I first met Víctor Manuel Fernández – 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.” 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.
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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?