VATICAN CITY, 4 NOV 2009 (VIS) - Benedict XVI dedicated his catechesis during this morning's general audience to the twelfth-century debate between St. Bernard of Clairvaux and Abelard, proponents, respectively, of the monastic and scholastic approaches to theology.
The Pope began by recalling that theology "is the search for a rational understanding (in as much as that is possible) of the mysteries of Christian revelation, which are believed by faith, ... the faith that seeks intelligibility". Yet, "while St. Bernard ... places the emphasis on ... faith, Abelard ... insists ... on understanding by reason.
"For Bernard", the Holy Father added, "faith itself is endowed with an intimate certainty, founded on the testimony of Scripture and on the teaching of the Fathers of the Church. ... In cases of doubt or ambiguity, faith is protected and illuminated by the exercise of ecclesial Magisterium". Thus, for the abbot of Clairvaux, "theology has a single goal, that of promoting the living and intimate experience of God".
"Abelard, who among other things introduced the term 'theology' as we understand it today, ... originally studied philosophy then applied the results achieved in this discipline to theology". He had a "religious spirit but a restless personality, and his life was rich in dramatic events: he challenged his teachers and had a child by a cultured and intelligent woman, Eloise. ... He also suffered ecclesiastical condemnations, although he died in full communion with the Church to whose authority he submitted with a spirit of faith".
"An excessive use of philosophy rendered Abelard's Trinitarian doctrine dangerously fragile", said the Pope. "Likewise, in the field of morals his teaching was not without ambiguity as he insisted on considering the intention of the subject as the only source for describing the goodness or malice of moral acts, ignoring the objective moral significance and value of actions.
"This aspect", Benedict XVI went on, "is highly relevant for our own age, in which culture often seems marked by a growing tendency to ethical relativism. Nonetheless, we must not forget the great merits of Abelard, ... who made a decisive contribution to the development of scholastic theology. ... Nor must we undervalue some of his insights such as, for example, his affirmation that non-Christian religious traditions already contain some form of preparation to welcome Christ, the Divine Word.
"What can we learn from the confrontation ... between Bernard and Abelard and, more generally, between the monastic and scholastic approaches to theology?" the Holy Father asked. "Firstly", he went on, "I believe it shows the usefulness and need for healthy theological discussion within the Church, especially when the questions being debated have not been defined by the Magisterium, which, nonetheless, remains an ineluctable point of reference".
"In the theological field there must be a balance between what we may call architectonic principles, which are given to us by the Revelation and which, hence, always maintain their priority and importance, and interpretative principles suggested by philosophy (that is, by reason), which have an important function, but only an instrumental one. When this balance fails, theological reflection risks becoming marred by error and it is then up to the Magisterium to exercise that necessary service to truth which is its task".
"The theological dispute between Bernard and Abelard concluded with a full reconciliation. ... What prevailed in both men was that which we must have to heart whenever a theological controversy arises: that its, defending the faith of the Church and ensuring the triumph of truth in charity".
AG/BERNARD ABELARD CONTROVERSY/... VIS 20091104 (600)