Symposium prepares theologians for New Evangelization

Theology professors at a symposium held in the nation’s capital were told that they must combine faith and reason to create a new apologetics based on the love of God.

The symposium, which was intended to prepare modern theologians to participate in the New Evangelization, was open to selected non-tenured theology or religious studies faculty who received doctoral degrees within the last five years.

Speakers at the symposium, held Sept. 15-17, looked to the Church’s rich history as they offered advice on how to present the Gospel in a modern university setting.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, Texas stressed the important role that college professors must play in the New Evangelization.

“Young people today are hungry for the word of God,” he said.

The cardinal offered the example of St. Irenaeus of Lyons as someone who “forged a remarkable response to the challenge of making the Gospel known in an environment that was new and even threatening.”

Tracing the writings of St. Irenaeus, Cardinal DiNardo offered several proposals to help the conference participants contribute to the New Evangelization. 

“We should show great attentiveness to the doctrine of creation ex nihilo,” he said. “The absolutely infinite, transcendent God is not needful, but creates and forms out of goodness.”

With the sophistication of modern science, he explained, “there can be a tendency for a theologian to treat this fundamental theme too obliquely.”

He also emphasized the necessary pairing of Scripture and the rule of faith. The two belong together, he said, and theologians must not lose contact with the rule of faith when interpreting the Word of God.

In addition, Cardinal DiNardo called for a more holistic view of the human being in academic life, warning against modern cognitive sciences that reduce the human mind to a mere brain, run by principles of biology and chemistry.

“I really want to challenge theologians,” he said. “They need to be in this dialogue and not to be afraid of the cognitive scientists.”

“There needs to be an attentiveness in the New Evangelization to the role of faith and reason,” the cardinal continued.

“This is Catholic excellence at its greatest, and it needs to be emphasized today.”

He urged the symposium participants to remember that faith and reason are in harmony and not to approach them as if they are conflicting.

Dr. John Cavadini, who served as the chair of the theology department at Notre Dame from 1997-2010, expanded upon the complementary roles of faith and reason.

He recalled the early Christian writer Origen, who was hesitant to write an apology of Christianity based merely on reason because he feared giving the appearance that the Gospel was a product of human reason that could be understood entirely within its boundaries.

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Cavadini emphasized the need to “create an apologetics that, while using reason, does not reduce Christian faith to a religion that can be accepted purely on the grounds of argumentation or plausibility.”

Since God is love, he explained, Christianity is founded on something that needs no apology, because love is the one thing that is credible in its own right.

The role of the Christian apologist, he said, is to “get out of the way and let love speak,” remembering that love is not an abstract concept to be understood, but rather a person to be encountered.

Cavadini praised Origen’s apology, observing that it has been compared to the painting of an icon, which he noted, “is intended in later Greek Christianity to mediate an encounter with the person of Christ.”

Archbishop J. A. DiNoia, O.P., also spoke at the conference. Archbishop DiNoia serves as the secretary for the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. He addressed the symposium participants on the nature of theology as a field of study having internal roots within man.

God’s immense love for us is not something that we could have figured out simply “on the basis of thinking about God,” he said.

It is the infused theological virtue of faith received in baptism that allows for “the participation in God’s knowledge of himself,” he said.

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Therefore, the archbishop explained, the principles of theology come from the knowledge of God infused in us.

The challenge for the New Evangelization, said Archbishop DiNoia is “securing the integrity and finality of theology as a distinctive field of inquiry.”

He urged the symposium participants to resist the “fragmentation of theology into disparate subviews and specializations,” as well as internal secularization within the Church.

In addition, he called for them to be courageous in recognizing the “compatibility between an academic profession and an ecclesial vocation,” seeing their work not merely as a job, but as a calling.

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