Sunday, April 28, 2013

The 2013 Theology Symposium

As Mount Angel Seminary approaches the end of the school year, our journalism students are submitting their final stories and photos that highlight many of the events of the last semester.  We start with a story on this year's Theology Symposium.

Dr. John C. Cavadini: The 2013 Theology Symposium
Story by Raul Barriga; Photo by Ivan Garcia

On March 11th and 12th, Dr. John Cavadini, professor of theology and director of the Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame, as well as a member of the International Theological Commission, was the guest speaker of the 2013 Theology Symposium  held in the Damian Center.  Dr. Cavadini focused on the new evangelization, which was relevant to the XIII General Assembly for the Synod of Bishops in 2012 that focused on the same topic.  The audience at the symposium was composed of seminarians, faculty and staff, as well as guests.  The Theology Symposium is an annual event for which a guest speaker is invited to give a talk on a variety of subjects.

This year, the scheduled talks were entitled "What is the New Evangelization," "Special Issues in the New Evangelization I: Teaching the Church's Teaching on Contraception," and "Special Issues in the New Evangelization II: Teaching Love for the Church."  After each talk there was a question and answer forum.  This story will focus on two major points from Dr. Cavadini's first talk.

Dr. John Cavadini (center) with Dr. Owen Cummings, the Academic Dean of Mount Angel Seminary, and Monsignor Joseph Betschart, the President-Rector of Mount Angel Seminary.

Dr Cavadini began the symposium with the talk entitled "What is the New Evangelization."  He did not want to give a definition of what the New Evangelization is.  Instead, he wanted to give us a "tool kit" for the New Evangelization.  This tool kit was comprised of four passages of Scripture, four images that go with these passages, and four expositors for the passages.  He did this because he wanted to go back to Scripture and Tradition on the topic.

His first Scriptural passage was 1st Corinthians 2:4-5.  Dr. Cavadini said that a way to remember this passage was the phrase "spirit and power."  The expositor he used here was Origen and his work Contra Celsum.  Right at the beginning of Origen's work, he uses the image of the silence of Christ before his accusers from Matthew's Gospel.  Origen had decided to point to Jesus' whole way of life as a way of refuting the charges made by Celsus against Christianity at the time.

Origen is saying that the silence of Jesus is pointing to His whole life, the mystery of His person, which isn't reducible to any of His words.  If Jesus had responded to his critics by arguing against them, then all of that would be reducing the mystery of His person only to His words.  Dr. Cavadini said that the whole idea is that the mystery of His person transcends argumentation, even his own words.

It is not that Jesus' words are not important.  According to Dr. Cavadini, Jesus is the Gospel, and it is of spirit and power.  He said that if we think of evangelization as attempting to prove the faith somehow by argumentation, we are saying it is a product of human reasoning or argumentation, which it is not.  He said that we need to be able to answer all of the criticisms, but in a way that we remember that faith isn't going to come from those answers.

Furthermore, if we believe that faith comes from our arguments, then we play into the side of secularism by only arguing in terms of reason.  We won't be uplifting the faith as mystery, which isn't against reason but transcends and purifies it.  If we are going to deploy arguments and clarifications, we are not reducing the faith to reason but clarifying and presenting it for the encounter with the person of Jesus Christ.

Dr. Cavadini's second tool for evangelization was from 1st John 4:8 - "God is love."  The image he associated with this passage was from John 18:31 and following.  He tried to pick passages that are associated with the Passion since we were in Lent at the time of the symposium.

The expositor Dr. Cavadini used was Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and his encyclical Deus Caritas est, section twelve, in which he brings these two Scripture passages together.  Benedict says that one way of encountering the person of Jesus is by contemplating the pierced heart of Christ hanging dead on the cross because it is in this image that we see the love that God is.

Dr. Cavadini proposed that this suggests a particular kind of apologetics.  He called it an "apologetics of love."  He means that at the base of all Christian teaching is the fundamental proclamation of God's love.  Everyone knows love when they see it.  The apologetics of love is meant to always in contemplation of the pierced heart of Christ hanging dead on the cross as a way of showing that all of Christian doctrine is meant as a way of proclaiming and presenting that love.

The apologetics of love is a way of clarifying, arguing, or speaking about the doctrines of the Christian faith in such a way that they become an encounter with God who is love.  Then there is no other apologetic needed because they defend themselves.  In this way, we allow the Gospel's spirit and power to do the work instead of trying to do the work ourselves and thinking that everything relies on us.

One of the students at the symposium, Emilio Gonzalez from the Diocese of Fresno, shared his comments about the symposium.  He said, "I think the biggest thing was how Dr. Cavadini took on the topic of New Evangelization when he said it's not a definition because we've already had conferences on it.  Rather, he gave his toolbox interpretation of how he views the New Evangelization.  This helped me understand more deeply what the New Evangelization is all about."

Editor's Note: As of 10 a.m. on April 30, 2013, some typographical errors in this story have been corrected.

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