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Have theologians an essential task, that is distinct and complementary to those of the Pope and the bishops?

Have theologians an essential task, that is distinct and complementary to those of the Pope and the bishops?

The crux of the problem is in the fact that the bishops’ charism, sustained by the Spirit, at least when they act in unity, is to witness God’s mighty deeds: “You are witnesses of these things" (Luke 24 48). (19)

19. A good definition of witnessing is “to testify that a thing is”; cf. Oxford Greek Dictionary, under martureo, n. 5, in order to remain close to the biblical language. But the same sense is found in the Oxford English Dictionary under witness: “attestation of a fact, event, or statement,” also “one who gives evidence in relation to matters of fact.”

The gift and task of the theologians is to find deeper insights; intellegere; that is, interlegere, to read what is not obvious, to find hidden meanings. (20) To witness is to identify; to identify is not necessarily to read in depth. To have the intelligence to find hidden meanings does not necessarily imply the support of the Spirit for identifying God’s deeds.

20. The task of the theologian can be beautifully described by quoting the meanings of intellegere as they are listed in the Oxford Latin Dictionary; all that one has to do is to refer the various mental activities to the Christian mysteries:

* To grasp mentally, understand, realize...
* to understand by inference, deduce....
* to supply mentally, understand (something that is not expressed)
* to discern, recognize, . . .
* to distinguish mentally, recognize as existing ...
* to understand the value of, appreciate ...
* to understand the meaning of (words or languages). . .
* to have or exercise powers of understanding.

From the point of view of epistemology it would make good sense to say that the primary focus of the bishops is to affirm the existence of the mysteries, the principal concentration of the theologians is to penetrate the meaning of the same mysteries as much as possible. (21)

21. This distinction, I think, is helpful for the understanding of the different functions, but it should not be pushed too far. No bishop can affirm the existence of the Christian mysteries without explaining their meaning, which always presupposes a certain amount of reflection. But the scientific (systematic and critical) exploration of the mysteries is not likely to be the primary focus of a bishop in his pastoral activity; he himself would regard it as a task better left to the theologians.

Obviously this distinction is no more than a philosophical approximation to a-reality which in many ways is beyond the reach of philosophy; still, it may shed some light on it. (22)

22. There have been many attempts to draw up rules and regulations that could help to resolve conflicts between bishops and theologians. Such rules, however, can offer hardly more than a limited service. First, because no norms can be so perfect as to anticipate the great variety of cases that are bound to arise; second, because the norms are regularly construed on the assumption that the conflicts originate in conceptual differences which can be resolved by appropriate logical exchanges—dialogues, that is.

In reality, the conflicts often originate on a deeper level: in the difference between the episcopal calling and the theological enterprise. Bishops are called (and have the charism) to witness to an existential fact: Christ is risen; the theologians are called (and have the learning) to give a reflective explanation of this fact: the resurrection means. . . It is easy to see that the one who proclaims the fact may become concerned that the other may explain it away; especially if the explanation cannot be easily understood.

Then there is the problem of bishops and theologians operating within different horizons (an epistemological issue that deserves more attention).

The theologians must rely on the testimony of the bishops about the word of God; the bishops may receive enlightenment from the systematic and critical work of the theologians.

Without the testimony of the bishops the theologians could not be certain what the word of God is; without the accumulated wisdom of theologians the bishop would know less about the meaning of the Word.

From: The Church: Learning and Teaching, by Ladislas Örsy, Michael Glazier 1987, chapter 3. Read the whole chapter here.

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