Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Of Theologians and Bishops

I just wrote this up as a comment on this article in which Fr. Thomas Weinandy tears theologians a new one, mostly in response to the unfortunate commenters on the post. I think it's worth repeating here.


There have always been theologians who stray away from the Faith. There's nothing new about it. And yes, sometimes they do get vindicated later on (I'm thinking of Fr. Congar, for example). Even St. Thomas Aquinas was attacked by contemporaries.  Sts. Jerome and Ambrose weren't the best of friends. Theologians don't always agree with each other, nor with the bishops of their time. The bishops are duty bound to be conservative, and theologians tend to push the boundaries.

On the other hand, I have to agree with Fr. Weinandy (and the Holy Father, and many, many saints, including the Church's greatest theologians) in that theology should indeed start from the foundation of faith seeking understanding. What the deposit of the faith is is not so hard to find out as some comments [there] suggest (or I suppose as some theologians try to pretend in the name of "academic freedom").

The study of theology is not like other academic disciplines. In fact, it is fundamentally different; it is the queen of all the sciences because its subject is the Infinite, and because the subject of this field's study is de facto an object of faith, it makes no sense to start from anything but faith.

Further, the saints are unanimous in that there is a certain congruity between a life of prayer and sanctity and a true knowledge of God. To suggest otherwise is to fall outside of Catholic Tradition. You may be okay with doing that, but trying to maintain you are a Catholic theologian while living outside of Catholic Tradition is oxymoronic.

Lastly, all the folks who make this another "let's piss on the bishops en mass due to the sex scandal" need to grow up. This is not about power, or old boys' club, or anything like that. Read the letters of St. Paul. Read the early fathers. Read Ignatius of Antioch. Read Bl. John Henry Newman. The bishops are supposed to secure and pass on the deposit of the faith; it's the job description, not a power grab. If you don't know this basic fact about the Catholic Faith, you really don't have any room to be commenting on or judging them, much less commenting about the nature of theology and theologians. Address Weinandy's points if you take issue and stop with the laughable ad hominems..

P.S. I tend to think the real problem is that the average Catholic today thinks that the group they should listen to are the theologians rather than the bishops. It's fine and normal for theologians to be wandering around and testing boundaries, even inadvertently falling into error (as is their wont). They can duke it out with the bishops--that should be between them and their bishop. If they hold a teaching office, the bishops have a duty to make it known when they stray from the Faith.

But for the Catholic "faithful" to follow errant theologians rather than their bishop is, again, outside of Catholic Tradition and really makes it hard to call them "the faithful." Your bishop is your pastor--your shepherd; you follow him, not your whims or the opinions of even the most qualified theologian.  This is a norm of faith; there can be exceptions--individual bishops have no guarantee to be free from error, but the exceptions do not change the norm.


I should add, read I John 2:3-6, for a Scriptural foundation of the tie between holiness and knowledge of God.