The Catholic University of America

The Responsibility and Tasks of Theology in the Church and the World Today
Address by Monsignor Joseph Doré
Archbishop of Strasbourg
The Catholic University of America
April 8, 2003

Monsignor Joseph Doré

Theology as such and in its entirety has reference to faith. In its very origin it depends on faith and its end is to serve faith. The responsibility of theology then is defined by reference to faith, and so the tasks of the theologian are carried out in relation to it. To say this of course is to say the essential but at the same time it is also to remain at the level of generalities. Much more precision is needed. To this effect I shall adopt the following plan:

In the first part (I), which will also serve as a developed introduction, I shall propose a principle, which I shall express in this way:

The responsibility of theology is carried out
in relation to faith in its entirety.

I am speaking then in the first place of a principle, and the key word in the statement of this principle is "entirety".

In the second part (II), which will necessarily be longer, I shall go on to discuss how this principle is applied, taking as my title:

From the different aspects of faith to the multiple tasks of theology.

Here I shall take successively each of the main characteristics of faith; I shall make the application to theology and show for each the particular task that flows from it for theology. Thus there will be four characteristics - or aspects or dimensions - of faith, to which will correspond respectively four tasks of theology.

In the third and final part (III), which has the character of a rather brief conclusion (comparable in importance to the introductory first part), I shall draw the consequences for what I shall call:

The formal characteristics of theology as discourse of faith.


1. All the aspects of faith

It is to faith that theology is bound; more precisely, to faith in its entirety, in accordance with all that it is. Theology then cannot be placed solely in relation to doctrine; it cannot be related solely to forms of discourse, however fundamental or normative, however firm or authorized they may be. Faith in fact is also celebrated in worship and is applied in the spiritual life and in moral action; through all of this it is in fact embodied in a whole set of relational networks and institutions - and so it is with regard to all these aspects of faith that theology must hold itself responsible. It is for all of them that it must seek to be accountable.

At the same time the discourse of theology must not remain purely theoretical and timeless. If we confined ourselves to the discursive aspects of faith, we could be content with trying to explain, defend and illustrate teachings: those of Scripture, for example, and Tradition and the Magisterium. And it could then be left to areas of theology other than theology "strictly speaking" to deal with what would be regarded as merely "concrete applications" or "practical conclusions".

If on the contrary the responsibility of theology is to be defined with regard to all that faith is, it follows that theology should be accountable for the teachings of faith not only in themselves but also as they are lived and practised in fact by believers, and so as they are applied in history and society, in the world and in culture - for the teachings of the faith, consequently, in their concrete historical form or aspect: in as much as they must be (and are) received and embodied among Christians, and also in as much as they are neglected, contested or rejected among those who are not Christian.

In other words, theology must indeed apply itself to being accountable for the doctrine of faith but it must do so without ignoring non-doctrinal aspects of faith. This has a certain number of consequences for theology, both as to the precise tasks it must fulfill (cf. II) and as to the formal characteristics of its discourse (cf. III). But it also implies that, in respect of all the aspects that open it up ad extra, faith is also exposed to investigation by authorities other than itself - and theology will have to take account of this fact. This second point must be noted straight away.

2. Authorities other than those of faith

Already as doctrine, faith is called to enter into dialogue and debate with other authorities, which also have their own proper qualifications. In the first place of course there is philosophy, with which from its beginnings theology has been constantly in dialogue… But indeed the conditions in which theology can engage in such exchanges have altered considerably since the beginning of modern times.

On the one hand, dialogue partners have multiplied. Philosophy is no longer the only one ; there is also history, ever since it became a true science at the end of the nineteenth century, and from the twentieth century there are the various other human sciences.

On the other hand, these particular partners have become more and more autonomous: they have declared themselves resolutely profane and secular. This was already the case for philosophy from the seventeenth century, whereas until then theology tended to keep it in a merely "ancillary" status. And it is even more the case today for the human sciences, since they can be said to have been born with the express will of emancipation and autonomy vis-à-vis faith and its "authorities".

