International Theological Commission

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Pope paul vi, in response to a recommendation made during vatican council ii and the specific proposal of the 1967 synod of bishops, established the International Theological Commission, April 28, 1969 (Acta Apostolicae Sedis 61 [1969] 431432; cf. 713716). The function of the ITC is "to study doctrinal questions of major importance in order to offer advisory assistance to the Holy See and, in particular, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith" (Statutes, ibid. 540541). It has only a consultative and not a deliberative voice in the functioning of the ordinary magisterium of the Church.

Format. The commission consists of 30 members chosen by the pope from names recommended by the cardinal prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith after consultation with the national episcopal conferences. The members, representing various nations and diverse schools of theology, are chosen for their proficiency in one or another of the theological disciplines and for their fidelity to the magisterium. The initial appointment is for five years and may be renewed for another quinquennium. The cardinal prefect of the CDF presides over the commission and is assisted in the administration by a secretary general.

When the commission was first established in 1969, it had among its members many of the most prestigious Catholic theologians of the time. Several had been periti at the Second Vatican Council: Hans Urs von baltha sar, Louis Bouyer, Yves congar, O.P., Philippe Delhaye, André Feuillet, P.S.S., Henri de lubac, S.J., Gerard Philips, Karl rahner, S.J., Joseph Ratzinger, and Rudolf Schnackenburg. The English-speaking theological community was represented by Barnabas ahern,C.P., Walter Burghhardt, S.J., and Bernard lonergan, S.J. Several of these were reappointed for the second quinquennium (1974), and they were joined by Edouard Hamel, S.J., and Jean-Marie tillard, O.P., of Canada, and John Mahoney, S.J., from Great Britain. Half the appointees named to the commission in 1980 by Pope John Paul II were holdovers; new members included Michael Ledwith of Ireland, Carl peter of the U.S., Walter Principe, C.S.B., of Canada, John Thornhill, S.M., of Australia, and Christophe von Schönborn of Switzerland.

In 1986 a new term of the commission began. Among the members were the distinguished theologians Hans Urs von Balthasar and Georges Cottier, O.P., of Switzerland, Giuseppe Colombo (Italy), Jean Corbon (Lebanon), Philippe Delhaye and Jan Walgrave, O.P., of Belgium, and Joachim Gnilka and Walter Kasper of West Germany. At the time of their appointment in 1986, Bonaventura Kloppenburg, O.F.M. (Brazil), and Franc Perko (Yugoslavia) were auxiliary bishops. The English-speaking world was represented by John Finnis of England, Gilles Langevin of Canada, Michael Ledwith of Ireland, Carl Peter and William May of the U.S., Francis Moloney, S.D.B., of Australia, and Felix Wilfred of India. Professors Finnis (Oxford University) and May (The Catholic University of America) were the first laymen to be appointed to the commission. By the end of the quinquennium in 1991 several members had been named diocesan bishops and were no longer eligible to serve on the commission, whose function is to offer informed advice to the magisterium. By reason of their position as residential bishops Walter Kasper, André-Jean Léonard (who had been appointed to the commission to replace the deceased Walgrave), Jorge Medina Estevez of Chile, a member from the beginning, and Franc Perko belonged to the magisterium.

Among internationally significant theologians appointed to the commission in 1992, Colombo, Corbon, and Gnilka continued to give their prestigious service. They were joined by Joseph Doré, S.S. (France), Adolphe Gesché (Belgium), Hermann Pottmeyer (Germany), and Max Thurian (Switzerland-Italy). Langevin, Ledwith, May, and Moloney, joined by Avery Dulles, S.J., of the U.S., Charles Acton of England, Sebastian Karotemprel, S.D.B., of India, Joseph Osei-Bonsu of Ghana, represented the English-speaking theological community. A longstanding member of the Commission, Christoph von Schönborn, O.P., and three first-time members, Joseph Doré, S.S., Norbert Strotmann Hoppe, M.S.C. (Peru), and Joseph Osei-Bonsu were appointed bishops during the course of the quinquennium. Professor Gösta Hallonsten of Sweden was a new lay member of the commission, replacing Professor Finnis. During the course of the quinquennium, Max Thurian passed away and was not replaced.

