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Discourse about God either from the point of view of what can be known about Him from the created world by the natural power of reason (natural theology) or from the point of view of a revelation given by God and received by man in faith (sacred theology).

The Word. Theology is the Greek word θεολογία, nowhere used in the Bible. In the sense of the rationale (λόγος) of the gods it was used by Plato (Rep. 379A) for demythologizing the Greek poets, but by Aristotle (Meta. 1026a) for the part of philosophy that explains the cosmos in terms of an unmoved mover. Applied also to the civic cult of pagan gods of Greece and Rome, the term was repugnant to early Christians. But as gnosis (biblical) had acquired more dangerous connotations, Origen turned to theologia to express the Christian understanding of God as distinguished from Christian faith. In the struggle with Arianism, this "explanation of God" (theologia ) came to be used for Christian knowledge about the Persons of the Trinity (Athanasius, Oratio 1 contra Arianos 18; Patrologia Graeca 26:49) as distinct from what refers to God's plan of salvation through Christ (οκονομία; see economy, divine). Pseudo-Dionysius used theologia for mysticism. The Western Fathers scarcely used the word. Augustine (Civ. 6.5) made critical use of the Stoa's threefold division into physical, mythic, and civic-cult theology (cf. also Tertullian, Nationes 2.1; Patrologia Latina 1:585588) and regarded the (meta-) physical as true. But he used the name "Christian doctrine" for all Christian knowledge and understanding of God. After 1100 Abelard was the first to apply the term "theology" to methodical (dialectical) investigation of the whole Christian teaching (Sic et Non ). The great theologians of the 13th century preferred such terms as "sacred doctrine" or "erudition," "Scripture," or the "Sacred Page." Even St. Thomas Aquinas rarely used the word theologia and then restricted it to the scientific function within sacred teaching (sacra doctrina ), a broader term he used for the subject of his Summa theologiae. It was chiefly St. Thomas who worked out the theory of theology as a science of revealed truth, carefully distinguishing it from philosophy. Since then the term as used by Christians of their doctrine has meant the methodical elaboration of the truths of divine revelation by reason enlightened by faith; briefly, the science (in some sense) of Christian faith.

Theology of revelation. Theology in the Christian context may be described as "faith seeking understanding" (see fides quaerens intellectum). It is a branch of learning in which a Christian, using his reason enlightened by divine faith, seeks to understand the mysteries of God revealed in and through history (Eph 1.9). It involves a methodical investigation, presupposes Christian faith, and always proceeds in the light of this faith to its goal of understanding. What it tries to understand is God's revelation of Himself and of His love for manthat is, the mysteries hidden in God but revealed to men through His Spirit (1 Cor 2.716). These mysteries, it is true, so excel the created intellect that even after being revealed and accepted by faith, they remain veiled in obscurity. "Nevertheless if reason enlightened by faith studies the mysteries in a serious, dedicated, and humble way, it does achieve some understanding of them and a most profitable one" (Vatican I in H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum 3016). It is this understanding that theology strives to attaina knowledge that is not faith but an understanding of faith, a knowledge that is not infused but acquired with human effort, a knowledge that differs radically from philosophical knowledge about God because its object is revealed mystery and because it engages not reason alone but reason enlightened by faith. It is an understanding that although imperfect will continue to grow until faith is dissolved in the vision of God Himself. "Let there be growth and all possible progress in understanding, knowledge, and wisdom whether in single individuals or in the whole body, in each man as well as in the entire Church, according to the stage of their development" (Vatican I quoting Vincent of Lerins in ibid. 3020).

Source: revelation heard in faith. Theology therefore has its external source in divine revelation and its internal source in reason enlightened by divine faith. In revelation God speaks to man, personally inviting him to share His own divine life. From His transcendent world, God has broken into history to bring man, set on the path of sin and destruction, the good news of His love. This love He manifested by mighty deeds to save His people: divine interventions into history, whose meaning He revealed through Moses and the Prophets. To enable His people to hear His revealing word, He communicated the first beginnings of divine life by putting faith into their hearts, calling them interiorly as well as by external words and actions to respond to His love. As His design was to give Himself and His divine life completely to men, He became one of them in the Person of His Son, so that a man could be God, live the life of God in the flesh, and give perfect human expression in being, thought, word, and action to the mystery of His complete self-gift to men. Moreover, this self-gift of God, given to His people from outside them, was expressed in human writing composed under His inspiration from within His people as its own record of faith.

