The Congress of Polish Theologians - Introduction
Bishop Stanislaw Wielgus
The general theme of the sessions and reflections was 'The testimony of the Catholic Church in the totalitarian system of Central-Eastern Europe'. During the Lublin congress a specific balance of gains and losses of the Catholic Church, which had struggled with the atheistic, communist totalitarianism in Poland and other countries for many years, was made. At the same time the output of Polish and foreign theologians, working in extremely hard times and paralysed by atheistic censorship and various persecutions of Catholic clergy, was evaluated. In accordance with the wish of the Holy Father, the invitation to participate in the congress was extended to theologians in the entire Central-Eastern Europe. The theologians delivered numerous important speeches and presented many testimonies about persecutions, which the Church had faced in their countries for many years, as well as testimonies about heroic attitudes of thousands of Christians, who were persecuted because of their faithfulness to Christ. The Catholic University of Lublin published the proceedings of the Congress in 1994.
The initiative to organise the present 7th Congress of Polish Theologians was taken by the Scientific Council of the Polish Episcopate Conference consisting of several bishops, rectors and deans of all Polish ecclesiastical academic schools and faculties.
On behalf of the Scientific Council of the Polish Episcopate Conference I would like to express my gratitude to all Polish theological faculties, to their authorities, for their versatile co-operation with the Catholic University of Lublin in preparing this Congress.
In particular I would like to thank the Catholic University of Lublin for organising this Congress and for its enormous effort, both organisational and financial, which has been put in the preparation of the Congress.
I direct my words of great gratitude to the former Rector of the Catholic University of Lublin, Father Professor Dr. Andrzej Szostek. When the Scientific Council of the Polish Episcopate Conference faced the question, 'Who and where will organise the congress', Fr Szostek undertook the task generously and without hesitation. He was supported by the kindness of the Grand Counsellor of the Catholic University of Lublin, His Grace Archbishop Professor Jozef Zycinski, and I also want to thank him wholeheartedly for that.
Moreover, I thank Father Professor Dr. Stanislaw Wilk, Rector of the Catholic University of Lublin, for continuing the work of his magnificent predecessor.
Warmest thanks to the whole Scientific Council of the Congress. Its contribution to the organisation of this event is very big. In particular I would like to stress the role and merits of Professor Karol Klauza, member of the Council, who devoted all his time to the laborious organisational and conceptual work related to the Congress. I would be biased if I did not mention the merits and great involvement of Father Professor Jerzy Palucki, Dean of the Theological Faculty of the Catholic University of Lublin, Father Professor Czeslaw Rychlicki, Secretary of the Scientific Council of the Polish Episcopate Conference, Father Professor Krzysztof Gozdz, Vice-Dean of the Theological Faculty of the Catholic University of Lublin and all members of the Congress Secretariat.
I thank wholeheartedly all the people and institutions that have supported morally and financially the 7th Congress of Polish Theologians in order to organise the Congress in the friendly venue - the Catholic University of Lublin.
Organisers of every scientific congress usually work out, after much consideration, the main theme of discussion, which they think is very important and up-to-date and at the same time broad enough to sum up the achievements of scholars and scientific institutions representing a given field of knowledge, to focus on the tasks and research, which they are carrying out at present, and to show - as far as they can - directions and spheres of future research. Furthermore, every scientific congress is to be a place of discussion between scholars and a place to verify the presented academic achievements.
The same applies to the 7th Congress of Polish Theologians, which has begun today. After much discussion and consideration the Polish theological circles and organisers of the congress reached the conclusion that after several years of the life of the Church and work of Catholic theologians under different political, social, scientific-theological, economic and ideological conditions it was necessary to make further common reflection upon the place and mission of the Church in the life of contemporary societies as well as the picture of Polish theology, which constitutes an integral part of the European theology, facing the present signs of time and confronting completely different challenges. Therefore, the organisers decided that the 7th Congress of Polish Theologians would have the theme: 'The Church in Public Life. Polish and European Theology Facing New Challenges'.
In a community of believers theologians are called in a special way to discern the signs of time through which the Holy Spirit interferes into the history of the world. They themselves, having proper education and deep faith, are called to serve the Church with their interpretation of the Revelation, which is becoming more and more fathomed, enlarged and embracing the latest scientific achievements. Their second role is to formulate opinions for the Magisterium of the Church concerning pastoral directions for the individual life and social life.
Commencing with the Second Vatican Council, the teaching of the Church frequently refers to the term 'challenges of the present time' understood as processes of various nature and events, becoming turning points and making us reflect anew on the theology, which has been thought so far. A contemporary theologian, always following evangelical love and being faithful to the Teaching Office of the Church, is called to take a univocal stand on the issue of contemporary needs of believers, who face new challenges and threats. He is called to - metaphorically speaking - show and light up the proper road to Christ - the only Saviour of the world - to the contemporary man. He is also called to communicate the revealed knowledge in a language that is proper for the culture, the awareness and sensitivity of the contemporary man.
Many people express the conviction that the life of contemporary societies is constantly accelerating but at the same time it is made worse. This conviction does not seem exaggerated. Scientific and technological discoveries multiply literary in geometrical progress. The range of technical possibilities of man is continuously increasing but new threats to his physical existence are emerging. These threats are of various character. The difference between the steadily decreasing amount of rich men and the increasing number of the destitute is growing. The unemployment is constantly going up. The phenomenon of terrorism is horribly increasing and becoming more dangerous. Aids effects more and more people. Other incurable diseases claim more victims. Every year over 50 million unborn children in the world are killed through abortion. Half of the world's population suffers from the limited access to drinking water. The number of illiterates is growing, and so on. We could continue this gloomy list of threats to the existence of the majority of people.
