An Experience of Theological Formation in the Heart of Rome
To Think, to Love, to Hope
The Mater Ecclesiae Advanced Institute of Religious Studies, linked to the Faculty of Theology of the Pontifical University of St Thomas (Angelicum) in Rome, is a school of theological formation where one trains oneself to think through the faith, to exercise a believing reason.
It is a “gymnasium” of reflection on the faith, in which one tries to “read within (intus-legere) the mystery of God and of Christ, as accepted by those who belong to the ecclesial community. As everyone, including the believer, is constantly searching to know something more (about him or herself, about the world, about God), to which end (s)he asks questions, so theology is a humble and courageous attempt to respond to that thirst for what is beyond us that God, revealed to us in Jesus, sets alight in the human being.
Theology is a search, a pilgrimage of the mind and heart, desirous of possessing in the deepest way the light offered by God to humanity by means of the history of Israel and of Jesus Christ.
This “thinking through” of the faith is not separated from love for God, rather it is the consequence of the latter. In the Christian experience, knowledge and love draw life from each other: it is precisely because of love for the God who has entered into human history that the desire to understand him is aroused. Since it is so decisive for our lives, the living and true God calls forth a desire in us to deepen our understanding of his identity. In this sense, theological experience is the fruit of the amazement that the triune God inspires in the lives of those who accept Him in faith; it is the unavoidable task of the community that entrusts itself to Him and which, with him, constructs its life together, making history. “One who loves realizes that love is an experience of truth, that it opens our eyes to see reality in a new way, in union with the beloved […]. Faith-filled reason and love … become one [eye] in rising to the contemplation of God” (Pope Francis, Lumen fidei, 27).
Theology also strengthens the hope of the believer; it stimulates us to strain forward with courage towards the future. It is a way of training ourselves to “dream with our eyes open”, in the certainty that fidelity to the Almighty will allow his promises of good to all people to be brought to fruition in the concrete circumstances of history. In a world and a history that is too often marked by suffering and death, theology helps us to rediscover in the weakness of the Cross of the Risen Christ the strength to keep us moving ahead along the way, that stiffens our resolve, that helps us to go forward with our heads held high and our hearts at peace, in solidarity with our brothers and sisters, towards the future.
Lastly, since the task of thinking, loving and hoping is necessarily exercised in the context of the specific times and places (hic et nunc) where believers live out their religious and human experience, the Mater Ecclesiae Institute is always concerned with a twofold need: on the one hand, that which comes from its being located in the city of Rome. Being in the Eternal City offers those here the opportunity to experience the unity and the catholicity of the Church; this implies the need for a universal vision to be incorporated into its formation activity, which is guaranteed by the international character of both the teaching and the student bodies. On the other hand, being in Rome involves being in a culturally rich environment with which it is important to be in contact. Conscious of the fact that, “[f]ar from making us inflexible, the security of faith sets us on a journey; it enables witness and dialogue with all” (Lumen fidei, 34), the Mater Ecclesiae Institute is interested in current and leading-edge religious questions, so as to foster reciprocal knowledge between various Christian communities, between Christians and those of other faiths, and between believers and all those searching for truth. Therefore, over and above the courses offered to religious men and women, to catechists and to pastoral workers, there are also theological and pastoral courses, and others on interreligious or intercultural questions, for on-going formation and aggiornamento.
A final point may be made in regard to the history of Mater Ecclesiae. The origins of the institute go back to 1913, the year in which Luigia Tincani, the future foundress of the religious congregation of the Missionaries of the Schools of the Union of St Catherine (Missionarie della Scuola dell’Unione S. Caterina da Siena), organized an advanced course on “Religion”; since 1964, the Institute has been part of the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas (Angelicum); since 1972, it has been academically recognised by the Congregation for Catholic Education (CEC) as an Institute of the Faculty of Theology. In 2006, the Institute updated its statutes and its formation programmes according to the requirements of the Bologna Process. In 2010, its statutes were revised again according to the Instruction on Advanced Institutes of Religious Studies, a document that had been approved by the CEC in 2008. From this history, two important characteristics emerge: a long experience of teaching and academic reflection, at the level required by European university standards; a special attention to St Thomas Aquinas, presented both by the Second Vatican Council and the Pontifical Magisterium as a precious and life-giving source of reference for all those working to understand revealed truth at the service of the human being and human history.
G. M. Salvati OP