Life and Doctrine of the Faith

by Antonio Spadaro SJ, 23 September 2023
Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernandez, the newly appointed Prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith. Image: Archdiocese of La Plata/Vatican News


A Dialogue with Víctor Manuel Fernández

I first met Víctor Manuel Fernández[1] – who will be created cardinal on September 30 – in Argentina in September 2014 at the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina, of which he was then rector. Exactly one year later he came to the offices of La Civiltà Cattolica in Rome to give a talk at an international seminar on “Reform and Reforms in the Church.”[2] He spoke on the topic “The Gospel, the Spirit and Ecclesial Reform in the Thought of Pope Francis.” Subsequently, the synod experience has let our paths intertwine.

Now that he is assuming the challenging task of Prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, I felt it was important to let the readers of our journal hear his voice in order to better understand his formation and perspectives.

* * *

Your Excellency, what is the relationship between faith and reason?

The Church rejects fideism and defends the value of reason, recognizing the need for dialogue between faith and reason, which are not contradictory. But one needs to be careful, because sometimes there is a particular type of reason that tries to take center stage in the Church, a set of principles that tries to govern everything, even if it is ultimately a mind-set, more philosophical than theological, claiming that everything else must submit to it. It wants to take the place of Revelation!

Those who possess this mind-set, this way of reasoning, the supposedly only possible structure of rational principles, claim to be the only ones who can correctly interpret Revelation and truth; they alone are “serious,” “intelligent” and “faithful.” This explains the power that some churchmen arrogate to themselves, going so far as to determine what the pope can or cannot say, and presenting themselves as guarantors of the legitimacy and unity of the faith. After all, the mind-set of which they consider themselves to be absolute guardians is a source of power that they want to safeguard against everything. It is not a matter of reason, but of power.


Who do you consider to be your guide in theology?

Although the training I received was strictly Thomistic, my great teacher was another giant of scholasticism, St. Bonaventure. I delved into his thought as a seminarian, continued to read him with profit, and my doctoral thesis was on the relationship between knowledge and life in his thought. The insistence, derived from his Franciscan context, on a theology capable of nourishing the spiritual life and, at the same time, affecting the actual lives of people, left an indelible impression on me. It goes back to Francis of Assisi himself, who wrote to St. Anthony of Padua, “I am pleased that you teach sacred theology to the brothers, provided that in this occupation you do not extinguish the spirit of prayer and devotion, as it is written in the Rule.” Do we not see this same concern in Pope Francis’ insistence that all Christian thought, at every stage of formation, be marked by the proclamation of the kerygma aimed at stimulating an experience of faith?


Do you find a similar perspective in 20th-century authors?

Yes, for example, I found something similar in philosophy, especially in Maurice Blondel’s thought and his desire to make philosophy relevant to the needs of everyday life. One of his central concerns was the relationship between thought and life. This is well reflected in his writing on human action, where he was able to explore considerations of great existential weight. For example, he focused on the daily need to protect personal energies from dispersive and chaotic expression, and channel them into a determined purpose that binds them together and expresses them effectively.

Indeed, he says, in this way energies are not dissipated and consumed in action, but are revived. Therefore, to the extent that voluntary activity penetrates and dominates the powers of the body, the more it receives from them. Moreover, he suggests ways and means to arrive at a motive for action that is capable of re-establishing unity.[3] Here is an author who knows how to go beyond merely theoretical philosophy, or mere “desk philosophy.”

Among theologians, I have drawn nourishment above all from the argumentative precision of Karl Rahner, the spiritual depth of Hans Urs von Balthasar, the ecclesiology of Yves Congar, and undoubtedly from the valuable work of Joseph Ratzinger, Benedict XVI. In all of them there is an intimate connection between thought and spiritual experience, although each achieves it in his own way. The same applies to some Thomist philosophers such as Étienne Gilson and Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange.


If there is an important relationship between theology and personal life, how do you view the relationship between spirituality and pastoral care, which in turn underpins theological thinking?

