What a Theologian-Pope Tells Theology

Author: ZENIT


What a Theologian-Pope Tells Theology

Part 1Interview With Archbishop Bruno Forte

By Mirko Testa
ROME, 25 JAN. 2010 (ZENIT)
Benedict XVI exhorts theologians to adopt an attitude of listening, replacing with the virtue of humility the temptations to consider themselves great.

This exhortation, according to Archbishop Bruno Forte of Chieti-Vasto, president of the Italian bishops' Commission for the Doctrine of the Faith, Proclamation and Catechesis, is a safeguard against the "only authentically Christian heresy."

ZENIT spoke with Archbishop Forte about a selection of Benedict XVI's recent commentaries on theology. The archbishop notes how the roots of Joseph Ratzinger's thinking are revealed in his exhortations as Pope.

Part 2 of this interview, on theology as a science, will be published Tuesday.
ZENIT: Last year, in the homily of the Mass celebrated in the presence of members of the International Theological Commission, the Pope explained that a true theologian is not one who attempts to measure the mystery of God with his own intelligence, but one who is conscious of his own limitations. On that occasion the Pope indicated humility as the way to arrive at truth, voicing a word of caution about expert theologians who behave like the ancient scribes. Do you think the Pope is referring to a marked tendency in our days?
Archbishop Forte: I believe this is an essential point that distinguishes Christian theology from any form of gnosis. The essential difference is that in theology everything stems from hearing, hence, from auditus Verbi, whereas in gnosis everything is the intellectual self-production of the individual. This is the real reason why the only authentically Christian heresy is gnosis: the pretension of a self-redemption of man who does not need the intervention of the Other, of [One] on High, that is, the intervention of God. A theology that is based, as is its nature, on Revelation, cannot but be first of all listening, hence humilitas: an attitude of profound willingness and docility before God's action, who enters history in a surprising way and at the same time confirms it in its dignity, opening it to the novum adveniens of his promise.
It is a topic that Ratzinger, as theologian, has stressed repeatedly, and which comes from his knowledge of Augustine, who is the genius of the intellectus fidei lived in listening, in the use of intelligence at the service of Franciscan-listening that predominates in Joseph Ratzinger's theological formation, which in his teaching as Pope reappears in his intense call to humilitas and to auditus. I would add that this topic is very important today in a society that has known the inebriation of reason and, hence, the gnostic temptation in the different faces of modern ideology, and that today, in the uneasiness of post-modernity, if it does not open itself to listening and to humilitas runs the risk of the great temptation of nihilism, that is, of meaninglessness.

In other words, who will be able to save us? To this question, one can only answer: the Other who comes to us, that is, the living God, and this implies the humility of acceptance. Gnosis in this post-modern society, is supplanted in its own fundamental conviction, which is the absoluteness of the individual and of his capacity for knowledge or production of the true.
ZENIT: In September of 2007, on visiting the Cistercian abbey of Heiligenkreuz, the Pope criticized a certain "theology that no longer breathes in the realm of faith," putting the accent, instead, on "kneeling theology," a beautiful expression coined by Hans Urs von Balthasar. In the same way, on presenting the figure of St. Bernard of Clairvaux during a general audience, Benedict XVI said that without faith and prayer, reason on its own cannot find God and theology becomes a vain intellectual exercise. Is this a scene present in the realm of today's theology?
Archbishop Forte: The first decisive element is that, precisely because it is born from listening to the Word of God, theology needs not only a radical humilitas, but also a form of loving, hence prayerful acceptance of it. Von Balthasar insisted very much on this aspect, maintaining that sanctity is not something superfluous in relation to the theologian's exercise, but is an essential condition. It is no accident that very great theologians, especially fathers of the Church, were also saints. Hence the need to kneel before the mystery and to listen, to live the auditus not only with humility but with the loving and persevering acceptance of worshipping faith which is inherent to the identity of Christian theology.

And also in this, in Joseph Ratzinger's thought, there is not only continuity with Augustine's and Bonaventure's line, but, on the other hand, there is also another very important intuition taken up by Vatican II, namely, that there is a relation between Christian living, Christian thought and the liturgy.
The liturgy, in as much as culmen and fons, as Vatican II says, is that from which everything stems and to which everything in Christian existence tends, both in its living as well as in its reflective dimension. Because of this, a theology without a liturgical soul, that is, without the capacity to praise and invoke God, is a vain intellectual exercise. It is another form of that gnosis that runs the risk of contaminating man's capacity to open himself to God. In the great Christian-Catholic theological vision, man has been made capax Dei: but this capacity is conditioned on one hand by humilitas and on the other, by the capacity of invoking the gift of God and of allowing oneself to be permeated by him in a doxological and liturgical attitude, that is, of glorification of God, which is no less than the willingness to let oneself be molded by his action in our life. When all this is put into words, theology is really born.
And here is another consideration to be made on the relation between theology and spirituality. We have lived through a crisis of this relationship in the period of modern theology, that is, of that theology influenced by the opposition between Vernunftswahrheit and Geschichtswahrheit, the truth of reason and the truth of fact.

In the Enlightenment's conception only the truth of reason is truth, because it presents an absoluteness and universality that the truths of fact don't have. Christianity, on the contrary, is based on a truth of fact, which is God's historical revelation. Then it seemed to a certain theology of an enlightened-liberal hue that pure theological exercises could not be reconciled with a form of spirituality, of spiritual living, left rather to devotion.
This abyss between theology and spirituality has caused great harm in the era of modern theology: This has been seen especially in liberal theology and in some forms of Catholic modernism, but it continues to cause harm there where, for example, in the 60s and 70s some forms of Christian theology allowed themselves to be conditioned by modern ideology, including revolutionary [currents]. Today we feel, instead, that we must return to the original founding statute of theological endeavor, which is to take to thought the experience of the Mystery proclaimed and, therefore, heard and celebrated in the liturgy, lived and witnessed in faith and charity.
Therefore, theology is not only docta fides, that is, a fides quaerens intellectum, but also docta caritas, that is, to take the word to the living of love, the gift of the love of God which is given us in the liturgy and in the grace of the sacraments, but which must then be witnessed in living, in gestures of the silent eloquence of charity. Thus theology and spirituality rediscover the fundamental nexus that constitutes them reciprocally as Christian theology and spirituality. A theology without spirituality runs the risk of being empty, a spirituality without theology runs the risk of being blind, paraphrasing Kant's well-known saying on intuitions and concepts.

Part 2Interview With Archbishop Bruno Forte

By Mirko Testa
ROME, 26 JAN. 2010 (ZENIT)
The magisterium of the Church is not repressive, but progressive. Far from restricting research, it keeps it from regressing and falling into old errors.

This explanation was given by Archbishop Bruno Forte of Chieti-Vasto, president of the Italian bishops' Commission for the Doctrine of the Faith, Proclamation and Catechesis.

ZENIT spoke with Archbishop Forte about a selection of Benedict XVI's recent commentaries on theology. Here, the archbishop explains how theology can be regarded as a science and why the role of the magisterium is so important.

Part 1 of this interview, on the roots of Joseph Ratzinger's theology, was published Monday.

Q: The Holy See's adherence to the "Bologna Process" has led to a global re-ordering of theological formation in Italy, geared to revising the existing curriculum standards in light of those required [by the accord]. In your opinion, does not the fact of having to conform to the precise characteristics of "scientific nature," lead the teaching of this discipline to put aside a conception that presupposes faith in theological research?
Archbishop Forte: This is an old question which always returns anew in the history of theology. I would like to give two answers: one of a historical character and one of a current character, but also of methodological hue.

The first is the one St. Thomas gave to the same question that you pose, when he begins the Summa Teologica with an unthinkable audacity at the time of the fathers of the Church. Thomas asks himself: utrum praeter philosophicas disciplinas aliam doctrinam haberi? That is, he asks not if the philosophical disciplines are legitimate but if theology is legitimate, with an absolutely modern approach that seems to claim the autonomy of reason. His answer is that the rationality required by scientific disciplines is above all in the scire per causas, in knowing through the connections between premises and deductions. However, this scire per causas, can be exercised in two ways: beginning from the first internal principles of science, the so-called subalternating sciences (he speaks, for example, of mathematics, which has its most intrinsic principles with which one begins and which cannot be demonstrated — in this, Thomas anticipates Goedel — and of which the consequences are deduced); on the other hand, however, are the subalternate sciences, which use the principles that the other sciences offer them. To this end, Thomas gives as an intriguing example that of music, which depends on mathematics, precisely because of its harmonies and its relations of proportion.

