This text is concerned with a theology developed by Rene Coste. This French theologian is a Monsignor in the Roman Catholic Church and a Sulpician Priest. This intellectual has obtained throughout his life, four doctorate degrees. One in Catholic theology, another one in Canon Law, then another in international law, and finally a Honoris Causa doctorate degree that signifies his prolific work in the field of theology and social theology. This text is about the foundations of his social theology. Here, we talk about three fundamental elements: the name of his social theology (planetary theology/cosmopolitical theology), the Christian spirituality, somewhat ecumenical, and finally, we discuss on the necessity to maintain and developed theological discourses in society, at university and, of course, for the churches. For Coste, it is clear that is theology can bear another name: theology of peace. Since Coste has suffered from WWII and was a witness of the Cold War and the US “War on Terrorism”, he is concerned with the elimination of violence within national societies and on the international scene.
Since the beginning of the history of Christianity, it has been involved in "global" socio-political and socio-economic frameworks. At its origins, the "globality" of Christian Humanity was more or less around the Mediterranean Sea as well as Asia, since Christian communities also went east to found new Christian homes. Therefore, it goes without saying that one can speak of internationalization of the Christian faith and gigantic trials posed by the socio-political challenges of the time for Christian proselytes. These last two factors are also the affirmation that the first Christian communities have had to face political pitfalls and this reality has surely forced them to manage the difficulties caused by this type of obstacle. The observation that can be made here is that the first communities of the faithful have had to face real theological challenges as well as stimulating for the faith! Several hundred years later, this situation persists, but with the difference that the world's socio-political and socio-economic contexts are quite "singular". Moreover, it can be said that these distant challenges are all the same analogous, but with the difference that Christian theologians have developed theological discourses that allow them to reflect Christian and philosophical on current political problems. Now, it appears that today the Roman Catholic theologian René Coste has been able to perpetuate the theological and Christian tradition by developing a Catholic and contemporary theology to the challenges of the 21st century. The social theology of René Coste has indeed been transformed into planetary theology, even into cosmopolitan theology.
Let us understand that all theology is divinely "social" because it concerns all the members of the Church, in other words the people of God who are believers, and this implies all its faithful in their relations with each other, as well as with others, that is to say, those who differ in their religious or other denominations. Also, it is deduced that "social" theology can only be a cosmopolitan theology since it is concerned with all the world's socio-political, socio-economic and sociocultural themes. Earth is now perceived as a large village and its problems are now undoubtedly geopolitical and geoeconomic. Although our conceptual and theological scope is the entire blue planet, and perhaps even more, it remains that for our immediate needs we must, de facto and of course, limit the projection of our intellection. Which means that this text will elaborate mainly on three themes: first, it will be about theology in relation to the dogma established by the Catholic Magisterium and theological development helping to understand their universe in the 21st century; then we will elaborate on the foundations of the "social" theology of the Roman Catholic theologian Rene Coste, and finally, we will conclude on the need to have a theological thought "scientifically elaborated", allowing us to grasp, understand and live the faith Christianity in a universe that can be described as "planetary". We would like to remind readers that René Coste's cosmopolitan theology is a force of intellection helping Christians to live better and think their faith soteriologically. In addition, we know that the end of the empire does not mean the end of the world but rather the beginning of a new historical fabric. Moreover, Costian theology is a participative theology of history. Cosmopolitantheology is essentially a theology of history since it implies reasoning and praxeology for and by Christians in a divine story that is that of human beings and their Creator: YHWH.
