By Vatican News
“The joy of truth expresses the restlessness of the human heart until it encounters and dwells within God’s Light, and shares that Light with all people.” With that thought, Pope Francis begins his new Apostolic Constitution Veritatis gaudium, “On Ecclesiastical Universities and Faculties.” The Holy Father emphasizes that “truth is not an abstract idea, but is Jesus himself, the Word of God in whom is the Life that is the Light of man”; and this, he says, “is the joy that the Church is impelled by Jesus to bear witness to and to proclaim in her mission, unceasingly and with ever renewed vigour.”
A courageous renewal of ecclesiastical studies
In “the changed social-cultural context worldwide,” characterized by “a wide-ranging ‘anthropological’ and ‘environmental crisis’,” Pope Francis says there is need of a “wise and courageous renewal” of ecclesiastical studies “for a more effective mission in this moment of history,” as laid out in his programmatic Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium.
Catholic universities for a missionary Church
Starting from the “primary need today” for a “missionary transformation of a Church that ‘goes forth’,” and which involves the whole People of God, Pope Francis says that ecclesiastical studies are called not only “to offer opportunities and processes for the suitable formation of priests, consecrated men and women, and committed lay people” but constitute “a sort of providential cultural laboratory in which the Church carries out the performative interpretation of the reality brought about by the Christ event and nourished by the gifts of wisdom and knowledge by which the Holy Spirit enriches the People of God in manifold ways – from the sensus fidei fidelium to the magisterium of the bishops, and from the charism of the prophets to that of the doctors and theologians.”
A cultural revolution in the light of tradition
This, the Pope said, requires “a radical paradigm shift, or rather… ‘a bold cultural revolution’” in which “the worldwide network of ecclesiastical universities and faculties is called to offer the decisive contribution of leaven, salt and light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the living Tradition of the Church, which is ever open to new situations and ideas.” Today, he continued,
it is becoming increasingly evident that ‘there is need of a true evangelical hermeneutic for better understanding life, the world and humanity, not of a synthesis but of a spiritual atmosphere of research and certainty based on the truths of reason and of faith. Philosophy and theology permit one to acquire the convictions that structure and strengthen the intelligence and illuminate the will... but this is fruitful only if it is done with an open mind and on one’s knees. The theologian who is satisfied with his complete and conclusive thought is mediocre. The good theologian and philosopher has an open, that is, an incomplete, thought, always open to the maius of God and of the truth, always in development’.
Discovering God in every human person
Pope Francis points out four “fundamental criteria” for the renewal and revival of the contribution ecclesiastical studies can make for a missionary Church: “First, the most urgent and enduring criterion is that of contemplation and the presentation of a spiritual, intellectual and existential introduction to the heart of the kerygma, namely the ever fresh and attractive good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which continues to take flesh in the life of the Church and of humanity.” From this arises that universal fraternity “which is ‘capable of seeing the sacred grandeur of our neighbour, of finding God in every human being, of tolerating the nuisances of life in common by clinging to the love of God, of opening the heart to divine love and seeking the happiness of others just as their heavenly Father does’.” This leads to “the imperative to allow our hearts and minds to heed the cry of the earth’s poor and to give concrete expression to the social dimension of evangelization, which is an integral part of the Church’s mission. For ‘God, in Christ, redeems not only the individual person but also the social relations existing between men’.”
Dialogue with believers and non-believers
A “second guiding criterion” is “that of wide-ranging dialogue” with believers and non-believers; “not as a mere tactical approach,” but rather as an authentic culture of dialogue “between all the authentic and vital cultures, thanks to a reciprocal exchange of the gifts of each in that luminous space opened up by God’s love for all his creatures.”
Unity of knowledge in the face of an uncertain and fragmented pluralism
The third fundamental criterion proposed by Pope Francis is “inter-disciplinary and cross-disciplinary approaches carried out with wisdom and creativity in the light of Revelation,” according to “the vital intellectual principle of the unity in difference of knowledge”; and this also “in relation to the fragmented and often disintegrated panorama of contemporary university studies and to the pluralism – uncertain, conflicting and relativistic – of current beliefs and cultural options.” The Holy Father cites Benedict XVI, writing in Caritas in veritate: today “there is a lack of wisdom and reflection, a lack of thinking capable of formulating a guiding synthesis.” This, Pope Francis says, “is where the specific mission entrusted to the programme of ecclesiastical studies comes into play,” so that they might have “real cultural and humanizing importance.”
Finally, the fourth fundamental criterion concerns “concerns the urgent need for ‘networking’ between those institutions worldwide that cultivate and promote ecclesiastical studies, in order to set up suitable channels of cooperation also with academic institutions in the different countries and with those inspired by different cultural and religious traditions. At the same time, specialized centres of research need to be established in order to study the epochal issues affecting humanity today and to offer appropriate and realistic paths for their resolution.”
Pope Francis says “the revival of ecclesiastical studies entails the pressing need to give new impulse to the scientific research conducted in our ecclesiastical universities and faculties.” Ecclesiastical studies, he says, “cannot be limited to passing on knowledge, professional competence and experience to the men and women of our time who desire to grow as Christians, but must also take up the urgent task of developing intellectual tools that can serve as paradigms for action and thought, useful for preaching in a world marked by ethical and religious pluralism.”
Theology lives on the frontiers
“Theology and Christian culture have lived up to their mission whenever they were ready to take risks and remain faithful on the borderline,” Pope Francis says. Today, he concluded, we face “a great cultural, spiritual and educational challenge, and it will demand that we set out on the long path of renewal” – a path of renewal that is also demanded of ecclesiastical universities and faculties.