Monday, June 26, 2006

Cardinal Ivan Dias - Teacher of the Faith


By Bishop Thomas Dabre

Cardinal Ivan Dias’ consistent defence of the Church doctrine.

St Paul in his letter to Timothy writes that the Church is the pillar and bulwark of truth. Defending and promoting the divinely revealed truth of God belongs to the very essence of the Catholic Church


In this mission of the Church, the role of the Bishop is of pivotal significance. The Bishop is called Magister Fidei, the teacher of faith. He has to reverently safeguard and courageously proclaim the truth of divine revelation and the truth contained in the tradition of the Church illumined by the Holy Spirit. There are several expectations from a Bishop. But the duty to teach (munus docendi) is among the primary responsibilities of a Bishop.

It is a Bishop’s principal duty to teach the Gospel as the Second Vatican Council teaches us. “When they exercise their teaching role, bishops should proclaim the Gospel of Christ to men. This is one of the principal duties of bishops. Fortified by the Spirit they should call on men to believe or should strengthen them when they already have a living faith.” (n.12, Vatican Council II, Christus Dominus, Bishops in the Church).

The multifaceted personality of Cardinal Dias is in a striking manner characterised by the role of the teacher of the faith and doctrine he has consistently and courageously been playing.

The 2003 document on the Bishop emphasises his teaching office. “The bishop is ordained and commissioned to teach and preach faith and morals. “At his Episcopal ordination, each Bishop received the fundamental mission of authoritatively proclaiming the Word of God. Indeed, every Bishop, by virtue of sacred ordination, is an authentic teacher who preaches to the people entrusted to his care the faith to be believed and to be put into practice in the moral life.” (Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Gregis of His Holiness Pope John Paul II on the Bishop, Servant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the Hope of the World)


I have been impressed by the Cardinal’s interest in the work of the theologians in India. He always discusses with me theological and doctrinal matters. He has also been sending me material of doctrinal significance for my study and reflection. He has been closely following the theological trends in India.

The CBCI commission for the doctrine of the faith keeps in regular touch with theologians. As John Paul II says in the apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in Asia (n.22) they are to be encouraged in their important work. Sometimes there are problems and controversies with some writings and discourses. To deal with such concerns and promote an authentic and orthodox theology and also to update the bishops in contemporary theology regular theological colloquia are organised by the commission. Cardinal Dias has taken a keen interest in the proceedings of these programmes. I was taken by surprise once when he told me to absent myself from an important historic programme of the diocese and to participate in a theological colloquium which was clashing with it. Such is the importance he attaches to the work of theologians.

The Bishop is to ensure that there is a concern among the faithful and the teachers of theology and the teachers of ecclesiastical sciences for transmitting and teaching the faith.

“In carrying out this duty Bishops will derive particular benefit from open dialogue and cooperation with theologians, whose task is to employ an appropriate methodology in the quest for deeper knowledge of the unfathomable richness of the mystery of Christ. Bishops will not fail to encourage and support them and the schools or academic institutions where they work, so that they can carry out their service to the People of God in fidelity to Tradition and with attentiveness to changing historical circumstances.” (Pastores Gregis)


To be sure theology is a creative enterprise and it has to be relevant to our multiple and complex Indian situation. Our Indian theologians are well poised to make a precious contribution to the universal Church. However, a truly Catholic theology must be in harmony with the Church’s tradition and magisterial teaching. Catholic theology cannot be a pure spontaneous intuition like a piece poetry. Theological creativity and contextualisation must be rooted in and be an actualisation of the faith of the Church. This has been the significance of the theological stance of Cardinal Dias which is in keeping with the spirit of what St. Paul says to Timothy.

St Paul exhorts Timothy to a proper behaviour in the Church precisely because she is the pillar and bulwark of the truth (1Tm 3:15) and therefore to communicate the sound teaching with a sense of urgency, courage and patience (2Tm 4:2-5).

