My credentials as a Catholic theologian

What is the role of a theologian?

“In order to exercise the prophetic function in the world, the People of God must continually reawaken or ‘rekindle’ its own life of faith (cf. 2 Tim 1:6). It does this particularly by contemplating ever more deeply, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the contents of the faith itself and by dutifully presenting the reasonableness of the faith to those who ask for an account of it (cf. 1 Pet 3:15). For the sake of this mission, the Spirit of truth distributes among the faithful of every rank special graces ‘for the common good’ (1 Cor 12:7-11).

“Among the vocations awakened in this way by the Spirit in the Church is that of the theologian. His role is to pursue in a particular way an ever deeper understanding of the Word of God found in the inspired Scriptures and handed on by the living Tradition of the Church. He does this in communion with the Magisterium which has been charged with the responsibility of preserving the deposit of faith.” (Cardinal Ratzinger, CDF, On the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian, n. 5-6.)

The role of theologian is not a title issued by the Church, nor is it a role given only to Bishops, priests, or religious. Theologians come from “every rank” among the faithful. No particular credential is needed; the role is open to believers of every rank. For the role of theologian is a part of the prophetic function of the People of God. It is one of many lay apostolates. Although many ordained persons are also theologians, the role of theologian is not exclusive to the ordained. Indeed, when even a Pope writes and publishes private theology, his writings are not of his role as Pope, nor of his role as Bishop or priest. Instead, he writes as any member of the People of God, of any rank, may write.

Pope Benedict XVI wrote and published a book entitled, “Jesus of Nazareth: from the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration.” In the preface of that book, he writes:

“It goes without saying that this book is in no way an exercise of the magisterium, but is solely an expression of my personal search ‘for the face of the Lord’ (cf. Ps 27:8). Everyone is free, then, to contradict me. I would only ask my readers for that initial goodwill without which there can be no understanding.” (Joseph Ratzinger, Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, p. xxiv.)

The work of any theologian is to pursue a deeper understanding of the truths of Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture and the Magisterium, as part of his search for the face of the Lord, along with all the faithful.

I would even go so far as to say that all the faithful can and should do theology, at least informally. For theology is a search for a deeper understanding and a clearer expression of the truths of Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium. So when any member of the faithful strives to understand and express the Faith in his own way, he is doing the work of theology. What distinguishes formal theology from informal, is that the former expresses this deeper understanding or clearer expression in writing, often in a systematic or structured manner, as a theological or philosophical argument. And what distinguishes a theologian from other members of the faithful is that the theologian writes formal theology on a continuing basis.

A person who writes theology, on a continuing basis, is a theologian. The term ‘theologian’ is a descriptor, not a title. The Church has never issued a formal designation of theologian, as if only those designated persons could be correctly called ‘theologian’. A priest is only a priest if he has been ordained to the sacerdotal degree. A Bishop is only a Bishop if he has been ordained to the episcopal degree. A non-ordained member of a religious order takes vows and fulfills other requirements to be a member of that Order. But a theologian is simply someone, of any rank among the faithful, who responds to the promptings and gifts of the Holy Spirit to write theology on a continuing basis.

Who has this gift?

I used to think that any intelligent and well-informed Catholic could write formal theology. But over time, I found that there are many Catholics, who despite intelligence and education in the Faith, seem unable to make a sound theological argument, or even properly evaluate the theological arguments of other persons. So I have reached the conclusion that the ability to write theology is a gift from the grace of the Holy Spirit. It is a vocation awakened by the Spirit in some, but not in others. Although theologians come from every rank among the faithful, not every member of the faithful has this calling and this gift.