This revelation, consisting of both divine intervention and revealing word heard in faith, includes not only the ontological gift of divinity itself to human nature but also the definitive expression of this gift in its human dimensions in the word Incarnate. Here perhaps one has the fundamental reason why there can be no new revelation. The definitive Word of the Father had been spoken, and there was nothing more for the Father to say. He had only to send His Spirit so that His Word of life would live and grow in the hearts of men. Christ's own humanly fashioned knowledge of what He saw in the Father was God's own translation of His mystery into human concepts and language. To this man who is the revelation of the Father the whole of the Old Testament points. To this man as revealer of the Father the apostles give wit ness. And this apostolic witness to divine life given in Christ and through Him to all men has been handed over to the Church to proclaim, protect, and interpret.

This progressive revelation of God's Word in history constitutes an experience of faith that formed the people of God. This experience was relived by faith, enriched by reflection, formulated in human concepts, and affirmed in judgments that God inspired His human authors to write down in sacred books. The Apostles and disciples themselves in reflecting on the fullness of revelation in Christ came to understand better and to formulate more clearly under the light of His Spirit the meaning of what they had seen and heard and believed. Later articulation and understanding of what this revelation contained continued always to be grounded in and to be interpreted by the faith of the Apostles. This faith lives on in the Church, which continues to repeat, interpret, and further transpose it into the language and cultures and developed understandings of all peoples, calling them to the Father by the Spirit (see accommodation).

Tradition and magisterium. Although the revelation of God culminating in Christ was crystallized in writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the understanding that the apostolic community had of these writings was passed on to further generations in ways other than writing. These other ways are called tradition [see tradition (in theology)] and include the liturgy and customs of the Christian community by which the experience of faithespecially the paschal experience of the risen Lordis passed on from the apostolic community to later ages. Although a good number of theologians think that at least some truths of revelation were passed on that are not contained in Scripture, others, such as J. Geiselmann, E. Ortigues, and G. Tavard, maintain that Scripture gives the content of tradition, whereas tradition provides the interpretation and mode of understanding according to which Scripture is received by postapostolic Christians. Thus tradition as a source of revelation for theology can never be separated from Scripture. Although distinct, they make up one authoritative source of revelation. And any progress in the understanding of revelation stems from both as they are united in the life of the Church.

Tradition represents the Church's continued possession and faithful transmission of the original experience of faith in God's Word, together with its progressive understanding and expression in the life of the Church. Tradition is a broader reality than the magisterium, or teaching authority of the church for the magisterium is only a part of tradition. It is an active element within tradition that not only pushes tradition forward but gives it authentic, even infallible, expression. Tradition belongs to the whole Church, to laity as well as to hierarchy. The same is true of theology, which is the ferment within tradition where both laity and clergy reflect on the truths of revelation as they have been progressively understood in the Church in order to achieve under the guidance of the magisterium an understanding that is fuller, more accurate, and more suited to the current age. Thus Scripture handed down in the Church and therefore as interpreted by tradition (which includes the magisterium) is the source from which theology receives the revelation given men in Christ.

Theology, then, is nothing but the effort of God's people, committed in faith to their Lord, trying to understand in a reflective and orderly way what has been revealed to them in Him. It is the endeavor of the Church to understand itself ever more fully as the sacrament of God's Word in the world and to express this understanding for itself and for its members. Theology is not the whole life of the Church, but the Church could not live and grow without theology. But just as God's revelation was not given all at once in history, but gradually until it reached its fullness and completeness in the risen Lord, so too the assimilation by His people of that revelation has been a gradual process conditioned by history, even after the definitive revelation in Christ. Similarly the assimilation of this revelation in an individual is a historical process beginning with personal commitment to God in faith. The commitment grows as the individual listens in faith to the Word of God in the Church, continually asking and trying to answer from the sources what it means, how it is understood and to be understood better, how it is lived and to be lived better in his community. This process of growth in understanding reaches its culmination only when the Word of God is given immediately to men in the beatific vision.

