I’m confused about the role of a theologian within the Roman Catholic Church. I see on some Catholic forums laypeople describing themselves as theologians. What is their role within the Church? Are they a professional class of people that have to meet appropriate academic standards or can any practicing Catholic describe himself as a theologian?
A Catholic theologian is a Catholic, clerical or lay, who has been academically-trained in theology. Ordinarily, at least in modern times, such a person will have received a doctorate in Catholic theology from a credentialed university offering a theology program. Not all who have doctorates in Catholic studies should be considered theologians though. For example, Benedict XVI is a theologian because he earned a doctorate in theology at a German university in the 1950s. John Paul II, on the other hand, was not a theologian. His training was in philosophy and he was a philosopher.
Unfortunately, in recent years, the term “theologian” has sometimes been misapplied to those who are more properly termed “apologists,” “evangelists,” or “catechists.” Unless someone is prepared to substantiate claims of being a theologian with the appropriate credentials, he should not call himself a theologian. Certainly he should avoid calling anyone else a theologian without first being certain that the person has the credentials for that position.