MANILA, July 9, 2013—A Catholic prelate on Saturday urged Filipino theologians and young seminarians to understand theology in communion with the church to promote a holistic approach to the study of God, encompassing not only matters concerning the technicalities of Catholic faith, but also its relation to the world as a whole.
Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, in his talk pertaining to the International Theological Commission (ITC) document “Theology Today: Perspectives, Principles, and Criteria”, expounded the six salient levels of communion that theology must establish for it to be well-grounded to the faithful mission of the church.
“The ecclesial character of theology is set within the view of church as communion—communion of faith and communion of the different members and sectors within the church,” he said.
Soul of theology
Expounding the first level of communion, which is the study of scriptures as the soul of theology, Tagle emphasized the importance of the Holy Scriptures in providing the basic foundation of the Catholic Church.
“The church is a community gathered in the word of God, and for any activity within the church to be truly ecclesial, then it must be rooted to the word of God, which is the very source of our being church,” he said. “Theology should constantly draw from the witness of scriptures.”
He added that to let the message of faith resonate, theology must focus on making the word of God available and intelligible to the lay faithful.
“Theology should proclaim to the faithful what the scriptures say, so that its end product is the availability of the word of God to the people,” Tagle said.
Keeping the apostolic tradition
Tagle said that preserving the ancient traditions of the apostles gives Catholicism its unique identity—that which is grounded in the proper context of discipleship—as he noted the next level of communion, which is keeping the fidelity to the apostolic traditions.
“When we say communion with the apostolic tradition, this pertains to the communion with the church of all times. While you are rooted to the church here and now, it is important to note that the church is not created by this present community,” Tagle said.
He downplayed negative connotations on traditions being a hindrance to progress, saying that tradition does not impend vitality and instead promotes a living and dynamic process that allows it to carry its influence through many generations.
“The document affirms to us that the apostolic tradition is living and vital,” he said.
“The tradition is an ongoing process. It has dynamism and this is its mystery. The unity of faith is retained in the tradition, that even if they are expressed in various languages and cultural patterns, they remain the same,” he added.
The prelate added that the continuous flourishing of age-old apostolic traditions is made possible by the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Display of popular piety
In his discussion on the third level of communion, which is attention to the sense of faith (sensus fidelium), Tagle urged seminarians and members of the clergy to understand the popular religiosity displayed by devout Filipinos to relate with their sufferings and spiritual needs.
“Pope Francis is stressing popular devotion and the power of popular piety as the locus of faith and carriers of hope for ordinary people who are suffering. If you look at popular religiosity, you will see what makes them strong,” he said.
He noted that through the simple expressions of faith done by Catholics, people “acquire avenues of faith and hope” that make them stronger individuals in facing the hardships they encounter in their day-to-day ordeals.
Among the simple expressions of faith Tagle noted are the devotion of Filipinos to the different images of the Blessed Virgin Mary and frequent visitation to churches at the start and end of the day.
“Those who come to (shrines of devotion) are people who are experiencing distress and problems. They come to God through Mary, trusting them that help will come. They have someone to open their hearts to. I believe this is what saves the Filipino people,” he said, noting that most of the Filipino faithful remain hopeful because of the strength and intercession they get from the Divine.
Tagle added that to become good pastors, members of the clergy must relate with their flock to address their religious needs and strengthen their faltering spirits.
“How can you become good pastors if you do not know what these people are praying for and why these prayers mean a lot to them?…How would you label that expression of popular piety? Will you look down on it?” he said.
“The theological enterprise cannot be truly an ecclesial event if you are cut out from the rest of the church, from their experience of faith and even in the simplicity of their faith,” he added.
However, he noted that a critical assessment of the different expressions of faith must also be in place to be able to maintain it in the proper context.
Church’s teaching authority
Tagle called on theologians and high-ranking church officials to work hand-in-hand in fulfilling the church’s mission as he expounded the fourth level of communion, which is responsible adherence to the church magisterium (teaching authority of the church).
“In respect to the context of the church and its communion, the bishops and the theologians are called to respect each other’s competence. Their relationship should be one of mutual respect and collaboration,” he said.
“Theologians investigate and articulate the faith of the church, while the magisterium proclaims the faith and authoritatively interprets it,” he added.
Dialogue with the world
In noting the last two levels of communion, which are communion with fellow theologians and dialogue with the world, Tagle emphasized the need for theology to keep a strong connection with people from other disciplines.
He added that the collaboration among people must be characterized as professional, prayerful, and charitable.
“In this dialogue with others, theology can help the faithful in making their life’s choices and help the magisterium to understand the developments, events, trends, currents in our human history. Theologians, on the other hand, can help us interpret all these in the light of Divine Revelation,” Tagle said.
He added that with the acknowledgement of the fact that the church does not possess the knowledge to everything, it needs to establish fruitful collaboration with other sectors to fulfill its mission of new evangelization.
“This is a caution to the rest of the church—do we really know everything? Do we have the minimum amount of knowledge needed for us to be called to evaluate every situation?” he said.
“It calls for mutual support and appreciation especially in our time when there is a lot of interdisciplinary approaches. Theologians do not only dialogue with fellow theologians, but with experts in other fields of study as well,” he added. (Jennifer M. Orillaza)