Pope Francis on Thursday distinguished between how catechists and theologians interact with Church teaching.
A theologian, he said, has a vocation to go beyond existing doctrine, because “he is trying to make theology more explicit.”
While a catechist, when instructing children and adults in the faith, “must give the correct doctrine, solid doctrine.”
Pope Francis’ comments on the role of the theologian and the catechist were made in a meeting with the prestigious International Theological Commission (ITC) at the Vatican Nov. 24.
The International Theological Commission exists under and to advise the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith. Members are appointed by the pope for five-year terms, during which time particular theological questions are studied and the results published.
The 10th commission, which has 28 members, was appointed in 2021.
“Theologians must go further, try to go beyond,” the pope said in his remarks to the commission. “But I want to distinguish this from the catechist: the catechist must give the correct doctrine, solid doctrine; not the possible new things, of which some are good…”
“The catechist teaches the solid doctrine,” he continued, adding that the theologian “ventures to go further, and it is the magisterium that will stop him.”
“But never [teach catechism] to children and people with new doctrines that are not certain,” he said.
Pope Francis explained that this distinction comes from St. Ignatius of Loyola, “who I think understood something better than I do.”
The International Theological Commission is at the Vatican this week for the group’s annual plenary meeting.
Pope Francis expressed his appreciation for the commission’s willingness to explore three themes during its meetings.
The first, he said, is the “relevance of the fruitfulness of the Christological faith professed by the Council of Nicaea, at the completion of 1,700 years since its celebration.”
The commission will also examine some anthropological issues relevant today “and of crucial significance for the journey of the human family, in light of the divine plan of salvation.”
Pope Francis did not say which specific “anthropological issues” the theological commission will be studying.
The third theme the commission will deepen is “the theology of creation from a Trinitarian perspective, listening to the cry of the poor and the earth,” he said.
Two U.S. theologians are among the ITC’s members.
Robin Darling Young, a spirituality professor, and Reinhard Huetter, a theology professor, both teach at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
A French-American, Father Etienne Emmanuel Vetö, is also a member. He teaches theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.
Marianne Schlosser, a well-known German theologian, and recipient of the 2018 Ratzinger Prize, has been a member of the commission since 2014.