Theology must not keep itself as a matter of principle at a distance from these disciplines and their procedures, secular though they may be. In the same way as it agreed to dialogue with philosophy because faith has to do with discourse, thought and understanding, and then with the science of history because Christianity has no place outside of history, so theology today must engage in conversation with sociology, psychology, linguistics, etc. … because, no less certainly, faith is a reality of an institutional order, because it follows the contours of the human psyche, because it is set forth in texts, etc.

Of course this does not mean that faith will have to renounce itself - we shall return to this. On the contrary, recourse to new methods of treating of faith can serve both to highlight the better some of its aspects and to eliminate some reservations or criticisms in its regard. Moreover, it must not be forgotten that these more or less new disciplines do not wait for authorization before attempting to produce analyses and "critiques" of the Christian faith that may be very much to the point. It is preferable then not to leave the word completely to them, but better rather to seek to join them on their own field so as to become capable of engaging with them in proper dialogue.

The whole question then obviously will be to see that the procedures and analyses thus adopted do not go beyond the area of their own competence. In other words, the whole question will be to know if, with their help, theology does or does not become more qualified to render account of faith as faith and in accordance with all the aspects of faith as such.


Let us pass now from the principle to its applications. We shall identify successively four aspects of faith and shall draw from each of them in turn the corresponding task for theology.

The first dimension of faith flows from what characterises it basically, that is, that it is first and foremost confession of the Mystery.

1. Faith as confession of the Mystery

(a) The dimension of knowledge of faith

If faith went unquestioned by human intelligence, if of itself it could maintain and transmit itself without the obligation of entering into debate with whatever considers it from the outside or criticizes it or distorts it, there would certainly be no need for theology: faith would be self-sufficient. Or if faith were in revolt against the intellect and its activity, if it were required to make a sacrificium intellectus, theology would not be needed either: strength of commitment and heartfelt emotion would readily dispense with it. Or yet again, if, called to self-understanding, faith could achieve this by means and procedures that would be strictly proper to itself, it could in all good conscience stake out its own field of intelligibility… And it could cast into the "outer darkness" all of the other "human, all too human" modes of treating of faith.

But it is faith itself that forbids us to look at things in this way. In fact it is essential to faith to be a logike latreia, a rationabile obsequium (Rom. 12 :1). The revelation that calls it into being and to which it is required to answer has in its very constitution an aspect of Word-addressed. This means that this revelation will be effectively received only if it is received in respect of the element of knowledge that it wishes to communicate. It means, as a corollary, that this reception will be authentic only if it motivates and mobilises the intellect of the recipient. Because it is knowledge, the confession of faith is an act that engages the understanding of the believer.

By the same token of course theological reflection appears as a demand of faith. It follows therefore that it has certain precise obligations.

(b) Theology and faith as faith

Since theology thus appears not as in opposition to but as essential to faith, it cannot aim at substituting its own discourse for that of faith. It must be even more careful not to aim at dispensing with faith in any way! Even though it treats of faith through procedures and methods that are unknown to faith, theology must only proceed in this way in order to bring to light the plausibility, the benefit, the richness of faith precisely as faith. It should only proceed in ways that make faith clearer to itself and more alive, as faith. The task of theology is not to prove that the truth of faith resides elsewhere than in the act, the attitude, the gesture, the confession of faith as conscious adherence to the revealed Mystery of God. On the contrary, theology must acknowledge its responsibility to bring to light the fact that and the reason why faith is not only a fully respectable and responsible human attitude but one that yields to no other in its own order.

Clearly then, not only is theology essentially distinguished from the "human sciences" as these are applied to matters of faith, but it is also marked off from the "religious sciences" whatever their specialisations. If theology works on expressions of faith, on forms or aspects of faith, as these religious sciences do, as theology it must never allow itself to forget that faith has produced these forms, that faith gives them their true consistency, and that theirs is a call to faith.

