Friday, August 24, 2012

The Threefold Mandate of Optatum Totius

The following is excerpted from an address by Monsignor Moroney to a plenary meeting of the Faculty of Saint John’s Seminary on August 23, 2012.

Let me begin by thanking you.  For you have responded generously to a pressing need in the Church. You find yourselves associated with what Blessed Pope John Paul II described as “the educational project at Seminaries, which takes into account the fundamental complementarity of the four dimensions of formation:  human, intellectual, spiritual and pastoral.”

Let me warn you: your task as seminary educators is even more demanding than it might at first appear to be.  

For instance, a theologian in the Theology Department at Boston College seeks to “provide students with the knowledge and skills necessary for reasoned reflection on their own values, faith, and tradition, as well as on the religious forces that shape our society and world.”

Your mandate is significantly more challenging, as described by the Conciliar Decree on Priestly Formation, Optatum Totius.  You have a threefold mandate: to develop in your students an intellectual rigor, a profound love of the magisterium, and an integration of your instruction in the work, the prayer, and the lives of seminarians.  Allow me to spend a brief moment of each of these mandates.

First, Optatum Totius tells us that “In the very manner of teaching there should be stirred up in the students a love of rigorously searching for the truth and of maintaining and demonstrating it, together with an honest recognition of the limits of human knowledge.”

What the Church is calling for here is an authentic theological method, whereby the seminarian sees himself as the unworthy servant of the Truth, and not as its ultimate master.  Such a theologian is ruthless in his self-critique, but childlike in his wonder at the tradition he has been called to preserve, a tradition which comes from the Word made flesh and has been preserved by the Church in fidelity and love.

The seminarian who has been exposed to such a method will hunger for solid theological reflection for the rest of his life.  The questions which arise from the pastoral, spiritual, and human struggles he will encounter will be informed and challenged by the authentically Catholic theologians to whom you have introduced him.  In other words, you will have taught him how to embrace the Church and the truth she preserves with humility and love.

Second, Optatum Totius calls us, “under the guidance of the magisterium of the Church” to teach students how to “correctly draw out Catholic doctrine from divine revelation, profoundly penetrate it, make it the food of their own spiritual lives, and be enabled to proclaim, explain, and protect it in their priestly ministry.”

In other words, you are not just teaching the seminarian in the second row, you are teaching every parishioner he will ever preach to, every confused young adult he will ever counsel, and ever catechism class he will ever instruct.  And by the way you teach him, with a love for the Catholic faith that has penetrated your heart and become food for your spiritual lives, you will enable him to teach the truth not just with his words, but with the manner in which he lives his priestly life.

By imbuing his whole life with authentic Catholic truth, you will prepare him for the sort of ministry accomplished by Chaucer’s good parson: First he wrought and afterward he taught.  For Christe’s lore and his Apostles twelve he taught.  But first he followed it himself.

And finally, the Church calls on seminary teachers to beware lest they “tend merely to the communication of ideas.”  Rather, they should counsel and “provide a true and intimate formation” for your students.

True means preaching Christ and not the latest academic theory.  True means teaching what the Church teaches and not what I think she should teach.  

And “intimate” means understanding that what we teach goes to the very heart of things, seeking what Pope Paul VI has called the “total formation of the young man, not only as a human being and a Christian but above all as a priest, whose whole personality must be penetrated by the light of divine revelation.”


1 Pope John Paul II to the Congregation for Catholic Education.  1 February 2005; cf. Pastores Dabo Vobis, nos. 43-59.
3 Optatum Totius, no. 15.
4  Optatum Totius, no.16.
5  Optatum Totius, no. 17.
6  Pope Paul VI, Apostolic Letter Summi Dei Verbum, no. 51. 4 November 1963.