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The genetic code of Catholic theology

Serge-Thomas Bonino, op*


Inspired by the Holy Spirit, the Church is focusing all her energy on the “new evangelization”. Catholic theology cannot remain in the margins of this fundamental movement. However, in order to better carry out its irreplaceable role in the mission of the Church, theology is bound to be faithful to its specific nature. Now, in the current context, different factors, both internal and external, are clouding the correct perception of this nature.

Internally, Catholic theology risks being fragmented. On the one hand, because of a legitimate specialization which derives from their need for scientific basis, the various disciplines within theology tend to move away from one another and sometimes become mutually ignorant. Biblical scholars and dogmatic and moral theologians all too often live on different planets. On the other hand, the equally legitimate demand for pluralism within Catholic theology is occasionally used to justify the false idea that different theologies are “incommensurable” with one another: the great diversity of cultural contexts and methodological viewpoints would make any kind of dialogue almost impossible and prevent any mutual critical assessment.

Externally, by virtue of a legitimate distinction in kinds of knowledge, theology no longer has the monopoly on religious questions. Furthermore, it must defend its right to exist in front of the philosophy of religion and religious sciences. Rationalist prejudice according to which the “confessional” nature of theology takes away from its objectivity thus leading to a gradual marginalization of theology in the university world.

It is therefore vital for Catholic theology to repeat to itself what it is and what it must be and to show itself to those with whom it collaborates within the scientific community. In this perspective, the theologians of the International Theological Commission have just published a document addressed to their colleagues entitled: “Theology Today: Perspectives, Principles and Criteria”. This document aims to “characterise Catholic theology, and offers criteria by which diverse and manifold theologies may nevertheless be recognised as authentically Catholic, and as participating in the Catholic Church’s mission, which is to proclaim the good news to people of every nation, tribe, people and language” (n.3).

To summarize, the document points out the genetic code of Catholic theology, the principles that define its identity and, consequently, ensure its unity in the diversity of its concrete realizations. From these basic principles, the paper systematically deduces a number of criteria for determining whether or not a teaching or a work conforms to the methodology proper to Catholic theology.

*General Secretary of the International Theological Commission 

(L'Osservatore Romano, edizione inglese, 2 maggio 2012, p. 11)