SACRED THEOLOGYThe science that the apostle writer needs to master most, after Holy Scripture and Tradition, is Theology. He must be aware of its necessity for the clergy, its value for the faithful, and must follow some practical norms in presenting it to people.
A necessity for Pastors
The study of sacred Theology is essential in the training of those in ministry. The example of Jesus Christ shows this; he himself willed to prepare the Apostles for their mission. Saint Paul highlights it when he lists knowledge among the pastoral gifts. The Church's teaching and practice make this manifest;
the dignity of the Pastor and the spiritual needs of people demand this.
You cannot conceive of a real pastor who would fail to combine knowledge with an exemplary life, especially a knowledge of theology. Only on this condition will his doctrinal ministry be fruitful; only then will he be equal to his mission as a teacher of revealed doctrine and the judge of people's consciences before God. People draw their notions of dogma and morals from the priest's lips, just as they do the norms for right living: "Labia enim sacerdotis custodient scientiam, et legem requirent ex ore eius."1 Hence the study of sacred theology must be for the pastor his daily bread.
The study of dogmatic theology will lead to doctrinal precision in his preaching and, as a general rule, not to a rebuttal of past errors but to the ability to face the needs of the times and the good of those entrusted to him. The study of moral theology will give him an understanding of the human heart, help him learn the means to heal its wounds and to lead it to perfection by the ordinary way or by that of a higher spirituality.
Study, lastly, will lead the pastor to become an example himself of Christian piety, in accordance with the admonition that the Apostle of the
Gentiles gave to Timothy: "Attende tibi et doctrinæ: insta in illis. Hoc enim faciens, et teipsum salvum facies, et eos qui te audiunt."2
Its usefulness for the lay faithful
Theology is the prime and most necessary science because it is ordered to the attainment of eternal life. In fact, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God."3
It is a science that ennobles because it raises the mind to faith, which is the basis and root of the whole of justice without which it is impossible to please God and to enter into that union of his faithful; it is a perennial source of strength and comfort; the dawn and foretaste of the beatific vision. "And this is eternal life, that they know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent."4 It makes us peer into the depths of God even now and permits us to know, albeit in a veiled way, the triune God and the One he sent into the world, Jesus Christ.
Theology, moreover, teaches us how to live life God's way. Then the words of Saint Paul will become fully clear: "Imitatores mei estote, sicut et ego Christi."5
Lastly, theology teaches us to live God's
life by means of sharing in grace to the point where we can repeat with the Apostle of the Gentiles: "Vivo autem, iam non ego: vivit vero in me Christus."6
The knowledge of theology is useful, indeed one can say, paramount, for today's lay faithful since many have a shallow knowledge of this divine science that illumines, strengthens and saves. Today, more than ever, we need to examine more closely those gospel words: "For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?"7
People cannot fully agree on the best way to present the science of theology. There are two different tendencies, the first of which prefers to unify, abridge and summarize, while the second tends to divide and subdivide. Both are good. The choice of one or the other depends on the writer's goal and on the group of people he is addressing.
Specialists in theology, those who deal with scholars and with people who are aware of their erroneous opinions but are searching for the truth, will choose the second.
As regards general readership (and this is the main mission of the press apostle), avoid disputes and faultfinding; the truth,
the whole truth, as is taught by the Church is to be set out clearly. It is not simply a matter of enlightening the readers' mind but also of strengthening their will and leading them to the sources of grace.
Dealing, for example, with dogmatic theology, [the apostle] will show that it is necessary to adhere to the dogmas proposed by the Church. To achieve such adherence the help of grace is indispensable. Such grace comes through the sacraments and prayer. Dealing with morals he will show how a person must, of necessity, flee evil and practice good. The same is to be said for the other parts of theology.
Latin is to be the preferred language if readers know it, but when writing for a general readership it is better to use the vernacular. Elucidate as much as possible.
Theology is to be traced back to its sources in Holy Scripture and in Tradition, as handed down by the Catholic Church. When required, set out the explanation and the proofs from reason and those from convenience, especially when the reader requests it.
There are many ways in which the apostle can write in particular about theology. Such are an explanation of the Catechism, a systematic treatment of dogmatic, ascetical, mystical and pastoral theology, articles, educational books and other means. Circumstances will dictate.
1 Mal 2:7. * "For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts."
2 1 Tim 4:16: * "Take heed to yourself and to your teaching; hold to that, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers."
3 Mt 4:4.
4 Jn 17:3.
5 1 Cor 4:16. * "I urge you, then, be imitators of me." For a more accurate quotation, see 1 Cor 11:1.
6 Gal 2:20. * "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me."
7 Mt 16:26.