I am Latin American, so do not be surprised if I highlight authors who speak to the context and concerns of my continent, such as Gustavo Gutiérrez, Lucio Gera and Rafael Tello. I had the good fortune to know them personally and they transmitted to me a great love for the Church, a passion for evangelization, an intense affection for the poor and their culture, and an ability to connect theology with the anxieties, dreams and hopes of suffering people.

Thought unfolds in the light of Revelation, but it necessarily plunges into the inescapable context of the life of those people, who are enlightened by the revealed Word and in turn challenge it so that they bring out more and more of their own richness. At the same time it thinks in the context of praxis, and this engaged praxis opens new horizons for thought.

Praedicate Evangelium explicitly refers to the “development of theology in different cultures” (no. 71) and calls for “the integrity of Catholic doctrine on faith and morals” to be protected by “seeking also an ever deeper understanding in the face of new questions” (no. 69). Pastoral sensitivity opens theological paths in dialogue with the world.


Does philosophy help us to value experience?

In the philosophical field I found something similar in Hans-Georg Gadamer, who was appreciated and consulted by St. John Paul II. From him I drew on two insights in particular: first, the value he places on vital experience as permitting access to certain aspects of truth. This, translated into the Latin American context, implies, for example, the appreciation of popular culture as a humus that gives a different perspective on the truth, so much so that one can speak of a wisdom proper to the poor. But from this point of view one can also explain, when discussing issues with agnostics, the legitimacy of the Church’s participation in the public debate with its Gospel message.

Secondly, Gadamer also invites attention to consequences, and today those who work in theology cannot ignore the outcomes of what they say, since it can be recognized that something may be correct in terms of the intention of those who affirm it, but may perhaps be wrong in terms of the effects it produces on those who hear it. I can also cite Jacques Maritain, who was able to rework a form of Thomism when grappling with the problems of the society of his time.


You, in fact, wrote a work on Systematic Spiritual Theology, in which you dwelt on its relation to pastoral care.

Yes, my work Teología espiritual encarnada.[4] If “spirit” in Scripture is not the immaterial soul, but rather the action of the divine Spirit in the world, then spiritual dynamism can be experienced not only in moments of recollection and private prayer, but also in external activity. All activity in the world — from manual labor to any evangelizing work — can be imbued with that dynamism and thus be transformed into a fully spiritual reality. This is what St. Paul expressed as “walking according to the Spirit” (Rom 8:4). For this reason, pastoral ministry should not be understood as a lower form of spirituality or theology, but rather as an area into which the Holy Spirit introduces us, leading us to the depths of the spiritual life and of Christian thought.

What has been said about pastoral care is especially valid if we refer to the wide dissemination of its theological content.


In this regard, you have published many popular essays. These are works in which you have done interesting communication work. What is your assessment of this activity of yours?

I have always been interested in Trinitarian theology and our relationship with each of the divine Persons. This has resulted, for example, in an article on what is specific to the Person of the Father, published in the journal Angelicum,[5] and especially in various articles on the Holy Spirit, which were oriented toward thinking about and nurturing personal relationships. But my works on catechesis or popular Trinitarian spirituality do not seem any less significant in this regard. These include widely disseminated works – more than 100 – such as Los cinco minutos del Espíritu Santo,[6] 350,000 of which, according to recent data, have been printed in various countries. I tell theologians not to be ashamed to write these kinds of books, to adapt theology in a way that responds to popular needs. For that work, I have received countless messages of gratitude from people who, by reading them have been converted, avoided suicide, entered a monastery or revived their marriage. Here, in accessible language, theology addresses people’s anxieties and hopes, and thus shows its great value.


What, then, is the relationship between theology and communication?