Theology as understanding the faith. Since Aristotle it has been customary to distinguish two operations of the human intellect; the first, called apprehension, corresponds to the question "What is it?" or "Why is it?" It grasps the meaning or reason or cause of a thing or of a truth and strives to conceive and formulate a definition or hypothesis about it. The second operation, called judgment, corresponds to the question "Is it so?" It considers the evidence, evaluates it, and finally affirms on the basis of evidence that "it is so" or "it is not so." Only in this second operation is there found properly human knowledge, for only in this operation is existence affirmed. understanding in the first operation spontaneously tends toward judgment, and judgment invites to further understanding because man naturally desires to understand better what he already knows to exist or to be true.

Both apprehension and judgment are concerned with existing reality or being. Just as the being that is the proportioned object of man's intellect is one, although it is composed of structure (essence) and its actuality (act of existence), so the act of human knowledge is one but is composed of apprehension (understanding) and an act of judgment, by which the understanding is known to be true. And it is one and the same being that is understood by apprehension and affirmed to be by judgment.

Understanding: First Operation of Human Intellect. All understanding takes place in the first operation of the mind. In trying to understand the mysteries believed by faith, the question is not whether the mysteries are true (Christians believe that) but why or how they are true. One strives for insight to conceive ways of understanding it as well as possible. Each new insight into the mystery, however, brings up the question "Is it a true insight?" And this question is answered only in a judgment based on sufficient evidence. If true, then further questions arise in the first operation of the mind, "How, why?" It is in this continued cyclic process that understanding grows. Understanding itself is the fruit of the first operation of the mind. It can be more or less adequate or complete, but of itself it is neither true nor false. Understanding is true or false only when in the second operation one affirms on sufficient evidence that it is so or not so. The second operation does not produce understanding but only decides whether understanding is true or not. Theology, of course, wants understanding that is true.

The distinction and connection of these two operations in theology are explained by St. Thomas Aquinas as follows:

[E]very activity is to be carried on in a manner consonant with its end. Theological discussion, however, can be ordered to a double end. Some discussions aim at resolving doubts as to whether a thing is so; and in this type of theological discussion, those authorities should be used who are accepted by those with whom one is discussing. But there is another type of discussion used by the masters in the schools that aims not at the removal of error but at the instruction of the listeners, that they may be led to an understanding of the truth in question; and in this type, one ought to employ reasons which penetrate to the roots of the truth and make known how the proposition is true; otherwise, if the master answers the question merely by appealing to authorities, the listener will be certain that the thing is so, but he will not have gained any knowledge or understanding, and will go away with nothing in his head. [Quodl. 4.9.3]

As will be seen, positive theology is concerned with the truth of understanding; speculative theology is concerned with understanding what is true. Even though God has revealed Himself to men in a way that surpasses any natural knowledge of God, since the mystery of God is never known in this life except through the mediacy of creatures, theological understanding will always be imperfect, analogical, and obscure. Because human understanding is conditioned by its history, lives in history, and grows in history, theological understanding too is historical, continually evolving and growing. Moreover, because human intelligence is dynamic and strives always to find some unity and order in what it knows, theological understanding will tend toward synthesis, even though any synthesis it achieves will itself be analogical, obscure, and evolving. But in spite of these limitations, such understanding is most fruitful and rewarding.

Conditions of Theological Understanding. Owing to the lack of proportion between man and God, theology can never arrive at intrinsic principles self-evident to men for understanding the mysteriesanalytic principles that transcend the evolution of human understanding. Hence it does not have such principles or intrinsic reasons for demonstrating the truth of what it knows. Moreover, Jan. 8, 2002 it cannot conceive hypotheses that are clearly understood to be possible, since such hypotheses are also the product of human understanding of mysteries and so themselves are analogical and obscure.

Nevertheless, theology does attain truth. First of all, the sources of revelation as handed on by the Church contain many certain truths from which as premises theology can determine with certainty the truthfulness of theological conclusions. Second, the more fully the implications of any theological conception or hypothesis agree with all that the theologian knows from faith (analogy of faith) or other sources of knowledge, the more certain he can be of the truth of his hypotheses.

