The Nature of Theology

What is Theology? We can come to understand its meaning by breaking down the word “theology”. The first syllable, “the”, comes from the Greek word “theos”, which means “God”. The remaining part of the word, “ology”, is found in many words with which we are familiar: biology, philosophy, sociology and so on. It  also has its roots in Greek (“logia”); and by the examples given, hopefully it is clear it refers to the study of something – in the case of “theology,” it’s the study of God.

At this point, it is logical to ask, “HOW does one study God?”

Two years after my reversion to the Catholic faith I found myself a first-year graduate student of Theology without the faintest idea how to answer that question. The Lord had called me to Franciscan University of Steubenville to study Theology, but I had no idea how we would go about conquering such a seemingly impossible feat. After all, God is GOD!  – he is bigger, better, and beyond anything we could know! Right? Not quite. Yes, he is the biggest, and best (if you would), but he is not beyond anything we could know.

To my naivety, I had never stopped to realize that God seeks communion with man – he always has. How can we claim this to be true? Because God has revealed himself to man throughout man’s existence over and over again, and all for the sake of man’s salvation. Talk about a “duh!” moment.

The most straightforward way to study theology is to examine the data God has provided us through divine revelation. God revealed himself to man through the prophets of old whose message is immortalized through the written words of scripture in the Old Testament and later through the Word made flesh, Jesus. This is the nature of theology – it’s basic and inherent feature – God’s revelation of himself to man. Can I get a flashing neon arrow right here, please?!

Have doubts? I have proof. If you are one who wants proof or desires to posses a knowledge of the faith that will deepen your appreciation and belief in God’s providence, and enhance your spiritual life, here are three sources that have concluded this same truth as myself over the 2000 plus years of Christianity.  But the point of this article has been made and if that’s all you were after you can skip down to the third to last paragraph that begins, *Look – the data has been given to us from the source.* 

Donum Veritatis, The Gift of Truth (A.D. 1990). Under Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), produced this document as an instruction to theologians (those who formally study theology) on their role and responsibility to the Church (that’s you and me). Recalling Dei Verbum paragraph #2:

“In His goodness and wisdom God chose to reveal Himself and to make known to us the hidden purpose of His will (see Eph. 1:9) by which through Christ, the Word made flesh, man might in the Holy Spirit have access to the Father and come to share in the divine nature (see Eph. 2:18; 2 Peter 1:4).”

From the onset of the document, theologians are reminded divine revelation is the nature of theology, it’s grit. What else is brought to mind here? God desires to draw man to himself. Ding, Ding, ding – the CDF get’s it! There is an inseparable link between God’s revelation and the union between God and man.

Thomas Aquinas, when he answered the first question of the Summa Theologiae (A.D. 1265), more specifically explained that the fundamentals of theology can be discovered through the revelation of Jesus Christ. Through Sacra Doctrina – meaning, teachings about God we ought to agree with because they were revealed by God – God reveals himself to us. Sacred scripture is God’s word. Scripture reveals that the Word became flesh, Jesus.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. Jn 1:14.

Jesus tells us,

“No one has ever seen the Father ; but I, the only Son, who am in the bosom of the Father, have made him known.” Jn 1:18

Jesus discloses that he has the most intimate knowledge of the Father and is in full confidence with him. Not much later, in John 8:38, Jesus also explains that he reveals what is in the bosom of the Father to man.

“I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.”

Why did Jesus come to proclaim to us what is in the heart of the Father? So that we might listen, respond, and be united to him.

Gregory of Nazianzus, in his first theological oration – late fourth century, (oration #27) asked,

“On what subjects and to what extent may we philosophize?” To which he emphatically answered, “On matters within our reach.” (paragraph IV)

Gregory used philosophize in the most fundamental of ways – to seek truth. What truth then did he say is “within our reach?” Answer: that which had been revealed to us – divine revelation.

Of those things revealed to us, we should take all opportunities given “to discern the straight road of the things divine.” (paragraph III)

Because God of all creation has acquiesced to reveal himself to us, Gregory preached,

“We ought to think of God even more often than we draw our breath; and if the expression is permissible, we ought to do nothing else.” (paragraph V)

My heart is one after Gregory’s.

Look – the data has been given to us from the source, God himself. All we have to do is to decide to pick it up and check it over. The one requirement is that we do so in order to find the TRUTH. Not your truth or mine, but absolute truth – we deserve nothing less. Once we find it, we should allow it to consume us.

Each of these theological giants of Catholicism claim the same – the nature of theology is divine revelation. We can see from at least the fourth century, the Church has taught this fundamental truth. Divine revelation has a purpose which has been lightly touched upon in each of these examples – revelation is to draw man to God. Later on we’ll flesh out the purpose of theology and methods used to achieve it. Stay tuned. Until then, open your bible and dive into the word of God, go to Mass and Eucharistic adoration and experience the Word made flesh!  

 

If you are looking for a timeline overview to make sense of the scripture stories or if you have difficulty reconciling what may seem like a mean or harsh God of the Old Testament, I’d recommend, “A Father Who Keeps His Promises: God’s Covenant Love in Scripture.” by Scott Hahn. It’s a quick read.

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