For St. Thomas, “communicating what one is contemplating” is as perfect a way of life that we can live on this earth, because it combines the perfection of contemplation with that of self-giving in action.[7] Then action acquires such an inner quality that the theologian does not become at a loss when communicating. There is no disadvantage in leaving reflective solitude, because in contemplative communication the theological charism reaches its fullness. As St. Thomas again teaches, communicative action in turn disposes one to better contemplation.[8] St. Bonaventure argues the same thing, but insists on the correlation that exists between the interior life and communion with the external world. This is why he states that the perfection of contemplation is given only when, in addition to contemplating God in intimacy, one knows how to discover God in others.[9]

This is not foreign to theological method. Expressing his own thoughts on method, Bernard Lonergan explained that theology, while having various functional specializations, various types of operations that enable it to achieve its tasks, must always culminate in communication, and “it is at this final stage that theological reflection bears its fruit.” Otherwise the fruits of theology “do not come to maturity.”[10] Therefore, theologians seek in their work not only a cognitive reality, but also a constitutive reality, capable of creating new things in the world and in the Church, of encouraging them, of articulating them, and furthermore being communicative and effective, capable of enlightening others and helping them to live. Therefore, theology engages with all contemporary knowledge, without claiming to impose an ancient, medieval or modern mind-set on them; rather it will start from the culture of its listeners in order to communicate the truth.


Communication often uses images, metaphors to be more effective.

Metaphor has the ability to mediate between different forms of wisdom, as St. Augustine and Paul Ricoeur have well explained, each in his own way. When the professional theologian expresses in metaphorical or symbolic terms a content that he or she has mastered in an arduous journey of reading and reflection, this mode of communication does not detract from the depth or speculative quality of the underlying theological reflection. There is no need to use difficult words and specifically theological expressions to demonstrate the level of reflection. Today, a theologian who pays effective attention to today’s culture must serve the banquet of the Gospel through the beauty and seduction of images, examples and sensations that can make it accessible to the people of the 21st century.


The relationship between theology and the life of God’s people especially applies to moral theology. How do you understand this relationship?

Moral theology cannot ignore, for example, how the poorest, most limited people face life, those excluded from the benefits of society, who have to endure the daily struggle to survive hand-to-mouth. Therefore, Francis warns us, “in such difficult situations of need, the Church must be particularly concerned to offer understanding, comfort and acceptance, rather than imposing straightaway a set of rules that only lead people to feel judged and abandoned by the very Mother called to show them God’s mercy. Rather than offering the healing power of grace and the light of the Gospel message, some would ‘indoctrinate’ that message, turning it into ‘dead stones to be hurled at others’.”[11]


Along these lines is a new consideration of the weight of conditioning in discernment. In this regard Francis proposed to moral theology a very important step.

He did so by accepting the guidelines of the bishops of the Buenos Aires Region with respect to the application of Amoris Laetitia. They speak of the possibility of divorcees living a new union in continence, but add that “in other more complex circumstances, and when it has not been possible to obtain a declaration of nullity, the option mentioned may in fact not be feasible.” They then state that “nevertheless, a path of discernment is equally possible. If one comes to recognize that, in an actual case, there are limits that mitigate responsibility and culpability, especially when a person considers that he or she would fail by harming the children of the new union, Amoris Laetitia opens the possibility of accessing the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist.”[12] Francis immediately sent them a formal letter, confirming that this is the meaning of Chapter VIII of AL. He added, “There are no other interpretations.”[13] There is no need to expect different answers from the pope. Both the guidelines and the pontiff’s letter have been published in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis,[14] along with a rescript declaring them part of the “authentic magisterium.” Consequently, there are no longer any doubts, and it is clear that discernment, which takes into account conditioning or mitigating factors, can also have consequences in sacramental discipline.


Do you have a specific interest in moral renewal?

Regarding the renewal of morality, another more theological but equally practical concern also drives me: to emphasize the primacy of charity in moral theology or, in other words, to develop a moral theology animated by charity. This relates to charity not only understood as the form or motivation of moral discernment, but also as its proper content, with real impact when decisions have to be made at the personal or pastoral level.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) has embraced with great clarity the law of fraternal love as a “golden rule” (citing Matt 7:12; Luke 6:31; Tob 4:15), as a central criterion in moral discernment, which is to be applied “in every case” (CCC 1789; cf. 1970a), especially when we are “sometimes faced with situations that make moral judgment uncertain and decision difficult” (CCC 1787).

