Thursday, September 4, 2014

Pope Francis and the Theological Enterprise

In my post yesterday on Pope Gregory the Great, I quoted a brief comment he made in Liber Regulae Pastoralis about teaching and those who teach one thing and do another:
There are some who investigate spiritual precepts with shrewd diligence, but in the life they live trample on what they have penetrated by their understanding.  They hasten to teach what they have learned, not by practice, but by study, and belie in their conduct what they teach by words.
Pope Gregory here and elsewhere warns pastors and teachers against relying solely on one's study of theology in one's teaching, but argues that one's authority in teaching comes not only from study but from a life transformed by God.

On Tuesday, in his homily at mass at Santa Marta, Pope Francis made a similar point.  Preaching on 1 Corinthians 2:10b-16 and Luke 4:31-37, the Pope emphasized that theological wisdom comes not just from diligent study, but principally in and through the Holy Spirit: "You can have five degrees in theology, but not have the Spirit of God! Maybe you'll be a great theologian, but you are not a Christian because you do not have the Spirit of God!"

These are difficult words for a theologian to hear.  But they're vital words.

It is all too easy to focus my attention merely on the academic part of theological life, the publishing and presenting that is part of what academics do.  But, as Evagrius Ponticus wrote in his Chapters on Prayer, "If you are a theologian you truly pray.  If you truly pray you are a theologian".

It is this point that Pope Francis underlined in his homily.  Within the church, your authority as a teacher, as a theologian, comes not from the prestige of your alma mater or the quality of the university press that published your monograph.  It comes in and through the Spirit who transforms all to become like God.  The goal of the theologian is not to possess a stellar curriculum vitae.  Rather, the heart of the theological enterprise is a transformed life, for it is out of such a life that - to borrow Blessed John Henry Newman's motto on his coat-of-arms - "heart speaks unto heart."

The Pope's homily is worth reading, and I've pasted it below from the Vatican news website.  I've also included a video of the homily from Rome Reports.
"We too can ask ourselves, what is our identity as Christians? Paul puts it very well today when he says: ‘And we speak about them not with words taught by human wisdom'. Paul's preaching is not the result of a course at the Lateran, or the Gregorian [Pontifical Universities - ed]... No, no, no! Not human wisdom, no! But taught by the Spirit: Paul preached with the anointing of the Spirit, expressing spiritual things of the Spirit in spiritual terms. Humans cannot understand the things of the Spirit of God by our own strength: Humans alone cannot understand this!”
The Pope continued that this is why "if we Christians do not fully understand the things of the Spirit, if we do not give or offer witness then we have no identity." For some, he said, "these things of the Spirit are foolishness, they are not able to understand them." The one moved by the Spirit, however, "judges everything: He is free and cannot be judged by anyone."
“Now, we have the thought of Christ and that is the Spirit of Christ. This is the Christian identity. Not having the spirit of the world, that way of thinking, that way of judging ... You can have five degrees in theology, but not have the Spirit of God! Maybe you'll be a great theologian, but you are not a Christian because you do not have the Spirit of God! That which gives authority, that which gives identity is the Holy Spirit, the anointing of the Holy Spirit”.
Pope Francis said that this is why "the people did not love those preachers, those teachers of the law, because they only spoke of theology, they did not speak to hearts, they gave no freedom". These, he added, "were unable to help the people find their own identity, because they were not anointed by the Holy Spirit".
"The authority of Jesus - and the authority of the Christian – comes from this ability to understand the things of the Spirit, to speak the language of the Spirit. It is from this anointing of the Holy Spirit. Often, so often, we find among our faithful, simple old women who perhaps didn’t even finish elementary school, but who can speak to us of things better than any theologian, because they have the Spirit of Christ. Exactly like St. Paul. We all need to ask for this. Lord grant us Christian identity, which You had. Grant us Your Spirit. Grant us Your way of thinking, feeling, speaking: May the Lord grant us the anointing of the Holy Spirit."

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