Theology is described as the ‘Queen of the Sciences’, and fides quaerens intellectum (‘Faith that seeks understanding’). Write an essay explaining what is the scope and purpose of theology; what are its sources and methodology; what other disciplines and skills help students of theology to develop their understanding of the faith.
What is theology?
To understand why theology is called the 'Queen of Sciences' we first of all need to know what theology actually is. The Oxford dictionary term for theology is:
theology, science of religion, study of God or gods, esp. of attributes and relations with man etc.;
Although this seems to be a very simple definition and not one that St. Thomas Aquinas would totally agree with, it gives us a foundation on which to build.
This definition would also lead us to believe that theology is purely an academic subject which is not the case. It is a science, but where science has to be pondered then proven, revealed theology itself is first based on faith. It is something that we are all capable of.
It is something that was done from the beginning of creation c.f. Genesis chapters 2-3 Adam and Eve and was made open to all.
but Jesus said, `Let the little children alone, and do not stop them from coming to me; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of Heaven belongs.'
St. Augustine called prayer theology on ones' knees for this is discourse with God, that is conversation with God. ( for St. Augustine theology was discourse or conversation with God).
Having said this we do however know theology to be a science. Peter Kreeft in his book Summa of the Summa says when commenting on The Summa Theologica of Saint Thomas Aquinas:
"Sacred doctrine" = theology. Scripture is its data, or material cause. God's act of revealing Himself is the source or efficient cause, of its data. Its species or formal cause is "science" (an ordered body of knowledge through causes). And its end or final cause is, speculatively, the truth about God, and, practically, salvation through this truth.
Why Queen of Sciences?
Theology is a subalternate science and yet still called `Queen of sciences`, how can this be?
To be subalternate means that it is dependent on something else and because of this one would presume that theology is a lesser science. However when we look at what theology is dependent on we can begin to see why it is called `Queen of sciences`. Theology is dependent on God's knowledge alone and He is the one who is above all. We make use of other sciences when doing theology but it is not dependent on them. The reason we do make use of these other sciences is to help us in our understanding of theology but this is because humanity can only understand things through its own reasoning. This however is not the only reason why theology is called `Queen of sciences`.
Sciences are generally in one of two categories, that is either speculative or practical. Theology however falls into both of these categories which makes its logic unique. Although theology does fall into both categories, it does however remain one science because the object of it both in speculative and practical terms is God. We can see the practical side of theology for instance in moral law. We are instructed in ways that we should live our life and therefore should act upon those instructions. The speculative side of theology however can be harder to grasp. We think of speculative science as being less certain. Theology has however excelled again in this area of science for it has proved to be the most certain of all speculative sciences.
We have to remember that theology is the science of God and as there is nothing more certain than God we can understand why it is the most certain science, both speculative and practical. We are aware that faith may be doubted for it is above our own reasoning and so we all need to remember that it is not through any fault in God but our own inability to comprehend the whole of God.
None of us will ever in this life understand or know God completely.
Why fides quaerens intellectum (faith that seeks understanding)?
It seems obvious from the fact that theology is referred to as faith that seeks understanding that a person who studies theology needs to have a belief and a faith in God.
We as baptized Christians are given at our baptism a free gift. This free gift is faith. As we grow as Christians, the gift of faith is the very thing that causes us to seek that which we do not already understand. This action in itself is a work of God as He is constantly drawing us to Himself. We were created with all that we now have, included in this is our intellect. We do however need to grow and mature in all that God has given us. We grow and mature physically, spiritually and also intellectually. As we grow God is constantly revealing Himself to us and He does this in many ways. As human beings we are always asking questions of things and the harder it is to understand something, the more questions we have to ask.
God is someone we seem to have very little understanding of, purely and simply because as God reveals Himself to us we find things that we could never understand. These things have to be received in faith. However, as we receive things in faith we then thirst to understand them. The more we understand the more we receive and so we always have questions to ask and more to understand. All of this stems from that free gift at our baptism, that being the gift of faith.
By its nature, faith appeals to reason because it reveals to man the truth of his destiny and the way to attain it. Revealed truth, to be sure, surpasses our telling. All our concepts fall short of its ultimately unfathomable grandeur (cf. Eph 3:19). Nonetheless, revealed truth beckons reason-God's gift fashioned for the assimilation of truth to enter into its light and thereby come to understand in a certain measure what it has believed. Theological Science responds to the invitation of truth as it seeks to understand the faith.
What is the scope and purpose?
The second question of the penny catechism asks "Why did God make me? ". Although this is an anthropological question the answer could be given the same for this as with the question "What is the purpose of theology ". The answer being :To know Him, love Him and Serve Him in this life and to be happy with Him forever in the next.
It is through our knowledge of Him and our faith in Him in this life that allows us to fulfill our destiny.
