A VALEDICTORY SPEECH PRESENTED BY
ANEKE ANTHONY ANAYOCHUKWU (BIGARD VALEDICTORIAN, CLASS OF 2015)
AT THE 45TH CONVOCATION CEREMONY OF BIGARD MEMORIAL SEMINARY, ENUGU,
ON THIS 19TH OF MARCH, 2016.
Your Excellency, Most Rev. Chidi Denis Isizoh, the Auxiliary Bishop of Onitsha Archdiocese,
The Rector Magnificus, Very Rev. Fr. Dr. Albert Ikpenwa,
Reverend Professors and members of the Academic Staff,
Reverend Fathers and Deacons,
Promising and Vibrant Philosophers,
Highly Esteemed Fellow Graduands,
Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I stand here sincerely with the conviction that we should all be thankful for those who rekindle our inner spirit. I do stand here on common ground with my fellow graduands to say a word of thanks to all who contributed to the success of what we are celebrating today. And so, I remain indebted to the Holy Trinity, the perfect unity and the Lord of all possibilities for making this day possible in our lives. I also recognize and appreciate that we cannot be here today without the unalloyed contributions of our revered formators, lecturers, families, friends and the good people of God.
In a special way, I stand to thank our revered formators and lecturers who have created for us an endless hall of open doors to become positive agents of change in the world. I do pray and hope that our lives will ever be true testimonies of your unflinching efforts.
I appreciate the Bishops of the province, especially my local ordinary Most Rev. C.V.C Onaga, a man with a special vision for his diocese. I do know that this year will ever be remarkable in the history of our beloved diocese. I appreciate Most Rev. Chidi Denis Isizoh, for presiding over this convocation ceremony. I thank the Rector Very Rev. Fr. Dr. Albert Ikpenwa for his resilient effort towards the upkeep of the Seminary. In a special way, I also express my deep thanks to Very Rev. Fr. Dr. Ukoro Theophilus Igwe the immediate past Rector of this institution. No doubt, your nine year tenure as the Rector is a blessing to the Church and all of us here.
A couple of days ago, I was asked by some seminarians and students from other secular universities about what I think is unique about Bigard, what is it that makes this place so special. So I started to think of all the things that could only be connected to Bigard: that Bigard is the mother of all seminaries in Africa; that Bigard is the largest seminary in the world; that most high profile ecclesiastical and secular figures are alumni of this great institution; that every philosophical and theological enterprise in Nigeria always pay recourse to Bigard and so on. But what makes this place truly unique is that here, we feel the Church and the World are at our fingertips, we feel the power to become many things are once while basically channeled to the things that really matter in our vocation. We feel an intellectual, artistic, cultural and moral freedom to think, to serve, to debate, to question, to explore our potentials, to believe and to understand more the content of our faith while being nurtured in various aspects of our formation. This is the Bigard spirit and tradition. Fellow graduands, let us maximize in our apostolate this great investment the Church has made on us in changing and revolutionalizing the Nigerian Church which is on the fast lane of decay, of religious obscurantism, of unspeakable aberration, of shameless fideism and inescapable charlatanism. Therefore, I invite you at this point to reflect with me on the theme: DEALING WITH THE RECENT EPIDEMIC OF PROPHECIES IN NIGERIA: Towards a Theology of Prophetism. I would like to dedicate this speech to the Six Vincentian Seminarians who lost their lives on 22nd of February this year. These are noble men who gave up their lives to respond to God’s authentic prophetic calling. May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God rest in peace.
My interest and curiosity in this theme was awakened by a recent observation and discovery which reveals that the average Nigerian Christian lifestyle is replete with an unreasonable desire for private revelations. In fact, it does appear that in recent times, there is an upsurge of claims of prophecies which has filled the field of popular religiosity in Nigeria. Nigerians from all walks of life, the poor as well as the rich, the powerful as well as the powerless, the learned as well as the illiterate belonging to all religious denominations are looking for revelations from above for a number of pragmatic reasons. People flock to alleged visionaries, “gifted men of God” and prophets who claim to see visions and hear from above, or utter prophecies said to come from God.