Accordingly, theology appears as nothing more or nothing less than one of the modes of expression of the confession of faith itself, as a form of accomplishment of the very process of faith. In the way it treats of faith then, the specificity of theology does not reside in the fact that it would succeed to faith as something essentially different from it, for example as a completely different type of knowledge. The specificity of theology can be stated as follows: it aims at carrying as far as possible the intellectual investigation and the conceptual articulation of the aspect of knowledge and of understanding that is co-essential to faith as such. To this element, verified from the very first instant of faith, all believers have access of themselves1.

2. Faith as life in the Spirit

Faith implies much more than a form of knowledge. Theology has also a responsibility in respect of all that goes beyond knowledge, in faith understood as adherence to the Mystery - what we can designate here as "life in the Spirit". Other tasks for theology follow from this responsibility.

(a) The spiritual dimension of faith

The fact must be acknowledged that, at least in western theology, there has been an increasing tendency for some centuries to confine theology to intellectuality. It can even be said that modern theology has come more and more to consider reason and enlightenment as its principal if not its only companion. As a result there have often been two victims. On the one hand, theology itself tended to become purely a matter of reasoning, demonstration and deduction; and that deprived it of all access, other than rational, to its object, which it nevertheless considered as incommensurable with pure human reason. On the other hand, the properly spiritual dimension of faith, when it was not simply abandoned to itself, was left to a "spiritual theology" called "ascetic and mystical". This latter did not always manage to maintain living contact with the confession of faith itself, and consequently it found itself in all sorts of psychological backwaters or affective hypertrophies.

All of the great theological productions of the past, however, were linked to strong currents of spiritual vitality in the Church. Augustine would not be comprehensible without the fine flowering of the North African Church, nor the Cappadocians without early monasticism, nor even Saint Thomas without the Order of Preachers … And what of Bérulle or Newman, what of Rahner and Balthasar?2

We have now come to an age in which, on the contrary, a considerable gap seems to have opened up between current theology on the one hand and, on the other, all that has to do with prayer, spiritual experience and, more generally, what is called "popular piety". Moreover, a situation is emerging that is surely new in the history of the Church: theology can be studied without receiving, concomitantly, a true spiritual formation. Even during the abstract neo-scholastic period, the students - most of them later to become priests or religious - were provided for in this regard in their seminaries or scholasticates. This is no longer the case. Formerly students in theology could find the means to come into living contact with Reality of the Mystery that theology claims to deal with in a whole environment of prayer and, more generally, in the various "spiritual exercises". Their successors of today on the contrary feel quite frustrated. Not being compensated elsewhere, the lack of connection they perceive between theological discourse and its potential to give access to the Reality that it deals with, brings them to condemn theology. Theology, they say, does not allow them to pursue, by supporting and enriching it, the spiritual path that in fact brought them to theology.

The conclusion is inescapable that, if it is the responsibility of theology to be accountable for faith, this implies that every theologian today must make or remake room for the properly spiritual dimension of faith. This is how Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger puts it, with a slightly polemical note that takes nothing from the positive import of his words:

Just as we cannot learn to swim without water, so we cannot learn theology without the spiritual praxis in which it lives. This is by no means intended as an attack on lay theologians, whose spiritual life often enough puts us priests to shame, but, rather, as a very basic question about how the study of theology can be meaningfully structured so that it does not succumb to academic neutralization in which theology becomes ultimately a contradiction of itself.3

(b) The sacramental reference of theology

Prayer and the spiritual quest, however, are not the only means available to faith to come into contact with the Reality on which it depends, and which is none other than the very Mystery of God.

God did not confine himself to speaking in order to communicate knowledge and to call to a way of life. He communicated himself once and for all in Jesus Christ; and through Christ's ever-active mediation God continues to communicate himself through space and time, by his Spirit, in the sacraments of the Church. Since faith is the attitude through which this self-revelation of God is received, it also includes the practice of the sacraments, in and through which God effectively and efficaciously signifies here and now his self-communication to the believer.