But in practice, charity disappears from moral positions if it is considered to provide only a connatural knowledge of God as the ultimate end – and an orientation to Him – but does not in any way determine the proximate ends. Fraternal charity, however, as the principal commandment that is fulfilled through the virtue of charity, actually intervenes in the sphere of action and provides discernment with a rational basis, given that this virtue has external acts of its own that become paradigms, necessary references in all discernment. For this reason, charity, although residing in the will, also encompasses the order of reason, intervening – in part – in the determination of the near end, the object of choice. The supreme and paradigmatic value of the external acts proper to charity is recognized by Thomas when he places mercy at the apex of the virtues, insofar as it regulates an external operation and thus produces a resemblance to the divine operation.


In short, would a morality reduced to the fulfillment of the commandments not respond to this dynamic?

Absolutely not.


Does the primacy of charity, in your view, also have a strong bearing on theological reflection?

Our efforts to penetrate the truth and our efforts to communicate it are united by one thing, namely, love. Both science and prophecy, without love, “are of no use” (cf. 1 Cor 13:1-3). Love has much to do with the best theological knowledge, for it produces direct contact with supernatural realities, and so ends up being reflected in intelligence, so that the one who knows best is the one who loves best. Thanks to a fascinating virtuous circle, in the gratuitous recognition of the other by virtue of love, the best disposition to reach a new theological depth is produced, the eyes are better opened so that speculation reaches a new penetration of the mystery. In turn, the speculative effort moved by the dynamism of love brings new reasons to love.

All reality springs from God’s love, is suffused by that love, and everything is oriented to love, which is the dynamism that moves the universe and gives it meaning. From this originates a supernatural line of argument. Bonaventure for his part stated that the greatest fruit of all sciences is charity (fructus omnium scientiarum).[15] The end of all knowledge, and in particular “of all Scripture,”[16] is to conclude by eliciting an act of love. A fortiori, the main end of moral theology is to motivate a life impelled by charity.


This helps us understand why a good theologian is always concerned for the good of the people he loves, and is capable of suffering for and with others.

I am convinced that today it is really wrong to think that an authentic and sound theology can spring from an individualistic, unengaged and apathetic well-being, distant from the commitment of charity. In this sense we can turn to John of the Cross: “The purest sorrow brings with it a more intimate and purer knowledge.”[17] “One cannot come into the thicket of God’s riches and wisdom except by entering where sufferings are most numerous.”[18] All this is obviously not possible without grace, and therefore the treatise on Grace should be considered central. Reflecting on Grace has been a great theological experience for me, which is why I have devoted several years to teaching the Grace treatise and writing a handbook on “Grace and Whole Life.”[19]


What is your relationship as a theologian with Scripture?

Before pursuing my doctorate in theology, I was sent to Rome to study Sacred Scripture. The seminary in my diocese needed a professor. In fact then I was assigned all aspects of biblical theology. They gave me only two years to return with the academic degree. So I enrolled in Biblical Theology at the Gregorian, but I was also taking courses at the Biblical Institute. I had excellent professors. During that time I did not discover Rome at all, but I acquired exegetical tools that have served me throughout my life.

Thereafter, I never stopped devoting as much energy as I could to the study of Scripture, which explains the many biblical articles I have written. Once again, they are related to the questions people ask: Why did Jesus promise us that we would do greater works than his (cf. John 14:12)? What does the promise to “move mountains” mean for us (cf. Matt 17:20)? In particular, I have spent many years studying the letter to the Romans, which is why I was asked to write about that monumental Pauline work in an International Bible Commentary.[20] These studies raised many questions, which in turn had a strong impact on my various theological convictions, and directed me to a consistent revision of some of them. It could not have been otherwise, since the Council recognized that the work of exegetes can make “the judgment of the Church mature.”[21]

Biblical studies open up enormous perspectives, and we cannot fail to recognize the weight of progress in biblical research with regard to the renewal of Catholic theology. For this reason it seems to me very important that the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith has at its disposal the very valuable resource that is the work of the Pontifical Biblical Commission.


