From Prayer: The Integration of Faith and Life
Whoever wants to make a contribution to theology has to do hard and careful work, has to dedicate himself to painstaking scientific research in whatever fields may lead him to an ever better knowledge of God and man. He must submit himself to scientific method, must have a knowledge of languages and of the social and cultural context of scripture and later traditions. He needs intuition, a sense of synthesis and expertise in history, in order to assess the context in which the church has worked out her doctrine and life, and thus distinguish the mainstream of divine tradition from ossified human traditions.
Obviously, then, to be a good theologian, piety alone does not suffice. Yet it has to be emphatically affirmed that the very heart of theology is prayer. It is an absolute condition for the theologian if he wants to be on the right wavelength in his endeavor. Prayer confronts him with the living God and gives to his study the quality of an act of faith.
Faith is the joyous, humble, grateful, and adoring reception of God who reveals himself as our life and our saving truth. The primordial act of faith and theology is listening to God who speaks to us and reveals his love for us and for all mankind, and thus calls us to unity with himself and among ourselves.
Faith, theology, and prayer require attention to all that God has revealed to man, but even more they require loving attention to God himself in his act of self-revelation. Whoever forgets God deprives his word and his action of their source of life, their gift of joy; they are no longer spirit and truth. One cannot possibly receive the word of God in a vital way without a grateful heart and trust in him. Furthermore, sincere and authentic listening to God presupposes the readiness to respond to him with one’s whole being. In a specific Christian understanding, human life and morality constitute a total response to God, that can be fulfilled only to the extent that we bring the whole of our life home to him in faith.
A prayerful theologian manifests a radical readiness to hear the word of God and to respond to him in view of the salvation of all mankind. In other words, theology is an expression of the love of God and man, and a service of salvation.
God’s word is ever active, ever creative, a redeeming light and energy, since God is present in his word and in whatever he does and communicates to us. Theology listens to him as he speaks in the ongoing creation and history of man. A theologian who is an adorer of God in spirit and truth can never forget that God reveals himself and his design of salvation, of peace and joy, in all his works, and above all, in his masterpiece, the human person, created in his image and likeness.
God is always present to us; he always comes dynamically into our life, bringing his work gradually to fulfillment. This demands on our part constant attention and readiness to be his co-workers, co-creators, and co-revealers of his love. The theologian is called, with all his fellow Christians and even in a particular way, to grow in the knowledge and love of God so that he can be ever more a co-revealer of God in his ongoing creation and his act of redemption which renews the face of the Earth and the hearts of men. Only in so far as he lives in the spirit of adoration and praise can he come to a comprehensive understanding of the sense of history. Without that spirit, the theologian will lack the necessary connaturality with the design and loving presence of God in history.
This is a point strongly stressed by Saint Thomas Aquinas: that all history is a living and active word of God, the history of the relationship between God and man. We are all inserted into, and involved in this powerful and ongoing word of revelation. God takes us seriously while he calls us to work with him. This gives stability and continuity to theology and to the theologian who, by constant attention to God’s presence in human events, acquires an increasing awareness of being on the road with the Lord of history.
By its very vocation, theology is a vigilant, adoring and grateful attention to the redeeming presence of God in the world. It demands outstanding alertness in the dialogue between God and man. In Jesus Christ, true God and true man, there is the absolute reciprocity of persons: Jesus lives the perfect consciousness of his coming from the Father and returning to him. The love of the Father for all men shines forth in him as perfect humanness, perfect consciousness, in total response to this very love. By loving all mankind with the love of his Father, the Son of man reveals the Father to man.
The theologian enters the history of this reciprocity of consciousness only to the extent that he himself grows in awareness of God’s presence in history here and now. In this awareness he can reach out from an understanding of the past to the dynamic of hope which promises the fullness of reciprocity. To speak properly to others about this event which is itself truth, he has to live intensely in the presence of God, creator and redeemer.