It follows then that the responsibility of theology extends also to this aspect of faith. Theologians must not forget that the Mystery about which they reason is the very one that really presents itself to be encountered and received in the sacraments. Remember that, for example, neither a theology of the Trinity nor a theology of redemption is possible independently of an effective reference to the Christian celebration of baptism and the Eucharist. And note that here theology is not only referred to the texts of the ritual according to which the sacraments are celebrated, but also to the symbolic and mystical experience that the sacraments, as rites practiced in faith, make effective. Faith, for which theology is accountable and to which then it must defer, is inconceivable without the sacraments of the Church which celebrate it and make it a source of life. It must be said then that a sacramental dimension is essential to theology, to all theology.4

Theology, being by nature discourse, only deals directly with expressions of faith. But

- (i) theology worthy of the name must be accountable for faith as faith,
- (ii) faith worthy of the name non terminatur ad enuntiabile sed ad rem.5

Theology must therefore find the means - beyond discourse necessarily, even if they must remain expressed through discourse - to keep real contact with and to offer real access to the Reality that is implied in faith and that is none other than the revealed/communicated Mystery of God. These means could not be other than those of prayer and the spiritual quest, as well as those of sacrament and liturgical celebration - in other words, those of life in the Spirit and in accordance with the Spirit.

3. Faith as engagement in the world

Faith, and so theology, can exist and be realized only in the world, simply because they can achieve realization only as human. There is no contradiction here with what has just been developed as the spiritual dimension of faith and of theology. Indeed in confessing the Incarnation of God himself in Jesus Christ, Christian faith can only be really coherent if it takes the means to incarnate itself!

(a) The practical dimension of faith

Faith calls for conversion; it wants to give life. It is not truth independently of the path that leads to it or without the life it aims to give. Life in the Spirit, certainly - but more precisely, life-in-the-Spirit-in-the-world. If this is so, theology must present faith in such a way that it appears open not only to a "spiritual" type of appropriation but also to a decision that changes one's life, and thus is situated in the ethical domain, which involves the practical domain. Hence, once again, further tasks for theology.

On the one hand, inside the Church itself, it is for theology to bring to light many things important for faith considered as engagement in the world. Negatively, it must locate all of the lacunas, or even all the deviations that faith can exhibit in its concretely lived forms. Positively, it must bring to light all the possibilities it could have, whether by virtue of a better knowledge of the Christian tradition or by reason of a better articulation of the aspirations and potentialities of people today.

On the other hand, concern with lending support to the decision and the practice of faith today requires that theology helps to ensure respect for the hierarchy of the truths of faith. Because of that, it is invited to present the faith in such ways as to put emphasis on its heart, its centre, its vital core. This implies no attack on the integrity of doctrine of course, but it is becoming more urgent than ever to go straight to the essential, which illuminates everything and with regard to which everything is to be determined.

It must be noted however that these different tasks of lending aid in the practical presentation and practical decision of faith are not subordinate tasks that would require only second-class methods, matters simply of pastoral care, and thus limited to "techniques" merely or even "tricks". Once it is accepted that it is faith that is involved, and that its future depends also on a task of reflection and of thought, it is obvious on the contrary that theology simply cannot be kept or keep itself from involvement here.

(b) The "committed" aspect of theology

A further step must be taken however. In its practical concern and practical dimension theology must not be preoccupied with the world and culture merely in order that faith may have more chance of being accepted there, and so in order to allow the Church to develop further. The mission of faith is also to change the world itself, to transform it, to contribute to its becoming more human and more fraternal, and to advance justice and peace there. Consequently, theology must develop its practical dimension from this "extra-ecclesial" point of view also.

