Cardinal Michael Czerny delivers the annual Chancellor’s Lecture Nov. 19 at Toronto’s Regis College. Photo by Michael Swan

Czerny calls for renewal of theology in higher learning

  • November 27, 2021

Back in Canada for the first time since receiving the red hat from Pope Francis in 2019, Cardinal Michael Czerny told the theology faculty and students at Toronto’s Regis College they must take up the neglected renewal of theology called for by the Second Vatican Council, St. Pope Paul VI and St. Pope John Paul II.

Delivering the annual Chancellor’s Lecture at Regis Nov. 19, Czerny said he found it “shocking” that the 1979 decree on theological studies at Church institutions, called Sapientia Christiana, has been largely ignored for 40 years. In his own 2017 constitution on the same subject, Veritatis Gaudium, Pope Francis has tried to revive the Vatican II project to open up theological studies to dialogue with the culture and the world beyond the Church, Czerny said.

“Nearly 40 years later, aggiornamento is urgently needed, and Pope Francis offers it,” said Czerny.

The Second Vatican Council set theology on a new path and it’s time for Catholic universities and faculties of theology to start walking it, said Czerny.

“The Church (at Vatican II) put a definitive end to an attitude that for centuries had conditioned its way of doing theology,” he said. “I am referring to the defensiveness that, since the advent of modernity, had led the Church to conceive of itself as a stronghold besieged by internal and external enemies of the faith. Vatican II decided to discontinue the path traced by Catholic apologetics after Trent; it chose a more dialogical and constructive tone.”

Addressing a Jesuit and pontifical faculty of theology which has just teamed up with the University of St. Michael’s College to present a more robust face of Catholic theology, Czerny warned against an inward looking, obsessive parsing of old formulas that do not address the world in which people live their lives.

“Faith without the struggle for justice risks abstraction from reality, insignificance, limitation to mere cult and ritual,” he said.

After the lecture he told The Catholic Register, “We can’t go on like this, running the show on a small basis and expecting the others to adapt.”

It will take “courage” and “attention” for ecclesiastical academics to navigate the new landscape, said the cardinal.

If theology is going to be at the centre of the Church, dialogue and synodality will be key.

“It is at the heart of the Church’s renewal efforts now and will be in the years ahead.”

The next day, Czerny received an honorary doctor of divinity from Regis at a convocation.

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