Hard Questions Honor Truth

Asking Hard Questions isn't Always Dissent. Sometimes it's Fidelity.

Today, we delve into a topic that is often misunderstood and sometimes even controversial: the role of theologians or bishops asking uncomfortable questions about Catholic theology or teaching. 

There have always been theologians who have taken positions against what the Church teaches. We saw it following Humane Vitae, Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical on human life. We saw it following the Second Vatican Council. We still see dissent from John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. But asking hard questions, sometimes in ways that appear to be dissent, are not always what they seem. Asking hard questions is the normal function of theological work. It’s how the Church deepens its understanding of Truth. That’s what I want to cover today.

From Episode 9 “Rome Speaks! Will Germany and Other’s Listen?”

It’s a common misconception that Catholic theologians (bishops or laymen) are always in complete agreement with every aspect of Church teaching. In reality, they sometimes find themselves asking challenging questions, not usually to undermine the doctrine (but that happens), but to deepen their understanding and application of it. Truth is revealed, but unchanging. However the world is always changing. The human order is always chaning. It falls to the Church (theologians, or the magisterium) to ask “How does the unchanging Truth apply to the lived experiences of people in a changing world, living in situations or life-scenarios that were previously unforeseen?”

Catholic theology, like any other field of study, is a living, breathing entity. It is not a static set of rules and regulations, but a dynamic and evolving understanding of divine things, including revelation. This understanding is based on the teachings of Jesus Christ, as interpreted by the Church over centuries. However, as our world changes and evolves, so too must our understanding of these teachings, so that we can know how they apply to where the world is today. 

The role of a Catholic theologian, therefore, is not merely to regurgitate doctrine but to engage with it critically. They are called to sometimes grapple with the teachings of the Church, to question, to probe, and to challenge. This process can sometimes lead to uncomfortable questions that seem to challenge the very foundations of the doctrine. 

For instance, questions about the nature of God, the role of women in the Church, the Church’s stance on social issues, or its teachings on sexuality and marriage, can all be challenging and uncomfortable. However, these questions are not asked with the intention of undermining the Church or its teachings. Rather, they are asked in a spirit of seeking deeper understanding and clarity.

Theologians ask these questions because they believe in the truth of the Church’s teachings and want to understand them more fully. They ask these questions because they want to apply these teachings more effectively in their own lives and in the lives of those they serve. They ask these questions because they believe that the Church, like any other institution, can and should continually strive to grow and improve.

In asking these uncomfortable questions, Catholic theologians are not being disloyal or rebellious. At least not always (again, it does happen). On the contrary, they are demonstrating a deep and abiding love for the Church and its teachings. They are showing a commitment to the truth, a desire for understanding, and a passion for applying the teachings of the Church in the most effective way possible.

Listen to “Rome Speaks…”

So, the next time you hear about a Catholic theologian—layperson or bishop—asking uncomfortable questions, remember that this is not always a sign of dissent or rebellion, even if it may appear to be. And even if, for some, it is a sign of dissent, realize that it may still benefit the Church and the people of God, because it will always have the effect of deepening our knowledge of the truth, confirming, rather than abandoning what we know, and even revealing things previously never considered. It is a sign of a deep and abiding faith, a commitment to truth, and a desire to serve the Church and its people more effectively. It is, in fact, a sign of a healthy and vibrant Catholic theology.

In conclusion, uncomfortable questions are not always threats to Catholic doctrine but rather opportunities for deeper understanding and application. They are the tools by which Catholic thinkers explore the depths of their faith and seek to bring the teachings of the Church to life in the modern world. They are, in essence, the lifeblood of a living, breathing, and growing Catholic theology.

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