The Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian
I have been a member of the Catholic Theological Society of America for 35 years now; and though I have not attended each and every convention over those years, I have attended well over half of them.
The Convention which ended today, as many know, had as its theme “Generations.” The experience was for me, both poignant and hopeful.
The poignancy consisted in remembering those senior colleagues who had died in the past year, theologians of renown like Walter Burghardt and George Tavard. In addition there were a number of other colleagues present, but visibly more enfeebled than just a year or two ago.
But there was also a good deal of hope. Not only because of the enthusiastic participation of a younger generation and their full involvement in both plenary sessions and seminars; but because of what I perceive to be a renewed sense of their ecclesial vocation. Let me give one salient instance.
When I first joined the Society the prevalent wisdom was often expressed as: “we’re doing theology, not catechetics.” While, perhaps understandable as an attempt to vindicate the particular nature of the discipline, especially as it moved toward the founding of doctoral programs in theology, it also ran the risk of divorcing the theological enterprise from the life of the Church, and the theologian from responsibility for that life.
The “audience” to which the theologian addressed himself or herself risked becoming narrowed to the academy and his or her accountability limited to the guild of fellow practitioners.
Happily the CTSA has always had salutary limits to this tendency and instituionalized safeguards against it. Thus, for example, the local Ordinary has always been invited to address the opening session; and the celebration of the convention Eucharist has always been a high point.
But what particularly struck me in this just concluded convention is the number of younger theologians who are questioning the received wisdom that separates theology and religious education. Given the wide-spread religious and theological illiteracy we face at the undergraduate level, so simplistic a separation is not only theoretically questionable; it verges on the pastorally irresponsible.