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On Friday, December 5, Pope Francis addressed the International Theological Commission at the conclusion of its first plenary session. Traditionally held in the first week of Advent, the meeting of the ITC’s new five-year term selects the three themes the Commission will consider over coming years.
Thirty members are appointed to the International Theological Commission by the Supreme Pontiff for a term of five years, after which they may be reappointed. The Commission is attached to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
In two previous terms, members of the Commission included two female theolgians: Sister Sara Butler, M.S.B.T., (U.S.A.), and Professor Barbara Hallensleben (Switzerland, of German nationality).
In July 2014, Pope Francis appointed an additional five female theologians to the ITC: Sister Prudence Allen, R.S.M., (U.S.A.), Sister Alenka Arko, Com. Loyola (Slovenia-Russia), Moira Mary McQuenn (G.B. – Canada), Tracey Rowland (Australia), Marianne Schlosser (Germany – Austria).
The following is an English translation of Pope Francis’ address, which was delivered in Italian:
Dear brothers and sisters,
It is my pleasure to meet with you at the beginning of a new five-year period — the 9th — of the International Theological Commission. I thank the President, Cardinal Müller, for the words which he addressed to me on your behalf.
Your Commission began shortly after the Second Vatican Council, following a proposal of the Synod of Bishops, in order that the Holy See might more directly avail itself of the reflection of theologians from various parts of the world. The mission of the Commission is therefore “to study doctrinal problems of great importance, especially those which present new points of view, and in this way to offer its help to the Magisterium of the Church” (Statutes, art. 1). The twenty-seven documents published thus far are evidence of this commitment and a reference point for theological debate.
Your mission is to serve the Church. This requires not only intellectual skills, but also spiritual dispositions. Among the latter, I would like to draw your attention to the importance of listening. “Son of man, all my words that I shall speak to you receive in your heart, and hear with your ears” (Ez 3:10). The theologian is first and foremost a believer who listens to the living Word of God and receives it in his heart and mind. But the theologian must also humbly listen to “what the Spirit says to the Churches” (Rev. 2:7), through the various manifestations of the lived faith of the people of God. The Commission’s recent document on the "sensus fidei in the life of the Church” recalled this. It is beautiful; I liked the document very much, well done! Indeed, together with the entire Christian people, the theologian opens his eyes and ears to the “signs of the times.” He is called to “to hear, distinguish and interpret the many voices of our age, and to judge them in the light of the divine word — it is the word of God that judges — so that revealed truth can always be more deeply penetrated, better understood and set forth to greater advantage” (Second Vatican Council Constitution, Gaudium et spes, 44).
In this light, within the increasingly diverse composition of the Commission, I would like to note the increased presence of women — still not too many … they are the strawberries on the cake, but we need more — a presence that becomes an invitation to reflect on the role that women can and should play in the field of theology. Indeed, "the Church acknowledges the indispensable contribution which women make to society through the sensitivity, intuition and other distinctive skill sets which they, more than men, tend to possess. … I readily acknowledge that many women … [offer] new contributions to theological reflection (Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii gaudium, 103). Thus, by virtue of their feminine genius, women theologians can detect, to the benefit of all, certain unexplored aspects of the unfathomable mystery of Christ, “in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2:3). I invite you to reap the greatest advantage of this specific contribution that women make to the understanding of the faith.
Another feature of your Commission is its international character, which reflects the Church’s catholicity. Diversity of viewpoints should enrich catholicity without harming unity. The unity of Catholic theologians stems from their common reference to one faith in Christ and is nourished by the diversity of the Holy Spirit’s gifts. Starting from this foundation, and in a healthy pluralism, various theological approaches, developed in different cultural contexts and using diverse methods, cannot ignore one other, but in theological dialogue should enrich and correct one another. The work of your Commission can be a witness to this growth, and also a testimony to the Holy Spirit, since He it is who sows this charismatic variety in the Church, and diverse viewpoints, and He it is who will establish unity. He is the main actor, always.
The Immaculate Virgin, as a privileged witness of the great events of salvation history, “kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Lk 2:19): A woman of listening, a woman of contemplation, a woman close to the problems of the Church and people. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and with all the resources of her feminine genius, she unceasingly entered ever more deeply into “all the truth” (cf. Jn 16:13). Mary is thus the icon of the Church who, eagerly awaiting her Lord, progresses day after day in her understanding of the faith, thanks also to the patient work of men and women theologians. May Our Lady, the teacher of true theology, obtain for us, by her maternal prayer, that our charity “may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment” (Phil 1:9). I accompany you on this journey with my blessing, and I ask you please to pray for me. Pray theologically. Thank you.