Present-day Roman Catholic theology suffers from a number of significant problems. These problems are found in many different theological works by many different theologians. This article will identify some of the major problems, without naming particular theologians, because these problems are systemic.
Many theological works by present-day theologians are filled with pointless pedantic drivel. They examine, in great detail, irrelevant questions which have nothing to do with faith or morals or Christian discipleship. Scripture scholars go to great lengths to examine the social, cultural, and literary background of a Scripture passage--but never use that knowledge to arrive at a meaningful interpretation of Scripture. The end result of their efforts is a great many words which say very little. Catholic theologians should be a source of knowledge and understanding about the Faith and about how to live like Christ. But often they are not.
Some Catholic theologians write and teach doctrines contrary to the teaching of the Magisterium. Sometimes they oppose established Catholic doctrine outright. Some theologians openly teach heresy in their writings and within their courses at Catholic universities and colleges. Others teach heresy openly and emphatically in their courses, but in their writings they are subtle and circumspect. Yet surprisingly, their peers and students do not reject them.
Still other theologians undermine Church teaching in more subtle ways. They don't openly teach heresy, but they systematically chip away at every principle of faith and morals at the foundation of Church doctrine. Scripture scholars treat the Bible as if it were merely a human work, full of errors and historically untrue. Among moral theologians, a common error is to deny that certain types of acts are always immoral. Among dogmatic theologians, a common error is to narrow the number and extent of the doctrines which are considered authoritative and definitive. Their efforts discourage belief and encourage doubt.
One of the most common sources of heresy in the writings of Catholic theologians is modern-day culture. Theologians living in a particular culture are susceptible to the influence of their culture on their thought and writings. Errors found in the culture are absorbed by the theologian, combined with religious concepts and scholarly methodology, and then presented to the reader as if it were Catholic teaching. These theologians often do not even realize that they are not thinking for themselves, but are merely mimicking the erroneous ideas of their culture.
Catholic theologians are supposed to build up the Body of Christ. Often they do more harm than good.
Many Catholic theologians and Scripture scholars believe, and explicitly state, that scholarship should not be guided by faith. Many Scripture scholars think that the Bible should be interpreted without faith and without prayer: guided only by methods of scholarship. As a result, their writings are faithless and prayerless. They readily adhere to the thinnest theories based on the slightest of scholarly evidence, but they reject important ideas based firmly on faith. This approach is similar to an idea common in modern society, to keep religious belief separate from government, work, and school. This separation of scholarship from faith has resulted in a secularization of modern-day theology. Catholic theologians and Scripture scholars should let their scholarship be led by faith and enlivened by devout prayer. But instead they remove all faith and prayer from their work.
Many Catholic theologians and Scripture scholars are either non-practicing Catholics or minimally-practicing Catholics. At Catholic universities and colleges, few theology faculty members attend daily Mass. Few pray the Rosary or the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Few go to confession regularly. They use the word 'pious' as if it were a criticism, and the word 'devout' as if it were an insult. They do not personally believe or follow many of the teachings of the Church. And these are the persons who fill theology teaching positions, control peer-reviewed scholarly publications, and influence the minds of students at Catholic institutions of higher learning. And some of these minimally-practicing Catholics are priests and nuns.
A recent study suggests that Catholics who are first-year students at Catholic colleges and universities are stronger in faith than fourth-year catholic students. The more time a student spends at a Catholic college or university, the less likely they are to believe and practice what the Church teaches. This occurs because most of the students and most of the faculty and most of the theology faculty do not believe and practice the teachings of the Catholic Church.
The issue is not merely one of a difference of opinion. These blind guides are leading others into the same pit. They are not sinking into the ocean alone; they are dragging others down with them. And they undermine the teachings of faithful theologians. True and insightful teachings of orthodox theologians are diluted and counteracted by the myriad errors of heterodox theologians. And the heterodox theologians far outnumber the orthodox, even within Catholic universities and colleges. The harm done by the sins of these unfaithful theologians is extensive and immeasurable. And yet it continues.
Who can correct the errors of these theologians? They don't listen to the Magisterium. They don't love Scripture. They don't even know what Tradition is. They put themselves above the Magisterium and Scripture. They systematically undermine the credibility of Tradition and Scripture and the Magisterium, so that only their own credibility and authority would remain. “God teaches the humble His way.” But they despise humility.
But the All-Knowing God knows their hearts and minds, their sins and their deceptions. And the Almighty is resolved to correct them. But as for those who choose to reject this correction, they will lose their audience, and they will lose their scholarly status, and many will lose the faith entirely.
The works of present-day Catholic theologians and Scripture scholars are almost completely inaccessible to the average Catholic. (Given the above problems, this point may be more of a virtue than a vice.) Theologians write articles for obscure peer-reviewed journals with few subscribers outside of scholarly circles. Even other theologians rarely read these articles. The articles are not usually available over the internet. Subscription fees to these publications are high and the number of issues per year is low. In addition, there are too many of these publications for any one person to reasonably be able to subscribe to more than a few. And when a theologian publishes a book, the book is often published by a small publisher, which prints a small number of copies. The book is difficult to obtain, goes out of print quickly, and thereafter is practically unobtainable.
To make matters worse, Catholic theologians and Scripture scholars often write in a style which makes their ideas inaccessible to the vast majority of Catholics. Not only do they use long complex sentences filled with theological and philosophical terminology, but they also invent their own unique terminology. Scripture scholars tend to use multiple languages within the same work -- Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, and Latin -- without translation or even transliteration. Some theologians make frequent reference to the theological and philosophical ideas of other authors, so that the one work is not comprehensible unless one is familiar with several other works.
The Right Approach
No one should be a Catholic theologian unless they are first a faithful practicing Catholic. No one should be hired to teach Catholic theology unless they actually believe and follow the Catholic faith. No student should accept or learn from any teacher who does not believe and practice and teach the Faith.
Catholic theologians should write and teach with the aim of building up the Body of Christ. They should write on subjects of faith and morals, giving guidance to the faithful on how to live like Christ. They should support and promote the teachings of the Magisterium. They must believe and follow the teachings of the Church themselves. Catholic theologians should attend Mass frequently, confess their sins regularly, pray the Rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet daily, and be prayerful and humble. Throughout the history of the Church, the works of theology which have stood the test of time are always those written by devout prayerful Christians. Faith should rule over and guide scholarship.
The writings of Catholic theologians should be accessible to the faithful. The language and terminology should be as simple and clear as possible. The language should be the vernacular, with translations of any words from other languages. Christ was able to teach profound truths in simple language. Theologians should strive to do the same. Theology articles should be available for free over the internet.
--- by Ronald L. Conte Jr.