Author Topic: Theology: A Defense  (Read 194 times)

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Theology: A Defense
« on: January 02, 2022, 08:36:27 PM »
There is a tendency among some to view theology as theoretical nonsense and disputing about irrelevant details. This charge can be leveled at any time by those ignorant and unlearned, but rash in their assumption that their level of knowledge is sufficient and any more must be defective and pointless.

This is an erroneous belief, and sometimes a result of the reality that theology does not need to be studied by all, but often a result of pride and hostility to the truth. Theology is not "lengthy theoretical verbiage". It has real practical use and it is the highest science. Not everybody has to study it, but everybody benefits from the work of the theologians of the Church and many are enriched by their study of it.

  • Theology, the Sacred Science, is concerned with knowledge of God
  • The source of this knowledge is God Himself
  • The purpose of theology is to inform the intellect
  • The application of theology is to combat errors, explain doctrines to unbelievers and heretics, and to expand knowledge of what God has revealed to us through the Church
  • Theology provides a common vocabulary through the ages for topics which are extremely sublime and difficult as they are concerning a subject which is fundamentally beyond any human understanding
  • Theological examination forms the underpinning of instructions in the Church to explain the Creed beyond its scriptural and Apostolic formulation.
  • Theology examines the entirety of revelation including dogmatic theology and moral theology.

It is true we only need to believe what we are taught and a person does not need more than the Creed and basic understanding of it, along with the Ten Commandments and a basic understanding of them. Many saints are made by those who are Baptized, instructed on the Creed and Ten Commandments, and obedient to their superiors and live a holy life within the Holy Catholic Church on earth.

The mysteries of God cannot be unraveled even with a full study of the revelations and the full application of reason, even by angels:

Quote from: Catechism of Pius X
The Mysteries of Faith

14 Q. Can we comprehend all the truths of Faith?
A. No, we cannot comprehend all the truths of Faith, because some of these truths are mysteries.

15 Q. What are mysteries?
A. Mysteries are truths above reason and which we are to believe even though we cannot comprehend them.

16 Q. Why must we believe mysteries?
A. We must believe mysteries because they are revealed to us by God, who, being infinite Truth and Goodness, can neither deceive nor be deceived.

17 Q. Are mysteries contrary to reason?
A. Mysteries are above, not contrary to, reason; and even reason itself persuades us to accept the mysteries.

18 Q. Why cannot the mysteries be contrary to reason?
A. The mysteries cannot be contrary to reason, because the same God who has given us the light of reason has also revealed the mysteries, and He cannot contradict Himself.

Theology is the means of informing intellects of what is true and what is not true, and why. Theology is not the source of truth: it is an examination of it, and the source of this knowledge is God. These truths were long known by the Church and theology started with acknowledging the incomprehensible nature of God, save for what has been revealed, and accepting what we have been taught.

It is written in An Exposition of the Orthodox Faith by Saint John of Damascus in the 8th century:

Quote from: An Exposition of the Orthodox Faith
Chapter 1

No one has seen God at any time; the Only-begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him. The Deity, therefore, is ineffable and incomprehensible. For no one knows the Father, save the Son, nor the Son, save the Father. Matthew 11:27 And the Holy Spirit, too, so knows the things of God as the spirit of the man knows the things that are in him. 1 Corinthians 2:11 Moreover, after the first and blessed nature no one, not of men only, but even of supramundane powers, and the Cherubim, I say, and Seraphim themselves, has ever known God, save he to whom He revealed Himself.


Chapter 2

We, therefore, both know and confess that God is without beginning, without end, eternal and everlasting, uncreate, unchangeable, invariable, simple, uncompound, incorporeal, invisible, impalpable, uncircumscribed, infinite, incognisable, indefinable, incomprehensible, good, just, maker of all things created, almighty, all-ruling, all-surveying, of all overseer, sovereign, judge; and that God is One, that is to say, one essence ; and that He is known , and has His being in three subsistences, in Father, I say, and Son and Holy Spirit; and that the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are one in all respects, except in that of not being begotten, that of being begotten, and that of procession; and that the Only-begotten Son and Word of God and God, in His bowels of mercy, for our salvation, by the good pleasure of God and the co-operation of the Holy Spirit, being conceived without seed, was born uncorruptedly of the Holy Virgin and Mother of God, Mary, by the Holy Spirit, and became of her perfect Man; and that the Same is at once perfect God and perfect Man, of two natures, Godhead and Manhood, and in two natures possessing intelligence, will and energy, and freedom, and, in a word, perfect according to the measure and proportion proper to each, at once to the divinity, I say, and to the humanity, yet to one composite person ; and that He suffered hunger and thirst and weariness, and was crucified, and for three days submitted to the experience of death and burial, and ascended to heaven, from which also He came to us, and shall come again. And the Holy Scripture is witness to this and the whole choir of the Saints.

