The Church is called to embrace its past, present and future and avoid the temptations to condemn or to legitimise everything just because it is new and different, Pope Francis has told a group of theologians.
Theology and reflection should not be at odds with pastoral ministry and the lives of real people, he said.
In fact, theologians can help by “taking both the ecclesiastical tradition and current reality very seriously, placing them in dialogue with one another”.
The Pope’s words were part of a video message he delivered in Spanish to theologians and others taking part in an international congress in Buenos Aires on September 1-3.
The event marked the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the faculty of theology at the Catholic University of Argentina and the 50th anniversary of the close of the Second Vatican Council.
One of Vatican II’s main contributions was trying “to overcome this divorce between theology and pastoral ministry, between faith and life.” Often the two had been set against each other in “a false opposition” as two “separate realities”, he said.
“We not infrequently identify the doctrinal with the conservative and the backward, and, on the contrary, we think of pastoral ministry as adaptation, rolling back, accommodation – as if they had nothing to do with each other.”
This also creates a false conflict between those who are pastors “on the side of the people” and academics “on the side of doctrine”.
Yet the early Christian writers and theologians were also great pastors, he said.
“Doctrine is not a closed system devoid of dynamics able to raise questions, doubts, inquiries,” he said. Rather, Christianity is a living doctrine that is called Jesus Christ, whose life is “offered from generation to generation to all men and women and in all places”.
Safeguarding doctrine means being faithful to what has been received, he said, and at the same time, taking into account the person to whom it is being offered, and understanding and loving him or her.
After all, why is theology being done, he asked, if not for “the people we have before us? Without encountering families and the people of God, theology runs the great risk of becoming ideology”.
The hopes, dreams, struggles, problems, worries and questions people have cannot be ignored “if we want to take seriously the principle of the Incarnation”, he said.
People’s unrest, struggles and “the peripheries are not an optional, rather they are necessary for better understanding the faith”.
Theology looks at and must stem from the Holy Spirit in “the praying people”, if not, then that theology will have “the scent of a proposal that might be beautiful, but not real”, he said.
Pope Francis, referring to the teaching of Benedict XVI, said Church tradition is like a flowing river, which has a fixed origin, yet flows throughout the world bringing to life the best of that region and culture.
The Pope said that any attempt to limit or cut off the relationship and communication between “received tradition and concrete reality puts the faith of the people of God in danger”.