Practically, before arranging the marriage of a son or daughter, some Christian parents consult local “Christian” diviners to study the destiny of the prospective couples. Before contesting elections, almost half of the Nigerian politicians rather than relying on their popularity and credibility rush to their spiritualists to know what divine fate holds for them or to know which would be the most auspicious day to file their nominations and of course aid their political malpractice. The religious atmosphere in Nigeria is dominated with the misconception that “Men of God” have the gift of prophecy to direct people’s spiritual and ordinary life and so play a pivotal role in the meaning and existence of people. Most Nigerian Christians go to self-acclaimed prophets and soothsayers before they undertake any meaningful project despite their position in their mainline churches. Most Nigerian youths when facing a cross-road in their life take the course of visiting prayers ministries for revelations.
The belief in the immediacy of these revelation in most cases, originated from peoples cultural, religious and social backgrounds, which at times bread superstitious mentality.1 These beliefs are held surreptitiously because most Nigerians believe that everything must have a mysterious background. The African man is convinced that nothings happen without a cause – an extra- terrestial cause indeed. Added to this idea is the notion of causality. Now, the western idea of causality differs from the African idea. Anyanwu captures this:
1 Nkechinyelu Ezeanyino, The epistemological status of Extra Sensory Perception ESP: J. B RHINE AND J.G. PRA TT Revisited (Enugu: Snaap Press Ltd., 2007) p .207.
Think of a house falling on someone who is passing by from the European point of view, the explanation is simple; the house is old: maybe there is an earthquake, or a breeze blows, the house falls; the African does not leave it like that. He wants to know why that man, why that day, why that particular house, and why that particular house of so many houses is involved.2
While the western culture asks what the cause is, the African culture asks who the cause is. If it is not a human being, then it must be a spiritual being.
In Nigeria, self acclaimed prophets, visionaries and mystics are waxing stronger and flexing their muscle in the religious consciousness of Nigerian Christians to the extent that the whole lives of most Nigerian Christians depend on these “Powerful People”.
Most recently, 31st night of December of every year has become a night of prophecies. Through visions and prophetic utterances, “Men of God” purport to reveal the will and plan of God for the Nigerian populace for the year. These prophecies span through peoples’ personal and societal lives to religious, social and political affairs at the national level.
One striking observation about these prophecies and claims of revelations is their sheer inconsistencies, incompleteness, contradictions and even attacks on one another. With this, one is left to ask: if all revelations come from God, why would there be contradictions among them? If like the scriptures say, “there are many gifts but the same Spirit” how and why would there be conspicuous differences among them?
A historical glance on the phenomenon of “Prophecy” in the lives of the saints reveals a very thin line of difference between illusion and genuine Prophecy. This is a fact which John of the Cross and Theresa of Avila who are experts in Christian mysticism warn us against. How many Nigerian Christians are aware of this insight? How many are aware of the theological status of Prophecy? Therefore, it is our belief that a proper theological analysis of the nature of Prophecy, its theological significance not only in the Catholic Church but in the broad Nigerian Christian community is not only necessary but imperative for the Christian faith in Nigeria.
THEOLOGY AND PROPHECY
St. Anselm’s definition of theology is classical – fides quaerens intellectum – “faith seeking understanding”. By theology, Christian faith tries to understand itself in rational terms. Hence, rational activity is called in to understand and explain faith. Therefore, theology is neither a mere rational activity, nor a human search or quest or investigation on God, based on reason alone, but a search to understand God’s words and actions revealed in human history for the salvation of humankind. That is to say, theology is primarily an activity of faith; faith experience is the starting point of theology. On the one hand, it starts with faith, is guided by faith, and on the other hand, it enhances faith.3 Theological activity can be carried out only
2 K. C. Anyanwu, The African Experience in the American Marketplace (Smithtown-New York: Exposition Press, 1983) p. 67.
3 Kuncheria Pathil and Dominic Veliath, An Introduction to Theology, (Bangalore: India Theological Publication press 1987), 9.