Moreover, numerous contemporary challenges as well as ideological and moral threats are dangerous for every Christian. The conciliar constitution on the Church in the modern world and later documents of the Apostolic See consider these challenges in three basic contexts: religious, cultural and anthropological.
In the religious context the following challenges are particularly enumerated: the confrontation of Christianity with Islamic fundamentalism; the New Age; the unprecedented development of very dangerous sects including Satanism; cognitive and moral relativism, which embraces Christians, who are influenced by the directly and globally promoted 'political correctness'; hyper-individualism; rejection of the Christian image of God and the Church; religious ignorance; subjectivization of faith; wrongly understood theological pluralism; non-integral understanding of confessed faith by numerous Christians; secularism, which removes Christianity from public life; indifferentism; agnosticism; neo-paganism questioning monotheism; revivable attempts to substitute religion for science as well as atheism and silent apostasy of man living in comfort.
The challenges in the cultural context relate to the general concept of dehumanisation of human life with its manifestations: commercialisation of culture, objectification of interpersonal relationships, growing anonymity and loneliness, utilitarianism and pragmatism in behaviour, consumerism, promotion of sexual anarchy, impairing family and marriage, the influence of many media promoting 'freedom to and from everything', especially freedom from Christian moral law (sometimes the influence becomes some kind of 'terrorism'), and many others.
The third group of challenges is born from false anthropology, being spread in the last decades by the post-modernistic and neo-Marxist philosophy. On the one hand, man is animalised, which means classified as an animal and only as an animal, with all the consequences of such a classification. On the other hand, man is angelized or even deified because he has a divine throne at his disposal; the throne which God was removed from. Man is placed over the Decalogue and also over the natural law and made a creator of moral norms, deciding arbitrarily what is good and what is evil.
The false anthropology, which rejects the image of man as a child of God made in God's image, gives rise to lost hope for eternal life, nihilistic hedonism, increasing feeling of anthropological fear, despair, aggression, crisis of family and marriage, extreme egoism, inner emptiness, loneliness, lost of sense of life and distress.
Speaking about the gloomy challenges and threats the Church faces today, one cannot omit the signs of hope, which bring comfort to the contemporary world. In his teaching the Holy Fathers mentions the following: strong faith of the members of the dynamically growing religious movements, greater freedom of the Church in the post-communist countries, greater openness of people to reconciliation, greater openness of people to become united in good and to the democratisation of life, stronger desire for justice and peace; greater sensitivity to other people's adversity and misfortune, greater care for nature, search for ways to protect human dignity, etc.
Certainly, the discussions and talks of the Congress will balance the things, which cause fear, against the things, which bring hope.
Poland and the Polish Church are an integral part of the contemporary world and the universal Church. The challenges, which the European theology faces, are also the challenges, which the Polish theologians face. Therefore, it is very good that we will have the possibility to hear the most outstanding scholars, both Polish and foreign - we are thankful wholeheartedly for the presence of our guests from other European countries.
We will rejoice at our common pursue for the truth. I am deeply convinced that our Congress will strengthen the Catholic theological science, which is so essential to the life of the contemporary Church. We await the instructions. The pastoral leaders wait for the instruction how to present Christ, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life, to the contemporary man, with the awareness that the crisis of the contemporary Christianity is not a crisis of the Church's structures or the authorities, but the growing 'lack of God's presence' in Christian lives. And the lack of God's presence is the lack of the truth, which is so commonly being questioned nowadays; the lack of the presence of life, which is so terribly destroyed today and the lack of clear instruction which way to follow in the contemporary fog of false ideas, theories and philosophy in order to reach the Kingdom of Christ.
The contemporary theologian cannot take offence at the world, which brings so many threats. He should enter into a dialogue with the world. He should be aware that Christianity will constantly lose its strength and meaning, both in individual and public life, if it closes itself fearfully and does not face the challenges of the present times; if it does not begin a matter-of-fact and frank discussion with contemporary philosophers and scholars; if it ignores the dynamic development of natural science; if it rejects, without attempting at objective evaluation, the proposals to correct the way of thinking and speaking about God in the means of transmission of Christian doctrine and moral law.
In his encyclical Fides et ratio John Paul II clearly refers to the common reflection and discussion between theology and philosophy, including the non-Christian one. He does not obviously mean to connect these two cognitive ways with some third one. First of all, he meant a frank, critical, completely open and objective dialogue between theology and contemporary philosophy, which would enrich these two disciples.
It is not true, as some claim, that Christianity, in spite of its historical merits, cannot constitute a foundation for Europe in the modern world. Science, which builds bridges between various cultures and people having different convictions, but is helpless when it faces the most important, essential and existential questions of man, will not take the place of Christianity in Europe. Christianity will be the foundation of the lives of Europeans in the third millennium if it remains faithful to the Gospel and at the same time it becomes authentic, vivid, sincere and open to the contemporary experiences and challenges, to art and science as well as ready, always and everywhere, to make intellectual trials - confirmed by the testimony of life - for the cause of God.