Prof. Dr. Philippe Chenaux, Chief Guest of the day, who delivered the Convocation address, Madame Josette Chenaux, Dr Paulachan Kochappilly, President Dharmaram Vidyaksehtram, Prof. Dr Jose Nandikara, Dr Joy Kakkanattu, Prof. Dr. Joseph Thonippara, Prof. Dr. Varghese Koluthara, Dr Jose Kizhakkekuttu, Dr Sebastian Mullooparampil and Very Rev. Fr. Thomas Aykara, Rector, Dharmaram College, members of the staff and students.
Let me begin my talk evoking the great memory of Dr John Britto Chethimattam after whom this auditorium is named. I pay my homage to him, one of the pioneering experts in comparative theology in India.
Historical outline of Theology
Christianity has given rise to different schools of thought and practices all through its history. It all started with the apostolic preaching and still continues to the present times. The four gospels themselves manifest four patters of thinking on the life and gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are now accustomed to the theologies of the Gospel of Mark, of Mathew, of Luke and of John.
It is the Fathers of the Church who actually developed the message of Christ foreshadowed in the Old Testament, fulfilled in the New Testament and lived by the first Christian communities. Through apologetics and liturgical homilies, the Fathers of the Church created really the first systematic interpretations of the teaching of Christ. The different churches that developed in the Roman Empire and the churches of St. Thomas Christians in Assyria and India lived their faith on the apostolic preaching and the doctrines developed by the Fathers of the church. With the apostolic and patristic teaching there developed also parallel different liturgical ways of worship in the church. The teachings of the Fathers are so rich that they remain the most ancient sources of theology even today. There are three groups of the Fathers namely Greek, Latin and Syriac. The Patrologia Graeca (PG), Patrologia Latina (PL) and Patrologia Syriaca (PS) formed almost as the backbone of later theological development in the church. St. Augustine could be considered as the last Father of the church who remains also the greatest theologian of the patristic period.
Based on the preaching and teaching of the apostles and the Fathers of the church there developed systematic theology from the time of St.Thomas Aquinas, St.Bonaventure and others. Their theological doctrines came to be called scholastic theology as they were coming out of the different schools of thought from various religious orders. They had the support of human reasoning developed mainly by Plato and Aristotle. Because of the close association of the theological thinking and philosophical reasoning philosophy was even called Ancilla Theologiae.
The theology of St. Thomas Aquinas remained the official theology of the Catholic Church for over more than four centuries. It is the protestant reformation that necessitated further development in theological thinking to counteract the forces of division that became operational in the different churches. Then onwards we see a plurality of theological sciences based also on different philosophies. We see thereby existentialistic, phenomenological and hermeneutical theologies that cropped up mainly in the twentieth century. Faith and reason are complementary. As St Pope John Paul II says: “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves” (Encyclical letter Fides et ratio). The second half of the twentieth century witnessed the rise of the theology of Liberation with a radical understanding of the liberative work of Christ in the context of the socialist and communist analysis of human society and development.
The teachings of the church both through ecumenical councils and common magisterium were often impacted by these schools of thought and theologies. This influence was evident also in the papal teachings especially from the time of the council of Trent. It is quite natural that the teaching of the church is given always in response to the needs of the times, especially the philosophical and sociological forces in the society.
It is to be noted that along with the development of theological thinking there was also opposition to all kinds of systematic theologies with the contention that they are not giving answers to the problems of human life in the society. It is to make theology a useful tool for the practical needs of people that many theologians tried to make their approach based on the exegetical and hermeneutical analysis of the Word of God. As a result systematic theology has now become biblical, patristic and anthropological.
In this connection I would like to propose for the consideration of our institutes of theological formation to have a separate course on the history of theology as there is a history of philosophy in the system of studies of our institutes. This would give the students the raison d’être of the plurality of theological thinking and the basic unity underlying these theologies which the students should be able to understand.
From the historical outline of theological development in the church, I would like to pass on to the pastoral approach of Pope Francis. We know that Pope Francis has inaugurated a paradigm shift in his pontificate. To tell the truth Pope Francis is first and foremost a pastor. The shepherd role of the Pope is dominated in his life and apostolate. His emphasis on being the bishop of Rome manifests his vision of a pastor in the role of a Pope. In the Apostolic Exhortation amoris laetitia Pope explains the pastoral approach needed for the theology of marriage in the following words: “This effort calls for missionary conversion by everyone in the Church, that is, one that is not content to proclaim a merely theoretical message without connection to people’s real problems. Pastoral care for families needs to make it clear that the Gospel of the family responds to the deepest expectations of the human person: a response to each one’s dignity and fulfilment in reciprocity, communion and fruitfulness. This consists not merely in presenting a set of rules, but in proposing values that are clearly needed today, even in the most secularized of countries. The Synod Fathers also highlighted the fact that evangelization needs unambiguously to denounce cultural, social, political and economic factors – such as the excessive importance given to market logic – that prevent authentic family life and lead to discrimination, poverty, exclusion, and violence. Consequently, dialogue and cooperation need to be fostered with societal structures and encouragement given to lay people who are involved, as Christians, in the cultural and socio-political fields”. (n.201)
The papacy of Francis could be identified with the vision of mercy in God’s revelation and salvific action. God is mercy and Christ is the face of God’s mercy. Mercy is the élan vital of God’s action with man. Without God’s mercy man cannot approach neither fellow humans nor God as both God and the humans are. God is our father and as children we are born out of his mercy and continuously saved by him. We can by His mercy live together as brothers and sisters only by the experience of this mercy manifested one another. God’s mercy is universal. It is to be experienced by all especially the poor, the marginalized and the differently abled sections of the society. The observance of the holy year was the summit experience of God’s mercy by the people of God in the recent past.
Together with God’s mercy Pope Francis turned his attention to the family, the basic unit of the human society and of the church. Pope Francis finds family as the basic school of God’s mercy. He extends the vision of the family to the whole church even to the whole humanity. Next year he will branch out his pastoral role to the youth as the youth has to become principal actors in the church and society both for today and for tomorrow.
One may doubt that Pope Francis is not sufficiently theological in his pronouncements. Contrary is the truth. Because, there is no pastoral application of Pope Francis that is not guided by biblical and theological principle. The theology of Pope Francis is pastoral and it is clear that the Pope wants every theology to be pastoral in the sense of making faith meaningful for the people helping them to live faith with the joy of the gospel. Pope Francis is a pastoral theologian. His inspiration is from theologians who treat theology in pastoral terms. This is the reason why Pope is in all praise of Cardinal Walter Kasper, the German theologian. Cardinal Kasper’s theology of mercy is a dogmatic treatise of the mercy of God which Pope Francis is pastorally applying both in his papacy and advocate for other pastors in the church.
As Science gets applied in technologies so also systematic theology has to get its applied meaning in the pastoral ministry of the church. One without the other is only partial show of the truth of revelation. The teaching of theology has to be in future, at least in the formation programmes, pastorally orientated. The pastoral theology taught in seminaries shall not be simply a training in the rules and regulations of pastoral line, but should give really the pastoral applications of theological principles. I would even propose that Dharmaram Vidyakeshtram could develop this new turn in theology as religious orders in the past have given different orientations in theological thinking.
Finally I would like to place on record my deep appreciation of the academic excellence and voluminous contributions to theology and priestly formation that Dahramaram Vidyakshetram and Dharmaram College have jointly produced. May God bless all of you and all your endeavours for the furtherance of the Kingdom of God! Thank you one and all!