Let’s come to the work ahead of you. What are your perspectives on the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith?

To become aware of the prospects that may open up in the work of the Doctrinal Section of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, there is nothing better than to gloss what Francis said in the letter with which he accompanied my appointment. In it he unfolds very broad and exciting horizons for the Dicastery.

The pope called for “bringing theological knowledge into dialogue with the life of the holy People of God.” In introducing me, along with my academic qualifications, Francis recalled that I was pastor of St. Theresa’s. It is already clear that the pope cares in a special way that theological knowledge does not just come from above to “enlighten” the People of God, but that it allows itself to be stimulated by it, to be wounded and disarmed by it.

So he asked me to “guard the teaching that flows from faith.” The words “guard” and “care” are among Francis’ favorites. It is no accident that he is especially devoted to St. Joseph. Care, for him, is a fundamental attitude that flows from the Gospel. But just as one cares for people, one must do the same with the doctrine that emerges from faith. This involves first of all a deep appreciation of what is to be cared for, that is, it implies that one loves that doctrine as a precious treasure, that one is rightly proud of that divine gift. There is no place for inferiority complexes toward the world: the most legitimate appreciation and gratitude of feeling touched by Grace, privileged by this gift given by the Lord to his Church, should prevail.

As St. John Paul II used to say in various ways, we need to develop “maximum dialogue with maximum identity.”


Francis also asked you to “increase the understanding and transmission of the faith in the service of evangelization.”

To guard something is also to improve it. Of course, it is not a question of improving doctrine, but developing its understanding and communication. On this point recent decades do not show us a comforting result. How many theologians can we name of the stature of Rahner, Ratzinger, Congar or von Balthasar? Nor does so-called “liberation theology” have theologians on the level of a Gutiérrez. Something has failed. There have been controls, yes, but few developments.

I realize that Francis wants to initiate a stage in which the growth of Christian thought is more far-reaching, because he knows that this directly affects the service of evangelization. The great theologians who have engaged with reality have brought wide repercussions, in different ways, even regarding the pastoral care of the smallest and poorest parishes. Therefore, we cannot remain indifferent to the developments in theology since the end of the last century.


How to accommodate “the questions posed by scientific progress and societal development”? This seems to me to be a very important challenge.

Regarding the sciences, Francis has spoken unequivocally. Let me quote a few of his statements: “On many concrete questions the Church has no reason to offer a definitive opinion; she knows that honest debate must be encouraged among experts, while respecting divergent view.”[22] “The respect owed by faith to reason calls for close attention to what the biological sciences, through research not influenced by economic interests, can teach us about biological structures, their possibilities and their mutations” (LS 132). Such respect allows us to learn and be challenged by the development of the various sciences. Furthermore, Francis stated that “science and religion, with their distinctive approaches to understanding reality, can enter into an intense dialogue fruitful for both” (LS 62) and that “it cannot be maintained that empirical science provides a complete explanation of life, the interplay of all creatures and the whole of reality. This would be to breach the limits imposed by its own methodology” (LS 199).

If we want to give a wider hearing to the problems posed by society, along with the attempt to show the reasons for and the harmony of our Christian thought, we must explore asceticism and tolerate with charity the recurring aggressiveness that confronts us. May not the questioning of society be a process that God himself uses to disarm us, to open us to something else? Lévinas rightly said that to live by asking questions is to live in God.[23]

We cannot hide in a state of limbo and ignore that the verbal violence of some groups is an understandable outburst after many centuries of our own verbal violence, of insulting, very offensive language, or of manipulating women as if they were second-class citizens, in a very contemptuous manner. Francis is a model of this “patience” that comes from his heart as a father. It is to be hoped that with time we can find a better balance; that we can reflect on and discuss these issues without all this bitterness, in a less aggressive way, with a serenity that allows us to deal with them more genuinely and more thoroughly.