A great exponent of the Christian faith and an outstanding theologian all through the last 16 centuries, St Athanasius writes, “... the ancient tradition and the doctrine and the faith of the Catholic Church, which as we know, the Lord handed down, the apostles preached and the fathers preserved. For on this tradition the Church is founded, and if anyone abandons it, he cannot be a Christian nor have any right to the name.” This is the test of authentic Catholic theology.

Cardinal Dias has consistently been alerting the faithful against the excesses
and dangers in connection with inculturation, inter-religious dialogue and
contextualised theology. However, he has always appreciated the genuine, human,
religious and spiritual values in our Indian cultures and religions. He has
attended inter-religious programmes in institutions like the Somaiya Sanskrit
Peetham in Mumbai.

At a function in Vasai in 2001, held to congratulate him on his elevation to the position of Cardinal, to the delight of the audience among whom there were Muslims and Hindus he declared that we are all children of God in our pilgrimage to him. It is self–evident that all inter-religious activity must be pursued in total fidelity to the Church’s faith and doctrine.

His criticism of the way inculturation and inter-religious dialogue as is in some cases carried out, is on account of the impression of syncretism and theological relativism that is given. In such pursuits the unity and integrity of the faith has to be preserved. We are all fascinated by the remarkable combination of the faith and creativity achieved by the great Fathers and Doctors of the Church.

The Fathers of the Church are good models for us because they too in their circumstances faced similar problems and came up with a theology or theologies wholly in harmony with the faith, the doctrine and the tradition of the Church while being open towards other cultures and religions.

The diocese is not just a portion or part of the Church. Truly the one holy Catholic and apostolic Church is present in the diocese. The unity of the Church should be ensured only by adherence to the truth of Christ. Divergent and contradictory positions on the matters of faith and morals cannot signify unity of the Church.

“A diocese is a section of the People of God entrusted to a bishop to be guided by him with the assistance of his clergy so that, loyal to its pastor and formed by him into one community in the Holy Spirit through the Gospel and the Eucharist, it constitutes one particular Church in which the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church of Christ is truly present and active.” (Christus Dominus)


The staff and seminarians in the Bombay seminary will long remember the Cardinal’s regular visits and his direct involvement in the process of formation. The teaching of right doctrine is of the essence in the formation of future priests. The seminarians must know the teaching of the Church which they are called to impart and promote in their priestly ministry.

In the present climate of relativism, of which the present Pope never tires of warning against relativism, seminarians can be served with a lot of theological views and opinions without proper assessment in the light of the doctrine of the Church. Ultimately the bishop is responsible for the formation of the priests in his diocese. It is necessary that future priests acquire an integral ecclesial vision during their formative period so that in their priestly ministry they may be able to conduct themselves according to the mind and heart of the Church, i.e. sentire cum ecclesia (to think and feel with the Church).


Evangelisation is not only promoting the values of Christ but the very person of Christ for He is the unique and universal Saviour of all mankind. Such a conviction will help us steer clear of indifferentism, syncretism and relativism.

Cardinal Ivan affirms quite clearly: The missionary task of the Church is therefore immense, and there is place for every Christian and for all Christians. This challenge, of course, differs from place to place, though its essence remains the same everywhere, viz., not just proclaiming Gospel values, but spreading the sweet fragrance of the sacred person of Jesus Christ, Son of God and unique and universal Saviour of all humankind. It is He who brings to maturity (fulfilment) the seeds of the Word sowed by the Holy Spirit in world religions and cultures all down the ages. This point is particularly important in today’s context of religious pluralism, indifferentism and relativism, which is prevalent even in some theological circles, and of a fundamentalist secularism promoted by well-known secret sects and New Age practices which aim at making God irrelevant to human beings. Our missionary mandate would therefore require, first and foremost, a sincere appreciation of our Christian roots and a bold affirmation of our ethos and identity. Else, we shall be, in Jesus’ own words, like “salt that has lost its savour” or a “light hidden under a bushel” (Mt. 5:7). (The Examiner, January 22, 2005).

