Launching into section IV of Chapter One, we’ll cover “A Mission Embodied Within Human Limits.” Paragraphs 40 through 45 will take us through this theme, beginning with the notion that the Church is in a state of development, in need of growth in understanding:
40. The Church is herself a missionary disciple; she needs to grow in her interpretation of the revealed word and in her understanding of truth. It is the task of exegetes and theologians to help “the judgment of the Church to mature”.[Dei Verbum 12]
This affirms the role of theological inquiry. The best piece I’ve read on this touches on the difference between catechesis and theology. The former is sure, settled stuff–what is presented to children and neophytes. The latter pokes and probes at the boundaries of the Church, the edges of knowledge, the places where it is more difficult to find a sure way.
The Holy Father cites his sainted predecessor in affirming the place of psychology, sociology, and other disciplines. They themselves are not the way, but in studying human beings, they stuy how God made us, and what we are willing to do, places we are willing to go in service of the Gospel:
The other sciences also help to accomplish this, each in its own way. With reference to the social sciences, for example, John Paul II said that the Church values their research, which helps her “to derive concrete indications helpful for her magisterial mission”.[Socialium Scientiarum]
For people who complain of confusion, Pope Francis has an answer:
Within the Church countless issues are being studied and reflected upon with great freedom. Differing currents of thought in philosophy, theology and pastoral practice, if open to being reconciled by the Spirit in respect and love, can enable the Church to grow, since all of them help to express more clearly the immense riches of God’s word. For those who long for a monolithic body of doctrine guarded by all and leaving no room for nuance, this might appear as undesirable and leading to confusion. But in fact such variety serves to bring out and develop different facets of the inexhaustible riches of the Gospel*
[*] Saint Thomas Aquinas noted that the multiplicity and variety “were the intention of the first agent”, who wished that “what each individual thing lacked in order to reflect the divine goodness would be made up for by other things”, since the Creator’s goodness “could not be fittingly reflected by just one creature” (S. Th., I, q. 47, a. 1). Consequently, we need to grasp the variety of things in their multiple relationships (cf. S. Th., I, q. 47, a. 2, ad 1; q. 47, a. 3). By analogy, we need to listen to and complement one another in our partial reception of reality and the Gospel.
That current: an interesting and appropriate image. Some feel as if the Church is torn apart by different ideas and varied explorations. Perhaps what tears us apart is not ideas, but the lack of “respect and love” cited above.
What do you make of the long footnote citing Thomas Aquinas? Imagine if there was a broader acceptance that the Church needs both conservative and progressive outlooks for a better expression of God-given human complementariness. Wouldn’t that rock some people’s boats?
Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation is available here: Evangelii Gaudium