Publicador de contenidos

Back to 2023_05_24_TEO_comision_teo

The International Theological Commission at the service of commission and dialogue


Published in


Juan Luis Lorda |

Professor at School of Theology

The International Theological Commission, created by Paul VI in 1969, has played an important role of communion and dialogue between Catholic theologians and the Magisterium, has contributed to the serenity of the theological landscape and has given rise to a B body of quality documents.  

In the Consistory of April 28, 1969, Paul VI communicated to the Cardinals the creation of an International Theological Commission (ITC): "In accordance with the directives of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council (1962-1965), we have taken care, among other things, to adjust the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith more closely to its high and grave duty. In addition to the reform mandated by the motu proprio "Integrae servandae", we have accepted the vow of the first Synod of Bishops (1967), that is, to create, together with this Sacred Congregation, a team of scholars who are excellent cultivators of the research of sacred doctrines and theology, faithful to the full magisterium of the Church professor. We have therefore carried out, during all this time, an extensive enquiry as required by the gravity of the subject; this being the only reason that has delayed the fulfillment of this project".

In fact, during the Council itself, the desirability of reforming the style and composition of the Congregation of the Holy official document had been insisted upon, and it had been suggested to have a sort of committee advisor of theologians. 

In receiving the ECI, on October 6, 1969, after clearly confirming the role of the Magisterium in the Church, he added: "We do not wish to create unduly in your minds the suspicion of an emulation between two primacies, the primacy of science and that of authority, when in this field of divine doctrine there is only one primacy, that of revealed truth, that of faith, which both theology and the ecclesiastical magisterium wish to protect with unanimous desire, even if in differentways." And he asked them to be especially sensitive both to work for the union of Christians (ecumenism) and to find a "kerygmatic" way of presenting the faith to the modern world. 

Paul VI approved some statutes ad experimentum, and John Paul II made definitive ones with the motu proprio Tredecim anni (1982). According to these statutes, the elected theologians must not exceed 30 members, must be representative of theology in its various dimensions and places, and meet annually in Rome. They have been slightly tweaked with the reform of the Curia by Pope Francis. 


The ECI has an interesting page on the Vatican website where the documents that gave rise to it, the speeches addressed to it by the Popes and all its documents are collected. At a glance you can see the volume of work and also the special attention given to it by Benedict XVI, who received it every year on the occasion of the annual meeting and dedicated some substantial and personal words to it.  

But the documents can only indirectly reflect the complicated status that gave rise to this commission. There are at least six points to consider. 

The role, at times, not very wise and excessive, played by the Holy official document in the fifties of the twentieth century, channeling theologians who, in many cases, represented legitimate theological options, but different from the Thomism generally assumed in Roman universities. This is the question of theological pluralism, obvious today, but not then. In addition, the procedures used in the Congregation, secret and where the accused felt defenseless, without knowing what was happening, needed to be revised. 

In particular, the confrontation of some Thomistic representatives with what would later be called neo-patristics, represented by De Lubac or by the historical approach to theology, represented by Congar or Chenu. It was considered that Thomism had already ordered all theology, that it was the proper method of theology, that it surpassed patristics and that it only remained to develop it. But this was evidently an exaggeration. The programs of study of the first part of the century had shown that there was much to learn from patristic theology, that it could not be considered surpassed or summarized in Thomism, and that other developments were possible.

On the other hand, it was evident that the best results of so much theology and biblical erudition had to be taken in. Undoubtedly this is what St. Thomas himself would have done, for he was very sensitive to everything that could serve the development of theology and took advantage of all the resources at his disposal. 

The brilliant role that theologians had played during the Second Vatican Council, inspiring the bishops and enriching the documents, created in the theologians themselves a reinforced awareness of their mission statement of guide. It encouraged them to a greater protagonism and raised, incidentally, the relationship between the magisterium of theologians and the magisterium of the bishops, which has a doctrinal foundation. Paul VI himself, while defending the identity of the doctrinal Magisterium of the Church, recognized the role of theology as an indispensable service, although, naturally, in ecclesial communion. 

The Council had been presented as a great opportunity to update all aspects of the Church in relation to the evangelization of the modern world. On the one hand, assuming that the modern world was represented by Western culture, which is not, of course, the only environment in which the Catholic Church exists and develops.

On the other hand, there is the problem that any accommodation to the world presents in the life of the Church, which is called to convert the world and not to be converted by the world. Of course, because of the legitimate autonomy of temporal things, there is always something to learn from the world, but salvation comes only from the Lord. This has always required much ecclesial discernment, which cannot be done by theologians alone. 

Since Paul VI wanted the documents to be approved by large majorities, as was happily the case, all the things that could clash had been ironed out and some affirmations had been toned down. This had created unease among some theologians and a desire to continue to push for theological and ecclesial renewal. This was notably the view of Rahner, who had come to be regarded as the most characteristic theologian, had an idea of his own about how theology should be renewed, and had promoted various editorial initiatives and the journal "Concilium" to maintain this spirit.

Thus a "conflict of interpretations" would originate with a dialectic between the "spirit of the Council", which was supposed to be incarnated in the wishes of some theologians, and "the letter of the Council", with the texts approved by the bishops. There was even the prospect of a Third Vatican Council, to carry out all that some felt was lacking for a complete renewal (quite utopian, moreover) of the Church. This conflict of interpretations would be sharpened by the history of the Council by Giuseppe Alberigo (1926-2007) in the so-called Bologna School, following Giuseppe Dossetti, clearly in favor of the "spirit" over the "letter". 