Theology and Ecclesial Authority
When we talk about historiography in scholarly circles, we say that we must correctly identify who is the author of a research or a historical work in order to better understand the foundations and reasons for a historian's ideas. We believe that this is also obvious for a theologian. In this case, it can be said briefly that René Coste is a theologian and a Catholic priest who is very fond of the Christian religion and his Roman Catholic confession. In addition, he is a man of French nationality with a Western vision of the evolution of humanity. Having said that, it can be said, moreover, that he is a thinker who is open-minded. Coste is an octogenarian living in France. He is a man who has seen and experienced the political tribulations of contemporary Europe and the West. One could say that he became aware of the impact of political violence at the time World War II, since he was personally interned in Nazi labor camps, in addition to knowing intellectually the political evolution of the West since the end of the Second World War until the end of the Cold War. His thinking on the economy, politics and society is spread over several decades. This moralistic theologian was early in his life concerned with violence and social injustice, to the point of intellectually and theologically opening up to the improvement of the conditions of life in humanity. The touchstone of his analysis is the human being and his model of humanity is his God made man, Jesus of Nazareth (? 4 BC-? 29 A.D.). Coste reflects on the problems of the world based on his Christian faith as well as on reason. Moreover, it is always at the beginning of his books that he expresses the meaning and his need to analyze the social problems theologically. It should also be noted that Coste has his vision on the function of the theologian and his duties and responsibilities. According to him, the theologian must be fundamentally free1. On this point, Coste seems to question himself by asserting that theology cannot be completely autonomous in relation to the authority of the Church. This measure or opinion demonstrates a certain agreement with the Roman Catholic ecclesiastical authorities on the possibility of establishing a control over the thinking of theologians of Catholic obedience or others2. In this, Coste is related to the thought of John Paul II (1978-2005), who states in the encyclical "Veritatis Splendor" that the duty of the moralistic theologian is to give, in the exercise of their ministry, for example, a loyal assent, inside and outside, to the teaching of the Magisterium in the field of dogma and in the field of morality (No. 110). In addition, John Paul II rejects "the dissent made of deliberate disputes and polemics, expressed by using the means of social communication. According to this pope it would be contrary to ecclesial communion and the right understanding of the hierarchical constitution of the People of God (No. 113). For Coste, the prohibition of controversy should in no way paralyze research and dialogue. For us, the lay theologian, this desire to control the evolution of theological thought is good. This allows the Roman magisterium to prevent the creation of theologically dubious theologies; in other words, ecclesiastical authorities ensure the development of theologies that respect the dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church. In this way, we can avoid "intellectual slippage". Nevertheless, it remains that the desire to submit Catholic theological writing to the authority of the Magisterium fundamentally questions the theologian's idea of freedom of thought. If there is a greater moral and scientific authority than that of having a mind capable of thinking for a person, we are entitled to object to such a view because it goes against of a psychosocial value, that of the right to think and reflect for oneself. The danger that thought is supervised and legitimized by the authorities of the Ecclesial Magisterium is real. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, we can ask ourselves the following two questions: what can be the limit of the intellectual and ideological "dependence" of the theologian in relation to his ecclesial institution? And secondly, can the theologian be a free thinker just like all other thinkers, while having as his personal foundation his faith in Jesus Christ? It is not surprising that this vision of the free-thinking theologian is in conflict with the views of Catholic authority. The effective answer would be of the philosophical order, that is to say, how far can human beings submit to the institutions they create? Why, then? This is for us what our answer to Coste and the Roman magisterium is about the pseudo freedom of the theologian. The freedom to think is the first condition of a good theology. Theology cannot serve only to justify the religious or other views of the ecclesial authorities3. Scientific theology, taking refuge in universities and away from Christian seminaries, wanted to be a scholarly discourse based on Christian faith and reason. In this way, it can become a speech with an appearance of freedom. In fact, theology, like many areas of the social sciences, is never neutral. That's why we agree with the Quebec theologian Richard Bergeron who asserts that in going to the universities, theology faces new threats, that is to say those of the granting of money and the types of research to be performed, or to groups of people who abhor the Christian faith and its ability to deliver discourse and knowledge. According to Bergeron, in order to survive, university theologians do other types of research than theological ones. To the point of asserting that theologians no longer do theology. Faced with these threats to theology, we preach an institutional ecumenical rapprochement with the churches to better serve believers seeking theological reflection on all spheres of life. We must avoid being too dependent on all possible "masters" to realize Christian thoughts based on truth and freedom, which can then promote the creation of societies based on the ideals of brotherhood, peace and freedom. Like the majority of human beings on Earth, the theologian can see his freedom to think disappear or curb for economic, institutional and doctrinal reasons, as well as for ideological reasons. Therefore, the theologian must defend the quality and relevance of his science for the understanding of the contemporary world, especially as the Christian religious phenomenon on Earth is not about to disappear! And it is precisely on this plane that Coste's teachings become relevant in theology.
