The Pope met yesterday with the members of the International Theological Commission in plenary session, a bi-annual meeting, though I think the Pope only meets in a plenary session with the ITC once a year. I am familiar with several members of the group and I can attest to their diligent and honest work in theology for the good of the entire Church. The work of the ITC deals with some of the most interesting theological and philosophical questions these days. The ITC is working on questions of theological methodology, the question of one God for the 3 monotheistic religions and question of the Church’s social doctrine in the context of Christian doctrine. The ITC documentation is published in various languages and useful for one’s own theological reflection. There are several important points the makes about the vocation of a theologian and the nature of theology. He reminds us, namely, that a theologian does not work in a solitary way, that faith and reason are intrinsically linked and that theology is outward thinking and acting. Benedict XVI’s address to the ITC follows:

I receive you with joy at the end of your annual
plenary session. I would like first of all to express my heartfelt gratitude
for the words of homage that, on behalf of all, Your Eminence, in his capacity
of president of the International Theological Commission, addressed to me. The
work of this eighth “quinquennium” of the commission, as you
recalled, addresses the following very weighty topics: theology and its
methodology; the question of the one God in relation to the three monotheistic
religions; the integration of the social doctrine of the Church in the wider
context of Christian doctrine.

“For the love of Christ impels us, once we
have come to the conviction that one died for all; therefore, all have died. He
indeed died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves
but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Corinthians
5:14-15). How can we not make our own this beautiful reaction of the Apostle
Paul to his encounter with the risen Christ? In fact this experience is at the
root of the three important topics on which you reflected in your plenary
session that has just ended.

Whoever has discovered in Christ the love of God, infused by the Holy Spirit in our hearts, wishes to know better the one who loves him and whom he loves. Knowledge and love sustain one another in turn. As the Fathers of the Church affirmed, whoever loves God is impelled to become, in a certain sense, a theologian, one who speaks with God, who thinks of God and seeks to think with God, while the professional work of the theologian is for some a vocation of great responsibility before Christ and before the Church. To be able to study God himself professionally and to be able to speak with him — “contemplari et contemplata docere” (St. Thomas Aquinas, Super Sent., book 3 d. 35 q. 1 a.3 qc. 1 arg.3) — is a great privilege. Your reflection on the Christian vision of God can be a valuable contribution both for the life of the faithful as well as for our dialogue with believers of other religions and also with nonbelievers.

In fact, the word itself “theo-logy” reveals this communicative aspect of your work — in theology we seek to communicate, through the “logos,” what we have seen and heard” (1 John 1:3). However, we know well that the word “logos” has a much wider meaning, which includes also the sense of “ratio,” “reason.” And this fact leads us to a second very important point. We can think of God and communicate what we think because he has gifted us with a reason in harmony with his nature. It is no accident that John’s Gospel begins with the affirmation “In the beginning was the Word … and the Word was God” (John 1:1). To receive this Logos — this divine thought — is in the end also a contribution to peace in the world. In fact, to know God in his true nature is also the sure way to ensure peace. A God who is not perceived as the source of forgiveness, justice and love, could not be light on the path of peace.

Just as man always tends to connect his knowledge with the knowledge of others, knowledge of God is also organized systematically. However, no theological system can subsist if it is not permeated by the love of its divine “Object,” which in theology must necessarily be “Subject,” who speaks to us and with whom we are in a relationship of love. Thus theology must always be nourished by dialogue with the divine Logos, Creator and Redeemer. Moreover, no theology is such if it is not integrated in the life and reflection of the Church through time and space. Yes, it is true that, to be scientific, theology must argue in a rational way, but it must also be faithful to the nature of the ecclesial faith; centered on God, rooted in prayer, in communion with the other disciples of the Lord guaranteed by communion with the Successor of Peter and the whole episcopal college.

This reception and transmission of the Logos also has as a consequence that the rationality itself of theology helps to purify human reason, freeing it from certain prejudices and ideas that can exercise a strong influence on the thought of every age. Moreover, it must be highlighted that theology always lives in continuity and in dialogue with believers and theologians who came before us; because ecclesial communion is diachronic, and so is theology. The theologian never begins from zero, but considers as teacher the fathers and theologians of the whole Christian traditionRooted in sacred Scripture, read with the fathers and doctors, theology can be school of sanctity, as attested by Blessed John Henry Newman. To discover the permanent value of the richness transmitted from the past is no small contribution of theology to the concert of the sciences.

Christ died for all, though not all know it and accept it. Having received the love of God, how can we not love those for whom Christ gave his live? “He laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for our brethren” (1 John 3:16). All this leads us to service of others in the name of Christ; in other words, the social commitment of Christians stems necessarily from the manifestation of divine love. Contemplation of the revealed God and charity for our neighbor cannot be separated, even if they are lived according to different charisms. In a world that often appreciates many gifts of Christianity — as, for example, the idea of democratic equality — without understanding the roots of its ideals, it is particularly important to show that the fruits die if the roots of the tree are severed. Indeed there is no justice without truth, and justice does not develop fully if its horizon is limited to the material world. For us Christians social solidarity always has a perspective of eternity.

Dear theologian friends, our meeting today manifests in a beautiful and singular way the indispensable unity that must reign between theologians and pastors. One cannot be a theologian in solitude: Theologians have need of the ministry of the pastors of the Church, as the magisterium has need of theologians who thoroughly fulfill their service, with all the ascesis which that implies. Through your commission I wish therefore to thank all theologians and encourage them to have faith in the great value of their commitment. In expressing my best wishes for your work, I impart affectionately my blessing.

Watch the video clip of the meeting here.