Scientia Dei: Mysteria Dei

The title ‘theologian’ is something thrown around quite a bit today; almost any Catholic university—and many other religious and non-religious universities—have some sort of ‘theological faculty.’ The impression given is that a theology department should be something as commonplace as one of economics or communications. While I wholeheartedly agree with this notable importance placed on the study of theology, I strongly disagree with the way it’s been presented in most modern universities.

Theology, as defined by theologians, is the ‘science of God’; in other words, the intellectual study of God in order to better understand his being and presence in the world by means of looking at divine revelation. (N.B. This differs from philosophy, which also seeks after a First Principle [i.e. ‘God’], in the fact that theology concerns itself with God’s revelation and not his metaphysical and naturally recognizable ‘make-up.’) The popular opinion seems to be that anyone can do theology, believer or not. However, as much as I’d like to agree (since then we’d all be theologians!), it simply is not true.

In order to ‘understand’ something—in the proper sense—that ‘something’ must first exist; I think we’d all admit that. However, a non-believer doing theology is just the opposite, i.e. a person trying to understand a reality that they do not admit to be real. In the end, it’s simply an absurd thing to admit! On the contrary, faith must always be present if true ‘theology’ is to be done. Theology is more than just the ‘science of God’; it is the study, as St. Paul writes, of the ‘mysteries of God.’ Theology is fides quaerens intellectum, or ‘faith seeking understanding.’ Faith must inevitably be the grounds for theology. Period.

Keeping that in mind, then, we ought to take a look at many university ‘theology departments’ and say: “Well, maybe it isn’t so right to call those professors theologians, en masse. Perhaps it would be better to call those faculties ‘departments of religious history,’ or ‘religious anthropology,’ but not ‘theology.’” Preserving the meaning of the term theology is just as important as doing theology itself, since a misapprehended term can lead innumerable people to draw wrong conclusions about the nature of what it means to study the ‘mysteries of God.’ Don’t get me wrong—we need to study religion as a whole, and religious anthropology, but they need to be identified properly, even for their own sakes as disciplines of study.

The more one understands what it means to study theology, the more they should grow in an intense love of God and His revelation, offered through the natural order of creation, but most fully in the salvific mission of Jesus Christ.