with a living experience and practice of faith. Anselm would say therefore credo ut intelligam
– ‘I believe in order to understand’. Human intellect, left to itself is unable to understand the mystery of God and his activity. Hence, practically speaking, the guidance for the theologian is the Word of God attested in Sacred Scripture and tradition.4
On another hand, in spite of the emphasis on faith, theology has a rational dimension. Human intellect and reason critically examine faith and its practice, analyze, organize and explain, articulate and spell out its implications and consequences and apply them to life. Thus rational and critical activities save faith from falling into irrational superstition and dogmatism.5 This definition of Anselm tries to strike a balance between fideism and rationalism. Fideism accepts everything seemingly revealed by God without exercise of reason. Rationalism rejects everything that is not clearly understood by reason. Avoiding both extremes, theology’s source and starting points must always be the word of God revealed in history while its final goal will be an understanding of that word, which increases with each passing generation.6
Our point of departure is faith – we believe in the possibility of divine prophecy in our own time. This belief has a strong footing in the Scripture, Tradition of the church, and lives of the early Christians. The Scripture says:
I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. when the spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority…he will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (Jn. 16:12-14)
The gifts of the Spirit never ceases in human history. But in as much as we believe in the possibility of prophecy, we are convinced with the Church that there is a necessity for discernment of the claim of prophecy. Such discernment is not only a task of faith or reason alone. There is an interplay of faith and reason which clearly spells out on one hand, the conviction of holding fast to God who cannot deceive through his revelation and on the other hand, a rational clarification of the seemingly objects of revelation. This discernment is done in keeping with the spirit of 1 Thess. 5:19-21: “Do not quench the spirit, do not despise prophesying, but test everything, holding fast to what is good”. In fact, the theology of prophetism should encompass the theology of discernment. This theology is not necessary but urgent here in the Nigeria Church where it does seem that we are experiencing an age in which faith has degenerated into obscurantism and bigotry, which are the root causes of religious fundamentalism; an age which can be described as suffering from an epidemic of pious fanatic, and victims of hallucinations.
WHAT PROPHECY IS
According to biblical traditions, Prophecy can be seen from two basic perspectives: Primary and Secondary perspectives. In its primary sense, it is the reading of the signs of the times in
4 ibid. pg.10
5 ibid. pg.10
6 JohnPaul II, Fides et Ratio, No.73 (Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 2000) p.63
the light of God’s will and Word in a given circumstance. From its loose sense, prophecy could be seen as prediction of future events i.e. foretelling what will take place in the future according to the mind of God. This distinction is paramount in order to understand what prophecy means. To buttress this point, David L. Paterson posits strongly:
It is often that the prophet is a person who has the gift of foretelling the future. The word “Prophet” itself seems to support this definition. Yet as has been shown, ‘Pro’ in Greek term ‘Prophets’ does not mean “Before” but “Forth”. Thus the Greek term indicates that the prophets is a preacher, a ‘foreteller’ rather than a ‘Fortuneteller’.7
The Bible identifies the prophet as a legatus divinus, the messenger of God; the bearer of an important revelation from God. From a biblical perspective, prophecy relates to the mediation, transmission and interpretation of God’s will in the words and actions of men and women. The prophet is one who utters God’s Word and whose life reflects the will of God. Lindblom sees a prophets as:
a person who, because he is conscious of having been specifically chosen and called, feels formed to perform and proclaim ideas which in mental state of intense inspiration or real ecstasy, have been indicated to him in the form of divine revelation.8
He or she is chosen to speak on behalf of God in order to communicate to God’s people the will of God so that the people can respond in obedience to God in order to find the face of God receive God’s blessing and avoid falling into the pit of sin and destruction. The prophet does not stand alone, he stands with God in the name of the community because the vocation of a prophet and his prophecy needs to be validated based on the canons of faith accepted by the community of faith. Indeed, every community has a moral and spiritual responsibility of receiving, discerning, and judging the reality of the prophetic word for the good of the community. Biblical Prophecies are even understood in this light:
The Hebrew Bible contains prophetic literature, not prophets. Hence it should not be surprising that rigorous and methodological controlled work has been done on the prophecies texts, that is to say that unanimity has been achieved in literary issues.9
This way, the community guards itself against false prophets and charlatans who may be angels of death in shining armor. The prophets are standard barriers; they stand on the mountain top as sentinels of truth and bearers of light and hope which can help illuminate the dark places of human history and human societies with the truth of God which alone can heal society and restore what is broken. Prophecy then relates to how God’s revelation is received, communicated and enacted in history.
Beautifully, the French theologian, Yves Congar gives us wonderful summary of the identity of a prophet. This insight was cited in Stan Chu IIo’s article ‘the voice of prophecy in Nigeria politics. First, Congar propose that prophets are individuals who are possessed by God, caught in the grip of God. secondly, prophet co-operate in being seized by God that is they allow
7 David Peterson, Prophecy in Israel (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1962) p.123
8 Johannes Lindblom, Prophecy in Ancient Israel (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1962) p.11
9 David Peterson, Prophecy in Israel, op.cit. p.7.
themselves to be used by God, and they think less of themselves and more about God, the good of others and how they can become instrument in God’s hand for medicating God’s purpose in creation. In this regard, prophets free themselves from attachment to the things of the world, money, power, ego etc in order to be possessed by God; they open themselves to the experiences of being converted, to the experiences of being broken, humbled by divine love, and totally consumed by a single vocation of being used by God for realizing the divine purpose in the life of God’s people. Prophets, according to Congar, listen to the word of God in multiple place and they allow the word of God to dwell in them so that they can undergo a second conversion from self to God in order to better serve the community. Thirdly, the prophet dedicates himself or herself to completing the demands made on him or her by God. The prophet is distinguished by being fully committed to his or her mission irrespective of the obstacle they encounter.10
In this way prophet shines forth the truth of God first by his or her lifestyles which alone can illumine the complexities of history. Prophecy sometimes may not simply be words but counter-cultural deeds which contradict the decay in society. Prophecy is word and deed which reflect authentically the word God to people and the will God and the direction to attaining the value and virtue of the kingdom of God, the reign of peace, prosperity, righteousness and good order. From the perspective of biblical teaching, the entire baptized are called to be prophetic.
Therefore, Prophecy is not simply the claim or prerogative of a single individual; prophecy has a communal element in both discerning the voice of God and in enacting and living out this Word in concrete history. The Holy Spirit arouses Christians to prophecy spontaneously and occasionally as was witnessed in the New Testament. This prophetic function is primarily directed to equipping Christians to bear authentic and credible witness to the values and virtue of the faith through the service of love, reconciliation, justice, and peace.11 But the prophet is fundamentally one who reads the signs of the times and who is courageous enough to allow God to direct him or her in committing self to the construction of a better world through God’s grace. This calls for a spirit of humility and vulnerability.
Prophecy in Nigeria Today
But how does the general understanding and attitude of the Nigeria Christians fit into this light? How do ‘Prophets’ in Nigeria understand their position as prophets from these perspectives enumerated above? It is clear: Our understanding of prophecy in Nigeria today is naïve and far away from the status quo. In the first place, prophecy in Nigeria is basically understood from its secondary character. It is mainly seen as a prediction of future events: blessings or curses. This position is supported by the belief that the future is already determined in the mind of God. In addition, the blessings and curses guaranteed or incurred on us depend on our fulfillment or defilement of certain obligation or condition. And so, the prophet in Nigeria is first and foremost seen as a kind of seer or fortune teller who permeates and hears from the mind of God through probably visions or exterior locutions. The prophet’s reputation in Nigeria lies in joining the band wagon of making competitive prophetic utterances and looking forward to them as they stand or fail with regard to fulfillment.
Do prophets in Nigeria think less of themselves and more about God? Do they think about the good of others and how they can become instruments in God’s hand for mediating God’s purpose in creation? I do not think so. Most Men who called themselves prophets in Nigeria do not free themselves from attachment to the things of the world, they amass wealth, power, ego
10 Stan Chu Ilo, “the voice of prophecy in Nigeria politics: Fr. Mbaka & the rest” in www.academia.ed/stanchuilo.html
and claim to be spokesmen of social justice and equity but in actual sense the real intention is to beef up their reputation. They thrive on the gullibility of Nigerian masses with their machinations and manipulations. They excel on the carcasses of the poor ignorant Nigerian masses who are already politically, socially and economically dislocated. Prophets in Nigeria claim monopoly of their prophecy. Hence, there is no communal element in both discerning the voice of God and in enacting and living out this word in concrete circumstances. We are all witnesses of how competing prophecies fighting for a place in Nigeria have defied the expectation of the masses. False prophets in Nigeria do not allow themselves to be easily discouraged by their repeated failures. They always find some good reasons to explain them away, or they pretend that the event is only delayed. What do we make of all these? – Just one thing, the business of ‘prophecy’ in the Nigerian society is booming like the oil boom of the 1970’s.