But neither do we know, nor can we tell, what the essence of God is, or how it is in all, or how the Only-begotten Son and God, having emptied Himself, became Man of virgin blood, made by another law contrary to nature, or how He walked with dry feet upon the waters. It is not within our capacity, therefore, to say anything about God or even to think of Him, beyond the things which have been divinely revealed to us, whether by word or by manifestation, by the divine oracles at once of the Old Testament and of the New.

This is the earliest theological summary and contains revelations and the understanding of them and the language used by the Church in its summation.

The Church had the Creed up to this point, yet, the summary contains words not found in any Apostolic writings, such as "essence" and "subsistences", the explicit statements concerning the two natures of Christ, the explicit listing of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost as being one, not being made, and of "procession". The word "Trinity" was also not used from the beginning, but only later used. That same work uses it (but not in the part quoted).

We may take these words for granted, but it took over 700 years after the Apostles for these words to all be used to describe what centuries of Christians believed from the beginning.

The centuries previous to this saw many theological writings from the saints, theologians, and heretics, examining the doctrines revealed, and expounding on them. Many were heretical, and some were true. The Church, in the course of history, has responded to such things by formulating the truth in a very direct way and condemning contrary views explicitly, thus, making the truth more readily known.

And that is what theology is about: knowing. Theology is concerned with knowledge of God.

Theology provided the vocabulary, primarily from Greek, and then Latin, and the prior human understanding of philosophy and logic and the natural sciences, to formulate the correct and sure way to express the doctrines of the Church. The mystery of the Trinity in particular was the subject of great theological discussion, and the Church has through the ages developed a very finely refined understanding of this particular mystery.

We are blessed to have the benefit of this refinement, as it makes the simple vocabulary of the Catechisms simple to express, whereas, those in the past struggled with the mysteries greatly. The primary heresies condemned early in the Church were about this topic: the nature of God, the divinity of Christ, the humanity of Christ, the nature of the Holy Spirit, and their relationship with the Father.

Now, we have such a refined theological understanding and doctrinal declarations that it is nearly impossible to say anything orthodox about God, the Trinity, and the nature and relationship of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, save for what has been declared as dogma, and anything we could come with would very likely be an already condemned heresy or a new heresy. We see the fruits of centuries of theological work in our most basic catechisms.

Faith is all we need, but in the face of errors, it takes a common vocabulary, and understanding not just of what is revealed, but of what would be in opposition to it. The difficulty of examining the mysteries of God is evident in the history of the Church, as almost immediately controversies and heresies arose, even among those who would be blameless.

Human reason is not enough to know the truth: revelation and guidance from the Holy Spirit is needed, and this is the role of the Church: to teach the world.

If it were not for errors, we would not need it, but the world is full of errors:

Quote from: Matthew 10:16
Behold I send you as sheep in the midst of wolves. Be ye therefore wise as serpents and simple as doves.

Saint Thomas Aquinas is known for his theological works, but he was not a theologian in his own mind: he was a priest. His commentaries on the scripture, sermons, prayers, and contemplation were all more important than theological writing. He addressed specific heresies, and much of his writing was aimed at spiritual matters directly: to combat heresies of the day.

He never even finished his Summa Theologica, and when asked to do so, he said:

Quote from: St Thomas
I can do no more. Such secrets have been revealed to me that all I have written now appears to be of little value.

Reginald of Piperno, his friend and confessor, finished it for him using his other writings on the final subject which was incomplete.

Theological examination is not the final end or a goal in itself: it is directed to a good purpose and should be respected by all, but not necessarily studied in depth by all.

The more errors we encounter, the more theological understanding is necessary if we have spiritual authority over others or we have trouble with our own intellectual limits.

Faith, Hope, and Charity are all we need, but theology is eminently useful.
« Last Edit: January 02, 2022, 09:03:09 PM by Pæniteo »
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