God’s presence is a rallying call. When God calls men to himself, his word is at the same time a call to brotherhood. His name, “Father,” is hallowed when men are one in mutual respect, in love and justice. This is God’s glory on Earth. It is expressed also in the friendship of theologians among themselves and with their students. And this friendship is always meant for all those to whom the word of God is directed. A healthy theological community is not thinkable without foundation in a community of prayer which demonstrates its oneness in faith and in the loving concern of its members for one another.
A theology degenerates inevitably into Pelagianism when theologians imagine that they are able to say something reasonable and worthy of God without the active presence of the Holy Spirit. Theology demands complete awareness of our dependence on God’s gracious presence; and this is not possible without unceasing prayer, humble and grateful openness to the grace of the Holy Spirit.
A theologian should also be fully aware of being “a man with impure lips, living among people of impure lips,” (Isaiah 6:5). Theology itself, as an encounter with the holy God, will lead him to pray, “Let your Holy Spirit come upon us and purify us.” This prayer is, in the oldest manuscripts, a part of the Our Father in the eleventh chapter of Saint Luke. Our theology is the more imperfect, fragmented and exposed to error, the less our heart is purified by the Spirit and by our response to him. Only “the pure in heart shall see God,” (Matthew 5:8).
Christ has come to baptize us with the Spirit and with fire. It is the Holy Spirit who gives energy, enthusiasm, and purity of intention to the theologian. No genuine theological work is possible without the experience of Moses and the other prophets. When Moses met God as a living fire, “he covered his face for fear to look at God,” (Exodus 3:5-6). The prophet Isaiah came to know the purifying strength of the fear of God. “One of the seraphim flew to me, holding an ember which he had taken with the thongs from the altar of God. He touched my mouth with it. ‘Now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, and your sin is purged,'” (Isaiah 6:5-6).
This purifying experience leads man into the promised land of the knowledge of God. From it derives the authentic mission of the theologian. “And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send?” And I answered, ‘Here am I. Send me,'” (Isaiah 6:8).
Of what value is a theologian who has never had the experience that Christ has come to bring fire on the Earth? How can anyone share with others this truth if the fire of the Spirit does not burn in him and purify him? A theologian who does not pray perseveringly, “Grant to us, O Lord, a heart renewed,” will gradually lose not only the sense of sin but also the sense of God. His vocation as a theologian is thoroughly linked to faith in his being called to holiness, together with all men.
Christian faith is not a system of abstract concepts, not a philosophy, and even less an ideology. The study and teaching of theology have to be understood as a saving event, an experience of God’s creative, redeeming and sanctifying presence, and as a sign of the encounter with God that derives from his having called us. If the tools of theology fall into the hands of people who do not pray, then everything degenerates into ideologies and alienation. On the contrary, in the life of those theologians and teachers and students who not only pray but allow theology itself to be an act of openness to God’s purifying presence and to the mission for the salvation of the world, alienation and blindness are gradually overcome.
Theology is faith searching for insight (fides quaerens intellectum) more than human insight searching for faith (intellectus quaerens fidem). For those who live an intensive life of prayer, theology is an act of faith that leads to an ever deepening knowledge of God and his saving design. This does not, however, exclude the other direction. Theology is also an ongoing effort to bring all human experiences and insights home to an integrated faith. Wisdom and intellect, gifts of the Holy Spirit, give to the theologian an increasing connaturality with the truth of faith. Since these are gifts of the Holy Spirit, they are granted only to those who pray and adore with all their heart.
Theology has its most vital center in the Eucharist, where we learn to praise God for his gratuitous gifts. In this light and with this spirit, we also see human experience and competence as gifts of God;, and they become, then, an integral part of the charism, of the special gifts of the Holy Spirit.
We praise you, living Word of the Father, for those men and women to whom you have given the special charisma of theology. We thank you for theologians like Saint Paul and Saint John, whose whole reflection and message arose out of their life with you. The church is suffering wherever pastors are neither theologians nor saints; and she suffers no less where theologians are neither pastorly-minded nor saints.
Grant to your church, O Lord, that pastors, professional theologians, and the faithful share together their faith, their insights and experiences, and thus grow in the knowledge of your name.