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Apostolic Constitution Veritatis Gaudium (Foreword, 4-5)

2017, December 8

This Apostolic Constitution, addressed to the ecclesiastical faculties, describes the criteria that allow Christian theology to engage a dialogue with culture and society. In particular, the third and fourth points of the Proem deal closely with the dialogue between theology and scientific thought and mention the need for an interdisciplinary approach to truth.

4. Against this vast new horizon now opening before us, what must be the fundamental criteria for a renewal and revival of the contribution of ecclesiastical studies to a Church of missionary outreach? Here we can identify at least four criteria that emerge from the Second Vatican Council’s teaching and the Church’s experience in these past decades of having received that teaching in attentive listening to the Holy Spirit and to the deepest needs and most pressing questions of the human family.

a) 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,[1] which continues to take flesh in the life of the Church and of humanity. [2] This is the mystery of salvation, of which the Church, in Christ, is a sign and instrument in the midst of all people.[3] The Church is “a mystery rooted in the Trinity, yet she exists concretely in history as a people of pilgrims and evangelizers, transcending any institutional expression, however necessary... [and her] ultimate foundation is in the free and gracious initiative of God.”[4]  

This joyful and life-giving contemplation of the face of God, revealed in Jesus Christ as a Father rich in mercy (cf. Eph 2:4),[5]enables us to live in a liberating and responsible way the experience the Church as a “mystique” of living together.[6] This provides the leaven of 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.”[7] It is also the source of the imperative to allow our hearts and minds to heed the cry of the earth’s poor [8] and to give concrete expression to the social dimension of evangelization,[9]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.”[10] It is true that “we may not always be able to reflect adequately the beauty of the Gospel, but there is one sign which we should never lack: the option for those who are least, those whom society discards.”[11] This option must pervade the presentation and study of Christian truth.

From this comes the particular feature, in the formation of a Christian culture, of discovering in the whole of creation the Trinitarian imprint that makes the cosmos in which we live a “network of relations” in which “it is proper to every living being to tend towards other things.” This in turn fosters “a spirituality of that global solidarity which flows from the mystery of the Trinity.”[12]

b) A second guiding criterion, closely linked to and flowing from the first, is that of wide-ranging dialogue, not as a mere tactical approach, but as an intrinsic requirement for experiencing in community the joy of the Truth and appreciating more fully its meaning and practical implications. Today our proclamation of the Gospel and the Church’s doctrine are called to promote a culture of encounter,[13] in generous and open cooperation with all the positive forces that contribute to the growth of universal human consciousness. A culture, we might say, of encounter 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.

As Pope Benedict XVI pointed out, “truth, in fact, is logos which creates dia-logos, and hence communication and communion.”[14]In this light, Sapientia Christiana, echoing Gaudium et Spes, urges dialogue with Christians of other Churches and Ecclesial Communities, and with those of other religious or humanistic convictions, maintaining “contact with scholars of other disciplines, whether these are believers or not”, in an effort to “evaluate and interpret the latter’s affirmations and judge them in the light of revealed truth.”[15]

This provides a positive and timely chance to review, from this standpoint and in this spirit, the structure and method of the academic curricula proposed by the system of ecclesiastical studies, in their theological foundations, in their guiding principles and in their various levels of disciplinary, pedagogical and didactical organization. This can be accomplished in a demanding but highly productive effort to rethink and update the aims and integration of the different disciplines and the teaching imparted in ecclesiastical studies within this specific framework and intentionality. Today, in fact, “what is called for is an evangelization capable of shedding light on these new ways of relating to God, to others and to the world around us, and inspiring essential values. It must reach the places where new narratives and paradigms are being formed.”[16]

c) From this follows the third fundamental criterion that I would propose: inter-disciplinary and cross-disciplinary approaches carried out with wisdom and creativity in the light of Revelation. What distinguishes the academic, formative and research approach of the system of ecclesiastical studies, on the level of both content and method, is the vital intellectual principle of the unity in difference of knowledge and respect for its multiple, correlated and convergent expressions.

This entails offering, through the various programmes proposed by ecclesiastical studies, a variety of disciplines corresponding to the multifaceted richness of reality disclosed by the event of Revelation, yet harmoniously and dynamically converging in the unity of their transcendent source and their historical and metahistorical intentionality, which is eschatologically disclosed in Christ Jesus. In him, writes Saint Paul, “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col 2:3). This theological, anthropological, existential and epistemic principle takes on particular significance and is called to manifest all its effectiveness within the system of ecclesiastical studies by ensuring cohesion together with flexibility, and organicity together with dynamism. It must also show its effectiveness 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.

