March 12, 2012

VATICAN CITY – Theologians and bishops have complementary roles in furthering understanding of the Catholic faith, says a new report from a Vatican panel of theological advisers.

Theologians, however, must ultimately defer to the bishops on questions of definitive interpretation, the report said.

Theology Today: Perspectives, Principles and Criteria is the latest report from the International Theological Commission, a group of theologians appointed by the pope to offer expert advice to the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The final text of the report is based on discussions held in Rome over the period 2004-11.

The report acknowledges an inevitable tension, while emphasizing a need for harmony, between the practice of theology and the exercise by the pope and bishops of the magisterium, the Church's teaching authority in matters of faith and morals.

"Bishops and theologians have distinct callings and must respect one another's particular competence, lest the magisterium reduce theology to a mere repetitive science or theologians presume to substitute the teaching office of the Church's pastors," the theologians write.

"Theology investigates and articulates the faith of the Church, and the ecclesiastical magisterium proclaims that faith and authentically interprets it," the report says.

In their pronouncements, bishops should draw on the work of theologians to demonstrate a "capacity for critical evaluation," the report advises.

"On the other hand, the magisterium is an indispensable help to theology by its authentic transmission of the deposit of faith (depositum fidei), particularly at decisive times of discernment," the authors add.

The report is clear in stating where final authority lies:

"When it comes to the 'authentic' interpretation of the faith, the magisterium plays a role that theology simply cannot take to itself. Theology cannot substitute a judgment coming from the scientific theological community for that of the bishops."