Moreover, it was clear that there was still a need for official discernment on major theological questions or for dissident options that were shaking the life of the Church. In 1969, when the Commission was established, the Church was suffering from the serious crisis of the Dutch Catechism, which was not only a doctrinal crisis, but also a crisis of communion, and it raised the crude question of the relationship between the Magisterium and theological opinions (especially those of Schillebeeckx and Schoonenberg). The complex and painful process of Paul VI's encyclical Humanae vitae (1968), contested in some theological circles and episcopal conferences, had taken place. The public dissent of some theologians was growing, such as Hans Küng himself, in essays on The Church (1968), called to Rome for consultations with the Congregation, but he did not attend: and he was preparing Infallible? for the following year (1970). Schillebeeckx and the American moralist Charles Curran had also been called for consultations.

In this uncomfortable atmosphere, with the initiative of Hans Küng, the review "Concilium" published in December '68 a declaration of theological freedom, to which some notables adhered (Chenu, Congar), while others criticized it (De Lubac, Daniélou).

The results

The very establishment of the ECI had an immediate "visual" effect. The fact that some thirty important and representative theologians from all over the world gathered in Rome at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was, in itself, an image of communion with Rome, as well as a great occasion for fruitful exchanges and dialogue. From this point of view, the creation of the ECI was very timely. 

Among the first, after consulting Schools and episcopates, there were many important conciliar experts, such as De Lubac, Congar, Von Balthasar, Rahner, Ratzinger, Philips, Schnackenburg, to mention the best known. There was also the Spaniard Olegario González de Cardedal. Some of them would repeat many times. Bouyer excused himself. The lists of theologians who have been renewed, in part, every five years can be consulted on the above-mentioned web pages. In recent times, some women theologians have also been incorporated. 

Karl Rahner, accustomed to a position of leadership in his milieus and in the magazine Concilium, did not always feel comfortable in an environment where, as had happened in the essay of Dei Verbum, his position on revelation and the anthropocentric rethinking of all theology was not assumed. Moreover, other members of that commission and friends of his, such as Von Balthasar, De Lubac, Ratzinger immediately promoted the review Communio (1972), called to counterbalance the magisterium of Concilium on the theology that should illuminate the future of the Church. Hans Küng, who had not been called to the commission, was already in a clearly critical position and difficult to reconduct. 


Some of the aspirations of the beginning were not very realistic. It was not conceivable that such a varied group with occasional meetings could effectively help in the daily management of the Congregation, unless they happened to work in the Congregation. Of course, it facilitated relationships and many consultations, but, in addition to the problems of language, the theologians lived mostly outside Rome and dedicated themselves to other things. In any case, the Congregation took great pains to internationalize itself, to improve its theological preparation and procedures. 

The ECI had and has a clearer mission statement in relation to the deep work on important issues. In such a way that the relevance of the Commission, apart from its symbolic function of communion, depended and depends entirely on the category of the themes proposed to it to work on. 

The topics

To date, ECI has published 30 documents, many of them of B length and depth. It must be recognized that it has had a fruitful trajectory and an intense, self-sacrificing work , not always appreciated as it deserves. A work in commission usually requires much more effort than a work staff , as it is necessary to agree and synthesize a lot of material. Also, the fact of working on commission often means that the texts are less linear and synthetic than those produced by a single expert. But the whole is a valuable contribution to theology. 

The first period, under Paul VI (1969-1978), was marked by the themes that had given rise to the ECI and by some of those that remained to be dealt with after the Council. After some Reflections on the Aims and Methods of the Commission (1969) and on The Catholic Priesthood (1970), among other topics, it dealt with The Unity of Faith and Theological Pluralism (1972) and Magisterium and Theology (1975). Also, in relation to the then emerging Theology of Liberation, Human Promotion and Christian Salvation (1976).

The era of John Paul II (1978-2005), as soon as Cardinal Ratzinger was appointed Prefect of the Congregation (1982), addressed the major issues that the Pontiff wanted to address and other strategic themes on which the Congregation was working: Dignity and Rights of the Human Person (1983), Jesus' Consciousness of Himself and of His mission statement (1985), The Interpretation of Dogmas (1989), Christianity and Religions (1997), report and Reconciliation: The Church and the Faults of the Past (2000). He closed with the comprehensive document Communion and Service: The Human Person Created in the Image of God (2004).

With Pope Benedict XVI (2005-2013), a very close relationship continued, but only three documents were published: one quite specialized The hope of salvation for children who die without baptism ( 2007); another of B actuality In search of a universal ethics: a new look at the natural law (2009) and a very broad presentation of what theology is: Theology today: Perspectives, principles and criteria (2012).

In the time of Pope Francis (2013-), some themes dear to his heart stand out, such as The sensus fidei in the life of the Church (2014) and Synodality in the life and mission statement of the Church (2018).

Application materials

Around the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the CIW (2019) some works were prepared. Of particular note is the book by A. Avallone, La Commisione Teologica Internazionale. Storia e propettive (Marcianum Press, Venice 2016), which is a good history of the ECI with quite a lot of documentation.

Interesting articles also appeared such as Philippe Chenaux, Magistère et théologiens dans l'après-concile, in RevSR 96 (2022) 13-28; and Carlos Maria Galli, El cincuentenario de la Comisión Teológica Internacional, in programs of study Eclesiásticos, 96 (2021) 167-192, among others. The CIW itself edited a video with its history in Italian, which can be found by searching for "Commissione Teologica Internazionale" on Youtube.