The question “what is the scope and purpose of theology?” leads us to begin to understand the awesomeness of theology. The word theology is taken from the Greek words `Theos` which means `God` and also `Logos` meaning `discourse, reason, word`. From just a simple understanding of where the word theology comes from it is obvious that the purpose of theology is God, that is knowledge of God.
Saint Thomas Aquinas tells us throughout his Summa Theologica that God is the object of this science. Everything that is looked at in theology is done with reflection upon the Divine plan of God.
Throughout the study of theology as a whole we will gain a deeper knowledge of God and His plan for creation. Through this we also gain a deeper understanding of ourselves.
In a sense we can say that the scope of theology is all that we do in theology and all that this subject covers.
Dr. Francis Clark in his Conspectus of the Study of Theology breaks the subject of theology down into four areas. This begins with fundamental theology or as it is more often referred to, foundational theology. Foundational theology gives us as it says, the foundations on which the study of theology is built. Foundational theology is not dependent on faith and so a person who studies fundamental theology does not have to have a belief in God although if that is the case I can not see how really it could then be called theology itself. As we have already seen, St. Thomas Aquinas clearly states that theology is a science and the object of it is God. St. Augustine calls prayer theology, for it is conversation with God. Having this in mind I think that for a person studying fundamental theology and not believing in God would mean that they are studying someone else’s religion.
Foundational theology itself is broken down again into areas or sub-disciplines. The sub-disciplines consist of such things as epistemological foundations which is the study of religious knowledge. We look at revealed theology which is where we understand things of God as He reveals Himself to us. Natural theology is the way of knowing something about God through nature or reason without us first having a faith in God.
There are also sub-disciplines which show us how God has revealed Himself i.e.:- Sources of revelation. The sources of revelation consist of areas such as the tradition of the Church, the Magisterium, the scriptures (within scriptures we look at hermeneutics which is the study of scripture), the councils and the fathers of the Church and so on.
Having briefly looked at the foundations we then look to the second area of theology which is Dogmatic theology. This again is broken down into areas or themes. We see what God has done and also why He has done it. We also gain a deeper knowledge of God as Trinity. Three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, yet still remaining one person. This area of theology helps us to explore the Father as Creator, the Son as the Redeemer and the Holy Spirit as the one who Sanctifies. Not only do we look at creation and its purpose but also the fall and its consequences. It follows that another area of Dogmatic theology is Christology. This is the study of the significance of Jesus Christ for Christian faith. It is the study of the person of Christ, both His humanity and divinity. This is entwined somewhat with Soteriology because as we look at the person of Christ we also begin to look at the work of Christ which is Soteriology. Christ Himself and His work are very difficult to separate. It seems obvious that Soteriology should then be another area of which we study.
236 The Fathers of the Church distinguish between theology (theologia) and economy ( oikonomia). "Theology" refers to the mystery of God's inmost life within the Blessed Trinity and "economy" to all the works by which God reveals himself and communicates his life. Through the oikonomia the theologia is revealed to us; but conversely, the theologia illuminates the whole oikonomia. God's works reveal who he is in himself; the mystery of his inmost being enlightens our understanding of all his works. So it is, analogously, among human persons. A person discloses himself in his actions, and the better we know a person, the better we understand his actions.
Although this quotation speaks of God it can be referred to Christ also. Other areas of Dogmatic theology that we study are things such as the Church, (that is how it was founded, it being the body of Christ, its structure etc.).Mary is yet another area of study (her immaculate conception and her role in the plan of our Salvation etc.). There are several other areas within Dogmatic theology but due to restrictions it impossible to cover every one in detail. These areas are the theology of grace, the Sacraments, Eschatology, etc. We then proceed to the third area of study which is Theology in the life of the Church and the life of the individual Christian. This covers such disciplines as prayer and contemplation, examination of conscience (daily), spiritual reading, etc. These disciplines are an aid to studying theology because if we devote ourselves to God it then allows Him more opportunities to work through us and inspire us. This as we can see from St. Augustine’s definition of theology is also a practical area of theology. Through our daily prayers and devotion we are doing theology (conversing with God).
We then move to the fourth and final area of theology which is Ecclesiastical and Secular disciplines ancillary to the study of theology. These areas of study are subservient to the study of theology. To be subservient means to help us to further our end or purpose. Our purpose has already been mentioned, which is speculatively, the truth about God and practically, salvation through His truth. We will cover fields of study such as Pastoral theology, Moral theology, Patristics and so on. We will also be looking at areas of philosophy that serve the study of theology. This will include Logic which is the science of reasoning, metaphysics, ontology, which is a branch of metaphysics, epistemology, Ethics and Cosmology etc. We also need to study other religions so that we may have a sympathetic attitude towards people and their beliefs. There are also other areas that we need to study because although they are secular they will help us in our understanding while studying theology. These include history, biology, anthropology (the study of man), etc.
What are its sources and methodology?
