates the thinking of
our age, must be counted among the factors which may exercise their remote or
indirect influence. Here arises the tendency to regard a judgment as having all
the more validity to the extent that it proceeds from the individual relying
upon his own powers. In such a way freedom of thought comes to oppose the
authority of tradition which is considered a cause of servitude. A teaching
handed on and generally received is a priori suspect and its truth
contested. Ultimately, freedom of judgment understood in this way is more
important than the truth itself. We are dealing then here with something quite
different from the legitimate demand for freedom in the sense of absence of
constraint as a necessary condition for the loyal inquiry into truth. In virtue
of this exigency, the Church has always held that "nobody is to be forced to
embrace the faith against his will" .(26)
The weight of public opinion
when manipulated and its pressure to conform also have their influence. Often
models of society promoted by the "mass media" tend to assume a normative value.
The view is particularly promoted that the Church should only express her
judgment on those issues which public opinion considers important and then only
by way of agreeing with it. The Magisterium, for example, could intervene in
economic or social questions but ought to leave matters of conjugal and family
morality to individual judgment.
Finally, the plurality of cultures and
languages, in itself a benefit, can indirectly bring on misunderstandings which
In this context,
the theologian needs to make a critical, well-considered discernment, as well as
have a true mastery of the issues, if he wants to fulfill his ecclesial mission
and not lose, by conforming himself to this present world (cf. Rom 12:2;
Eph 4:23), the independence of judgment which should be that of the
disciples of Christ.
33. Dissent has different aspects. In its most
radical form, it aims at changing the Church following a model of protest which
takes its inspiration from political society. More frequently, it is asserted
that the theologian is not bound to adhere to any Magisterial teaching unless it
is infallible. Thus a Kind of theological positivism is adopted, according to
which, doctrines proposed without exercise of the charism of infallibility are
said to have no obligatory character about them, leaving the individual
completely at liberty to adhere to them or not. The theologian would accordingly
be totally free to raise doubts or reject the non-infallible teaching of the
Magisterium particularly in the case of specific moral norms. With such critical
opposition, he would even be making a contribution to the development of
34. Dissent is generally defended by various
arguments, two of which are more basic in character. The first lies in the order
of hermeneutics. The documents of the Magisterium, it is said, reflect nothing
more than a debatable theology. The second takes theological pluralism sometimes
to the point of a relativism which calls the integrity of the faith into
question. Here the interventions of the Magisterium would have their origin in
one theology among many theologies, while no particular theology, however, could
presume to claim universal normative status. In opposition to and in competition
with the authentic magisterium, there thus arises a kind of "parallel
magisterium" of theologians.(27)
Certainly, it is one of the theologian's tasks to give a correct
interpretation to the texts of the Magisterium and to this end he employs
various hermeneutical rules. Among these is the principle which affirms that
Magisterial teaching, by virtue of divine assistance, has a validity beyond its
argumentation, which may derive at times from a particular theology. As far as
theological pluralism is concerned, this is only legitimate to the extent that
the unity of the faith in its objective meaning is not jeopardized.(28)
Essential bonds link the distinct levels of unity of faith, unity-plurality of
expressions of the faith, and plurality of theologies. The ultimate reason for
plurality is found in the unfathomable mystery of Christ who transcends every
objective systematization. This cannot mean that it is possible to accept
conclusions contrary to that mystery and it certainly does not put into question
the truth of those assertions by which the Magisterium has declared itself.(29)
As to the "parallel magisterium", it can cause great spiritual harm by opposing
itself to the Magisterium of the Pastors. Indeed, when dissent succeeds in
extending its influence to the point of shaping; a common opinion, it tends to
become the rule of conduct. This cannot but seriously trouble the People of God
and lead to contempt for true authority.(30)
35. Dissent sometimes also appeals to a kind of
sociological argumentation which holds that the opinion of a large number of
Christians would be a direct and adequate expression of the "supernatural sense
of the faith".
