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Term paper on Work and Vocation

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Term paper on Work and Vocation

Post  PapersQueen on Mon Jan 25, 2010 5:22 am

It is important to clarify what vocation means in this context, and why the term is validly applied to the work of the theologian.(n1) Common parlance, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, understands "vocation" to be concerned with divine action.(n2) A vocation is God's call to a particular work that has a spiritual or religious dimension. Such a call often becomes manifest by a combination of attraction toward, and fitness for, the work. In fact, the dictionary locates vocation in the realm of faith. In practice, the truth of such a call is confirmed by the faith community. So the vocation to the religious life is confirmed in the ritual of profession; the vocation to the priesthood is confirmed in the ritual of ordination.

What of the vocation to be a theologian? If theology is indeed, as Anselm of Canterbury taught, "faith seeking understanding," then the vocation of the theologian clearly has a religious dimension and needs appropriate confirmation.(n3) Such confirmation has been given in various ways over time. But not every Catholic theologian today is trained in a Catholic institution, nor do many Catholic institutions carry out a ritual such as the one described here. Furthermore, as ever larger numbers of Catholic theologians are lay women and men, the separation of the vocation from that to the priesthood or to religious life becomes more distinct. Today in practice, confirmation of the theologian's vocation, insofar as it is connected with the granting of the doctorate, is ordinarily restricted to academic qualification for the work.
It is this current situation which seems in part to be driving the implementation of the revised Code of Canon Law with respect to theologians. The work of the theologian is understood by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to be a vocation in service to the Word within the Church. The Congregation stated that the role of the theologian is "to pursue in a particular way an ever deeper understanding of the word of God found in the inspired Scriptures and handed on by the living tradition of the Church. [The theologian] does this in communion with the magisterium, which has been charged with the responsibility of preserving the deposit of faith."(n4) The fact that theologians are increasingly lay, that their preparation for their work is predominantly academic, and that theological work is increasingly done outside institutions which are juridically controlled by the Church: all this has apparently been seen as a potential threat to the faith. Concern for the teaching of the Church quite appropriately governs the approach in the Code. As canonist Sharon Euart notes in commenting on canon 812: "The canon and the notion of the mandate are innovations in the law of the church on catholic colleges and universities. The intent of the canon is to preserve the orthodoxy of catholic doctrine. The requirement of the mandate represents a juridical response to a potential danger to the faith and an effort to protect the rights of the faithful and the good of the church."(n5) However, my article is not a study in the interpretation and implementation of canon 812. Rather, my intent is to examine the theological vocation as vocation. As a historical theologian myself, I think that perspective on the history of the vocation, and the impact on it of recent developments in theology, may shed light on the joy and hope (as well as on the grief and anguish!) to be found in following such a call. Today theologians are as often lay as clerics.

Vatican II significantly reshaped their common theological vocation. I begin there. Further light comes from review of earlier periods in which the vocation underwent significant change, so I turn next to the earlier tradition. Finally, since later changes in theology itself have affected the vocation, I look to them before concluding.
We began from the understanding of the work of a theologian as a true vocation, a call from God to a particular work in the Church. In practice, unlike the vocations to the religious life or to the priesthood, confirmation of the vocation of the theologian is restricted to academic qualification for the work. Examination of sections of Lumen gentium and Gaudium et spes led to recognition that this vocation is a charism located within the prophetic office of the people of God. The specific work of the theologian is reflected in the council's charge, which reads: "With the help of the holy Spirit, it is the task of the whole people of God, particularly of its pastors and theologians, to listen to and distinguish the many voices of our times and to interpret them in the light of God's word, in order that the revealed truth may be more deeply penetrated, better understood, and more suitably presented". Further, the council expressed the explicit hope that more of the laity would become theologians. Such a desire, once met, would effect far-reaching changes. My summary review of the history showed that until Vatican II, theologians were usually clerics, although the gift was never exclusively reserved to office-holders. In the two centuries leading up to the council there were changes in theology that would affect the theological vocation. These included a shift in the understanding of the magisterium, and changes in methodology, as historically critical approaches were incorporated. Additionally, renewed attention to Pneumatology brought deeper understanding of the place of charisms in the Church.

Today the community called Church is blessed with a large group of theologians who are not clerics. These women and men have welcomed the gift of their vocation. As a cadre they are a first generation. The academy has tested such of their qualifications as fall within its purview. But the institutional Church has yet to devise a means to test and to confirm the vocational call of its theologians specifically as vocation, and as vocation not of necessity linked to either the clerical or the religious state. The implementation of Ex corde ecclesiae seems to be a first stumbling step in that direction.

Meanwhile, the gift remains. And how does one endure in the in-between? Macrina, and all her colleagues, whose life work is to be about the task of faith seeking understanding, continue to exercise the vocation as the gift that it is. For these professional theologians, lay women and men, clerics, and religious, all of them, Paul's advice holds: "Live by the Spirit". The signs of such living are simple: love, the love that allows another to be different, even when one does not understand the other. And joy, the joy that flows from exercising one's own gift to the best of one's ability. The list of signs is familiar:

"The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit". We know in whom we have believed. Our hope is secure, and, as the spiritual has it, "Joy comes with the morning.


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