You are well aware that there are “different lines of thought” in the Church, and the pope believes that welcoming them can make the Church grow. How do you understand this request in a context that seems somewhat polarized?

What Francis says about the “polyhedron” also applies to the Church’s thinking. But he is aware that resistance is encountered on this: “To those who dream of a monolithic doctrine defended by all without nuance, this may seem an imperfect variety of focus. But the reality is that such variety helps to better manifest and develop the different aspects of the inexhaustible richness of the Gospel.”[24]

I would like to recall that on this point Francis draws inspiration from the theology of creation of St. Thomas Aquinas, when he points out that “the distinction and multiplicity of things come from the first agent,” who willed that “what one lacks in order to well represent divine goodness be made up for by the other.”[25] Therefore, we are to grasp the variety of things in their manifold relations.[26] For Francis, this can be affirmed all the more if we place ourselves before the inexhaustible mystery of the Gospel, which cannot be confined to a specific mental thought pattern, however convincing it may appear.


Let us come to the topic of Church reform. You participated in a seminar that La Civiltà Cattolica organized in 2015 on this very topic. What are your thoughts on it?

Francis recognizes that “missionary outreach is paradigmatic for all the Church’s activity” (EG 15). Thus no reform can be thought of except from this perspective. This becomes explicit in another statement by the pope: “The reform of structures, which demands pastoral conversion, can be understood only in this sense: to make them all become more missionary, to make ordinary pastoral work more expansive and open, to inspire in pastoral agents a constant desire to go forth” (EG 27). The Church, faithful to its own nature, is thus a Church engaged with the world and decentralized in its task of evangelizing. This exit from the self is not the result of a pure effort of the human will, but is a supernatural dynamism inspired by the Holy Spirit in individuals and in the whole Church.

The reform movement aimed at bringing the Church out of itself is not only pneumatological but also Christological. In fact, the Spirit introduces us to the whole truth (cf. John 16:13), Christ himself. Therefore, the Spirit does not push us outside the mystery of the Incarnation, but, on the contrary, introduces us ever more fully into the mystery of Christ and his Gospel. Therefore, the Spirit and the Gospel – as an objective paradigmatic source – are simultaneously what makes possible the Church’s going out of itself in missionary reform. Francis says that when we return to the heart of the Gospel, everything is renewed; evangelization is always “new” (EG 11) and “the message is simplified” (EG 35). This openness to the self-transcendent dynamism of the Spirit must be at the same time a return to the objectivity of the Gospel, which simplifies, brings back to the essential and makes possible the cleansing and reform of obsolete structures.


The preservation of the doctrine of faith has often been associated with a “control” mechanism. Instead, the pope seems to focus on the harmonious growth of its understanding. Does this mean that the function of refuting error is destined to disappear?

If one reads the pope’s letter attentively, it is clear that at no time does he say that the function of refuting errors should disappear. Clearly, if someone says that Jesus is not a real man or that all immigrants should be killed, decisive intervention will be necessary. But at the same time this will provide an opportunity to grow, to enrich our understanding. For example, in such cases the person in question will need to be accompanied to better explain the divinity of Jesus Christ, or conversations will need to be had about some flawed, incomplete or problematic migration laws.

Francis is asking me for greater efforts to help the development of thought, even when difficult questions arise, because, if doctrine is to be respected, it is more effective to increase understanding of it than to increase controls. Heresies have been eradicated better and faster when there has been proper theological investigation, whereas, when we have been limited to condemnations, those errors have spread and become entrenched.

In this regard, a fundamental criterion to be preserved and held firm is that “any theological conception that in the final analysis casts doubt on God’s omnipotence and, especially, on his mercy” must be considered faulty.