Appointees in 1997 for a new quinquennium included holdovers Pottmeyer and Gesché, as well as three-termers Francis Moloney, S.D.B., Jean-Louis Bruguès, O.P., and Henrique Noronha Galvão. They were joined by new members: Roland Minnerath (France), Bruno Forte (Italy), Gerhard Müller (Germany), and several lesser known theologians. The Anglophone world was represented by Charles acton (England), Christopher Begg (USA), Joseph Di Noia, OP (USA), George Karakunnel (India), Sebastian Karotemprel, S.D.B. (India), Thomas Norris (Ireland), Anthony Ojo (Nigeria), and Luis Tagle (Philippines). An obvious effort was made to internationalize the commission further with appointment Tanios Bou Mansour, O.L.M., of Lebanon, Fadel Sidarouss, S.J., of Egypt, and Rafael Salzar Cardenas, M.Sp.S., of Mexico. The increased internationalization of the commission has had the unintended result of a diminution of the representation of the European centers of theological learning and to some extent a lessening of the expertise of the group as a whole. It has also made communication more difficult, especially in the subcommissions where instantaneous translation is not generally available.

In the first 30 years the commission had only two presidents. Cardinal Franjo Seper, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith during the latter part of Pope Paul VI's pontificate, presided 196981. Cardinal Josef Ratzinger became president in 1981 when Pope John Paul II appointed him as prefect of the CDF. Monsignor Philippe Delhaye of Belgium served as secretary general of the commission from 1972 until ill health forced him to resign in 1989. Cardinal Ratzinger appointed Georges Cottier, O.P., of Switzerland to replace him in 1990.

Procedures and Themes. The commission begins each quinquennium with a wide-ranging discussion of anumber of theological issues that the members regard as worthy of the Holy See's attention. The themes that are chosen for examination become the focal points of the commission in the following four years. In its early years the commission examined and published documents dealing with sacerdotal ministry (1971); the unity of faith and theological pluralism (1972); the apostolicity of the Church and apostolic succession (1973); criteria for the knowledge of Christian morality (1974); the relation between the magisterium and theologians (1975); Christian salvation and human progress (1976); and the sacrament of marriage (1977). These were followed by published statements dealing with the selected questions in christology (1979); theology, christology, and anthropology (1981); reconciliation and penance (1982); and the dignity and rights of the human person (1983). In commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the close of Vatican II, the commission published a document on selected items in ecclesiology (1984); and in 1985, it published a commentary on four propositions dealing with Jesus' self-consciousness and His awareness of His mission.

The four themes selected by the commission for study during the quinquennium beginning in 1986 were: faith and inculturation; interpretation of dogma; fundamental moral theology; and current questions in eschatology. The commission established in 1992 devoted itself to an examination of contemporary soteriology; Christianity in relation to other religions; a contemporary presentation of the mystery of God; and the Eucharist. The commission established in 1997 directed its attention to the Church and the sins of the past; the permanent diaconate; the inculturation of revelation; and the theology of creation.

The procedures of the commission follow a routine. After the selection of the themes to be studied during the quinquennium, the president of the ITC appoints subcommissions to examine them and draft a working paper, the instrumentum laboris, that serves as the basis for discussion and debate by the commission as a whole. When the members agree upon and approve a final text, the document is submitted to a plenary session of the commission for formal approval. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith receives the finished documents, and decides how best to use the work of the Theological Commission. Some documents have been used as a resource for the CDF and others have been published. The commission's study that resulted in the document Memory and Reconciliation: The Church and the Sins of the Past (2000) took on a particular significance. On the Second Sunday of Lent 2000, Pope John Paul II made the presentation of the document a highlight with his own memorable comments at an event marking the celebration of the Jubilee Year.

Bibliography: International Theological Commission, International Theological Commission: Texts and Documents 19691985, ed. m. sharkey, (San Francisco 1989). A collection of the Commission's documents from 19851996, most of which have appeared in a number of languages in various international scholarly journals, is in preparation.

[b. m. ahern/

w. e. may/

f. j. moloney]

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International Theological Commission

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International Theological Commission