Levels of Understanding. As with all human knowledge, theology can know the same object better and better, and this evolution in no way denies the identity of the object or truth that is known. Unlike the natural sciences, which are ever closer approximations to truth and are never closed until the last measurement is in, theology begins with absolutely certain truths of faith, and, as understanding develops, it constantly adheres to the same truths. This evolution occurs in one's very way of understanding. For example, in reading a foreign language a person may understand the meaning of each word in a sentence but still not understand the meaning of the sentence. Or he may have some understanding of the every individual sentence in a paragraph and still not understand the meaning of the whole paragraph. In each rereading of the paragraph he brings questions about what he does not understand. Eventually he can understand the whole paragraph as a unity, seeing in one act of understanding the whole and all its parts in relation to the whole. It is the same thing he is understanding from start to finish, but his way of understanding has been changing from understanding one thing by itself to understanding several things together and finally understanding all together.

The understanding of revelation likewise evolves from one way of understanding (e.g., catechetical understanding) to a more exact way of understanding the same truths (with careful exegesis) to a way of understanding many truths together (in biblical themes, for example) to ever more exact and comprehensive ways of understanding discovered in positive and speculative and historical theology. Thus, understanding the faith can be pursued on different levels: e.g., catechetical, humanistic, scientific. The term "theology" has generally been reserved for the scientific level, but with the development of "college theology" at mid-20th century, it has been applied widely to the humanistic level.

Scientific theology takes a reflectively critical stance toward its work. It is usually divided into positive and speculative theology. Exegesis [see exegesis, biblical] as well as biblical, liturgical (see liturgy, articles on), conciliar, and kerygmatic theology refer to parts of, or approaches used in, this twofold division.

Positive theology. The total task of positive theology is to discover and explain the relation between the contemporary dogmatic-theological context and its sources in revelation. Its functions are (1) to discover the truths of revelation in their original historical contexts (exegesis), (2) to discover and explain the development of revelation itself within the whole context of the Bible (biblical theology), (3) to discover, determine, and explain the true development that has occurred in understanding these truths in history from the close of revelation to the present day, and (4) to further the true understanding of revelation thus far achieved in the contemporary dogmatic-theological context from further examination of its sources in history (3 and 4: dogmatic theology).

Thus, positive theology includes exegesis, Biblical theology, and dogmatic theology. Its method basically is historical. It employs scientific exegesis as well as analysis and comparison of texts and contexts in search of reasons verifiable in history that may be used to determine, account for, and further develop the contemporary understanding of revelation. The exegete is concerned with explaining with all the resources at his disposal the explicit meanings of texts in particular authors (scriptural, liturgical, patristic, conciliar, etc.). His question is: "What does this particular text or this particular book mean in its particular context?" The biblical theologian is concerned with the genesis and dialectical development of revelation as it comes to be expressed in the succeeding authors and books of Scripture and finds its goal and full meaning in Christ. The dogmatic theologian is concerned with the genesis and dialectical development of this understanding of revelation gradually unfolding in different successive contexts in the Church up to the present. From his faith he may know the direction in which this understanding is evolving; but he cannot chart its course a priori, because development often results from conflicts of opinion and is determined by contingent factors, such as something's having been overlooked.

Context. Diversity of contexts is a vital consideration in positive theology. Context itself involves what is over and beyond the text itself. It denotes "the remainder" that is pertinent to any statementa somewhat indeterminate group of other statements, outlooks, attitudes, ways of conceiving things, which qualify, explain, and complement the particular statement under consideration. The context in which the positive theologian lives and therefore the one out of which he works is the contemporary dogmatic-theological context; that is, what is currently taught and understood in the Church, what is taken for granted in the faith of the Church, what is taught and learned in schools of theology, what is set forth in contemporary scriptural, liturgical, patristic, and conciliar studies, including what is pertinent in contemporary philosophy and science for the understanding of dogmatic and theological statements (e.g., for understanding K. Rahner's supernatural existential). In regard to this context, the dogmatic theologian has two functions in positive theology: (1) the understanding of the connection between the contemporary theological knowledge and its sources in revelation and (2) the further development of the contemporary dogmatic-theological context.

The work of positive theology thus evidently concerns history, which is its laboratory. But it goes beyond the historical as event or datum for the theologian approaches Scripture and tradition in the light of his faith. He accepts the statements of Scripture and the witness of tradition in the Church not merely as historical facts or events but as statements of truth, as God's word in the Church, as something not to be contradicted.

