What is theology? Today we would define “Theology” this way: it is how we understand and explain our faith. Theology is important for us, even if we don't study it. Why? Because it shapes our understanding of our faith, our practice and the pastoral mission of the Church at each period in history. In fact, without being a real person (like the Pope), theology bears a great responsibility in the Church.
The Magisterium of the Church (the teaching of the Pope and the Bishops united with him) is in its turn shaped by theology, by a certain historical way of “doing theology”. Of course the Magisterium has the authority to change, modify, improve the way we do theology, but at the same time the Magisterium is the fruit of a certain period in history, a certain place, a certain school or way of doing Theology. So it is as well very influenced by it. That two ways relationship (influencing and being influenced) between the Magisterium and Theology is important and should be noted.
In each period of history, the Church practises theology in a different way, but if you ask people and theologians, and even the Magisterium at that time: “are you aware that you could do things differently?”, they would be very surprised and shocked, because each generation thinks that hers is the only way to do things. But of course, it goes without saying that scholars would never question that fact because it is obvious.
Space and Time
Culture is bound by time and space. Culture is like the soil on which the Seed of the Gospel falls. It determines the outcome even if the Seed is the same. Our way of doing theology is specific to a certain time in history. For instance, we do not do theology as we did 200 years ago, or during medieval times, or during the first six centuries. Space as well shapes theology: the Western way of doing theology (Latin Fathers' tradition) is different from the Eastern way of doing it (Greek Fathers' tradition). Within the West and the East we have more differences as well. Some would be surprised by this diversity, but it is important to see it not like a threat but rather as an important source of richness. John Paul II's call to breathe with both lungs (western and eastern traditions) still resonates in our ears as a duty for the theologian, or better said an improvement to his or her methodology and tools.
In the history of the Church, there is another distinction as well in the way of doing theology, which is: Priestly and Prophetical Theology. These words come from the actual two branches of the Church: the Priestly Branch (the Parish, the Diocese) and the Prophetical Branch (the monasteries, religious life,...) and their way of understanding and practising theology. Prophetical Theology is not that of a common expression, in fact we are more used to another one: Monastic Theology.
Today, “monastic theology” is sort of non-existent. It has been swallowed by “Priestly Theology”, to the point that we only have the latter one. If you ask any theologian: what about “monastic theology”?, or better still “prophetical theology”, he/she will take a long time, remaining silent, wondering: “what does he exactly mean by that expression?”
Lead by, or Leading?
As you can see, all these types/ways of doing theology are mainly influenced by the soil, the human side of the Seed-Soil interaction/alchemy; but it is often happening unconsciously. Only few theologians - often saints - would act and influence positively the way we do theology. We end up ninety-nine per cent of the time by being passively lead by the actual way of doing theology, not questioning it, rather than trying to question it and improve it. The branch of theology that is in charge of that one per cent of work is called “Fundamental Theology”.
What about today's soil and its needs (the human being)? If you analyse the psychology of the human being before the second world war and after the second world war, including the explosion of the sixties and the seventies, you'll notice that people and their needs are different. Let me take an example to get myself across. Before, people would be won by the argument of authority, which means that people would believe or do something that is morally good not firstly because they are convinced of it but firstly because God said so, or the Church said so. On the other hand, today, people would first want to understand in order to get the gist of it and become convinced of it, and then would need to try it and see, by experience, if it is good or not.
I am not addressing right now the characteristics of the actual youth, but just taking an older comparison that people of an older age would relate to. Today we have other problems and other needs. By the way, the above-mentioned “sixties way” (let us call it like this) is not totally new, it is just that a greater stress is put on it. The dialogue between Jesus and the Samaritan lady in John 4 is very close to this experiential way of doing things.
Coming back to the changes of recent decades and the “new” needs that appear to have priority, these are showing greater depths and therefore requirements in the modern mind. I can compare it with the normal growth of the human being: before adolescence, and during adolescence. Adolescence is a crisis, but a crisis of growth, therefore it is a positive crisis. What happens in the growth/development of the human being? The body develops and with it new dimensions in the faculties of the soul, the mind, the will. The adolescent is set to start to explore the world, his needs are growing. You can't treat a fifteen-year-old as you treated him when he was ten years old. You need to meet the need of the new development of his faculties, of this new depth that is appearing in him. The development in the West that occurred after World War II generated a similar “crisis of growth”. People's mind, culture, way of doing things before WWII and after it, especially after the 60s-70s crisis of growth are different. Phislosophy and Theology (the way of doing them) are consequently influenced by that cultural change. The Soil changes, the outcome changes.
