Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
November 9, 2009
Theological debate needed, so is caution, says pope
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE
VATICAN CITY - The Catholic Church needs healthy debates between theologians to increase the understanding of faith, but the debate must always uphold official Church teaching, Pope Benedict said.
During his Nov. 4 weekly general audience, Pope Benedict said theological debates must also be conducted in a way that does not confuse the faithful.
The 12th-century theological debates between St. Bernard of Clairvaux and Abelard, a French theologian, demonstrate "the usefulness and necessity of a healthy theological discussion in the Church, especially when the questions debated have not been defined by the magisterium, which always must remain an essential point of reference," he said.
The pope spoke about what modern Catholics can learn from the debates between St. Bernard, who followed the monastic theological tradition emphasizing faith and prayer, and Abelard, who followed the scholastic tradition emphasizing the use of reason.
Abelard's career was marked, several times, by Church condemnations of his positions.
PRINCIPLES OF FAITH
Pope Benedict said theologians must be careful to give precedence to the principles of faith that come from revelation and not to interpretations suggested by philosophy.
When a theologian strays into error, the Vatican must intervene, said the pope.
Pope Benedict said that among the reasons St. Bernard asked the pope to condemn Abelard "there was a preoccupation to safeguard the simple and humble believers."
People also should remember that in the end St. Bernard and Abelard were reconciled.
Pope Benedict said St. Bernard was suspicious of scholastic theology because it seemed open to questioning even the most basic Christian teachings.
"Bernard's fears were not unfounded."
Abelard's teaching on morality was ambiguous because he insisted that a person's intentions were the final criteria for determining whether an action was good or bad. The pope described such a position as "a dangerous subjectivity."
"As we know, this is very relevant in our age when the culture seems to be marked by a growing tendency toward ethical relativism" in which actions are not seen as objectively good or bad, he said.
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