Let me insist on this, to be absolutely clear: faith and so theology give attention to the world, not only in order to reply to the attacks and the resistance of non-believers against faith and against the Church, and not only in order to compensate for the insufficiencies and infidelities of Christians in their witness to the faith. Faith and so theology must also, and even primarily, be interested in the world as world - at least in the way God loves it (Jn 3:16). For it is truly the world of human beings - of human life and its conditions - that faith and theology must illuminate and transform, in order to lead them towards the salvation that God offers them.

Today it is obviously in the Third World, and more particularly in the Latin American theologies of liberation, that this aspect of theological responsibility has especially been highlighted, but there is also - and we must not forget it - the whole European "political theology". The great Christian tradition, it should be noted however, has always considered that a moral-practical dimension is part and parcel of theology - so much so that it gives it, under the name of "moral theology", a particularly important place both qualitatively and quantitatively (see the plan of the Summa Theologiae of Saint Thomas). Moreover, it has always been clearly understood that the doctrine of God's omnipotence and the doctrine of the Lordship of Christ crucified not only have practical consequences as a sort of "side effect", but indeed of themselves involve certain implications both for social justice and for political order and organisation. This is also true of the teaching of Christ on the unique and double commandment of love, and of the final judgment of history as it is announced in Matthew 25, for example.

This is not the time to develop the point, but it is important to claim its place for a dimension of theological responsibility too often neglected. It is made all the more important by the fact that, although in principle theology keeps its distance from the conditioning effects of the world, this does not prevent it from being in reality more or less consciously subject to them. It has the duty then to shoulder its own responsibilities in a world in which, in any case, it lives. Only, it must do so for the right reason: the reason precisely of faith and of its own responsibility in the world, avoiding ill-considered positions as well as polemical distortion and undue interference.

Theology must take responsibility in history for what it says to the world about God and on behalf of God. It announces the Word of God in the form of a framework of alliance between God and humanity, in the form of a history and an event of salvation, of a law that is source of life and blessing, of a judgment that is carried out in the world with power, of a future for human history in God, of a promise and a call. All of these realities, inseparably already present and yet to come, divine and human, gifts of grace and tasks committed to the faithful, must take shape in history, to be revealed and accomplished there.6

4. Faith as insertion into the ecclesial body

Faith, for which theology is accountable, is obviously of an ecclesial nature. It is impossible then for the same character not to be verified in the case of theology. This will manifest itself mainly in two ways.

(a) The ecclesial dimension of faith

All of the aspects already enumerated of faith taken in its "entirety" have as condition and effect an insertion, effective and more and more marked, of the believer into the community of believers that is the Church. The faith by reference to which theology defines its responsibility is the faith of the Church: the faith that the Church both declares and announces, celebrates and lives, attests and incarnates. Clearly then, theology must always aim to be, and must be in fact, related to the concrete reality of the Church, and inserted intimately into it.

It follows from this that the seriousness of its mission in the world leads ecclesial faith to take shapes and forms that can vary greatly according to places and circumstances. The ecclesial reference of theology cannot remain general, theoretical, abstract. To avoid the risk of being completely non-existent, this reference must take on a quite specific form in some precise context of the Church. Thus all theologians must apply themselves in identifying what their precise ecclesial "base" may be. This base will not be assured merely by the canonical mission and by the hierarchical "visa" that allows them to teach officially. It demands a true commitment and an effective engagement, limited though it may be, in the concrete ecclesial, pastoral and apostolic task. Only on this condition will the theologian deal with the faith as it is and not merely with an idea or a representation of it - with the faith in such a form as really brings it to life and embodies it in history and in society.7

(b) The "magisterial" situation of theology

We have just seen that theology is and always must be even more involved in the Church. But it must be added that in this Church theology is not the supreme instance in the order of truth. Subject to the Word of God as it is recorded in the Scriptures and reflected by the interpreting Tradition of the Church, theology is likewise dependent on a Magisterium. This Magisterium is exercised by an authorized hierarchy, with the ministry of governing, which includes precisely a responsibility in relation to the transmission, interpretation and teaching of revealed faith.8