In freeing itself from the immediate hold of ecclesiastical authority, which always has the mania to regulate doctrinal and authoritarian questions by force, theology has taken refuge in university centers. Is she more free? What are the new threats to his freedom? After escaping part of the direct censorship of ecclesiastical authority, theologians find themselves, sometimes unwittingly, under new control.4
For Coste, the theologian is a person predisposed to any questioning since it is fundamentally open to the world. He questions with method and perseverance the Word of God to penetrate the meaning and illuminate in its light thenew paths of Humanity5. The theologian's involvement must be at two levels, the first level is academic and the second level is participation at the level of a community of faith. This aspect is strongly defended by Coste when he speaks of the role of theologians. As Christians, theologians have to be part of a community of faith, through an in-depth adherence to the same faith, through listening, dialogue and sharing, as well as through their deliberate commitment to theological service6. Coste believes that the theologian and his theological practice are two elements facilitating the evangelical mission of the Church. Indeed, theological activity means that the theologian is a work of diakonia and prophecy within and outside the Church7. That is why Coste believes that the theologian has the duty to live his Christian faith8. By being involved in a community of faith, the theologian can help Christians to make their decisions in the realm of life in society and in the Church. His intellectual competence must serve to better understand and explain the existential and religious problems that believers face (1 Kings 3: 9).
That is why Coste is of the opinion that one cannot ignore one's own moral capacity and the quality of one's Christian faith. Especially that the theological intellection must be inspired by a positive and Christianly acceptable intuition, considering that the thought must be directed towards the life of the people of good wills. Since Coste is a moral theologian, he conceives that the theologian must show certain virtues such as probity, rigor, loyalty, tenacity and intellectual generosity9. In reading Coste on the function of the theologian, we see that the theologian must be psychosocially a being of personal and social morality. Referring to a theology of exile and a New Testament verse (1 P 2, 17), Coste encourages Christians to behave "Christian", that is to say they must demonstrate an attitude that would be morally acceptable to Jesus Christ10. The theologian does not escape this, since, as Coste wrote, lived theology is existentially a spirituality11. According to Coste, the theologian must be consistent with his faith and his ethical decisions. By submitting to the Word of God, the theologian, fundamentally a believer, commits a beneficial action for his own well-being and that of Humanity. For Coste, being a theologian is also about becoming a sage12. By reminding us of the moral dimension of the theologian, Coste already puts us on the trail of his theological vision of the world. This Catholic theologian is preoccupied by life in society and its moral requirements. In spite of the perceived or experienced inconveniences in the fabric of everyday social life, Coste hopes that the conditions of the inconvenience of living in society can be improved. Starting from these facts, one understands better the interest of Coste for the elaboration of a social theology. According to this author, social theology is one of the yes to the Humanity. This social theology is part of a theology of history, which involves the recognition of the Incarnation (the coming of God among human beings) and the crucifixion of the latter (the killing of Jesus Christ) as well. This means to have faith in the possible and future fulfillment of the Kingdom of God. From the perspective of the theology of history, faith in Christ means that believers do not have to flee the world. Rather, they must get involved in this universe that is,in sum, real.
