From the editor's desk.
Drew Christiansen's article provides a general commentary, while the note by Aemilia Uelmen provides an animating perspective from the Focolare Movement, singled out by Benedict as exemplifying the kind of saving grace needed to advance his call to liberate world economics from slavery to the laws of profit and convert them to the laws of morality. The Focolare have networked 754 companies worldwide into a commitment to pursue higher goals than mere profit (see the Economy of Communion Web site, http://www.edc-online.org/).
The appearance of articles on a papal encyclical affords me the opportunity to reflect on the historical rise of this medium of magisterial teaching as well as on some questions it raises for the relationship between the magisterium and theologians. And the appearance of Francis Sullivan's further clarification of subsistit in reminded me to return to his Magisterium: Teaching Authority in the Church (1983) to refresh my thinking about this topic as it relates to encyclicals.
From the infancy of the Church papal letters have served the Church's ordinary magisterium. F. G. Morrissey in his article in the New Catholic Encyclopedia (2nd ed., s.v. "Encyclical") reckons that "the first modern usage of the encyclical as now known was made by Benedict XIV on Dec. 3, 1740"; he went on to author 40 more over 18 years. With the technological advances in printing and transportation, the rate of publication of encyclicals increased dramatically, especially following the invention of the rotary press in 1843. Certainly with the French Revolution problems for the Catholic Church multiplied dramatically and needed addressing by the popes. Since the reign of Pius IX (1846-1878), the encyclical has become an expected medium of the pope's ordinary magisterium. Pius IX produced 41 encyclicals over 32 years, and his successor, Leo XIII, the recognized champion of papal letter writers, contributed 87 over 24 years. (Readers will perhaps find this Web site enlightening: http://www.papalencyclicals.net/all.htm.)
This and a parallel development toward centralization of authority in the papacy (and concomitantly in the Vatican offices) since the French Revolution lead me to reflect on sharing ecclesial authority with the college of bishops and theologians.
At the time of Vatican II, Pope Paul VI and his fellow bishops recognized the magisterium's need to hear from the Church's best theologians around the world. On October 27, 1967, during the first episcopal synod, the bishops proposed that an international commission of theologians be constituted, with members nominated by episcopal conferences. On April 28, 1969, Paul VI announced the establishment of the International Theological Commission, having approved the provisional statutes drawn up by the CDF. On August 6, 1982, Pope John
Paul II promulgated the ITC's definitive statutes. Of them Sullivan observes: "While it is true that the intention of the Synod was that the ITC be a consultative body for the Holy See, and in particular for the CDF, one may wonder whether the Synod envisioned quite so thorough-going a subordination of the ITC to the CDF as is laid down in these definitive statutes. The president of the ITC is the Cardinal-Prefect of the CDF, and it is he who suggests to the pope the names of theologians for the commission, after consulting the episcopal conferences" (Sullivan, Magisterium 175).
In advising the magisterium, the charism of theologians certainly serves to support the magisterial teaching office. This, in fact, is a normal aspect of all Catholic theologians' charism, guided by the Spirit of love. But one must also wonder whether their charism does not also authorize a role distinct from this supportive role. In their direct service to the magisterium, theologians function largely as apologists or as consultors regarding theological views expressed in magisterial teachings. But in their teaching and writing role distinct from such consultative work, theologians must necessarily serve the Church's wider need to respond theologically to historical human development, a development resulting from humanity's historical rootedness, including all the complexities resulting from, e.g., population increase, environmental issues, increasingly sophisticated armaments, and new technologies such as the microchip and Internet that astronomically facilitate interaction and communication (and in this role, theologians also support the magisterium). As Gaudium et spes instructed the Church, "it is the task of... especially pastors and theologians to hear, distinguish and interpret the many voices of our age, and to judge them in the light of the divine word, so that revealed truth can always be more deeply penetrated, better understood and set forth to greater advantage" (no. 44; see also no. 62).
One effect of the recent communication explosion is a certain relativization of authorities, as people around the globe are increasingly exposed to a plethora of authorities competing for allegiance. In this new, bewildering context, the Church continues to preach the Good News and hold it up as God's final word for us, empowered by God's own Spirit. At the same time, globalization throws us Christians together with huge populations who do not share our allegiance to Jesus Christ. As it was in the beginning, when Christianity moved out of its cradle, the mission remains ever the same. What has changed and will continue to change is the mission's context, and this largely because of technologies and cultural developments that face us with competing authorities. It seems to me, however, that the living Christ encourages us to see these authorities not as enemies to be feared and conquered, but as potential collaborators in works of love to save our planet in all its diversity of cultures and religions. In this work, the charism of theologians, always guided by the Spirit of love, will be indispensable for helping the Church and its magisterium find the most fruitful ways of engaging other cultures and religions in building up the human family created in God's image and offered the grace to be truly God's heirs.
David G. Schultenover, S.J.
Editor in Chief