The methodology of theology has developed greatly through the ages. What began as a subject preached in Churches by bishops and then moving to the universities through monks is now a subject open to all who wish to study it. We have a lot to be grateful for, because although the subject may seem difficult to grasp we now have many more sources to look to. There was a time when anyone who wanted to study theology had to memorize the whole of the scriptures for books were not readily available. Huge debates took place and this was the methodology of theology. Those huge debates and the writings of the people of that time are now a source for us today. There is no one methodology for the study of Catholic theology in our time. Having been directed towards the Summa Theologica it seems obvious that one methodology within theology is Systematic’s. Yet another methodology is positive theology but my focus will be on Aquinas methodology. Systematic’s was the way that St. Thomas Aquinas looked at theology. Aquinas does have a very clear and systematic approach to theology. He begins with what one could call a ‘non believers argument’ or as he calls them ‘objections’. For instance in article one of his Summa Theologica he begins with objections to theology being called a science. He then proceeds to explain first of all why it is a science and then why it is above all other sciences and therefore ‘Queen of Sciences’. Each objection and then answer follows on naturally from the previous objection and answer.
Scripture should be our first and main source for the study of theology because it is the very word of God. The study of and interpretation of the scriptures therefor are most important for theology. We also need to look to the Tradition of the Church where we see how the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church has been handed down and developed through the ages.
77 "In order that the full and living Gospel might always be preserved in the Church the apostles left bishops as their successors. They gave them 'their own position of teaching authority'.” "Indeed, the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved in a continuous line of succession until the end of time. “78 This living transmission, accomplished in the Holy Spirit, is called Tradition, since it is distinct from Sacred Scripture, though closely connected to it. Through Tradition, "the Church, in her doctrine, life and worship, perpetuates and transmits to every generation all that she herself is, all that she believes.”The sayings of the holy Fathers are a witness to the life-giving presence of this Tradition, showing how its riches are poured out in the practice and life of the Church, in her belief and her prayer."
The early Fathers of the Church such as Tertullian and Augustine are yet another source for the study of theology along with Writings of Theologians. One reason why these are important sources is because the early Fathers and other theologians have studied and debated matters of theological importance and so now we have their writings to look to.
The Magisterium have the task of interpreting the Word of God for the whole Church. The pope (who as a successor of St. Peter is entrusted with the role of head of the Church on earth,) and his bishops with the help of the Holy Spirit teach all that has been handed on to them. Dei Verbum which is a Council Document (Councils and their documents being another essential source) of Vatican II, looks into and gives us a very clear understanding of the way that God reveals Himself through the deposit of faith that is handed on to the pope and his bishops.
The Liturgy is a wonderful source for us also. This is where we meet the whole of God. It is also a time when God nourishes our whole being, body, mind and soul. We listen to and think about the scriptures we hear. We meet with the Holy Spirit who changes our offerings of bread and wine into the real presence of Christ, who then nourishes us body and soul as we receive communion.
The Catechism as another source begins with the deposit of faith. This clearly explains it’s purpose, and in doing so gives us the reason for it being a source to study.
A catechism should faithfully and systematically present the teaching of Sacred Scripture, the living Tradition in the Church and the authentic Magisterium, as well as the spiritual heritage of the Fathers, Doctors and saints of the Church, to allow for a better knowledge of the Christian mystery and for enlivening the faith of the People of God. It should take into account the doctrinal statements which down the centuries the Holy Spirit has intimated to his Church. It should also help to illumine with the light of faith the new situations and problems which had not yet emerged in the past.
Other disciplines and skills.
When looking at other disciplines and skills that help us in our study of theology my personal feeling is that although we should be listing things such as psychology and politics which come into the area of secular disciplines and skills (already mentioned in the scope) they are also part of theology. My reason for saying this is : I have already stated that all we study in theology is looked at within the Divine plan of God. If we then study politics within the Divine plan of God is it not the case that politics then becomes a part or area of theology.
I hope that through this essay I have been able to demonstrate how theology (being called a science) can be open to all. It is possible to do theology as a little child, by prayer. It can also become a huge academic study for us. We as a Church have a vast array of sources by which God reveals Himself to us. By searching, researching and prayer we can gain a deeper Knowledge of God, which is the purpose of studying theology. All sciences that we study, if we look at them in theology as part of God’s plan, then become areas of theology. After all God has created all things.
Word count, including footnotes 3,416.
Edited by D.Eagle & J.Hawkins. London. 1983. Page 881.
Matthew 19:14. New Jerusalem Bible.
Annotated by Peter Kreeft. San Francisco. 1990. Page 35.
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Copyright 1994-1995 Pauline Books and Media. Item 2
CCC .London 1994. Paragraph 236.
By restrictions I mean limitations on the number of words.
CCC. London 1994. Paragraphs 77 & 78.
the whole of God meaning Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
CCC. London 1994. Fidei Depositum 2.