The Theologian as a Person of Faith*
by Pope John Paul II
The following is an abridged translation of the Holy Father's address to the members of the
International Theological Commission, who were holding their plenary session on the 25th anniversary of the commission's creation. Subheadings have been added to facilitate reading.
One of the typical features of
modern thought is the attention paid to epistemological issues. Theologians must have a clear awareness of the specific nature of their discipline especially since they are obliged to take the contribution of other
branches of knowledge into consideration.
There is no theology without faith
Theology, intellectus fidei, is rooted in faith. There is no theology without faith. This is why the theologian must be a person of faith, in the certainty that the true
faith is always what the Church professes. By a deep connaturality, he will harmonize his intellect with the Christian mystery. As a result, he will be in a special way a man of prayer. The spiritual life is, in fact,
an indispensable condition for theological research.
As a person of faith, the theologian's mission is to scrutinize the riches of light contained in the mystery. In speaking of mystery, we are not in fact stressing
some kind of opaqueness or difficulty in the revealed message, but the disproportion that exists between, on the one hand, the One "who dwells in unapproachable light" (1 Tim 6:16) and who nevertheless makes himself
known to us, and on the other, the limits of our created mind. Faith allows us to adhere to him who is the source of light. The theologian will try to bring to the fore, with the help of reason, the unfathomable riches
received from on high.
Here we should point out a typical temptation of our time, the temptation to the narrowness characteristic of the scientific and rational approach. Since, as it progresses, knowledge is
diversified into many separate disciplines, one could easily be led, if one is not careful, to give priority to a specific form of reasoning, to the detriment of other forms. This attitude, at the root of a certain
rationalism, leads to a distortion of thought that is especially harmful for theology in its vocation to wisdom. The theologian should be ready to utilize, without prejudice or bias, all the resources of human reason in
their integrity, starting with the resources of metaphysics. Does he not know that human reason is a mark and reflection of the One who is Supreme Reason?
Crisis of truth generates moral drifting and despair
Of course, there is something paradoxical about the
theologian's path. The source of his knowledge is the infallible light of faith; his reflection is subject to the limitations and frailty of human affairs. His pride lies in serving the divine Light, his modesty lies in
his awareness of the limits of human thought.
By virtue of the objectives assigned to your Commission, a double effort is required of you. You must offer our contemporaries the beauty of the mystery of salvation and
its liberating power. You are also invited to deal courageously with the new questions posed to the Church. You give an example of this effort in the current session as you deal with the relationship of Christianity and
non-Christian religions. This means that the new evangelization, which must mark the dawn of the third millennium, will owe a great deal to theologians.
May I insist here on a single point. Among the dangers
threatening contemporary culture, the most serious is the crisis of meaning and truth, which generates moral drift and despair. It is up to you, theologians, to restore the desire to reach the truth to a world which
never ceases to seek it even vaguely. or, to repeat St. Augustine's profound expression, the gaudium de veritate, the joy of truth that saves and sets free (Jn 8:32).
In conclusion, I would like through you to
address all theologians in order to encourage them courageously and confidently to continue their work which is so valuable for the Church and her Magisterium.
Invoking the holy Doctors of the Church of the East and
the West. I cordially grant you my Apostolic Blessing.
* Taken from L'Osservatore Romano
(weekly English edition), 21/28.XII.1994, 7