Theologians’ academic respectability

The teaching authority of the Church is the only guarantee the theologian has for both his academic respectability, and his intellectual freedom.

Over the years, we have printed many articles on the proper relationship that should exist in the Catholic Church, between the Magisterium and the theologians. The problem has been, and is, a perpetual one because the Apostles, and their successors (bishops), have been commissioned by Jesus Christ to proclaim the Gospel to all nations. An important function of the theologian is to analyze the Gospel, question it, probe it, with a view towards understanding it more adequately, and so being able to proclaim it more effectively in each age of human history.

Recently I read a little book on this thorny question by the English thinker, writer and lecturer, Mr. Christopher Derrick. The book is entitled: Church Authority and Intellectual Freedom (Ignatius Press, P.O. Box 18990, San Francisco, CA 94118).  It is a collection of four talks that he gave at Marquette University in Milwaukee in 1980.

The book is remarkable for a number of reasons. Derrick approaches his subject matter in what seems to me to be a typical English fashion. He lays great stress on the healthy skepticism of the scholar, who requires painstaking investigation of his subject matter, established methodology, and careful verification of all hypotheses and categorical statements. The theologian, according to Derrick, if he is to have academic respectability, and so deserve what is known as intellectual freedom in the university, must abide by the usual norms of scholarship, at least as they apply to his discipline.

The theologian is one who “studies God, and those things related to God,” by profession, making many statements about God—what Derrick calls “transcendental statements.” Such statements about the existence of God, the Trinity of Persons in God, the divinity of Jesus Christ, and so forth, cannot be verified by the accepted canons of human science. Their verification depends on the truth of revelation, which was committed to the Church by Jesus, and has been faithfully transmitted to us by the Church’s Magisterium.

Derrick points out that the Magisterium has two functions: (1) discipline in the Church (e.g., censuring Dr. Hans Kung), and, (2) doctrine. His primary concern in this book is with the second function of doctrine, or truth. Divine revelation comes to us from Jesus through his Church. This means that the theologian receives his subject matter, his method, and the means of verification from the Church. As long as he remains a believing Catholic, there should be no basic conflict between him and the Church.

When the neo-Modernist theologian denies the authority of the Church, or denies certain teachings of the Church, he thereby, in Derrick’s view, not only errs seriously, but also loses academic respectability, that is, he loses the right to be taken seriously by the academic community.

Derrick goes on to show that the teaching authority of the Church is the only guarantee the theologian has for both his academic respectability, and his intellectual freedom. He shows quite convincingly, it seems to me, that there is no such thing as a basic conflict between the authority of the Church, and the intellectual freedom of the theologian.

Fr. Kenneth Baker, SJ About Fr. Kenneth Baker, SJ

Fr. Kenneth Baker, SJ, is editor emeritus of HPR, having served as editor for over 30 years. He is the author of the best selling Fundamentals of Catholicism (three volumes) and of the popular introduction to the Scripture, Inside the Bible.


  1. Interesting article. Couple of problems though. There are contradictions with teachings from the RCC in regards to salvation. The church used to teach that salvation could only come through the RCC and now salvation can be gained outside the church.

    • Hi Jeff,

      You are labouring under a misaprehansion re the meaning of no salvation outside the Church. You might like to check on the link below for an explanation.

      • Sharon,
        That article creates more problems than it solves. For one thing the idea that the sacraments of your church are necessary for salvation is unbiblical. There is no such statement or teaching that the sacraments of the RCC are necessary for salvation. What is necessary is faith alone in Christ alone. See Eph 2:8-9.
        You also might want to read Trent’ condemnation of the reformers in regards to the gospel and salvation. Clearly Trent taught that salvation can only be gained in the RCC.

    • Hello Jeff –
      Salvation comes only in Jesus Christ, through His Catholic Church, whether the person being saved knows and realizes this while on earth, or not.

      • Thomas,
        What must a person do to gain heaven?

      • Jeff, I quote for you the Catechism:
        1260 “Since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partakers, in a way known to God, of the Paschal mystery.” Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity.
        Jeff, I would point you to Romans 2:12-16 for a Scriptural passage that might help you understand this teaching of the Church.

      • Thanks Thomas- Here is what the Scripture says– “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12
        “”Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.” John 8:24
        What these and other passages tell us is that explicit faith in Christ is required.–“9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; 10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.” Romans 10:9-10

        The apostles never taught a message that a man who was ignorant of Christ and what He did could be saved.

      • Jeff, again, and with this I’ll leave you to yourself, please read Romans 2:12-16. If you can’t incorporate this into your theology, then your theology must need some correction – right? May the Lord guide you into all His truth!

  2. Thomas,
    Romans 2:12-16 is not a passage that shows a man will gain heaven without explicit faith in Christ. What this passage shows is that God has written His law on the hearts of all men and so no man is without excuse in claiming he did not know it. No man can gain heaven by keeping the law because no man can keep the law perfectly. Only faith in Christ Who kept the law perfectly can save a man.

  3. Avatar Martin B. Drew says:

    ” Outside of the Catholic Church there is no salvation ” This true since the Catholic church is the Mystical body of Christ and the absolute transcendental of one. true, good and beautiful. which possesses alone the means of salvation . This can be called the principle of contradiction and the princi[ple of individuation . For a being cannot exist at the same time in the same respect and existence as another being. This was definitely taught by St. Thomas Aquinas with help from Aristotle. The extraordinary episcopal magisterium and the Papal magisterium based on the Apostles also a transcendental teaches infallibly of Moral and Doctrine. This is fortunate for Catholics.

  4. Jeff:
    Ask and ye shall receive, seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you.
    In other words, to attain salvation, ask for it. ie: “Heavenly Father, in the name of thy Beloved Son Jesus Christ my Lord and Redeemer, I beseech thee, grant me salvation from my sins least I be cast into the eternal fire.” Repeat about 1000 times a day as long as you live would be a good start.

    You must pray to God the Father in the name of His beloved Son, Jesus Christ that the Holy Spirit will come and fill you with the Graces of the Blessed Trinity. Pray. Pray now. Pray for all that you need. Pray, even, that you be given the grace to pray more and more deeply. On your knees, penitent.

    This should be of further help:

    PS: I hope you are actually asking for an answer to the question: “What must a person do to attain heaven?”


  1. […] Theologians’ Academic Respectability – Fr. Kenneth Baker SJ, Homiletic & Pastoral Rvw […]

  2. […] Theologians’ academic respectability – Homiletic & Pastoral Review. Share this:FacebookDiggLinkedInTumblrTwitterStumbleUponRedditPinterestEmailPrintLike this:LikeBe […]