Now let us see what René Coste's social theology consists of. In the first place, we will separate the Costian theological work into two characteristics. The first characteristic is the type of Coste's theology. This theology is rational (a) because it relies on research in social science in addition to a lot of space for philosophy13. Coste is of the opinion that theology requires philosophy. Philosophy allows theology to have a discourse based on reason. For example, in the field of moral theology, one cannot go directly from scriptural quotations to the complexity of moral questions without the mediating use of reason14. In other words, it is a conceptual way of amalgamating faith and rationality. To better understand the world and to transform it, theology and philosophy must be concerned with the planetary horizon since these two easily abstractive subjects can easily sink into lucubrations understandable only to certain initiates. Coste as a pragmatist, he wants that the rationality of these two areas of intellection allow people to deeply transform the problems they face in society15. In fact, philosophy would allow theology to accomplish its task, that is, to rationally analyze the discourse of social scientists. Theology, based on faith in God and reason, denounces the reductionism of views proposed by social scientists and their ideologies that would only express a part of human reality16. Undeniably, Coste's work is one of struggle against contemporary materialist ideologies in the production of ideas or social models17. For example, to counteract their speeches Coste talks about the man or of the "real" person. For Coste, the theological quest for a better and truthful Humanity goes through the denunciation, or even the disappearance, of the ideologies that hinder the realization of the true human being, that is to say that the person must be good with herself, himself and others. Beyond his Christian anthropology, Coste promotes the notion of "the fraternal man".
The theological work of Coste wants to be evangelizer (b). Faced with world politico-economic problems, Coste wants the theologian and all the other Christians to undertake an objective analysis of the specific situation of their country in all its cultural, political and economic complexities and then to reflect and act in the light of unalterable words of the Gospel. Coste wants us to motivate Christians to think in a Christian way18. Christian action will be based on New Testament ethics. Coste earnestly hopes that Christians will be bold in the face of the complexity of the problems they face19. According to him, they have a duty to transform society so that there is more justice and solidarity. Christians must testify to their faith and the Gospel by doing things that promote fraternity among people20. The means and the methods can be various, what counts is to promote peacefully the high values of humanity21. It is no coincidence that Coste has high esteem for the social action of three believers of different religions: Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948), Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) and Martin Luther King Jr (1929-1968). These three men pledged to fight sociopolitical plagues in the name of their ideals of love and humanism. These men were murdered for defending humanistic values. Since Vatican II we conceive the laity as citizens of the world who must be evangelized by evangelical values and by the model of man that Jesus of Nazareth could be: these are the foundations of a new type of humanity.
This new humanity proposed by Coste is expressed in his social theology. It is among others the second characteristic of the Costian theology. Social theology is the fruit of a humanist and Christian reflection of socio-political movements in the world. It involves faith in God and in the mission of the Catholic Church and other churches. The two themes mentioned are subjects that live in the daily life of human life. Theology generally shows that social dimensions are essential dimensions of faith in Jesus Christ. Because to believe in Jesus Christ implies a behavior, a way of doing based on a morality coming from the precepts defended by Christ during his coming among us. Being a Christian means socially that one must strive to live and promote the ethics proposed by the New Testament. God wants us to live in a more just, more fraternal, more united and more peaceful humanity22. For Coste, social theology would be a true theology of Christian praxis in the field of life in society, in addition to being a fundamental theology approach based on love for all in all spheres of activity23. Given the current political issues we understand that love and hope we do not have too much. It is a vital necessity for the survival of humanity. For Coste, social theology is a testimony affirming that Christians must not capitulate to the inexplicable violence or injustice of human beings towards their fellow men24. Social theology wants to remind Christians what the mission of political power is, since it has the duty to promote the common good and to remind the various economic actors that the economy inevitably has a social dimension25. If Coste can pronounce and explain theologically the questions, it is because Christianity as a religion has an inalienable social dimension. To believe in God is to be responsible to Him for the management of earthly resources and all our interpersonal relationships. Between believers and God, there is a paternariat of love that must affect our personal and structural relationships26, because believing in God implies an attitude of respect for others and solidarity with humanity27.