As successors of the apostles, the bishops of the Church "receive from the Lord […] the mission of teaching all peoples, and of preaching the Gospel to every creature, so that all men may attain to salvation …" They have been entrusted then with the task of preserving, explaining, and spreading the Word of God of which they are servants.9

If this is the case, it is clear that being accountable for faith will also necessarily mean that theology takes its bearings from the ecclesial Magisterium. How is it invited to do so? The first task will always consist in carefully checking the "type" or the "degree" of authoritativeness of the positions taken by the Magisterium in the area concerned in each case. There are precise rules for this: the authoritativeness in question "becomes clear from the nature of the documents, the insistence with which a teaching is repeated, and the very way in which it is expressed".10

Once this is done, the second task for the theologian will be to strive then to understand this teaching in its contents, arguments, and purposes. This will mean an intense and patient reflection on his part and a readiness, if need be, to revise his own opinions and examine the objections which his colleagues might offer him.11

A third task, however, will appear to devolve upon the truly " responsible" theologian if, "despite a loyal effort", he finds "serious difficulties, for reasons which appear to him well-founded, in accepting a non-irreformable magisterial teaching." He is then invited to make known his difficulties to the competent magisterial authorities, "in an evangelical spirit", remaining open to a deeper examination of the question.12

John Paul II summarised well the desirable spirit for cooperation and debate between theology and Magisterium in an address to a large group of German theologians in Alt-Oetting on 18 November 1980:

Love of the Church as it exists, which also implies fidelity to the witness of faith and to the ecclesiastical Magisterium, does not divert the theologian from his work nor take from him any of that autonomy which is not to be denied. The Magisterium and theology have each a different task. For that reason, one cannot be reduced to the other. Nevertheless, they serve the same cause. And precisely because of that structure they must remain in constant dialogue. In the years that have followed the Council, there have been numerous examples of positive cooperation between theology and the Magisterium. You must deepen that base, and even if new conflicts should appear, continue your work in the spirit of common faith, with the same hope and the love that unites all men.13

Saint Thomas himself distinguished a magisterium cathedrae pastoralis (magisterium of the pastoral chair, reserved to "the hierarchy") from a magisterium cathedrae magisterialis (magisterium of the doctoral chair, held by the "master" in theology).14 This does not mean that the two should be placed in parallel, for there is no doubt, at least in Catholic theology, that the last word belongs to the first of these two "magisteria", namely to the pastoral authority, to the hierarchical ministry, to the ecclesial government. But it would not be appropriate either to end up with just any form of subjection of the second. The tasks are in fact quite differentiated. It undoubtedly falls to the Magisterium to ensure that fidelity to the apostolic doctrine is maintained as the authentic Tradition of the Church has understood it; it must also see to it that the unity of the people of God in confessing the truth of its one Lord is confirmed and strengthened. But, essential as these tasks are, they are far from being sufficient for the life and vitality of faith in the world today, for the world poses questions to it about new problems, or engages in criticism or refutation of it, or even adopts a position of open indifference towards it. Here it is precisely for the theologian to intervene… Hence it is obvious that the theologian has an indispensable role, one that, to be effective, needs to be exercised with prudent boldness. It is obvious too that theologians must enjoy trust - with the obligation on their part to earn it - and must be given freedom, though clearly on the understanding that they use it responsibly.


From what has just been said about the responsibility and the tasks of theology in respect of Christian faith some consequences follow for the theological process and method themselves: these must be historical, confessing and fundamental.

1. A theology that is historical - and so both practical and eschatological

Since it has a position of responsibility regarding faith taken in its entirety, and so regarding faith considered also as historical and social fact, the theological perspective here defined is historical through and through. It is important to note, however, that this is the case not only in the sense of history as science and knowledge of the past, but also with regard to history in its concrete existence, in other words with its socio-cultural and its economic and political structures and conditions. Since faith, which is a condition of theology, is itself conditioned historically, the theological process and method will necessarily be affected through and through by history, and will be so in various ways.

