Pope: Doctrine & Discipline Go Together

by Ryan Fitzgerald  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  September 8, 2015   

"False opposition is generated between theology and pastoral ministry"

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VATICAN CITY, September 8, 2015 (ChurchMilitant.com) - Doctrine can't be separated from or opposed to pastoral discipline, Pope Francis told the International Theological Congress last week.

"Not infrequently an opposition between theology and pastoral ministry emerges, as if they were two opposite, separate realities that had nothing to do with each other," said the Holy Father. "False opposition is generated between theology and pastoral ministry, between Christian reflection and Christian life."

The Pope's concerned about a supposed division in which many will associate doctrinal loyalty with an old, outdated way, while pastoral action is thought to invoke only what is new — as if the two are completely unrelated.

"We not infrequently identify doctrine with conservatism and antiquity; and on the contrary, we tend to think of pastoral ministry in terms of adaptation, reduction, accommodation, as if they had nothing to do with each other."

Pope Francis noted that one of the main aims of the Second Vatican Council was "to overcome this divorce between theology and pastoral ministry, between faith and life."

He is insisting that these two aspects of the Church's mission must be united and in dialogue.

The Pope also spoke about the role of theologians today, stating that "one of the main tasks of the theologian is to discern and to reflect on what it means to be a Christian today, in the 'here and now.'"

He pointed out two main errors that such discernment can typically fall into: on the one side, clinging strictly to old ways while criticizing anything new; and, on the other, rushing into everything innovative while scrapping anything that isn't a novelty.

The former he described as "condemning everything: ... assuming 'everything was better in the past,' seeking refuge in conservatism or fundamentalism." The latter he described as "consecrating everything, disavowing everything that does not have a 'new flavor,' relativizing all the wisdom accumulated in our rich ecclesial heritage."

"The path to overcoming these temptations," the Holy Father advised, "lies in reflection, discernment, and taking both the ecclesiastical tradition and current reality very seriously, placing them in dialogue with one another."

"Doctrine is not a closed, private system deprived of dynamics able to raise questions and doubts," he asserted. "On the contrary, Christian doctrine has a face, a body, flesh: He is called Jesus Christ, and it is His life that is offered from generation to generation to all men and in all places."

Pope Francis called theologians prophets, among other things, and said one of the biggest challenges today "is not merely the ease with which it is possible to dispense with God — socially it has taken a step further. The current crisis pivots on the inability of people to believe in anything beyond themselves."

He believes such a crisis "creates a rift in personal and social identities" and in fact "gives rise to a process of alienation, owing to a lack of past, and therefore of future."

"The theologian is thus a prophet," the Pope pointed out, "as he keeps alive an awareness of the past and the invitation that comes from the future. He is able to denounce any alienating form as he intuits, reflecting on the river of Tradition he has received from the Church, the hope to which we are called."

Finally, Pope Francis stressed the need for prayer and humility in any study of theology, as such a pursuit is to be undertaken "on one's knees."

"It is not merely the pious act of prayer before, and then thinking of theology," he explained. "It is a dynamic reality of thought and prayer. Practicing theology on one's knees means encouraging thought when praying, and prayer when thinking."


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