24 August 2011


"On this second [mistaken definition of theology], the task of theology is said to be the transcribing in a more intelligible, or rationally acceptable, form whatever the divinely guided voice of Church authority may determine.  Certainly theologians have a duty to defend the defined teaching of Holy Church and to cooperate with the pope and bishops in clarifying or refining such teaching as may have an inadequately articulated form.  But such duties, on this view, circumscribe the task of theology itself:  they constitute the very borders of its home ground.  Here the idea is that the starting poin of all theology is the pronouncements of pope and bishops in both their extraordinary and ordinary magisterium, theology's job being to prove authorized ecclesiastical pronouncements by a regressive method which seeks arguments in the sources, Scripture and Tradition, as well as in reason, for their truth.  The suport given by Pope Pius XII to this picture of theology in his encyclical Humani Generis of 1956 was righly criticized by Fr. (now Cardinal [now Pope]) Joseph Ratzinger in his essay on the Second Vatican Council's dogmatic constitution on revelation, Dei Verbum.  Theology is something wider than the direct assistance the theoogian can afford the magisterium.  The bishops, and especially the pope, are the guardians of the fides quae, doctrine, the objective content of the Christian creed.  But the fides quae itself is the heritage of every believer who, on the basis of theological wonder, explores the riches of this shared faith by putting ever-new questions to it and about it.  There is no reason to think that episcopate and papacy have every though of all these questions, much less of the answers to them.  The role of Church authority is to say when a given theology has detached itself from the fides quae.  Let us also note here that the fides quae does not come to us simply from learning what the ecumenical councils or the popes when teaching ex cathedra have defined, nor by listening to what the bishops and pope are teaching today.  It also comes to us, and in more ample fashion, from Scripture, and from Tradition—of which the past teachings of Church authority are only one element, one set of 'monuments.'  From this point of view, we might even say that theology does not so much echo the presen-day teaching of bishops and pope as make it possible—by providing the Church's pastors with an informed and circumstantial grasp of what the sources of revelation contain."

— Aidan Nichols, "The Task of Theology" in The Shape of Catholic Theology