Similarly —Thomas says — theology depends on scientia Dei et beatorum, that is, on Revelation. In other words, the source of theological knowledge by its nature is lumen fidei, but in regard to the argumentation it has the same epistemological statute of the other sciences, hence it has the full dignity of universitas scientiarum.
How will we respond today to the developments of theology, but also of modern epistemology? I would answer by referring to the great 20th century philosophical and theological conquest, which is the powerful rediscovery of hermeneutics, that is, of the science of interpretation. When many years ago, as dean of the faculty of theology in Naples, I invited Hans Georg Gadamer, the father of contemporary hermeneutics, author of "Truth and Method," to a quaestio quodlibetalis. A first year [student] asked him this question: "What is hermeneutics?" To which Gadamer, without being ruffled, said, after a moment of reflection: "Hermeneutics means that when you and I speak we make an effort to reach the vital world that is behind the other's words, and from which they proceed."
Therefore, epistemology illumined by hermeneutics means not only to understand what is immediately perceptible, the visible, the phenomenalistic, the rational, but to also understand, or at least to try to reach, those vital worlds from which these expressions stem. In this context, one discovers that science is not only that of phenomena, but that there is an ensemble of sciences, which are the sciences of the spirit, which make an effort to reach what is not said, what cannot be said, what cannot be wholly divided into parts, but which is the vital world in which human processes, historical processes, etc. are situated. And there is a further level that points to that experience of the mystery of life and of the world and that all of us have and which cannot be referred to a mere linguistic or rational formula, that is, an excess of the Mystery that surrounds the world, that surrounds the life of each one of us and that we continually perceive with surprise, with wonder, which we can reflect in words only up to a certain point.
However, a science that takes wonder seriously in face of this Mystery, the possibility that the latter be said without betraying oneself, that is, the possibility of Revelation, and that one make it the subject of one's thought, becomes an absolutely precious science. In a similar hermeneutical dimension, interpretative of reality — which does not stop at the immediate but always seeks the ultimate, the profound connections — it seems to me that theology is presented with full dignity as a science of which man is in need to live and to die, as he needs God and the meaning of life to live and to die.
Q: In 1986, intervening in Brescia in a meeting organized by the Italian editorial board of Communio magazine, Ratzinger affirmed that in the widespread awareness of Catholic theology the authority of the Church often appears as something foreign to science, as something that limits, when it doesn't mortify, research. In your opinion, especially after what has happened with liberation theology, is this perception still present?
Archbishop Forte: The task of the magisterium in the Church is not a regressive task, but almost a task of exploration. In a famous essay of 1953, which made history in the theological debate, Karl Rahner, wondering about the Council of Chalcedon and about the dogmatic definition of Christ as a divine person with two natures, human and divine — which continues to be binding for every Christian, regardless of his confessional membership — asked himself: "Chalkedon — Ende oder Anfang?" (Chalcedon, an end or a beginning?). His answer was very clear: Dogma is not an end, it does not stop thought, it doesn't paralyze it, but establishes milestones in regard to which there is no going back, because to want to go back would mean to fall on one hand into forms of Arianism, that is, into an only human and worldly vision of Christ, who would not be the mediator of the Covenant and Savior, and on the other into a form of modalism, that is, a God who appears among men but who has not truly assumed our mortal flesh, who has not truly committed himself to the human.
Karl Rahner rightly said that Chalcedon's dogmatic definition in this connection is a bulwark against regression, not against progress. Hilary of Poitiers, in turn, intuited a most beautiful dimension of this exercise of magisterial discernment of the Church. He said: Dogma is defined by an exigency of charity, to help to not lose the road, to not lose the respectful way that God has indicated to us. Also here, the vision was clearly not defensive or repressive but prospective.
And, precisely the case of liberation theology that you mentioned, seems to me an eloquent example, because the fundamental interventions in this regard by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith were two: one eminently critical, which illumined the limits often connected with the ideological dependence of this theology; the other, which instead brought to light its good ideas, the positive contributions above all in face of a theology inspired in the primacy of charity and of service.

I believe that with this action the magisterium did exactly what Hilary of Poitiers said, and which much more recently Karl Rahner affirmed, that is, not only a repressive action to extinguish life, but of protection and promotion of that authentic life that only the truth of God is able to release in us. I would summarize with verse 8:32 of John, which John Paul II liked to repeat and which he also repeated to us in the International Theological Commission, when working on the document "Memory and Reconciliation" to support the petition for forgiveness for the faults of the Church: "The truth will make you free."
Therefore, the more the cause of truth is served, the more the magisterium is placed at the service of the witness of truth, the more the latter fosters liberty, the genuine liberty that gives meaning, fullness, life and salvation to man's heart.
[Translation of the Italian original by ZENIT]  

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