The statement that it is a “fundamental criterion” is very strong. It means that it cannot be ignored or taken lightly. Recall that Francis takes this expression from the International Theological Commission, and in doing so gives it special relevance. What is more, this is a text referring to the salvation of children who died without baptism, to show that God’s omnipotence and mercy, capable of granting salvation, must not be denied or obscured by any theological reasoning. If this is applied in a general way, as a fundamental criterion, it undoubtedly forces us to rethink many other things.


Francis, in his letter to you, asks you to develop and promote thinking that presents “a God who loves, forgives, saves, liberates, who promotes people and summons them to fraternal service.”

Christian thought cannot be divorced from the heart of the Gospel, which is the theological kerygma and the moral kerygma. For “nothing is more solid, profound, secure, meaningful and wisdom-filled than that initial proclamation” (EG 165), and at the same time it is the message that makes one fall in love and captivates. It is the proclamation that helps us to live, to move forward, to struggle, to engage, with enormous practical and existential resonance.

On the other hand, I would like to add that this does not imply an option for a merely practical theology that downplays highly speculative research, because Francis also calls for ensuring that the Holy See’s documents have “adequate theological support.” While it is appropriate to avoid a “desk theology,” this should never lead to the thought that the Church does not “encourage the charism of theologians and the effort they put into theological research.” Study, as St. Thomas understands it, is a full-time activity. It is a receptive opening to the truth, but in total consciousness and self-giving, with desire and the highest attention, equal to that of one who devotes all his interest to listening to a friend. This contemplation is life at its fullest.


Again in light of the need to develop and promote thinking that presents “a God who loves,” Francis calls for attention to be paid to the hierarchy of truths, since “the greatest danger is produced when secondary truths end up overshadowing the primary ones.”

The problem is that it is relatively easy to develop a theme out of all context, to push it forward with a strong will to the point of being carried away by obsessive fanaticism. For Francis this is “the greatest danger.” It is far more difficult to situate that reasoning in the rich context of the whole teaching of the Church and let it transfigure itself in the light of the central truths, the heart of the Gospel. Indeed, “All revealed truths derive from the same divine source and are to be believed with the same faith, yet some of them are more important for giving direct expression to the heart of the Gospel. In this basic core, what shines forth is the beauty of the saving love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ who died and rose from the dead” (EG 36) and, at the same time, with respect to morality, “works of love for neighbor are the most perfect external manifestation of the interior grace of the Spirit” (EG 37).


Francis in his letter places together the perennial teaching of the Church and the recent Magisterium. This seems to me an interesting emphasis.

It is significant that he also mentions the recent Magisterium, in addition to referring to the perennial teaching. This is an important clarification, because it is the recent Magisterium that is engaging with the present circumstances found in the world and in the Church, with their culture and challenges. The Magisterium is not a mere “deposit,” but is also a present gift that is active through Francis. If the Magisterium also succeeds in enlightening us in our pilgrimage at this moment in history, we must allow ourselves to be guided by its recent and current interventions, and there is no doubt that this is tantamount to continuing to drink from that bottomless well that is the ever-existing and ever-current Revelation.


How do you envision your work now that you are at the beginning? The need to give answers, process documents…

To bring us closer to these goals, undoubtedly the two Commissions I will preside over will have special relevance: the International Theological Commission and the Pontifical Biblical Commission. Probably also appropriate will be a development of the Academy of Theology and a fruitful dialogue with the other Pontifical Academies.

On the other hand, these indications of Francis will have to guide and run through all the daily work of the Doctrinal Section of the Dicastery, including that of responding to doctrinal accusations or expressing an opinion on complex issues. In fact, it will no longer be enough to give quick answers in a standard format, but it will be necessary to seek, together with the people involved, a growth, a new deepening, a certain development of the issue that has been raised.

At the same time, when it is necessary to issue a document, it will be essential to strive to better present the considerations and contributions coming from the teaching of this pope. It is not just a matter of inserting a few quotations from him, but of enriching and developing their thought in light of his specific contributions. This will also require sustained contact with the other Dicasteries.

