La Croix, May 2021.
Pope Francis is encouraging the Catholic Church’s leading thinkers to renew the way they do and conceive the science of theology. And that’s exactly what three leading theologians from Europe discussed recently at a symposium sponsored by the revamped John Paul II Pontifical Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences.
The institute’s Italian director, Pierangelo Sequeri, was joined on May 5 by German Benedictine, Elmar Salmann, and Franco-German Jesuit, Christoph Theobald, for a colloquium titled, “Today and Tomorrow. Imagining Theology”.
The 74-year-old Theobald, who teaches theology in Paris, spoke with La Croix’s Christophe Henning about the challenges facing the future of theology.
La Croix: In what way is there a sense of urgency for imagining a theology for the future?
Christoph Theobald: Pope Francis is the one who is pushing for in-depth theological work, which he called for in 2013 in the first chapter of his first exhortation, Evangelii gaudium, and again in the apostolic constitution Veritatis gaudium.
The so-called ecclesiastical sciences – theology, philosophy, the humanities, etc. – constitute a laboratory for overcoming the crisis we are going through. The pope emphasizes that we are not living in an epoch of change, but in change in epochs, an anthropological crisis that affects the human being, but which is also planetary and environmental.
His encyclicals Fratelli tutti and Laudato si’ make a fairly precise diagnosis of this crisis, for which there is no ready-made answer. How is today’s theology different?
C. T.: A monolithic doctrine cannot take us very far: we must have a multi-faceted theological approach. We are coming out of a period in which we were afraid of everything that was different.
The pope insists on diversity when he evokes the geometric figure of the polyhedron.
In the Church, the magisterial mission of the bishops is to announce the kerygma, the content of the faith. The charism of theologians is to undertake a critical work and to seek, in a forward-looking manner, solutions for the future.
We cannot solve today’s problems with yesterday’s systems.
Where is this theology of the future being prepared?
C. T.: Given the number of institutions, European theology still has a leading role, notably through its teaching capacities and the publication of texts. But the work of theologians in Africa, India and Latin America is essential to deepen the central question of inculturation.
This diversity of approaches is promising for the future, even though theology in Europe is too often trapped in questions of detail. In my opinion, it does not sufficiently take a trans-disciplinary vision. What would be the essential questions to work on today?
C. T.: I would identify three challenges for the theology of the future.
First of all, the Church no longer reaches people in their daily lives.
It’s a question of admissibility. Faced with de-Christianization, we must work on a theology of daily life and find a way to speak with our contemporaries.
The second challenge is the need to enter into dialogue with the different significant traditions. It’s not only a question of dialogue with Judaism or Islam but with all spiritualities, even agnostic ones. Now, this diversity is disturbed by a secularism which is not dying down anywhere in Europe and is even more intense in France. We must work on a theology of politics that takes into account these different traditions and focuses on what they can bring to “living together”.
Finally, it’s urgent to reflect on the enormous development of digital technology which is invading our lives. What remains of a theology of consciousness when everything is managed by algorithms and computers?
This work seems to be an enormous task. Is it even possible to undertake it today?
C. T.: We are at a turning point, especially in Europe. It is essential to develop foresight at a time when the Church is anesthetized by the lower number of vocations, by the ethical questions of society, by the pandemic…There is no vision in the face of uncertainty, even though we should live by the central virtue of hope and dare to develop, as in the Bible, “dreams” of the future. This is the role of theology.