Homeward-bound in the ark of tradition (1): Theology. What Theology?
How the recent motu proprio ‘Ad theologiam promovendam’ creates genuine feelings of unease @PaterElias #FilioQueInEnglish
In ‘FilioQue in English, the catholic trademark’ Father Elias Leyds c.s.j. tries to distinguish in both written and spoken word the truth from the false, the Word that has become flesh, always in search for Jesus Christ, the way, the truth and the life. “As a priest, a foot soldier in the Lord’s trenches, I should not comment but explain, because Clarity is the only munition of the gospel of life”.
December 2023, Oisterwijk – Several people have asked me to explain to them the meaning of the latest motu proprio of pope Francis, “Ad theologiam promovendam”. But I can’t. I can’t make much sense out of this text. I could go for the easy way out and comment on it, instead of explaining it. Then I would find myself in the illustrious company of journalists and pundits. However, my vocation is not to frequent these circles and be taken seriously by them. I am but a priest, a foot soldier in the Lord’s trenches, so I must not comment but explain. Clarity is the only munition of the gospel of life. And this is exactly where I run into problems, for I myself have more questions about the teachings of the current magisterium than the people asking me for advice. It is an awkward situation, which has reached its paroxysm with this motu proprio. I can’t imagine it getting worse. Rather strangely, no Latin, only an Italian version has been published so far, but with a dictionary in hand I can figure out what is written there.
I am startled, right from the beginning. “Promoting theology in the future cannot be limited to abstractly re-proposing formulas and schemes of the past” – what is meant here: the promotion of theology, or theology itself? And whatever it is, is it going to be completed by abstractly proposing new formulas and schemes? When reading further, this seems to be the case. Actually, there is nothing wrong with abstractions as such. They are instruments of objective thinking, which allow people to communicate and dialogue in a way that makes sense. Obviously, those abstractions must relate to reality itself. But anyway, the use of abstractions itself does not imply a disconnection from reality.
More so, when speaking about the divine revelation, which deals which realities that cannot be perceived by the senses or proven by the intellect, abstractions that are used must be conserved, sharpened and deepened with utter care. And teachers should be extremely reticent in inventing new abstract terms, lest the teachings of the Church disintegrate due to lack of precision. And it is exactly at this level that I am deeply disturbed by the neologisms of this pontificate, highly concentrated in this motu proprio, which sometimes are taken from ferociously anti-Christian ideological rhetoric. As priest, if I cannot clarify something to the faithful approaching me, I must ask clarification from my authorities.
I will limit myself to some new abstractions, the meaning of which is not clear. For starters, the “synodal Church”. What does this mean? And how can a conclusive meaning be given to this expression, while the Synod on synodality is still ongoing? Is this still an apostolic Church, allowing the faith of the apostles, passed down throughout the centuries, to bear fruit in the souls and actions of those who believe? And what is meant by the “outgoing” Church? Does it mean the faithful are called to act according to the gospel and be Christ’s witnesses and martyrs? (Those acquainted with tradition will know that these two terms are identical in classic Greek, the original language of the New Testament.)
As has happened more often, the writings of the pope suggest there is a contradiction between theory and practice, between hands that hold books and pens while “settling for a desk theology”, and hands that help the poor at the “frontiers” of society. Does such a suggestion do justice to anybody? Hasn’t saint Paul, both contemplative and active, not admired the diversity of vocations in the Church? On a more personal note, I have been knocked unconscious twice and my nose has been broken (only once), while exploring frontier regions where sheep find no fathers, who could talk to them about the eternal Father. But the presence of theological nerds with delicate hands behind desks – or veiled nuns behind bars – within the Church does not bother me in the least. On the contrary, I am grateful for them. Let them do the boring job, theirs is less appealing to me than the one I was called to do. I intensely love the same Church as they do, and we are united by the only cause that can indeed unite us: the search for Jesus Christ, the way, the truth and the life. We know we must be founded in vertical adoration and self-less prayer, passing through trials and triumphs, and be dedicated to please the Lord, who will return. And while walking in the same direction from widely different spheres of life, we have all become aware that the unmistakably hardest frontier to cross is the one keeping us locked up in our sins.
What is exactly meant by a “fundamentally contextual” theology’? Where are the unprovable and undisprovable dogmas? Why is Incarnation of the eternal Logos reduced to having a role as “archetype”? Is that all the mystery has to offer: an archetype? Does theology not have the living Person of the risen Christ at its core? And how come it must develop into a culture of “dialogue and encounter”, and not of evangelisation and incarnation? Anyway, right from the start of the divine revelation to Abraham, the people of Israel and later the Church have been in constant communication with the world, both in times of war and in times of peace. Yes, especially through violent confrontation the world has tested the souls who believe, and has found out who is their Real God. Whereas peace conferences have tended to be much less useful for the Kingdom of God … Anyway, is it sufficient for theology to have the “particular task to discover the Trinitarian imprint that makes the cosmos in which we live a web of relationships in which it is proper to every living being to tend toward another thing”? Doesn’t that sound like desk theology? The real challenge, isn’t it our choice of that ‘other thing’ we want to tend to? Do we choose chaos or wisdom, life or death, light or darkness? Don’t we need masters, wise persons and saints to help us make this choice and persevere?
Like in other documents and decrees of the current pontificate, we see many terms and neologisms, the meaning of which we have to guess. But clerics and servants should not have to guess, lest shepherds and sheep be lost together in self-referential bleating. Shepherds owe clarity to their sheep, and therefore it is not their right, but a mere duty, to ask clarity from their authorities. What is the meaning of synodality? Why does it take shape through round tables, suggesting no hierarchy is at our service to connect us with something above us? What is inclusivity – is it communist and coercive, or is it liberal and rejecting any commitment? What do we do with people who do not wish to be included? Does inclusion presuppose a free choice for something objective that is being offered? Does it respect both the person capable of choosing and the immutable revealed truth that may be chosen? And if dialogue is so important, what should it be about? And how can we dialogue with cultures or religions that ignore or have rejected the ‘logos’, from which the word dialogue not only derives, but which is an indispensable essential element of any dialogue ? If discernment halts a too hasty judgment, what are the criteria of the judgment that eventually will have to be made? And if those criteria change, by what other (higher) criteria will the change be verified? Else, if we want to include all human beings in one fraternity, from what fatherly and motherly principles does this originate? When all these questions have been cleared up, maybe depressing terms like ‘cultural revolution’ will no longer need to be used, for this particular one refers to the most deadly campaign of dehumanizing utopian insanity the world has ever seen. The term ‘final solution’ would be equally inappropriate.
In conclusion, I must admit in all honesty that I am deeply troubled by this text. After reading it, I felt like having been locked up in an echo chamber, listening to a party program that I do not understand – in fact, that I am not supposed to understand. I can only escape from it by echoing my own questions. Unfortunately we live in a time, where simple questioning is considered to be a form of criticism, even hate speech. This tendency exists both inside and outside the Church. It’s the ultimate sign of a collective totalitarian mindset. Yet, I believe the thirst of truth will be stronger. When the Word incarnate was being silenced, He was still capable to cry of thirst. He then passed through death to become the light of our resurrection.
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