Affirming the critically important role of a “free and responsible” form of Catholic theology in the life of the church, Pope Francis called on theologians to “remain faithful and anchored” to the vision of Vatican II, as well as “immersed” in the instincts and concerns of ordinary people who’ve never taken “academic courses in theology.”

The Second Vatican Council (1962-65), Francis said, called the Church “to announce the Gospel in a new way, more consonant with a profoundly different culture and world,” and he added, “The Church must always refer itself to that event.”

“That effort requires from the whole Church, and theologians in particular, to be implemented in a spirit of ‘creative fidelity’,” the pope said.

The pontiff’s remarks came during a noontime audience with roughly 100 members of the Associazione Teologica Italiana, the “Italian Theology Association,” the main professional society for Catholic theologians in Italy founded after Vatican II and this year celebrating its 50th anniversary.

Unlike his predecessor Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, who’s an accomplished theologian and took a keen personal interest in doctrinal matters, Francis positions himself more as a pastor, usually referring to theologians as “they” – for instance, speaking to a visiting group of Evangelical pastors in 2016, he said, “Theology is a very complicated subject, and we should let the theologians argue it out. In the meantime, we should love each other and learn to value people who are different than ourselves.”

Famously, during a visit to the Anglican Church of All Saints this past February, Francis quoted a quip from Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople to Pope Paul VI after their historic 1964 meeting: “We’ll bring about unity between us, and we’ll put all the theologians on an island so they can think about it!” (Francis even added he’d confirmed with Athenagoras’s successor, Patriarch Bartholomew I, that the line wasn’t just an urban legend.)

Given that background, Francis’s remarks to theological groups typically are seen as a fairly rare opportunity to better understand his doctrinal vision.

To begin with, Francis on Friday urged theologians to see their work not as an individual quest for insight, but as being rooted in a broader community.

“What theologians do can’t help but be a personal quest,” he said, “but one immersed in the widest theological community possible,” insisting that it’s not just an “accessory” to the ministry of theologians.

In particular, Francis asked theologians to pay careful attention to the insights of ordinary believers, what experts sometimes call “popular religiosity.”

“It’s in this living faith of the holy People of God that every theologian should feel immersed, and by which he or she should also feel sustained, transported and embraced,” the pope said.

Full story at Crux.