Actually, the opinions of the faithful cannot be purely
and simply identified with the "sensus fidei".(31) The sense of the faith is a
property of theological faith; and, as God's gift which enables one to adhere
personally to the Truth, it cannot err. This personal faith is also the faith of
the Church since God has given guardianship of the Word to the Church.
Consequently, what the believer believes is what the Church believes. The
"sensus fidei" implies then by its nature a profound agreement of spirit and
heart with the Church, "sentire cum Ecclesia".
faith as such then cannot err, the believer can still have erroneous opinions
since all his thoughts do not spring from faith.(32) Not all the ideas which
circulate among the People of God are compatible with the faith. This is all the
more so given that people can be swayed by a public opinion influenced by modern
communications media. Not without reason did the Second Vatican Council
emphasize the indissoluble bond between the "sensus fidei" and the guidance of
God's People by the magisterium of the Pastors. These two realities cannot be
separated.(33) Magisterial interventions serve to guarantee the Church's unity
in the truth of the Lord. They aid her to "abide in the truth" in face of the
arbitrary character of changeable opinions and are an expression of obedience to
the Word of God.(34) Even when it might seem that they limit the freedom of
theologians, these actions, by their fidelity to the faith which has been handed
on, establish a deeper freedom which can only come from unity in
36. The freedom of the act of faith cannot justify a right to dissent. In
fact this freedom does not indicate at all freedom with regard to the truth but
signifies the free self-determination of the person in conformity with his moral
obligation to accept the truth. The act of faith is a voluntary act because man,
saved by Christ the Redeemer and called by Him to be an adopted son (cf.
Rom 8:15; Gal 4:5; Eph 1:5; Jn 1:12), cannot adhere
to God unless, "drawn by the Father" (Jn 6:44), he offer God the rational
homage of his faith (cf. Rom 12:1). As the Declaration Dignitatis
humanae recalls,(35) no human authority may overstep the limits of its
competence and claim the right to interfere with this choice by exerting
pressure or constraint. Respect for religious liberty is the foundation of
respect for all the rights of man.
One cannot then appeal to these
rights of man in order to oppose the interventions of the Magisterium. Such
behavior fails to recognize the nature and mission of the Church which has
received from the Lord the task to proclaim the truth of salvation to all men.
She fulfills this task by walking in Christ's footsteps, knowing that "truth can
impose itself on the mind only by virtue of its own truth, which wins over the
mind with both gentleness and power".(36)
37. By virtue of the divine mandate given to it in the Church, the
Magisterium has the mission to set forth the Gospel's teaching, guard its
integrity, and thereby protect the Faith of the People of God. In order to
fulfill this duty, it can at times be led to take serious measures as, for
example, when it withdraws from a theologian, who departs from the doctrine of
the faith, the canonical mission or the teaching mandate it had given him, or
declares that some writings do not conform to this doctrine. When it acts in
such ways, the Magisterium seeks to be faithful to its mission of defending the
right of the People of God to receive the message of the Church in its purity
and integrity and not be disturbed by a particular dangerous opinion.
The judgment expressed by the Magisterium in such circumstances is the result of
a thorough investigation conducted according to established procedures which
afford the interested party the opportunity to clear up possible
misunderstandings of his thought. This judgment, however, does not concern the
person of the theologian but the intellectual positions which he has publicly
espoused. The fact that these procedures can be improved does not mean that they
are contrary to justice and right. To speak in this instance of a violation of
human rights is out of place for it indicates a failure to recognize the proper
hierarchy of these rights as well as the nature of the ecclesial community and
her common good. Moreover, the theologian who is not disposed to think with the
Church ("sentire cum Ecclesia") contradicts the commitment he freely and
knowingly accepted to teach in the name of the Church.(37)
38. Finally, argumentation appealing to the obligation to follow one's own
conscience cannot legitimate dissent. This is true, first of all, because
conscience illumines the practical judgment about a decision to make, while here
we are concerned with the truth of a doctrinal pronouncement. This is
furthermore the case because while the theologian, like every believer, must
follow his conscience, he is also obliged to form it. Conscience is not an
independent and infallible faculty. It is an act of moral judgement regarding a
responsible choice. A right conscience is one duly illumined by faith and by the
objective moral law and it presupposes, as well, the uprightness of the will in
the pursuit of the true good.