If you have to explain faith to a ten-year-old, you'd do it one way, but to a twenty-one-year-old, you'll need different arguments, ways, content. Has the theology you are using changed? No, it has not, however it just has to be more detailed, appealing to a wider mind and culture, new challenges, new threats. For instance, the introduction of Psychology, modern Philosophies for instance has been a serious challenge for Philosophy and Theology in the past decades. Many questions rose. Let us just take an emblematic one: “what about Christ's consciousness: was He, in his human nature, aware that he was God? Did his perception/consciousness grow along with his age?” This is one of the most challenging questions theology has to face. If you look deep in it you'll find that his question has repercussions on many other questions, like for instance: once we get closer to the union with God, how does it feel? Well this question and many others appeared just recently (60s-70s), because of the changes, the needs, the developments of new sciences,... Again, the “adolescent” mind is not like the “ten-year-old”.
We need as well to notice the asymmetrical development today in the Christian adult: he or she usually has had some higher level education, he or she has read many books, and is constantly bombarded by tens of new thoughts every day, coming from the multiple media we have. It is true as well that the actual “culture” (I put it in quotations on purpose) is as well, in many ways rather superficial, favouring more the rapid, summarised, saleable information than the deep, transformative, time/energy consuming formation. Today, this of course is narrowing the windows of any serious/deep input in Christian Adult Formation. In this sense we are going (lead by our culture) through the creation of a very dangerous gap that could prevent us from having any connection with the rich past. We are getting more and more isolated from the past. And there is no Christianity without a past, without relating to the Living Stream of the Spiritual Tradition. We are not meant to redefine or reinvent Christianity at each generation, but rather we are invited to receive a living Gift, develop it and hand it to the following generation. Breaking the momentum as we have been doing in these last decades is too dangerous, because it will cost us 50 to 100 years to rebuild, rediscover, and reconnect with the Living Stream.
Urgent Need for a Prophetical Theology
Prophetical Theology, or formerly “Monastic Theology” is a theology that has specific characteristics: it is focused on the experience of the Risen Lord in the Holy Spirit, driven by the “call for holiness” (or so called “second conversion”). It offers the traditional and proven tools/means that help us grow in the experience of Jesus, in order to reach the fullness of Love. It is the “theology of the saints”, the “theology of holiness”. Of course it is rather a contemplative theology, where experience, science and discernment are not dislocated but work together, harmoniously. This theology is an introduction to the Mystery of God, and not only a distant reflection on it. It is a theology that is touched by God, by the Holy Spirit and is therefore humbled and guided by Him.
It is not the basic theology (that would be the Priestly Theology, which is the common one we have in the west) but is rather a more developed one, focused on Jesus' personal call to each one of us, at a certain point in our life. This theology is urgently needed.
Prophetical Theology is Contemplative Theology, in the sense that it forms the student, and introduces him/her into a contemplative state where Theology is not just a mere intellectual object/concept but a living Being (God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit) with whom one enters in a personal relationship, a Being that becomes an experience and an experience that has stages, development, until it reaches its fullness.
For the Fathers of the Church in the early centuries, “Theology” meant: to be in the Son, Contemplating the Father and Loving Him through the Holy Spirit. It was the full experience of God, and not a discourse on God, or an intellectual knowledge. The office of the Theologian was to contemplate God, Loving Him. The office of Theology was to teach how to reach that contemplation of God, how to have this experience of the Risen Lord.
|St John The Theologian|
Very few were named “Theologians”, actually only one initially: St John. Not that St Paul wasn't a Theologian, but St John the Evangelist embodied the Theologian. In his Gospel one could see the height of his contemplation of Jesus. One could say that St John's Gospel was considered the archetype of the book of any Theologian. His School taught us what is to be a Theologian and how to become one.
(to be continued...)