Towards a cosmopolitan theology
René Coste is very interested in international relations. It often uses the expression of global or international community. And like one of his predecessors to whom he has a particular affection, that is to say Pierre Teilhard De Chardin (1881-1955), Coste speaks of planetisation38. In his book entitled "The Church and the Challenges of the World", Coste speaks of theology with "planetary" dimensions39. In his 2000 book, "The Social Dimensions of Faith," Coste says that we must now develop a true "planetary theology"40. It is no longer a question of a theology with planetary dimensions, it is about a planetary theology. We affirm that the Costian theological work consists of a planetary theology, although its author has not named his theological intellection of this way. There is no doubt that his theology may be of interest to the various specialists in international relations. Do not forget, Coste is also an internationalist! Coste's theology has a constant lacuna, despite the fact that he considers the importance of this subject: Coste shows weaknesses when he deals with History and especially the history of the Church and Christianity. One has the impression that he is afraid to criticize thoroughly the history of the Christian movement, the history of international relations and of Europe. In truth, Costian theology deals more with political sociology and economics than with political history. Not only can we say that Coste has developed a planetary theology throughout his life, but it must be mentioned that this theology, like many others, is provisional. He believes that theologies are often provisional because the world is constantly changing. Nothing istruer than this affirmation, especially if we consider that the theological language concerns believers of one era and not those of another historical period. Theology is entirely temporal. This theologian believes that it is necessary to admit and accept that theological language is only suitable for a very small number of people41. Historically, we believe that this has always been the case. Few Christians have been fortunate enough to receive some theological education! Perhaps Coste is right if he puts himself in a perspective of "total secularization of Western society". In this case perhaps it would be better to speak of the disappearance of the theological production ...?
Social theology, which can also be conceived as a planetary theology, is a sociopolitical discourse of ethics based on evangelical ethics. Evangelical ethics is an ethic embodied in the reality of the history of the human being. Moreover, it cannot be based on any fundamentalist premise. It does not seek to mutilate the personality of human beings, on the contrary, it wants to be a help allowing the fulfillment of the being of the person42. Social ethics concerns all people living in the City. All citizens must take part in its reflection. Political and economic leaders should dwell on a little study of Christian social ethics43. Given that social ethics is a global ethic, it can be said that in a general way this ethics can serve as minimum moral standards for all political communities in the world and transnational corporations44. As for the Human Rights of 1948, like Coste we believe that they can serve other peoples than Westerners45. This ethic adapts to the moral opinions of other theologies that culturally, methodically and theologically enrich social theology. In other words, Coste enriched his planetary theology with liberation theology, Afro-American, feminist, Asian, and political theology46. In particular, the Roman Catholic Church is very concerned with the development of a "universal" ethic47. For Her, a truly human ethic will be anuniversal ethic48. Could it be said that Coste's recourse to the social teaching of the Catholic Church derives from the rich intellectual substance it contains? One fact is clear, if the doctrine of the Church is not unanimous, it remains that it has not remained behind. Since Leo XIII (1878-1903) and "Rerum Novarum" in 1891, the Catholic Church has not stopped producing writings on socio-political and moral issues. The planetary theology of Coste is a philosophical, moral, spiritual work in continuity and innovation with Catholic and Protestant theological research. The goal of the Costian theology would be to respond to the reality of the present while preparing the future by helping to bring humanity out of its present impasse49. His role as a theologian is to speak "in the name of God" while assuming the risk of making a great mistake50. Finally, for us who love history, politics, economics, sociology and theology, Costian planetary theology is an academic subject to criticize the social and political realities of humanity. For a socially and intellectually committed Christian, Coste's thought helps us not to despair of humanitarian problems that are often fatal and seem insolvent, because it offers us psychological (faith and spirituality), moral (individual behavior and institutional), societal (states and political organizations or supra-state legal), religious (ecumenical Christian identity and the Church) and academic (human and theological sciences) to solve the malpractices of various people in charge of the politico-economic regimes of the world. With Coste we can be modern, Christian and hold a speech that will not necessarily be seen as far-fetched or simply obsolete. Social theology helps us structure our positive or bitter criticism of international political-economic dynamics.