Today, as Benedict XVI noted in Caritas in Veritate, taking up the cultural insights expressed by Paul VI in Populorum Progressio, “there is a lack of wisdom and reflection, a lack of thinking capable of formulating a guiding synthesis.”[17] This is where the specific mission entrusted to the programme of ecclesiastical studies comes into play. The need for such a guiding synthesis not only makes clear the intrinsic purpose of the programme of ecclesiastical studies, but also demonstrates, especially today, its real cultural and humanizing importance. Today’s recovery of an interdisciplinary approach is certainly positive and promising,[18] even in its “weak” form as a simple multidisciplinary approach that favours a better understanding from several points of view of an object of study. It is all the more so in its “strong” form, as cross-disciplinary, situating and stimulating all disciplines against the backdrop of the Light and Life offered by the Wisdom streaming from God’s Revelation.

It follows that someone trained in the framework of the institutions promoted by the system of ecclesiastical studies – as Blessed John Henry Newman wished for – ought to know “just where he and his science stand; he has come to it, as it were, from a height; he has taken a survey of all knowledge.”[19] So too, in the nineteenth century, Blessed Antonio Rosmini called for a decisive reform in the area of Christian education, restoring the four pillars on which it firmly rested in the first centuries of the Christian era: “communion in learning, holy intercourse, habit of life, interchange of affection”. What is essential, he argued, is to restore the unity of content, perspective and aim of the science being taught, on the basis of the Word of God and its culmination in Christ Jesus, the Word of God made flesh. Without this living centre, science has “neither root nor coherence” and simply remains “as a mere matter of youthful memory”. Only in this way is it possible to overcome the “fatal separation of theory and practice”, for in the unity of science and holiness “we find the true spirit of that doctrine which is destined to save the world”. For the teaching of that doctrine, in ancient times, “did not end with the brief daily lesson; it was continued in the constant intercourse of the disciple with his master”.[20]

d) A fourth and final criterion 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.

As I noted in Laudato Si’, “beginning in the middle of the last century and in spite of many difficulties, there has been a growing conviction that our planet is a homeland and that humanity is one people living in a common home.”[21] Recognizing this interdependence “obliges us to think of one world with a common plan.[22] The Church, in particular, in a convinced and prophetic response to the summons to a renewed presence and mission in history issued by Vatican II, is called to realize that the very catholicity that makes her a leaven of unity in diversity and communion in freedom both demands and favours “the polarity between the particular and the universal, between the one and the many, between the simple and the complex. To annihilate this tension would be to go against the life of the Spirit.”[23] What is needed, then, is to practise a way of knowing and interpreting reality in the light of the “mind of Christ” (cf. 1 Cor 2:16), wherein the model for approaching and resolving problems “is not the sphere… where every point is equidistant from the centre, and there are no differences between them”, but rather “the polyhedron, which reflects the convergence of all its parts, each of which preserves its distinctiveness.”[24]

Indeed, “the history of the Church shows that Christianity does not have simply one cultural expression, but rather, ‘remaining completely true to itself, with unswerving fidelity to the proclamation of the Gospel and the tradition of the Church, it will also reflect the different faces of the cultures and peoples in which it is received and takes root’.[25] In the diversity of peoples who experience the gift of God, each in accordance with its own culture, the Church expresses her genuine catholicity and shows forth ‘the beauty of her varied face’.[26] In the Christian customs of an evangelized people, the Holy Spirit adorns the Church, showing her new aspects of revelation and giving her a new face.”[27]

This way of seeing things clearly sets out a demanding task for theology just as, in their own specific areas of competence, for the other disciplines contemplated in ecclesiastical studies. With a fine image, Benedict XVI stated that the Church’s tradition “is not a transmission of things or of words, a collection of dead things. Tradition is the living river that links us to the origins, the living river in which the origins are ever present”.[28] “This river irrigates various lands, feeds various geographical places, germinating the best of that land, the best of that culture. In this way, the Gospel continues to be incarnated in every corner of the world, in an ever new way.”[29] Theology must doubtless be rooted and grounded in sacred Scripture and in the living tradition, but for this very reason it must simultaneously accompany cultural and social processes, and particularly difficult transitions. Indeed, “at this time theology must address conflicts: not only those that we experience within the Church but also those that concern the world as a whole.”[30] This involves “the willingness to face conflict head on, to resolve it and to make it a link in the chain of a new process”, thus acquiring “a way of making history in a life setting where conflicts, tensions and oppositions can achieve the diversified and life-giving unity. This is not to opt for a kind of syncretism, or for the absorption of one into the other, but rather for a resolution which takes place on a higher plane and preserves what is valid and useful on both sides.”[31]

5. The revival of ecclesiastical studies entails the pressing need to give new impulse to the scientific research conducted in our ecclesiastical universities and faculties. The Apostolic Constitution Sapientia Christiana presented research as a “primary duty”, in constant “contact with reality… to communicate doctrine to [our] contemporaries in various cultures.”[32] Yet in today’s multicultural and multiethnic world, new social and cultural dynamics impose a broadening of these aims. Indeed, for the Church to carry out her saving mission, “it is not enough that evangelizers be concerned to reach each person… the Gospel is also proclaimed to the cultures as a whole.”[33] Ecclesiastical studies 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. To do so calls not only for profound theological knowledge, but also the ability to conceive, design and achieve ways of presenting the Christian religion capable of a profound engagement with different cultural systems. All this calls for increased quality in scientific research and a gradual improvement in the level of theological studies and related sciences. It is not only a matter of extending the field of diagnosis and of adding to the mass of available data for interpreting reality,[34] but of a deeper study that seeks “to communicate more effectively the truth of the Gospel in a specific context, without renouncing the truth, the goodness and the light which it can bring wherever perfection is not possible.”[35]