  • Because faith comes from the history of the past and thus is not a timeless doctrine, theology will be obliged to conduct a "positive" investigation; but this must always be careful to situate the doctrines in the ensemble of their original conditions of formulation and reception.
  • Because faith must be practiced and incarnated in present history, and so must prove itself also in the field of ethics, including the political dimension of ethics, theology will have to become practical, under pain of imprisoning faith in ideology.
  • Because faith opens up history to the future, making history possible through the combined invocation of the "hope principle" and of "eschatological reserve", theology will make sure not to present itself as a closed totality or as a closed-loop system. On the contrary, it will make sure always to point to the ever greater God whose revelation, even though already definitive, is destined to be fully accomplished only "at the end". Accordingly, theology will always also conduct its business under the sign of eschatology.

2. A theology that is confessing - and so both hermeneutical and institutional

Because theology is accountable for faith, in that it is adherence at the level of knowledge to the revealed Mystery of God and engagement with it at the level of existence, theology as understood here cannot avoid considering itself as confessing. It should be specified however that the confession in question is not only a matter of intellectual thought and of affective interiority: it can be accomplished only as and in the act of taking on the very conditions that make it possible. Once again consequences follow for the theological process and method.

- Since it is the acknowledgment of the absolute Mystery which is God himself, the confession of faith is at the same time the acknowledgment of a pure gratuitousness, and it should be added even that the awareness of that gratuitousness can only increase in direct proportion to the knowledge one has of it. Not for a moment, under the pretext that it is an operation of intelligence and of thought, can theology convey the slightest impression that it could be master of its object in any way. On the contrary, it is urged to make room, in its process and its method, for an essentially contemplative or even doxological aspect.

- Since it does not give itself its own "Object", the confession of faith is led on the contrary to realize that this "Object" can only be recognized to the extent that the confession was preceded and solicited by it. Accordingly, the theologian must realize that he speaks of his "object" only from the relation he already has with it - and even, to be more precise, only if that object has already been encountered by him in some way in his actual historical situation. In other words, theology cannot fail to include by the same token a hermeneutical aspect.

- It is through the mediation of the Church, and in accordance with its community and hierarchical structure, that the revelation of the Mystery is actually transmitted, and thus that the confession of faith is made possible. Consequently, there is also an institutional component in theological discourse: those who engage in it have always to situate themselves vis-à-vis the diverse and interrelated ecclesial authorities; these in turn solicit, make possible and regulate the authentic process of faith, even when it takes the specific form of the theological discourse.

3. A theology that is fundamental - and so both critical and theological

The responsibility of theology, both as historical and as confessing, is to seek to produce an understanding of faith that "gives account" of it, at least as far as that is possible. In this sense it can be said to belong to the tasks of theology to bring to light and to bring up to date the foundations of faith. This is readily expressed today by saying that theology is, and so must aim to be, fundamental. More precisely, this task is not one that belongs only to a moment, be it the initial moment, of the theological process. On the contrary, it characterizes the whole process, whatever the aspect or the "article" of faith under consideration.

We should be clear, however, what speaking means here. If, on the one hand, one can consider as fundamental only what can be secured as such through reflection and reason, it remains true, on the other hand, that the result of that reflection cannot substitute itself for the very Reality that faith confesses as its own ground. Theology and its reasons cannot be the foundation of faith as such. We must say rather that the task of theology is neither more nor less than to make evident (to the extent possible) that what grounds faith precisely as faith - even from a rational point of view - is its recognition of the Foundation that it confesses, which is none other than God himself. What consequences follow for the process and the method of theology?