THE SAINTS AND THE GIFT OF PROPHECY
I realized that the most beautiful way to learn, understand, discern and make good use of the gift of prophecy is through the lived experiences of the saints and the Fathers of the Church. St. John of the Cross, one of the greatest of the mystic theologians, is very severe with persons who desire to be the recipients of prophecies, visions and revelations. He never got weary of repeating that the proximate means of union with God in this life is the three theological virtues of faith, hope, and love. He strongly reproves anyone who desires to be the recipient of a visions or revelations. St. Teresa of Avila, who herself had an abundance of visions, takes a similar stand. She admits that great profit can be had from such things when they are genuine and are received in the proper spirit. She warns that one must never beg or desire to be led by this road.
A glance at the experiences of many favoured saints will quickly make any scholar to be less astonished when he finds out that even the revelations of the saints may contain errors, and illusions. In his book, Revelations and visions, Father Augustine Poulain categorized the many causes of error that may have had an influence upon true and false prophecies at certain periods in the lives of the saints.
a. Faulty interpretations of revelations or vision: This mistake may result from the fact that God’s communication has a deep meaning that is not understood; and it is taken too literal in the everyday sense. St. John of the cross posited on this subject that many prophecies and divine locutions disappointed in their fulfillment the expectations of many of the ancient people because they understood them too much according to the letter in their own. They understand them in the letter according to their apparent meaning when there is much more abundant than the letter, more extraordinary and surpass the limits. Many saints have interpreted their revelations A scriptural instance is the vision of the sheet of unclean animals by St. Peter (Acts 10: 9-16) “…Peter kill and eat” For any serious Jew, the vision was an abomination, but Peter had to take a little time to discern that it had to do with the accommodation and incorporation of the gentile world into the Christian community. He went beyond the face value of the vision, to understand its deeper meaning. Every Christian cannot make such discernment. Other examples are seen in the visionary experiences of St. Joan of arc, St. Mechtildis, St. Gertrude etc. They have in one way or the other misinterpreted their very own revelation.
b. Historical events are often given with approximate truth in Revelation: It is a mistake to attribute an absolute accuracy to historical events and circumstances given in revelation. Historic scenes and events may often have an approximate and probable likeness This is evident when we see the historical and scientific errors, contradictions and inconsistencies of visionary accounts of the lives of our Lord and of our Blessed Virgin Mary by St. Bridget of Sweden, St. Catherine of Siena, Blessed Veronica of Binasco, St. Francis of Rome and so many favored saints.
c. The mingling of human activity with supernatural action during revelation: This is the subsequent but involuntary modifications made by the person who receives the revelation. It may happen that during a vision, the human mind retains the power of mingling its action with the divine action in a certain Therefore, it is a mistake then to attribute purely to God the information that is thus obtained. The ideas that appeal to our own desires especially when we have a project greatly at heart, and still more if we are moved by the imprudent desire to see it encouraged by a revelation, it will easily seem to us that God is speaking in order to advise or command its execution. We see this in the lives of St. Colette, St. Elizabeth, Blessed Hernamm Joseph, St. Hildegard, St. Mary Agreda etc.
