Pope Benedict XVI

Dialogika Resources

Address to the International Theological Commission

Unofficial, provisional translation.


Your Eminence,
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate,
Professors and Distinguished Professors, Dear Collaborators!

It is a great joy for me to welcome you at the conclusion of the annual plenary session of the International Theological Commission. I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude for the welcoming words that Cardinal William Levada, as President of the Commission, wished to offer on behalf of you all.

The work of this session this year coincided with the first week in Advent, which reminds us how each theologian is called to be a person of advent, a witness of watchful waiting, who illuminates the ways of understanding the Word who became flesh. We can say that knowledge of the true God constantly tends and nourishes that "hour", which is unknown to us, when the Lord returns. Keeping alive the vigilance and reviving the hope of expectation are not, therefore, a secondary task for a correct theological thought, which finds its reason in the person of the One who comes to meet us and illuminates our understanding of salvation.

Today I am pleased to reflect with you briefly on three issues that the International Theological Commission has been studying in recent years. The first, as has been said, is the key question for all theological reflection: the question of God, and in particular the understanding of monotheism. From this broad perspective of doctrine you have also been working on a theme of an ecclesial nature: the meaning of the Social Doctrine of the Church, paying special attention to a subject that today is very timely for theological thinking of God: the question of the status of theology today, in its prospects, its principles and criteria. 

Behind the profession of the Christian faith in one God, one finds the daily profession of faith of the people of Israel: "Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the One God is Lord" (Deuteronomy 6.4). The unprecedented fulfillment of the free provision of the love of God towards all people is realized in the Incarnation of the Son in Jesus Christ. In this Revelation of the intimacy of God and the depth of his relationship of love with humanity, the monotheism of the one and only God is illuminated with a whole new light: the trinitarian light. And the trinitarian mystery also illuminates the brotherhood of humanity. Christian theology, along with the lives of believers, must reflect the happy and crystal-clear evidence of the impact on our community of the Revelation of the Trinity. Although the ethnic and religious conflicts in the world make it more difficult to accept the uniqueness of Christian thought about God and the humanism that inspired it, people can recognize in the name of Jesus Christ, the truth of God the Father toward which the Holy Spirit urges every groan of creation (cf. Rom 8). Theology, in fruitful dialogue with philosophy, can help believers to become aware of and give witness that Trinitarian monotheism shows us the true face of God, and that monotheism is not a source of violence, but is a personal and universal force for peace. 

The starting point of all Christian theology is the acceptance of this divine revelation: the personal welcome of the Word made flesh, listening to the Word of God in Scripture. On this base, theology helps the intelligence of the believer's faith and its transmission. The entire history of the Church, however, shows that the recognition of the starting point is not enough to reach unity in faith. Any reading of the Bible is necessarily placed in a given context of reading, and the only context in which the believer can be in full communion with Christ and his Church is the living tradition. We must always live again the experience of the first disciples, who "devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers" (Acts 2:42). In this perspective, the Commission has studied the principles and criteria under which a theology can be Catholic, and has also reflected on the current contribution of theology. It is important to remember that Catholic theology, always attentive to the relationship between faith and reason, has had a historic role in the birth of the University. A truly Catholic theology with the two movements, "intellectus quaerens fidem quaerens intellectum," ["understanding seeking faith and faith seeking understanding"] is now more than ever necessary to make possible a symphony of sciences and to avoid the excesses of a violent religion that is opposed to reason and a reason that is opposed to religion.

The Theological Commission also studied the relationship between the Social Doctrine of the Church and the whole of Christian Doctrine. The social commitment of the Church is not just something human, or simply a social theory. The transformation of society brought about by Christians through the centuries is a response to the coming of the Son of God into the world: the splendor of Truth and Charity illuminates every culture and society. St. John says: "In this we know love, that He gave His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren" (1 Jn 3.16). The disciples of Christ the Redeemer know that without attention to the other, forgiveness, and love even of enemies, no human community can live in peace, and this begins in the first and foundational society, that is the family. In the necessary cooperation for the common good even with those who do not share our faith, we must make present the real and profound religious reasons for our social commitment, as well as expect others to reveal their motives, so that our collaboration is made clear. Those who have seen the foundations of Christian social action will also find a stimulus to consider the same faith in Christ Jesus.

Dear friends, our meeting confirms significantly how the Church has need of the competent and faithful reflection of theologians on the mystery of the God of Jesus Christ and his Church. Without healthy and vigorous theological reflection, the Church would not fully express the harmony between faith and reason. At the same time, without faithful living in communion with the Church and adherence to its Magisterium, as the living space of its own existence, theology would fail to give adequate reason for the gift of faith.

Extending, through you, hope and encouragement to all brother and sister theologians, scattered in various eccleisal contexts, I invoke upon you the intercession of Mary, Queen of Advent and Mother of the Incarnate Word, who is for us, by keeping the Word in her heart, a paradigm of right theology, the sublime model of true knowledge of God's Son. May she, the star of hope, guide and protect the valuable work you do for the Church and on behalf of the Church. With these sentiments of gratitude, I renew my Apostolic Blessing.