My calling as a lay theologian

I never set out to become a theologian. I pursued a degree in philosophy and theology (a double major) because I was interested in those subjects. After receiving my degree (B.A. Boston College), I continued to read and write theology, and to learn from Sacred Scripture, because I was interested in learning my faith ever better. Eventually, I began to write articles, books, and booklets on various topics in theology: eschatology, Mariology, Biblical chronology, moral theology, dogmatic theology, and soteriology. Over time, I realized that I have the gift from God to be able to understand theology, to make sound theological arguments, and to write formal theology on many topics. I came to realize that God had led me, gradually and subtly, along the path to become a lay theologian.

I saw the need among the faithful for a translation of the Bible that would be faithful to the Latin Scriptural tradition, a literal and conservative translation, which would shun inclusive language and loose re-interpretations of the text. Initially, I worked with the World English Bible project, on several of the deuterocanonical books. But I found this project to be unsuitable for producing a sound Catholic edition of the Bible. I then began my own project, at first thinking that I would update the Challoner version of the Douay Rheims Bible. But I found myself referring to the Latin text so often, in order to update the Challoner text, that I gave up that project, and decided to undertake a new full translation, not merely an update of the Douay Bible.

I began to translate the Pope Sixtus V and Pope Clement VIII Latin Vulgate Bible, using the Challoner text only as a guide. This work was fruitful, and so I continued it. I began this new translation in mid-March of 2004, and it was completed in late March of 2009. I worked on this translation of the Bible nearly every day for over five years. And when it was completed, I placed the entire work in the public domain, so that no one would own the translation, and it could be used, published, and updated by any of the faithful. The translation is called: The Catholic Public Domain Version of the Sacred Bible (CPDV). The Catholic Public Domain Version adheres to the Vatican Norms for Bible Translation.

I never pursued a masters or doctoral degree in theology, because God did not lead me along that path. I understand — from my many years of faith, prayer, self-denial, works of mercy, and work with theology and Scripture — that God has given me the role of a theologian among His people, without the need for an additional degree in theology. And I have been writing theology and working with Sacred Scripture nearly every day for many years.

All of my work in theology is based on the teachings of Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture, and the Magisterium. There are many theologians in the world today who misrepresent, distort, undermine, and even openly reject the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church on important matters of faith and morals. Many of these theologians have a Ph.D. in theology and a teaching position at a Catholic university or college. And yet they use theology to cause grave harm to the souls of the faithful.

My writings in eschatology are controversial. But this area of theology is largely speculative. All the faithful are free to disagree with me whenever I am writing on a matter that is speculative, on what are called ‘open questions’ as opposed to settled doctrine. My writings about the future have changed over time, and I have erred and corrected a number of points in my eschatology. But this type of error in no way implies that my writings on moral theology, dogmatic theology, or soteriology are erroneous or unreliable. It is unreasonable to expect any theologian to be infallible. It is unreasonable to reject every theological argument and position, without considering the content of what is said, merely because of errors or disagreement on some other topic in theology.

Many of the Saints of the Church have written eschatology, including Doctors of the Church: Saint Augustine, Saint Aquinas, Saint Hildegard, and many other Saints, Blesseds, and holy persons. Jesus gave an eschatological discourse, recounted in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The Gospel writer John wrote an entire book of eschatology, the last book of the New Testament: the Apocalypse of John. There are eschatological passages throughout the Old and New Testaments. Although many of the faithful treat the field of eschatology with disregard or contempt, it is actually an indispensable part of the teachings of our Faith.

I write eschatology, a discipline concerned with the future of the Church and the world. But I am not a prophet, and I have never received any kind of private revelation.

A summary of my credentials as a lay theologian:

I am a baptized and confirmed, believing and practicing cradle Catholic, who receives the Sacraments of Confession and Communion regularly. I believe that the teachings of the holy Catholic Church, found in Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture, and in the teachings of the Magisterium, are the teachings of Jesus Christ. I believe what the Church teaches, and I live according to that teaching. (This credential is sorely lacking among many theologians.)

I have a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and theology from Boston College.