Diabolical interference: A person who claims to have received revelations maybe untruthful or possessed by the devil. A good scriptural instance is the episode of a slave-girl who was a soothsayer (Acts 16:16-24)“…here are the servants of the Most High God; they have come to tell you how to be ” She was of course possessed by the devil even though her prediction was true. Another good example is the sixteenth century Magdalene of the cross, a young Spanish Franciscan nun who made a pact with the devil at a very tender age, endowed with many “supernatural powers” and deceived even the greatest theologian in Spain. The devil can conjecture many future unwelcome events and assist in its realization.
e. The inventions of falsifiers: political prophecies can be invented by falsifiers who are inspired by motives of political or pecuniary interest, or by the desire to mystify the public. Different causes of falsity have often combined with the object of giving publicity to false prophecies of a political nature. Nothing is easier than to invent political prophecies in this way. It is only necessary to announce the advent of great misfortunes to be followed by extraordinary deliverances. These statements can be put about without fear, for no one can prove the These abound particularly at time of great political or religious upheaval.12
If Father Augustin Poulain were to be alive today, I would have to ask him: why have you decided to insult the sensitivity and reverence we have for these favoured and renowned saints whose lives will ever be true path to piety and righteousness by demonstrating the possibility of errors in their prophecies and revelations? In your selection of material Father Poulain, why have you decided to diminish the respect that we owe to these “infallible men of God”?
I think Father Poulain would gladly answer: in making this selection Anthony, I have not acted with any intention of diminishing the respect that we owe to these saints, but rather for a grave
12 Augustine Poulain, Revelation and visions: discerning the true and certain from false and doubtful, (New York: Alba house publication, 1998) p.57
reason of utility. It is the best way of persuading certain pious persons to be more careful about their own revelations, and of persuading their directors to do the same. And if Father Poulain happen to know I am Nigerian, he would scream: be very careful Nigerian Christians, you dance where the angels fear to tread, if the saints were to be victims of many errors of their own revelations in spite of their piety and holiness, how much more you who are surrounded by religious impostors, charlatans, wolves in sheep clothing who seek prophecies basically to satisfy their curiosity and selfishness”
We share the conviction of Fr. Mbukanma that there are two attitudes on “private revelation” which is unbalanced and which theology must help to correct. These attitudes are; i. A total commitment to what is revealed in such “prophecy” without first proving their supernatural origin and character. ii. A disdainful rejection of them altogether because of the caliber of the person who receives the revelation.13 A rejection of this sort is not in line with the thinking and teaching of the Holy Church and mystical doctors through history.
One of the distressing situation in the Catholic Church in Nigeria today is the silence of theology on the occasions of visionary and prophetic experiences. In Nigeria, when ordinary Christian try to interpret their “experience of God” only by themselves, they inevitably fall into error because they do not possess the tools, the discipline and the Spirit to interpret ad give meaning to these “supernatural experiences”. The extra ordinary experiences of God are often difficult to understand by oneself. In private experience of God, we are given fragmentary pictures of the mysteries of his being.14 In addition, to interpret and narrate such experience presents a different problem all together.
This problem is highlighted by Mbukanma:
In private experience of God, we are given fragmentary pictures of the mysteries of his being. Whatever we say from this experience is always an inadequate account of what can be known about the divine being. The question can be raised why language is incapable of describing spiritual realities. The answer is this: the language and logic which we use belong to the world of experience i.e in their meaning from the collective experience of the language group. If language and logic belong to the world, how then do we expect it to give us the accurate and comprehensive information about metaphysical realities? 15
When visionaries and mystics try to describe or explain their experiences, it often results in communication of frustration. The very fact that the experience of God is problematic makes
13 Jude Mbukanma, The Theology of Private Revelation, (Ibadan: Newborne TMC Press Ltd, 2000) p.9.
14 Jude Mbukanma, The experience of God: The problem of Narration, (Ibadan: Newborne TMC Press Ltd, 2000) p.4.
the function of Theology paramount in investigating the experience of God. In spite of the yawning gap between our human experience and God’s revelation, He makes it possible for us to understand what he has revealed according to our own capacity. If the Holy Spirit is the author of Private Revelation, He also plays a vital role in the investigation and discernment of what had been revealed. If this is true, the Nigerian theologians should not shy away from theological enterprise on supernatural experiences of people even in the midst of controversies and suspicions which Private Revelation raises. We want to believe that it is the work of Nigerian theologians to study claims of Private Revelations of God and to assist the Magisterium of the Church to teach the faithful what to believe, love, practice and hope for in the life of faith. This service to the ministerial body of Christ is extremely important to the people of God in Nigerian because they are to know the truth that saves. The role of theology then in Nigeria as a faith-Community is not only crucial but expedient. Our faith is not based on the teaching of theologians, scripture scholars, mystics, visionaries and charismatic rather on God’s revelation in the crucified Christ. (Gal. 1:11-17).
