The grace of becoming little in order
to become wise
On Tuesday morning, 1 December , in the Pauline
Chapel at the Vatican, the Pope presided at Mass for the Members of the
International Theological Commission on the occasion of the first Annual
Plenary Session of the current quinquennium. It was held at the Domus
Sanctae Marthae in the Vatican from 30 November to 4 December. This year
the Commission is commemorating the 40th anniversary of its foundation
by Paul VI. During the meeting the topics chosen were those that will be
addressed in the coming five-year period. Cardinal William Joseph Levada,
the President, asked the members to, among others, continue to examine
the important issue of theological methodology. The following is a
translation of the Pope's Homily, which was given in Italian.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The Lord's words that we have just heard in the Gospel
passage challenge us as theologians or, perhaps better, invite us to
make an examination of conscience. What is theology? What is our role as
theologians? How can theology be done well?
We have heard that our Lord praises the Father because
he concealed the great mystery of the Son
the Trinitarian mystery, the Christological mystery
from the wise and the learned, from those who did not recognize him.
Instead he revealed it to children, the nčpioi,
to those who are not learned, who are not very cultured. It was to
them that this great mystery was revealed.
With these words the Lord describes in simple terms an
episode in his life that already began at the time of his birth, when
the Magi from the East ask those who are competent
the scribes, the exegetes
where the birthplace of the Saviour, of the King of Israel, is located.
The scribes know because they are great specialists; they can say
immediately where the Messiah is born: in Bethlehem! But they do not
feel it concerns them. For them it remains academic knowledge that does
not affect their lives; they stay away. They can provide information,
but they do not assimilate it and it has no part in the formation of
their own lives.
Then throughout the Lord's public life we encounter the
same thing. It is beyond the learned to comprehend that this man, a
Galilean who is not educated, can truly be the Son of God. It is
unacceptable to them that God
the great, the one, the God of Heaven and earth
could be present in this man. They know everything, they know all of the
great prophecies; they even know Isaiah 53, but the mystery remains
hidden to them. Instead it is revealed to the lowly, starting from Our
Lady to the fishermen of the Sea of Galilee. They know, just as the
Roman centurion beneath the Cross knew: this is the Son of God.
The basic events of Jesus' life do not only belong to
the past but are also present in various ways to all generations. And
thus also in our time
in the past 200 years
we see the same thing. There have been great scholars, great experts,
great theologians, teachers of faith who have taught us many things.
They have gone into the details of Sacred Scripture, of the history of
salvation but have been unable to see the mystery itself, its
central nucleus: that Jesus was really the Son of God, that at a given
moment in history the Trinitarian God entered our history, as a man like
The essential has remained hidden! One could easily
mention the great names in the history of theology over the past 200
years from whom we have learned much; but the eyes of their hearts were
not open to the mystery.
On the other hand, in our time there have also been
"little ones" who have understood this mystery. Let us think of St
Bernadette Soubirous; of St Thérčse
of Lisieux, with her new interpretation of the Bible that is
"non-scientific" but goes to the heart of Sacred Scripture; of the
saints and blessed of our time: St Josephine Bakhita, Bl. Teresa of
Calcutta and St Damien de Veuster. We could list so many!
But from all this the question arises: "Why should this
be so?". Is Christianity the religion of the foolish, of people with no
culture or who are uneducated? Is faith extinguished where reason is
kindled? How can this be explained? Perhaps we should take another look
at history. What Jesus said, what can be noted in all the centuries, is
true. Nevertheless, there is a "type" of lowly person who is also
learned. Our Lady stood beneath the Cross, the humble handmaid of the
Lord and the great woman illumined by God. And John was there too, a
fisherman from the Sea of Galilee. He is the John whom the Church was
rightly to call "the theologian", for he was really able to see the
mystery of God and proclaim it: eagled-eyed he entered into the
inaccessible light of the divine mystery.
So it was too that after his Resurrection, the Lord, on
the road to Damascus, touches the heart of Saul, one of those learned
people who cannot see. He himself, in his First Letter to Timothy,
writes that he was "acting ignorantly" at that time, despite his
knowledge. But the Risen One touches him: he is blinded. Yet at the same
time, he truly gains sight; he begins to see. The great scholar becomes
a "little one" and for this very reason perceives the folly of God as
wisdom, a wisdom far greater than all human wisdom.
We could continue to interpret the holy story in this
way. Just one more observation. These erudite terms, sofņi
in the First Reading are used in a different way. Here