Transcending Particular Context. Truth is transcendent. Because truth is an unconditioned affirmation of being, it is not relative to or dependent on any finite subject who knows it. It is neither confined to the subject nor dependent on his knowing it. The very same truth can be known by many, or known by one and believed on his authority by another. Moreover, truth is in a sense independent of the context in which it was first uttered. For although a statement is never without a context and its meaning can be determined only by the context in which it is uttered, still once the meaning in its original context is determined, the same meaning, the same truth, can be expressed in another context in which understanding of the realities involved is much more developed. For example, the truth enunciated by Christ at the Last Supper, "This is my body," is the same truth that is expressed in terms of a more developed understanding of reality in another age by the Council of Trent, when it said that the whole substance of the bread is changed into the substance of the body of Christ and that this change is properly called transubstantiation.

It is precisely this transcendence of truth that grounds the possibility of the development of doctrinea transference, a transposition, that takes truths in the sense that they have in one context (in one mode of apprehension, one set of images or concepts) and expresses the same truths, the same meanings, in another context wherein understanding has undergone development. An important fundamental task of the dogmatic theologian is to show how the truths that have been defined by the Church, the dogmas believed in the contemporary context, have evolved from their original expression in revelation (Pius XII; cf. H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum 3886): for example, how the truth that one confesses in the Credo at Mass, that the Son of God is consubstantial with the Father (originally defined at Nicaea I), is the same truth that is expressed, but less clearly, in the Scriptures; how the truth about the Trinity that one professes each Sunday in the Preface of the Mass, "unity in essence, distinction in Persons, and equality in majesty," is contained in the deposit of faith. In showing the relation between this contemporary expression of faith and its sources in revelation, the dogmatic theologian is elucidating in a meaningful way the content of the contemporary dogmatic-theological context.

Thematization. This process with which the dogmatic theologian is concerned is sometimes called the process of thematization. This means a transference from one type of apprehension and expression of truth to another type of apprehension and expression of the same truth. This process of itself neither changes the thing that is known nor does it make one's previous knowledge false, but it adds further knowledge, further clarification in a new mode of apprehension.

Thematization is a universal human phenomenon; it occurs in all the human sciences. Some obvious examples of this process are the doctor's examining his patient, the psychologist's examining his client, the judge's examining the accused. It is the same illness that the patient experiences and the doctor is investigating. The questions the doctor puts to the patient arise out of the context of the doctor's knowledge of medicine. As he listens to the patient describing his experience in the categories of common sense, the doctor interprets this description, translating and transposing it into the categories of medicine. The final result is that the doctor knows the illness of the patient better than the patient himself does. Evident here are two contexts: the experiential context of the patient expressed in the language of common sense, and the context of medical knowledge. The doctor must reconceive what is going on in the patient from the viewpoint of his own medical knowledge and translate this into the terms of his science. This example illustrates how one and the same reality and truths about the same reality can be transposed from one context and mode of apprehension to another. The positive dogmatic theologian studies this process as it is operative in the development of doctrine.

Contemporary Context: A Starting Point. Beginners normally start from the understanding of revelation that they have, usually from a simple statement of revealed truth as taught by the Church. Leading theologians today, such as K. Rahner and Y. M. J. Congar, are insistent on starting from the contemporary theological context. Rahner nearly always starts with an accurate, penetrating account of the current status of any doctrine he takes up for consideration. However, his concern usually is to develop further the contemporary context rather than to trace the genesis of its dogmas from their sources. Starting from the contemporary context in positive theology is recommended by Pius XII: "Together with the sources of positive theology God has given His Church a living teaching authority to make clear and explain what was left obscure in the deposit of faith and only present there implicitly [Some mistakenly] use what is obscure to explain what is clear, as if the opposite procedure did not plainly recommend itself" (ibid. 3886).

Everyone starts with the understanding that he has, which is conditioned by the contemporary context. Insofar as the positive theologian is concerned with the contemporary context, he will return to the sources in order to understand better just where the turning points are in the process of development, and thus he may be saved from going down blind alleys. He then concentrates on these genetic moments to discover the elements of change in the apprehension and expression of the truth under consideration. After studying and comparing the differences (for example, the different modes of conceiving the divinity of the Son before Nicaea I), he then tries to account for these differences.