The right conscience of the Catholic
theologian presumes not only faith in the Word of God whose riches he must
explore, but also love for the Church from whom he receives his mission, and
respect for her divinely assisted Magisterium. Setting up a supreme magisterium
of conscience in opposition to the magisterium of the Church means adopting a
principle of free examination incompatible with the economy of Revelation and
its transmission in the Church and thus also with a correct understanding of
theology and the role of the theologian. The propositions of faith are not the
product of mere individual research and free criticism of the Word of God but
constitute an ecclesial heritage. If there occur a separation from the Bishops
who watch over and keep the apostolic tradition alive, it is the bond with
Christ which is irreparably compromised(38).
39. The Church, which has her origin in the unity of the Father, Son, and
Holy Spirit, (39) is a mystery of communion. In accordance with the will of her
founder, she is organized around a hierarchy established for the service of the
Gospel and the People of God who live by it. After the pattern of the members of
the first community, all the baptized with their own proper charisms are to
strive with sincere hearts for a harmonious unity in doctrine, life, and worship
(cf. Acts 2:42). This is a rule which flows from the very being of the
Church. For this reason, standards of conduct, appropriate to civil society or
the workings of a democracy, cannot be purely and simply applied to the Church.
Even less can relationships within the Church be inspired by the mentality of
the world around it (ct. Rom 12:2). Polling public opinion to determine
the proper thing to think or do, opposing the Magisterium by exerting the
pressure of public opinion, making the excuse of a "consensus" among
theologians, maintaining that the theologian is the prophetical spokesman of a
"base" or autonomous community which would be the source of all truth, all this
indicates a grave loss of the sense of truth and of the sense of the
40. The Church "is like a sacrament, a sign and instrument, that is, of
communion with God and of unity among all men".(40) Consequently, to pursue
concord and communion is to enhance the force of her witness and credibility. To
succumb to the temptation of dissent, on the other hand, is to allow the "leaven
of infidelity to the Holy Spirit" to start to work.(41)
To be sure,
theology and the Magisterium are of diverse natures and missions and cannot be
confused. Nonetheless they fulfill two vital roles in the Church which must
interpenetrate and enrich each other for the service of the People of
It is the duty of the Pastors by virtue of the authority they have
received from Christ Himself to guard this unity and to see that the tensions
arising from life do not degenerate into divisions. Their authority, which
transcends particular positions and oppositions, must unite all in the integrity
of the Gospel which is the "word of reconciliation" (cf. 2 Cor
As for theologians, by virtue of their own proper charisms,
they have the responsibility of participating in the building up of Christ's
Body in unity and truth. Their contribution is needed more than ever, for
evangelization on a world scale requires the efforts of the whole People of
God.(42) If it happens that they encounter difficulties due to the character of
their research, they should seek their solution in trustful dialogue with the
Pastors, in the spirit of truth and charity which is that of the communion of
41. Both Bishops and theologians will keep in mind that Christ is the
definitive Word of the Father (cf. Heb 1:2 ) in whom, as St. John of the
Cross observes: "God has told us everything all together and at one time".(43)
As such, He is the Truth who sets us free (cf. Jn 8:36; 14:6). The acts
of assent and submission to the Word entrusted to the Church under the guidance
of the Magisterium are directed ultimately to Him and lead us into the realm of
42. The Virgin Mary is Mother and perfect Icon of the
Church. From the very beginnings of the New Testament, she has been called
blessed because of her immediate and unhesitating assent of faith to the Word of
God (cf. Lk 1:38. 45) which she kept and pondered in her heart (cf.
Lk 2:19. 51). Thus did she become a model and source of help for all of
the People of God entrusted to her maternal care. She shows us the way to accept
and serve the Word. At the same time, she points out the final goal, on which
our sights should ever be set, the salvation won for the world by her Son Jesus
Christ which we are to proclaim to all men.