Theology presupposes faith. Hence, it is a disciple of faith. Every Christian is called to this discipline even though the professional theologian is specifically trained from this pedestal. Schillebeeckx makes this point clearer:
Theology is the faith of the thinking man-it is a reflection about faith. For this reason, every believer is virtually a “Theologian” – as a man, he thinks about being a believer. In many cases, this is not done methodically, but happens spontaneously at certain occasions, especially as a result of practical experiences of life. But this reflection can also take place systematically, in which case we speak of theology as a science although it is a science of a very special kind, not every man is called to practice this science, just as not every man is called to practice this science, just as not every man is called to be a doctor, although every man is indeed called to have some knowledge of the practical care of his health.16
The professional theologian is not only a man of learning but a man who desires the experience of God. He tries to understand his faith experience through theological studies. Anselm had defined theology as “fides quareens intellectum” – “faith seeking understanding” – a perfect blending of reason and faith. The theologian is a man of deep experience of God, and his reflections on the divine things have the prompting of God by virtue of his experience. It seems that some Nigerian theologians are basically “academic/intellectual theologians”. They are the theologians of the book. They are not interested in the deep personal experiences of God. We wonder how a theologian who is not interested in the experience of God could be able to interpret, give meaning and discern of private revelation. He would rather scorn it and dismiss it as a trash. He would rather be good in ongoing studies of European thinkers of faith but he
16 Edward SchilleBeeckx, Revelation and Theology, trans. N.D. Smith (New York: Sheed and Ward Inc., 1968) p.133.
would not have the time to interpret the faith experience of the people with these theological tools.
The theologian is a man of deep experience of God, and his reflections on the divine things have the prompting of God by virtue of his experience. Theologians should be interested in the study of Mysticism. The experience of the mystics in the Church especially the saints have provided a wealth of knowledge of supernatural experience to the Church. These studies are necessary and urgent in Nigerian Seminaries and institutes of learning. It is our belief that man’s fundamental inclination to the mysterious, and his ardent search for meaning in his life, makes it a necessary for future pastors of souls and spiritual leaders in Nigeria to have the basic understanding of the experience of these privileged holy men and women in the recent and distant times. If this is done, these Pastors and spiritual leaders (Theologians) will be in a better position to teach the Nigerian Christians about prophecy. If people’s genuine claims of prophecy are properly harnessed, it will surely yield many spiritual and even material benefits to the Church and to the world. These pastors of souls and spiritual leaders have the confidence and trust of the people. They equally need to be able to distinguish pathological from natural paranormal phenomena that have man’s psychic power as their source from other phenomena that could be attributed to supernatural intervention, either diabolical or divine intervention.17
I would like to conclude with the words of a Cuban Poet, “heavy, so heavy is the task of my generation”. Fellow graduands, as we celebrate today with our caps and gowns and degrees, let us not forget that we still have so much to learn, so much to do, so much to experience in order to meet up with the challenges facing our vocation this generation. St. Vincent de paul would say “that our vocation is to embrace the heart of all men, to do what the son of man did, he who came into the world to set the world on fire”. When I look at these remarkable seminarians whom I am so lucky to call my fellow graduands, I know that we, the Bigard graduands 2015 can and will set the world ablaze with our authentic prophetic calling.
Once more, I remain ever grateful to Jesus, the author of my vocation, my seminary formators for this rare opportunity, my beloved father Igwe J. O. Aneke, my late mom Dorathy Obiageli who sacrificed all for me, my late aunt Katherine Uzoma who never gave up on me, my brothers and sisters, Ugbawka Community, inspiring members of Upper room ministries, Rev. Fr. Callistus Ani, Rev. Fr. Wilfred Agu, good people of St. Michael Parish Asata, Bigardians, my friends and well wishers and indeed all here to celebrate with us today. Thank you so much for being a wonderful audience.
17 Nkechinyelu Ezeanyino, The epistemological status of Extra Sensory Perception ESP: J. B RHINE AND J.G. PRA TT Revisited (Enugu: Snaap Press Ltd., 2007) p .207.