St Josemaría’s writings serve as an inspiration for theology
"What impetus can theology receive from the teachings of Saint Josemaría?" is the title of the paper given by Msgr. Fernando Ocariz on November 14, 2013, during the conference “Saint Josemaria and Theological Thought” held at thePontifical University of the Holy Cross.
In the center, Msgr. Fernando Ocáriz
These are some excerpts from the paper, which was published in no. 57 of the journal Romana. To read the full text, click here.
The saints and the sources of theology
In 1993, in the context of a conference on the teachings of Saint Josemaría, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said: “The theologian should be a man of scholarship; but he should also, precisely because he is a theologian, be a man of prayer. He must pay attention to the developments in history and scholarship, but, even more than that, he needs to listen to the testimony of those who, having gone the full way on the path of prayer, have, even in this life, attained the highest reaches of divine intimacy; that is, the testimony of those who, in ordinary language, we call saints.”
Contemporary theology acknowledges the capacity of the spiritual life to give inspiration to its work, and consequently the role of the great saints, thus overcoming the rupture in previous centuries between theologians and spiritual authors. Nevertheless, sufficient attention does not seem to have been paid, at least not explicitly, to the writings of the saints, except in questions more directly related to spirituality. In many cases, the testimonies of the saints influence theological work to some degree as regards the approach and verification of conclusions; but they are not seen as authentic sources or “sites” for the theologian’s work. In fact, they are cited scarcely or not at all, perhaps because the saints have not set forth their teachings in a discursive and deductive manner and, in many cases, these touch more directly upon the subjective states of the soul than on the objective topics of dogmatic theology. But in reality, as noted by the International Theological Commission in 2011, “theology is not only a science but also a wisdom . . . The human person is not satisfied by partial truths, but seeks to unify different pieces and areas of knowledge into an understanding of the final truth of all things and of human life itself. This search for wisdom, which undoubtedly animates theology itself, gives theology a close relationship to spiritual experience and to the wisdom of the saints.” (...)
The theologian needs to listen to the testimony of those who, having gone the full way on the path of prayer, have, even in this life, attained the highest reaches of divine intimacy; that is, the testimony of those who, in ordinary language, we call saints.
It is true that “the great spiritual teachers, each with their own nuances, always bring particularly deep insights not so much to theology, in the strict sense, as to the content and meaning of Christian life, on the imitation of and identification with Christ.” These lights, however, can contribute greatly to academic theological reflection. The fact that they are masters of the spiritual life does not exclude their offering clear lights to systematic theology and being sources of inspiration for theological work. As John Paul II stated, Saint Josemaría, “like other great figures in modern Church history, can also be a source of inspiration for theological thought. In fact, theological research, which has an irreplaceable role of mediation in the relationship between faith and culture, progresses and is enriched by drawing on the Gospel, under the impulse of the experience of Christianity’s great witnesses.” There is certainly a theological knowledge attained by a discursive process of reasoning, but there is also another form of knowledge made possible by the “connaturality” brought about by the love of God. This second type is found especially in the saints, and theologians need to take it into account. (...)
Saint Josemaría and Theology
(...) Saint Josemaría’s inspirational value for theological studies extends to many areas of theology. Cornelio Fabro wrote that Saint Josemaría has “the spirit of a Father of the Church.” His teachings are always centered on Christian life, also when he includes explicit references to its dogmatic foundations, doing so often in a novel way. For example, his quite original and apparently paradoxical way of referring to the kenosis of the eternal Word: “God humbles himself to the point of becoming man, and in doing so does not feel degraded for having taken on flesh like ours, with all its limitations and weaknesses, sin alone excepted . . . He does not lower himself by his self-emptying.” We are offered here, not a paradox, but an insight to develop theologically: the “self-emptying” of God, who takes on a nature that on its own and without him would be nothing, is combined with the reality that this very humanity of Christ is the peak and perfection of creation; all of creation is ordered towards Christ’s humanity, united without confusion to the divine nature in the unity of his Person, as Saint Paul words to the Colossians make clear (cf. Col 1:16).
Saint Josemaría’s writings contain many profound teachings that can serve as an inspiration for theology.
Saint Josemaría’s writings contain many profound teachings that can serve as an inspiration for theology. For example, the universal call to holiness and apostolate; the Christian meaning of temporal activities as the material and place for sanctification and apostolate; the laity’s identity and mission within the Church; the centrality of divine filiation in the life of the faithful and their identification with Christ; the Holy Mass as the center and root of Christian life; the sanctification of work and the possibility of contemplation in the midst of professional, family and social activities; the relationship between the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial priesthood; unity of life; the original goodness of the world and the understanding of history, after original sin, as the process of redirecting all creation to God; etc. As is well known, with regard to some of these topics—especially the universal call to holiness and the laity’s identity and mission within the Church—many people (among whom we should first mention the soon to be Saint John Paul II) have pointed to the Founder of Opus Dei as a precursor of the Second Vatican Council.
The Christological roots of the teachings of Saint Josemaría
The above-mentioned aspects are intimately interconnected and each contains new lights to develop. Since it is impossible to deal exhaustively with all of them here, I will try to show how Saint Josemaría’s vision of their common theological root imbues them with unity and thus a particular inspirational force for theology. Lying at the root of all his teachings is a profound contemplation of the mystery of the Incarnation. Saint Josemaría’s Christocentrism presents “a deeply coherent vision. From whichever vantage point it is perceived—divine filiation, unity of life, identification with Christ, Jesus’ example for us as true God and true man—the essential content of this spiritual message remains the same: the life of prayer and the sanctification of work, the universal call to sanctity and the effort to co-redeem with Christ. But rather than speaking of different vantage points, it would be better to speak of understanding Christian life from one vantage point: Christ himself and the mystery of his Incarnation, seen in parallel lines of inquiry.”
Cornelio Fabro wrote that Saint Josemaría has “the spirit of a Father of the Church.”
Above all, Saint Josemaría contemplates Christ as the revelation of God. We can certainly attain knowledge of God without explicit reference to Jesus. But it is only in the mystery of Christ that the supreme mystery of the Trinity is revealed: He who has seen me has seen the Father (Jn 14:9). Saint Josemaría expresses this core Christian truth in many ways, but I have always found special light in his words on the human actions of Christ: “All this human behavior is the behavior of God . . . Everything Christ did has a transcendental value. It shows us God’s way of being and beckons us to believe in the love of God who created us and wants us to share his intimate life.”
The consideration that Christ’s humanity shows us “God’s way of being” offers theology a light-filled perspective that needs to be developed and studied more deeply with the assistance of metaphysics. By recognizing with Saint Thomas the unity of Christ’s act of being, we contemplate his human nature as the human way of being of the divine Person, which renders visible his divine way of being, to which it is united without confusion. Any deeper understanding, therefore, of the humanity of Christ—his words, reactions, emotions, actions—speaks to us of how God is. (...)
Mgr. Fernando Ocáriz is the Vice-Chancellor of the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross.