Difference between theologians and catechists

Pope Francis on Thursday distinguished between how catechists and theologians interact with Church teaching.

Dec 02, 2022

Pope Francis | Daniel Ibáñez / CNA

By Hannah Brockhaus
Pope Francis distinguished between how catechists and theologians interact with Church teaching.

A theologian, he said, has a vocation to go beyond existing doctrine, because “he is trying to make theology more explicit.”

While a catechist, when instructing children and adults in the faith, “must give the correct doctrine, solid doctrine.”

Pope Francis’ comments on the role of the theologian and the catechist were made in a meeting with the prestigious International Theological Commission (ITC) at the Vatican November 24.

The International Theological Commission exists under and to advise the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith. Members are appointed by the pope for five-year terms, during which time particular theological questions are studied and the results published.

The 10th commission, which has 28 members, was appointed in 2021.

“Theologians must go further, try to go beyond,” the pope said in his remarks to the commission. “But I want to distinguish this from the catechist: the catechist must give the correct doctrine, solid doctrine; not the possible new things, of which some are good…”

“The catechist teaches the solid doctrine,” he continued, adding that the theologian “ventures to go further, and it is the magisterium that will stop him.”

“But never [teach catechism] to children and people with new doctrines that are not certain,” he said.

Francis explained that this distinction comes from St. Ignatius of Loyola, “who I think understood something better than I do.”

The International Theological Commission is at the Vatican this week for the group’s annual plenary meeting.

Pope Francis expressed his appreciation for the commission’s willingness to explore three themes during its meetings.

The first, he said, is the “relevance of the fruitfulness of the Christological faith professed by the Council of Nicaea, at the completion of 1,700 years since its celebration.”

The commission will also examine some anthropological issues relevant today “and of crucial significance for the journey of the human family, in light of the divine plan of salvation.”

He reminded them that they are called to carry out their work “in the path traced out by the Second Vatican Council, which … constitutes the sure compass for the journey of the Church” in our day.

The Holy Father then proposed three “directions” for following that path, beginning with “creative fidelity to Tradition.” The Pope insisted that Tradition must either grow or die out, and he warned once again of the dangers of “indietrism,” or “backwardism,” which refuses to grow, but instead falls back to “the way it’s always been done.” And he invited theologians to help correct this tendency in the Church. Theologians must also be open to the contributions of other disciplines, “treasuring” a “strong form” of “transdisciplinarity” as the gathering and deepening of all human knowledge “within the space of Light and Life offered by the Wisdom that emanates from God’s revelation.”

Concluding his address, Pope Francis expressed his hope that the work of the Commission might be tranquil and fruitful, undertaken in a spirit of mutual listening, dialogue, and communal discernment, and in openness to the voice of the Holy Spirit. He recalled again the “great importance” of the themes they will be investigating, and encouraged them to teach theology in a way that provokes “wonder and awe” to those who hear them.

And then, after thanking members once again for their work and blessing them, Pope Francis suggested that “it would be important to increase the number of women [theologians], not because it is fashionable,” but because women bring a different intellectual perspective to theology, which can make theology “more profound and more ‘flavourful’.” --CNA/Vatican Media

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