Theology's Responsibility and Tasks in Today's Church and World

By Dore, Joseph | Theological Studies, December 2004 | Go to article overview

Theology's Responsibility and Tasks in Today's Church and World


Dore, Joseph, Theological Studies


THEOLOGY AS SUCH and in its entirety relates to faith. Theology by its very origin depends on faith; its end is to serve faith. Theology's responsibility then is defined by reference to faith, and theologians' tasks are carried out in relation to it. This expresses the essential, but at the same time remains at the level of generalities. Much more precision is needed. To serve that purpose, I have adopted the following plan. In part one, which also serves as an extended introduction, I propose a principle expressed as: Theology's responsibility is linked to the entirety of faith. In this first place, I appeal to a principle; the key word in my statement of this principle is "entirety." In part two, which will necessarily be longer, I elucidate the application of this principle, using as my formulation: From faith's different aspects to theology's multiple tasks. I examine each of the main characteristics of faith successively and provide their application to theology, showing in each case the particular task for theology. There are four characteristics, aspects, or dimensions of faith, to which correspond respectively four tasks for theology. In part three, which serves as a rather brief conclusion (comparable in importance to my introductory first part), I draw out the consequences for what I call: Theology's formal characteristics as discourse of faith.

THE PRINCIPLE: THEOLOGY'S RESPONSIBILITY IS LINKED TO THE ENTIRETY OF FAITH

Theology is bound to faith, or more precisely, to faith in its entirety, in accordance with all its many dimensions. 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. In fact, faith is also celebrated in worship and is applied in the spiritual life and in moral actions. Through all of this it is embodied in a whole set of relational networks and institutions, and thus it is with regard to all these aspects of faith that theology must be responsible. It must seek to be accountable for all of them.

At the same time theological discourse must not remain purely theoretical and timeless. If we were to confine 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 theology's responsibility is defined with regard to all that faith is, it follows that theology should be accountable not only for the teachings of the faith but also how they are in fact lived and practiced by believers, and how they are applied in history and society, in the world and in culture. This includes, consequently, the teachings of the faith in their concrete historical form or aspect: inasmuch as they must be (and are) received and embodied among Christians, but also inasmuch as they are neglected, contested, or rejected by those who are not Christians.

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

Authorities Other Than Faith

Already as doctrine, faith is expected to enter into dialogue and debate with other authorities, which have their own proper qualifications. In the first place there is philosophy, with which theology has been constantly in dialogue from its beginnings. …

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