Pope tells Vatican theological commission to respect diverse views

by Joshua J. McElwee

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Pope Francis told the international group of theologians that advises him and the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to respect a diversity of theological views and to listen to the "signs of the times" in their work.

Speaking to the International Theological Commission, the pope also praised the role of women in theology, saying that by their "feminine genius," women can detect "unexplored aspects of the unfathomable mystery of Christ."

Francis spoke to the theological commission Friday during its annual weeklong plenary session in Rome. The Vatican released the text of his remarks in Italian.

The commission, made up of 30 theologians the pope appoints from around the world, was founded in 1969 to study important doctrinal issues as an aid to the pontiff and the Vatican doctrinal congregation.

The commission has since issued 27 documents, the latest of which was released in June and focused on the theme " 'Sensus Fidei' in the Life of the Church." A Latin term, sensus fidei is used by the church to indicate the capacity of individual believers to discern the truth of faith.

Francis mentioned the June document specifically in his remarks to the commission Friday, saying he thought it was "beautiful" and that he liked it very much.

"The theologian must even humbly listen to 'what the Spirit says to the churches' through the various manifestations of the living faith of the people of God," Francis told the theologians.

"Along with the entire Christian people, the theologian opens his eyes and ears to the 'signs of the times,' " the pope continued, quoting the Second Vatican Council document Gaudium et Spes. "He is called to 'hear, distinguish and interpret the many voices of our time, and judge them in the light of the word of God.' "

Francis also praised the diversity of countries represented on the theological commission, saying that reflected the "catholicity of the church."

"The diversity of viewpoints should enrich catholicity without damaging the unity," he said. "The unity of Catholic theologians stems from their common reference to one faith in Christ and is nourished by the diversity of the gifts of the Holy Spirit."

The pope also praised a "healthy pluralism" of views and said various theological methods "cannot ignore each other, but in theological dialogue should enrich and correct each other."

"The work of your commission can be a witness to this growth, and also a testimony of the Holy Spirit, because it is he who sows these charismatic varieties in the church, different points of view, and it is he will make the unity," the pope said. "He is the protagonist, always."

The pope also said he wanted to note "the increased presence of women" on the theological commission, which currently has the most women it's ever had serving at one time in its ranks. Five of the 30 theologians are women.

That number, the pope said, is "not so many." The women, he said, "are the strawberry on the cake, but we want more."

The presence of the five women, the pope said, "becomes an invitation to reflect on the role that women can and should play in the field of theology."

"By virtue of their feminine genius, [female] theologians can detect, for the benefit of all, some unexplored aspects of the unfathomable mystery of Christ," the pope said. "I invite you, therefore, to take the best advantage of this specific contribution of women to the intelligence of faith."

Members of the International Theological Commission serve five-year terms. The commission currently has two members from the U.S.: Mercy Sr. Prudence Allen, former chair of the philosophy department at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver; and Capuchin Fr. Thomas Weinandy, former executive director of the U.S. bishops' Secretariat of Doctrine.

Dominican Fr. Serge-Thomas Bonino, a Frenchman, leads the commission.

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is jmcelwee@ncronline.org. Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]

A version of this story appeared in the Dec 19, 2014-Jan 1, 2015 print issue under the headline: Pope praises role of women in theology.

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