Sunday, June 18, 2006

Why the Mandate is Important Bishop Robert H. Brom of San Diego

It is with great joy and humility that I can announce that I have received the Bishop’s mandate to teach Theology at John Paul the Great Catholic University.

What exactly is the mandate? The mandate is prescribed by the Code of Canon Law 812: “Those who teach theological disciplines in any institutes of higher studies whatsoever must have a mandate from the competent ecclesiastical authority.” In most cases, the “competent ecclesiastical authority” means the local bishop. The mandate, therefore, is the permission the Bishop grants to teach theology.

In 1990 John Paul II reiterated the importance of the mandate in the document Ex Corde Ecclesia, saying,

“In ways appropriate to the different academic disciplines, all Catholic teachers are to be faithful to, and all other teachers are to respect, Catholic doctrine and morals in their research and teaching. In particular, Catholic theologians, aware that they fulfil a mandate received from the Church, are to be faithful to the Magisterium of the Church as the authentic interpreter of
Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.”
The mandate therefore ensures that Catholic teaching is truly taught at Catholic schools. The Bishop is responsible for making sure that those who teach theology are in union with the Church’s teaching.

Some theologians did not welcome the Pope’s words. They insisted that the mandate infringed on their academic freedom—a freedom they argued was necessary to do true scholarship. Some argued that the mandate would cause a rift between the Church and academia. Actually, the mandate makes true scholarship possible. In fact, one cannot do theology properly without the Church.

The Study of God
The word “theology” literally means the study of God.[1] Theology is not just another academic discipline. It is not simply the result of scholarly curiosity. Theology entails learning about God.[2]

How do we learn about God? After all, the truth about who God truly is cannot be discovered by reason. Philosophers can determine that God exists, but that’s only as far as natural reason can get us. It is only through divine revelation—what God reveals to us— that we know who God is. The source material of theology, therefore, is divine revelation.

Throughout history, God made himself known to his people “in many and various ways” (cf. Heb. 1:1). The fullness of God’s revelation is given to us in Jesus (cf. John 14:9). In Jesus, God reveals to us who He is; He is the definitive Word of God (cf. John 1:1-3). Theology therefore centers upon Christ.

Theology and the Church
Jesus entrusted His teaching to the apostles, whom he commissioned to preach and teach in His name (cf. Matt 16:18-19; 28:19-20). He tells them, “He who hears you, hears me” (Luke 10:16). The apostles communicated the teaching of Christ through their preaching, which was transmitted “by word of mouth” (through oral tradition) and “by letter” (Sacred Scripture) (cf. 2 Thess 2:15).

Catholic Teaching therefore holds that divine revelation comes to us through the teaching of the apostles and their successors. This was the belief of the earliest Christians. Take, for example, the early Christian writer Origen (~a.d. 225):

"The teaching of the Church has indeed been handed down through an order of succession from the apostles and remains in the churches even to the present time. That alone is to be believed as the truth which is in no way at variance with ecclesiastical and apostolic tradition" (The Fundamental Doctrines 1:2).
It is through the Bishops, the successors of the apostles, in union with the Pope, the successor to Peter, that Christ’s teaching comes to us.

Moreover, it is through the Magisterium that we know which books God has inspired. The Bible doesn’t tell us which books were written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We receive the Bible through the Church—not because the Church creates Scripture, but because God uses the Church to show us what belongs in it. Through the Church we receive what has been divinely revealed to us—in Scripture and in Tradition.

Theology, which studies who God is by examining what he has revealed about himself, is therefore inseparable from the Church. As Catholics we believe that Christ is the definitive revelation of God, and his teaching comes to us through the Church. One cannot hope to do theology properly without the Church.

The Bishop, as a successor to the apostles, is therefore the primary teacher of the faith and theology. He continues the mission first entrusted to the twelve—to teach in His name. Those who do theology therefore are subject to the Bishop. Again, this reflects the practice of the earliest Christians. Ignatius of Antioch in A.D. 110 writes, "Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop" (Letter to the Smyrnaeans 8). In teaching the faith theologians do not act independently—their proper role is one of assisting the bishop in his teaching mission.

Our society defines freedom in terms of the being “from”; but true freedom entails being free “for”. The moral theologian Servais Pinckaers uses the analogy of playing the piano. Imagine you wanted to learn how to play piano. Now imagine that you told your professor that you wanted to be free—free from any musical theory, from any knowledge of notes and arpeggios, free to hit any key you wanted. Would you be “free” to play piano? No. You would just be making noise.

Perhaps some people today call random noise music—if that’s what you’re interested in doing, well, go ahead and start banging away (just let us all get our ear plugs in before you begin). But if you really want to learn how to play piano—if you want to be truly free to play anything you want—I’m afraid you’re going to have to submit yourself to your piano teacher.

The same thing can be said of theology. The Teaching Magisterium does not make us less free. Freedom to teach error is not true freedom. Guided by the light of Faith, our minds our elevated to think with ever more clarity. Faith does not contradict reason, rather, it takes us beyond our natural capabilities.

Thus, before becoming Pope, Cardinal Ratzinger once wrote:
“…the Church is not an authority which remains foreign to the scientific character of theology but is rather the ground of theology’s existence and the condition which makes it possible. The Church, moreover, is not an abstract principle but a living subject possessing a concrete content. This subject is by nature greater than any individual person, indeed, than any single generation. Faith is always participation in a totality and precisely in this way, conducts the believer to a new breadth of freedom.”[3]
Faith sets us free. True freedom is faith in Christ Jesus.

I am grateful for the confidence the Bishop has shown in me in granting me the mandate, which entails the privilege of assisting him in his apostolic mission. I eagerly look forward to the coming Fall quarter—JP Catholic’s first—and to the opportunity to help form the leaders of tomorrow in their understanding of who God is. May our Lord grant us His grace, enlightening our minds and opening our hearts to His Word—setting us free to learn and to live the Faith.
[1] The Greek word for “God” is “theos.” As “sociology” is the study of the “social,” and “psychology” is the study of the human psyche, “theology” is the study of God.
[2] Those who do theology must be ever-vigilant that they do not end up simply doing “theologianology”—the study of other theologians. While learning about what other great minds have said about who God is and what he has done, they are ultimately not the ultimate subject of study. The true focus of theology must always be God himself.
[3] The Nature and Mission of Theology: Appraoches to Understanding Its Role in the Light of Present Controversy (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1995), 61.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Congratulations Michael! That is an awesome description of the teaching authority of the Church and the mandate of a Catholic teacher or theologian (to teach as Jesus teaches). Carrying the musical analogy a little further: Jesus is the lead musician and we are "free" to sing or play with Him but we need a fine sense of harmony with Him in order perform anything worthwhile.

All the best!