Considering the politico-economic realities and global social, institutional and technological changes, it goes without saying for us that Humanity must reflect and debate all the themes that imply our existence. We must understand that discussing international morality is not a contemplative fantasy or a hobby to mystify the passing of time. No! The planetarisation of the humanities is not a temporary phenomenon. It is a phenomenon that will certainly last for centuries to come. Contrary to preconceived ideas about the historical phenomenon, History does not repeat itself! There are similarities but nothing quite similar! Globalization took place during the period of colonization, and the networks became firmly established over the next centuries to the point that we can no longer function without them. The truth then is that past actions, problems, dangers, words and various activities affect the lives of everyone. No people escape, even the stateless. The theological result is that theologians are forced to develop new contextual theologies, including de facto Christians but also all other peoples.
At present, isolation is virtually impossible. We can also understand that Humanity is one and that we must therefore conceive a theology addressing the various issues facing the peoples of the Earth. The cosmopolitical theology of René Coste is an intellection allowing a definitive theological reflection for a praxis of positive and moral transformation of societies based on permanent injustice. To do this, the evangelization of peoples must continue. That's what God wants for Creation. YHWH wants people to live according to three basic Christian values: to believe, to love and to hope. Here! Theological values cannot be put aside. On the contrary, these values are vital for the future of Christendom, Humanity and for the common good.
Faced with the globalization of economic violence and injustice, theology stands alongside political science, "historical" science, legal science and economics. Theological reflection is multidisciplinary because it deals with many aspects of human existence that takes place in society as well as within civilizations. Costian theology meets its criteria, and we could also say that this theological theory is nourished even by linguistics and literatures of believing individuals in Jesus Christ. Coste'scosmopolitical theology is catholic in its methodology since it is based on the Bible, Catholic social doctrine and a form of universalism. Although Catholic, Coste is in dialogue with the various believers and sometimes even with atheists. To this end, we can write that the cosmopolitan theology of the latter is just as much an oecumenical theological discourse. All human beings are called to a conversion of the heart to live personally and socially faith in Christ. The planetary theology of Coste is a "cosmopolitan" theology because it deals with the universe (cosmos) and the economic and political management of the latter by human beings. Because its "development" is continually made by using the various human sciences, the cosmopolitan theology bears witness to a fascinating vitalism. The dynamism that emerges from this intellection, forces theologians to become more interested in the human sciences in order to find theological solutions to the many geopolitical and geoeconomic challenges posed by peoples and nature to international movements. Even if Coste’s theological deals continuously with a theoretical ethics of international relations, it remains that spirituality persists to be a fundamental quest because a good Christian morality can only be based on a dynamic Christian spirituality. In short, cosmopolitan theology is nothing more than a theology of Creation, encrusted, not to say incarnated, in a social theology demanding a sober and energetic spirituality.
Notes and References
BERGERON, Richard., Les Pros de Dieu, Montréal, Médiaspaul, 2000.
DE CHARDIN, Pierre Teilhard., L’avenir de l’Homme, Paris, Seuil, 2001 (1951).
DUCQUOC, Christian., La théologie en exil, Paris, Bayard, 2002
COSTE, René., Les dimensions politiques de la foi, Paris, Éds. Ouvrières, 1972
- L’Église et les défis du monde, Paris, Nouvelle Cité, 1986
- Les dimensions sociales de la foi, Paris, Cerf, 2000
- Les fondements théologiques de l’Évangile sociale, Paris, Cerf, 2002
Enrico L. Joseph
Specialist on contextual theologies and on ethics of economics and politics