I would like to add that the greeting sent to me by the Holy Father for my cardinalate dwelt on the need to “inculturate the Gospel,” and along this line it is envisaged that the Prefect may meet in various regions of the world with theologians and doctrinal commissions of the episcopates. Later perhaps I will try to take advantage of that opportunity. All this requires human, technical and economic resources. We will see how far we can go, but the important thing, as Francis says, is to “generate processes,” which will then take their course.


I sincerely wish you well in your work! I am sure there will be much to do.


Antonio Spadaro, SJ is the former Editor-in-Chief of La Civiltà Cattolica.


Reproduced with permission from La Civiltà Cattolica.


[1].      Archbishop Fernández was born July 18, 1962, in the province of Córdoba, Argentina. He was ordained a priest on August 15, 1986. He received his licentiate in Biblical Theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University, and later his doctorate from the Faculty of Theology in Buenos Aires. From 1993 to 2000 he was pastor of Santa Teresita in Río Cuarto (Córdoba). In 2007 he participated in the Fifth Conference of Latin American Bishops (Aparecida) and was a member of the group drafting the final document. After serving as dean of the Faculty of Theology at the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina (UCA) and president of the Argentine Theological Society, he was rector of UCA from 2009 to 2018. On May 13, 2013, he was appointed archbishop. He participated, as a member, in the 2014 and 2015 Synods of Bishops on the family, in which he was also involved in the drafting groups. In the 2017 Assembly of the Argentine Bishops’ Conference, he was elected president of the Bishops’ Commission for Faith and Culture. In June 2018, he became archbishop of La Plata. Courtesy:

[2].      Cf. A. Spadaro – C. M. Galli, La riforma e le riforme nella Chiesa, Brescia, Queriniana, 2016.

[3].      Cf. M. Blondel, L’azione. Saggio di una critica della vita e di una scienza della prassi, Cinisello Balsamo (Mi), San Paolo, 2014.

[4].      Cfr V. Manuel Fernández, Teología espiritual encarnada: profundidad espiritual en acción, Buenos Aires, San Pablo, 2004.

[5].      Cf. Id., “Sentido teológico de la paternidad de la primera Persona”, in Angelicum 77 (2000/3) 437-458.

[6].      Cf. Id., Los cinco minutos del Espíritu Santo, Buenos Aires, Claretiana, 2019.

[7].      Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, II-II, q. 188, aa. 6-7; q. 181, a. 3.

[8].      Cf. ibid, q. 182, a. 4, ad 3.

[9].      Cf. Bonaventure of Bagnoregio, II Sententiarum, 23, 2, 3.

[10].    B. Lonergan, Metodo in teologia, Rome, Città Nuova, 2022, 385.

[11].    Francis, Amoris Laetitia (AL), no. 49.

[12].    Obispos de la Región Pastoral Buenos Aires, Criterios básicos para la aplicación del capítulo VIII de Amoris laetitia. Buenos Aires, September 5, 2016, 6. See the full text at

[13].    Francis, Carta a Mons. Fenoy, September 5, 2016 (

[14].    On September 5, 2016.

[15].    Bonaventure of Bagnoregio, De reductione artium ad theologiam, 26.

[16].    Ibid.

[17].    John of the Cross, Spiritual Canticle, 36, 12.

[18].    Ibid., 13.

[19].    Cfr V. Manuel Fernández, La gracia y la vida entera, Barcelona, Herder, 2003.

[20].    Cfr Carta a los Romanos, in Comentario Bíblico Latinoamericano, Estella, Verbo Divino, 2003, 777-816.

[21].    Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dei Verbum, no. 12.

[22].    Francis, Laudato Si’ (LS), no. 61.

[23].    Cf. E. Lévinas, Positivité et Transcendance, Paris, Puf, 2000, 33.

[24].    Francis, Evangelii Gaudium (EG), no. 40.

[25].    St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, q. 47, a. 1.

[26].    Cf. ibid., a. 2, ad 1; a. 3.


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