I reject all heresies and doctrinal errors. I continually write against heresy and doctrinal error, in order to protect the poor and weak flock of Jesus Christ from false teachers, from wolves in sheep’s clothing, who claim that their heresies and errors are actually a correct understanding of magisterial teaching.

I write articles exposing the grave doctrinal errors found in the many false claims of private revelation in the world today. And I also write in defense of true private revelations, such as Medjugorje and Garabandal. I recognize the voice of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of Jesus Christ our Lord in the true private revelations, but I find that voice absent in many claimed private revelations.

I have translated the entire Vulgate Bible from Latin into English, and I have placed that translation in the public domain. I worked for a while on the World English Bible project. I was a proof-reader for the Tweedale edition of the Vulgate (London, 2005). I produced my own edit of the Latin Vulgate Bible (2009). I have also written articles on the subject of Bible translation and interpretation, and articles defending the dogma of the total inspiration and total inerrancy of Sacred Scripture.

I spent just over four years researching and writing a book of New Testament Biblical chronology: Important Dates in the Lives of Jesus and Mary. This book offers a new perspective on the chronology of New Testament Biblical times, based on extensive research and evidence. I have also written a book pertaining to Old Testament Biblical chronology: Noah’s Flood: Literal or Figurative? The book discusses the proper interpretation of Old Testament stories that seem to be mere myths.

I have researched and written a comprehensive book of Roman Catholic moral theology book: ‘The Catechism of Catholic Ethics: A work of Roman Catholic moral theology’, as well as a book specifically on ‘Roman Catholic Marital Sexual Ethics’ and a book on ‘Roman Catholic Teaching on Abortion and Contraception’. My work in ethics is based on the teachings of Pope John Paul II in Veritatis Splendor, and of course on many other magisterial sources. There are many books on Catholic ethics today, but very few of them are faithful to the teaching of the Magisterium on the three fonts of morality and on the absolute immorality of all intrinsically evil acts. I write in this area of theology because the faithful have a grave need for guidance on moral questions, and there are few faithful teachers on this topic.

I have researched and written a comprehensive book of Roman Catholic salvation theology (soteriology), entitled: ‘Forgiveness and Salvation for Everyone’. This book proposes answers to controversial questions on salvation, including: can non-Christians or atheists be saved without converting, is anyone sent to Hell other than for unrepented actual mortal sin, does Limbo exist, what are the punishments of Purgatory and of Hell like, and other important points.

See the full list of my books and booklets here.

I have written hundreds of articles, and thousands of online posts, on a wide range of questions in Catholicism and in nearly every area of theology. I have written a series of articles on Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture, and the Magisterium, as well as a series of articles (and a book chapter) on soteriology. I have written about a dozen books of Roman Catholic theology.

I lead an online Catholic discussion group. In our discussions, we have read through, and I have commented on, every doctrinal teaching of every Ecumenical Council in the history of the Church, up to and including the Second Vatican Council (which we are currently in the midst of studying). In our discussions, we have read, and I have commented on, every book of the New Testament. We have also discussed topics in moral theology, soteriology, and dogmatic theology on many different points of doctrine.

My work in theology assists the Church in leading the faithful to Christ, away from error, toward an ever more profound understanding of the truths of the holy Roman Catholic Faith. My work in theology has led sinners away from sin, into the light of Christ’s teaching.

I am a Roman Catholic lay theologian, faithful to the teachings of Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture, and the Magisterium.

[James 3]
{3:1} My brothers, not many of you should choose to become teachers, knowing that you shall receive a stricter judgment.

[John]
{16:12} I still have many things to say to you, but you are not able to bear them now.
{16:13} But when the Spirit of truth has arrived, he will teach the whole truth to you. For he will not be speaking from himself. Instead, whatever he will hear, he will speak. And he will announce to you the things that are to come.

[Exodus]
{23:2} You shall not follow the crowd in doing evil. Neither shall you go astray in judgment, by agreeing with the majority opinion, apart from the truth.

by
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.