- Because faith is knowledge, firm knowledge, it demands by that fact the operation and the deployment of all the virtualities and all the modalities of knowledge possessed by the one who professes it. Nothing further needs to be said to confirm that theology will be reflective and speculative, and that it would be "failing in faith" not to be so, as far as that is possible. We have already had occasion to say that this disposes theology to have recourse to all the effective resources of human thought. We must add here that this is only one means among others, but one very significant in its sphere, of taking seriously the Mystery that has willed to give itself so as to be known. Philosophical disciplines or human sciences, each of them must know how to keep its rational balance. But all of them can and indeed must be urged to highlight as far as possible what appears to be a law of Revelation: the more the Mystery is revealed, the more one applies oneself in consequence to knowing it, the more its majesty and its incommensurability, but also its gratuitousness and the splendor of its gratuitousness, are affirmed.

- While the foundations that theology seeks to make known as those of faith are offered to man's knowledge, it is an evident fact that man for his part regards himself as entitled to take his own position on the conditions and the means of his access to what he can hold as truth. Modern times have indeed established a general critique of knowledge and an epistemology of the different disciplines according to which this human knowledge is distributed. Insofar as theology wants to speak to and for man as he is, and in the culture as it is, it cannot refuse the task of critique. And it must not omit to practice what is called, in a somewhat too facile term indeed, "the critique of the critique"… But it is already in the nature of critique worthy of the name not to lose sight of its own limits.

- Theology however must not present the result of its critical and speculative reflection as the Foundation of faith. On the contrary it was emphasized above that it is for theology to show that what grounds faith as faith - even from a rational point of view - is the recognition of the Foundation that it confesses. That is to say that finally the task of theology is to adopt an overall point of view on all that man is, on all that God is, and on their relations - on "the Totality", then. Thus even after the so-called age of the "death of metaphysics", theology must acknowledge its responsibility to discuss the totality of "Reality", to bring a properly ontological dimension to its discourse, in other words - ontological as theological, however, because what is acknowledged here as the Foundation of the whole reality of the world and of history is properly the revealed Mystery of God's self-communication. It is at the same time a very particular ontology, since it holds that the absolute Being desires to communicate himself to the other beings, and in consequence must be acknowledged as "other than (simply) being", to apply (out of context) an expression of Emmanuel Lévinas.


1 Cf. J. Doré, « Les cent ans de la Faculté de l'Institut Catholique de Paris », Revue de l'Institut Catholique de Paris n°36 (October-December 1990), pp. 73-74.

2 Similar reflections can be found in « Woran krankt heute die Theologie ? Ein Gespräch mit Prof. Gisbert Greshacke », Herderkorrespondenz 43 (August 1989), pp. 362-368.

3 J. Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology. Building Stones for a Fundamental Theology (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1987), p. 322.

4 J. Doré, « Discours théologique et réalité sacramentaire », in P. de Clerck and E. Palazzo (ed.), Rituels. Mélanges offerts au Père GY (Paris 1990), pp. 251-261.

5 S. Th. II-II, 1-2, ad 2.

6 J. Moingt, « Un avenir pour la théologie » in Recherches de Sciences Religieuses, October-December 1987. Traversées de la théologie. A la mémoire de Henri de Lavalette (1925-1985), p.612.

7 Cf. J. Doré, « La responsabilité et la tâche de l'UER de théologie et de sciences religieuses », Revue de l'Institut Catholique de Paris, n°39 (July-September 1991), pp.27-28.

8 Les Recherches de Sciences Religieuses has devoted two issues to the question of the Magisterium : January-March and April-June 1983. We may refer especially to the article of Introduction : J. Doré, « L'institution du magistère », pp.13-36.

9 The Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian. Instruction of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 1990, paragraph 14.

10 Ibid., paragraph 24.

11 Ibid., paragraph 29.

12 Ibid., paragraphs 30-31.

13 La Documentation Catholique, n°1798 (21 Dec.1980), p.1162. See too among others: Paul VI, Discours aux participants au Congrès international sur la théologie du Concile Vatican II, 1 Oct.1966: AAS 58 (1966), pp. 862f.

14 In particular In IV Sent. 19,2,2,q.3,sol.2, ad 4.