I’m briefly interrupting the series on the Pope’s new document because there was an interesting tidbit from Vatican Radio today:
2013-11-30 Vatican Radio
(Vatican Radio) Monotheism, social doctrine and sensus fidei are the three themes to be discussed next week by the International Theological Commission, when its members meet at the Vatican for its plenary session. The session will run from Monday to Friday and will be presided by commission president Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. . . . [The ITC] will continue its study of three important themes: the topic of monotheism, the significance of the social doctrine of the Church in the wider context of Christian doctrine, and the problematic of the sensus fidei.
The commission will have an audience with the Pope at the end of its plenary.
The ITC is an interesting body. It is a group of international scholars, appointed by the Pope and convened by the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. They are appointed to a five year term, and their agenda is established by the Prefect, to whom they report their findings. The current composition of the ITC was established by then-Pope Benedict. Of course, as Cardinal Ratzinger, he oversaw many previous five-year agendas of the Commission.
Of interest are the topics being discussed next week. Monotheism, of course, relates to our understanding of God as One and, for trinitarian Christians, how that One God is experienced in Three Divine Persons. It would also pertain to our relationships to all monotheistic faiths, such as Judaism and Islam, so the significance is readily apparent. Perhaps even more dramatic are the second two items, however.
How the social teaching of the Church relates to the “wider context of Christian doctrine” is a topic that is at the very heart of the religious, cultural and political divisiveness we’ve also witnessed and experienced over these last years. Think “Nuns on the Bus” vs. Paul Ryan, for example! It will be interesting to see how the ITC might contribute some helpful insights on balance and integration through their work, especially in light of Pope Francis’ powerful emphasis on just this point in his own teaching and ministry. The notion of the “sense of faith”, closely related to the sensus fidelium (the “sense of the faithful”), is also a critical subject as we continue to find new ways to understand and proclaim the Gospel to all people. What the announcement refers to as the “problematic” of the sensus fidei is a reminder that the relationship between God and humanity is as much art as science!
Any documents that may result from the Commission’s work will not be official church teaching; it will represent the professional judgment of the scholars involved. Sometimes they generate no texts at all; sometimes they do. All results are turned over to their boss, the Prefect of the CDF. Now if he chooses to use the material himself, then it will become his work or the work of the Congregation. If the Pope decides to make use of their work in his own teaching (such as including it in an encyclical or other text), then it will take on that level of authority. But no matter how, or if, the deliberations of the Commission find their way into official teaching documents, the insights of the Commissioners will be valuable for our consideration and study.