At the close of this
Instruction, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith earnestly invites
Bishops to maintain and develop relations of trust with theologians in the
fellowship of charity and in the realization that they share one spirit in their
acceptance and service of the Word. In this context, they will more easily
overcome some of the obstacles which are part of the human condition on earth.
In this way, all can become ever better servants of the Word and of the People
of God, so that the People of God, persevering in the doctrine of truth and
freedom heard from the beginning, may abide also in the Son and the Father and
obtain eternal life, the fulfillment of the Promise (cf. 1 Jn 2:24-25).
This Instruction was adopted at an Plenary
Meeting of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and was approved at an
audience granted to the undersigned Cardinal Prefect by the Supreme Pontiff,
Pope John Paul II, who ordered its publication.
Given at Rome, at the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on May 24, 1990, the Solemnity of
the Ascension of the Lord.
Archbishop of Caesarea in Numidia
(1) Dogmatic Constitution
Dei Verbum, n. 8.
(2) Dogmatic Constitution Lumen
gentium, n. 12.
(3)Cf. St. Bonaventure, Prooem. in I
Sent., q. 2, ad 6: "Quando fides non assentit propter rationem, sed propter
amorem eius cui assentit, desiderat habere rationes".
(4) CF. John Paul II, "Discorso in
occasione della consegna del premio internazionale Paulo VI a Hans Urs von
Balthasar", June 23, 1984: Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II. VII, 1 (1984)
(5) Cf. Vatican Council. I, Dogmatic
Constitution De fide catholica, De revelatione, can. l: DS
(6) Decree Optatam totius, n.
(7) John Paul II, "Discorso ai teologi ad
Altötting", November 18, 1980: AAS 73 (1981) 104; cf. also Paul VI, "Discorso ai
membri della Commissione Teologica Internazionale", October 11, 1972: AAS 64
(1972) 682-683; John Paul II, "Discorso ai membri della Commissione Teologica
Internazionale", October 26, 1979: AAS 71 (1979) 1428-1433.
(8) Dogmatic Constitution Dei
Verbum, n. 7.
(9) Cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of
the Faith, Decl. Mysterium Ecclesiae. n. 2:AAS 65 (1973 ) 398
(10) Cf. Dogmatic Constitution Dei
Verbum, n. 10.
(11) Dogmatic Constitution Lumen
gentium, n. 24.
(12) Cf. Dogmatic Constitution Dei
Verbum, n. 10.
(13) Cf. Dogmatic Constitution Lumen
gentium. n. 25; Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Decl.
Mysterium Ecclesiae. n. 3: AAS 65 ( 1973 ) 400 f.
(14) Cf. Professio fidei et
Iusiurrandum fidelitatis: AAS 81 (1989) 104 f.: "omnia et singula quae circa
doctrinam de fide vel moribus ab eadem definitive proponuntur".
(15) Cf. Dogmatic Constitution Lumen
gentium, n. 25; Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Decl. Mysterium
Ecclesiae, nn. 3-5: AAS 65 ( 1973) 400-404; Professio fidei et
Iusiurandum fidelitatis AAS 81 (1989) 104 f.
(16) Cf. Paul VI, Encycl. Humanae Vitae, n. 4: AAS 60
(17) Cf. Vatican Council, I, Dogmatic Constitution Dei
Filius, ch. 2: DS 3005.
(18)Cf. Code of Canon Law, cc. 360-361; Paul VI, Apost. Const.
Regimini Ecclesiae Universae, August 15, 1967, nn. 29-40: AAS 59 (1967)
879-899; John Paul II, Apost. Const. Pastor Bonus, June 28, 1988: AAS 80
( 1988) 873-874.
(19) Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, nn. 22-23. As it
is known, following upon the Second Extraordinary Synod of Bishops, the Holy
Father gave the Congregation for Bishops the task of exploring the
"Theological-Juridical Status of Episcopal Conferences".