It is to research conducted in ecclesiastical universities, faculties and institutes that I primarily entrust the task of developing that “creative apologetics” which I called for in Evangelii Gaudium, in order to “encourage greater openness to the Gospel on the part of all.”[36]

Indispensable in this regard is the establishment of new and qualified centres of research where – as I proposed in Laudato Si’ – scholars from different religious universities and from different scientific fields can interact with responsible freedom and mutual transparency, thus entering into “dialogue among themselves for the sake of protecting nature, defending the poor, and building networks of respect and fraternity”.[37] In all countries, universities constitute the main centres of scientific research for the advancement of knowledge and of society; they play a decisive role in economic social and cultural development, especially in a time like our own, marked as it is by rapid, constant and far-reaching changes in the fields of science and technology. International agreements also take account of the vital responsibility of universities for research policies and the need to coordinate them by creating networks of specialized centres in order to facilitate, not least, the mobility of researchers.

In this regard, plans are under way for outstanding interdisciplinary centres and initiatives aimed at accompanying the development of advanced technologies, the best use of human resources and programmes of integration. Ecclesiastical studies, in the spirit of a Church that “goes forth”, are likewise called to develop specialized centers capable of deeper dialogue with the different scientific fields. Specifically, shared and converging research between specialists of different disciplines represents a particular service to the people of God, and especially to the Magisterium. It also supports the Church’s mission of proclaiming the good news of Christ to all, in dialogue with the different sciences and in the service of a deeper understanding and application of truth in the life of individuals and society.

Ecclesiastical studies will thus be poised to make their specific and unique contribution of inspiration and guidance, and will be able to articulate and express in a new, challenging and realistic way their proper task. So it has always been and so shall it ever be! Theology and Christian culture have lived up to their mission whenever they were ready to take risks and remain faithful on the borderline. “The questions of our people, their suffering, their battles, their dreams, their trials, their worries possess an interpretational value that we cannot ignore if we want to take the principle of the Incarnation seriously. Their wondering helps us to wonder ourselves, their questions question us. All this helps us to delve into the mystery of the Word of God, the Word that requires and asks that we dialogue, that we enter into communion.”[38]



[1] Cf. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium11; 34ff.; 164-165.
[2] Cf. ibid., 165.
[3] Cf. Conc. Ecum. Vat. II, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen gentium, 1.
[4] Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, 111.
[5] Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy Misericordiae Vultus, 11 aprile 2015.
[6] Cf. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, 87 e 272.
[7] Ibid., 92.
[8] Cf. Encyclical Letter Laudato si’, 49.
[9] Cf. Apostolic Exhortation  Evangelii gaudium, cap. 4.
[10] Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 52; cf. Apostolic Exhortation  Evangelii gaudium, 178.
[11] Apostolic Exhortation  Evangelii gaudium, 195.
[12] Cf. Encyclical Letter Laudato si’, 240.
[13] Cf. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, 239.
[14] Encyclical Letter Caritas in veritate, 4.
[15] Proemio, III; cf. Conc. Ecum. Vat. II, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes, 62.
[16] Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, 74.
[17] N. 31.
[18] Cf. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, 134.
[19] The Idea of a University, Discourse VII, 7..
[20] Cfr Delle cinque piaghe della Santa Chiesa, a cura di A. Valle, (Opere di Antonio Rosmini, vol 56) Città Nuova Ed., Roma 1998, chap. II, passim.
[21] N. 164.
[22] Ibid. 
[23] Video Message to the International Theological Congress held at the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina “Santa Maria de los Buenos Aires”, 1-3 September 2015.
[24] Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, 236.
[25] John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio ineunte, 6 January 2001, 40.
[26] Ibid.
[27] Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, 116.
[28] Catechesis, 26 aprile 2006.
[29] Video Message to the International Theological Congress held at the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina “Santa Maria de los Buenos Aires”, 1-3 September 2015, with reference to Evangelii Gaudium, 115.
[30] Letter to the Grand Chancellor of the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina for the Hundredth Anniversary of the Faculty of Theology, 3 March 2015.
[31] Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, 227-228.
[32] Proemio, III.
[33] Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, 133.
[34] Cf. Encyclical Letter Laudato si’, 47; Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, 50.
[35] Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, 45.
[36] Ibid., 132.
[37] N. 201.
[38] Video Message to the International Theological Congress held at the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina “Santa Maria de los Buenos Aires”, 1-3 September 2015.

Source of the English digital text: The Official web site of the Holy See