The Holy Father in a recent statement to the Indian ambassador to the Holy See has defended conversion on the unimpeachable ground of human dignity and freedom. The government and fundamentalist outfits were irked. I was delighted to hear an Indian voice, i.e. of Cardinal Dias forthrightly supporting the papal statement.

On January 29, I and some of our priests and faithful were attacked in Mokhada village in Vasai diocese while we were inaugurating a hostel for school children. Cardinal Dias immediately censured the fundamentalist forces for the uncivilised act.

On several other occasions too he has criticised atrocities against Church personnel. Every bishop must fearlessly uphold the Church’s evangelising mission. The raison de etre for evangelisation is not the instinct to self-perpetuate or any expansionist or colonial tendency but the truth of Christ. St Paul converted to Christ because he was illumined and grasped by the truth of Christ.


The Church’s moral teaching in general and her teaching on the sanctity of human life in particular is rooted in the Ten Commandments which find their crown and synthesis in love-commandment. The bishop must be deeply concerned about the defence and promotion of this teaching.

“The Synod Fathers also called the Bishops’ attention to their magisterial responsibilities in the area of morality. The rules that the Church sets forth reflect the divine commandments, which find their crown and synthesis in the Gospel command of love. The end to which every divine rule tends is the greater good of human beings. The exhortation of the Book of Deuteronomy is still valid today: “Walk in all the way which the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may go well with you” (5:33). Nor must we forget that the Ten Commandments have a firm foundation in human nature itself, and thus the values which they defend have universal validity. This is particularly true of values such as human life, which must be defended from conception until its end in natural death; the freedom of individuals and of nations, social justice and the structures needed to achieve it.” (n.29, pages 80-81, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Gregis of His Holiness Pope John Paul II on the Bishop, Servant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the Hope of the World)

The Mumbaites will remember the Cardinal for his pro-life approach. He has not only opposed abortion but launched initiatives to honour the aborted human persons and promoted adoption of unwanted babies. Both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI are known for their uncompromising insistence on the culture of life.

The Popes teach that the objective moral truth is that from the moment of conception to its natural end in death human life is an inviolable person. Many of the Cardinal’s pastoral directives have been for the promotion of the culture of life.

The use of condoms, in vitro fertilisation, test tube babies, surrogate motherhood, embryonic research, medical termination of pregnancy etc. are all serious ethical problems. We have to recognise that life is God’s gift and He is the Creator of life. Presumptuous interference with the sacred processes of life will do harm to individuals, the family and society.

There is confusion and ignorance regarding the morality of such medical interventions. The faithful should acquaint themselves with the life-affirming teaching of the Church. The Cardinal tersely exhorts the faithful: “I warmly recommend that the faithful be cognizant of the Church’s teaching on modern bio-ethical problems which intimately touch family and pro-life issues. (The Examiner, April 15, 2006)


Truth is not subjective; truth is not relative; it is not a product of the mind of the thinker; truth is not what you think to be so. Truth is objective. Things are true in themselves and the mind must grasp the truth; truth of human reality, of the Good News, of morality etc. This insistence on objective truth is of the essence for the mission of the Church and salvation of human beings.

I have personally enjoyed the theology of John Paul II and Benedict XVI because of their unflinching stand in favour of objective truth. They have tirelessly opposed theological relativism. Subjective morality and relativistic theology are incompatible with objective truth and morality. The Church’s life, spirituality and mission are all based ultimately on the objective truth of the faith and doctrine. This is the ultimate foundation for the role of the bishop as teacher of the faith, magister fidei of which the new Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples’ has been an outstanding witness.


Bishop Thomas Dabre is Bishop of Vasai Diocese in Thane District of Maharashtra. He is also the Chairman of the doctrinal commission of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI).

1 comment:

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