(20) Cf. Paul VI, "Discorso ai
partecipanti al Congresso internazionale suila Teologia del Concilio Vaticano
II", October 1, 1966: Insegnamenti di Paolo VI: AAS 58 (1966) 892
(21) Cf. Code of Canon Law, can. 833;
Professio fidei et Iusiurandum fidelitatis: AAS 81 (1989) 104
(22) The text of the new Profession of
Faith (cf. n. 15 ) makes explicit the kind of assent called for by these
teachings in these terms: "Firmiter etiam amplector et retineo.
(23) Cf. Dogmatic Constitution Lumen
gentium, n. 25; Code of Canon Law, can. 752.
(24) Dogmatic Constitution Lumen
Gentium, n. 25, § 1.
(25) Cf. Paul VI, Apost. Exhort.
Paterna cum benevolentia, December 8, 1974: AAS 67 (1975) 5-23.
Cf. also Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Decl. Mysterium
Ecclesiae: AAS 65 (1973) 396-408.
(26) Decl. Dignitatis humanae, n.
(27) The notion of a "parallel
magisterium" of theologians in opposition to and in competition with the
magisterium of the Pastors is sometimes supported by reference to some texts in
which St. Thomas Aquinas makes a distinction between the "magisterium cathedrae
pastoralis" and "magisterium cathedrae magisterialis" (Contro
impugnantes, c. 2; Quodlib. III, q. 4, a.l (9); In IV.Sent. 19, 2, 2,
q.3 sol. 2 ad 4). Actually, these texts do not give any support to this position
for St. Thomas was absolutely certain that the right to judge in matters of
doctrine was the sole responsibility of the "officium praelationis".
(28) Paul VI, Apost. Export. Paterna
cum benevolentia, n. 4: AAS 67 (1975) 14-15.
(29) Cf. Paul VI, "Discorso ai membri
della Commissione Teologica Internazionale'', October 11, 1973: AAS 65 (1973) 555-559.
(30)Cf. John Paul II, Encyc. Redemptor
hominis, n. 19: AAS 71 (1979) 308; "Discorso ai fedeli di Managua", March 4,
1983, n. 7: AAS 75 (1983) 723; "Discorso ai religiosi a Guatemala", March 8,
1983, n. 3: AAS 75 (1983) 746; "Discorso ai vescovi a Lima", February 2, 1985,
n. 5: AAS 77 (1985 ) 874; "Discorso alla Conferenza dei vescovi belgi a
Malines", May 18, 1985, n. 5: Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, VIII, 1 (1985)
1481; "Discorso ad alcuni vescovi americani in visita ad limina", October 15,
1988, n. 6: L'Osservatore Romano, October 16, 1988. p. 4.
(31) Cf. John Paul. II, Apost. Exhort.
Familiaris consortio, n. 5: AAS 74 (1982) 85-86.
(32) Cf, the formula of the Council of
Trent, sess. VI, cap. 9: fides "cui non potest subesse falsum": DS 1534; cf. St.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, II-II, q. 1, a. 3, ad 3: "Possibile est
enim hominem fidelem ex coniectura humana falsum aliquid aestimare. Sed quod ex
fide falsum aestimet, hoc est impossibile".
(33) Cf. Dogmatic Constitution Lumen
gentium, n. 12.
(34) Cf. Dogmatic Constitution Dei
Verbum, n. 10.
(35) Decl. Dignitatis humanae, nn. 9-10.
(36) Ibid. n. 1.
(37) Cf. John Paul II, Apost. Const. Sapientia Christiana,
April 15, 1979, n. 27, 1: AAS 71 (1979) 483; Code of Canon Law, can. 812.
(38) Cf. Paul VI, Apost. Exhort. Paterna cum benevolentia,
n. 4: AAS 67 (1975)15.
(39) Cf. Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, n. 4.
(40) Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, n. 1
(41) Cf. Paul VI, Apost. Exhort. Paterna cum benevolentia,
nn. 2-3: AAS 67 (1975) 10-11.
(42) Cf. John Paul II, Post-synodal Apost. Exhort.
Christifideles laici, nn. 32-35: AAS 81 (1989) 451-459.
(43) St. John of the Cross, Ascent of Mount Carmel, II, 22,