The Dialectical Element and True Development. The process he is studying is not one of pure development. For in the process there occur conflicts and oppositions, and here the dialectical element enters the process. For usually definitions of dogmas do not occur without condemnations of heresies; and these also form part of the history. Insofar as the theologian can find in the history itself the reason or norm for judging "this is true development and that is false," he is accomplishing his task of showing how the formulas employed in the definition have their foundation in the original sources. The theologian knows, of course, from the infallible teaching of the Church that later developments that are defined as revealed are contained in the deposit of faith. But he cannot be content with authority. His task is to show how the doctrine is contained in the original sources, not just to agree with authority. And he fulfills this task only insofar as his study of history reveals reasons and norms for judging the true development. Insofar as the dialectical element, the conflict between position and counterposition, reveals an element of aberration in the counterposition, the theologian can provide from history itself an objective criterion of judgment by which he can pass from mere history to doctrine. A good example of this passage from history to doctrine is an essay of A. Grillmeier, SJ, "Die theologische und sprachliche Vorbereitung der Christologischen Formel von Chalkedon," in Das Konzil von Chalkedon (Würzburg 1951) 1:1242. Thus history provides the laboratory in which the theologian is able to give an account of the true development of doctrine, in which he can study how the human mind under the light of faith has struggled to give more exact expression to its increased understanding of the sources of revelation.

Reading the Text. An important caution for the positive theologian is not to read anything into the relevant historical text that is not there explicitly. He must examine each text in its own context to determine what its author explicitly intended to say. It seems he should not be concerned with what is implicit in the text for what is implicit for the interpreter may not have been implicit in the mind of the original author. Moreover, what is implied will come out in subsequent developments. Unless the theologian gets back to the thought as it was expressed prior to its development, how it was conceived before its explicitation or thematization, he can never account for the development. Thus, in achieving an understanding of how the contemporary context is reduced to its sources in revelation, the positive theologian can enrich and clarify contemporary understanding and formulation of revelation.

In attending carefully to what is said and to the context in which it is said, the dogmatic theologian, like the doctor or psychologist, will be bringing all the knowledge he has to bear on understanding what is said, reconceiving it in terms of contemporary theological knowledge, checking to see whether this interpretation takes into account all the evidence down to the least pertinent detail. If so, then he can conclude that the contemporary interpretation is correct and faithful to the sources, that this understanding is a true development of the understanding expressed in the sources.

Developing Contemporary Context. The second task of the dogmatic theologian is to develop further the contemporary theological context. His questions usually arise out of this context. That is, from inadequacies and obscurities that appear in it from his study of the sources or from contemporary scriptural, patristic, or conciliary studies or from confrontation with the contemporary human sciences. He knows that subsequent restatements of the truths contained in Scripture and tradition in terms of the developed understanding achieved by philosophy and science frequently fail to recapture the whole truth originally stated. In the course of controversy and development the new categories in which the original truth is reexpressed, especially if they are abstract, leave behind some of the richness of meaning contained in the original sourcesfor example, in the more primitive and picturesque images and metaphors of the biblical world. Thus there can be aspects of the truth that have been pushed to the periphery in theological and dogmatic development and perhaps forgotten (though never really lost). These aspects can be brought to light again and given their proper perspective in the contemporary context. In fact, by serious study of the sources the theologian will always find new light, because these sources are inexhaustible.

If he finds, with the help of contemporary biblical and other studies, certain elements or aspects of the truth that may not fit in well with the contemporary conception of the truth, even elements that have been overlooked in the course of theological development, then he will be led to reconsider this conception, to probe more deeply into the analogies that have been used, and even to go on to fashion new concepts to express the new insights that he has won. One can see this process at work, for example, in the writings of K. Rahner (e.g., on monogenism, on concupiscence, on death), in the works of B. Lonergan[e.g., on the consciousness of Christ: De Verbo Incarnato (2d ed. Rome 1964) 267310], and in other contemporary theologians.

Thus, the positive theologian is concerned with understanding the truths of revelation as this understanding has developed and has been verified in history. In this process, he arrives at some understanding of the mysteries, at insights with their conceptualizations in which he understands many things and many truths not separately but together.

Speculative theology. Whereas positive theology is concerned with understanding the connection or relation between the present dogmatic-theological context and its origins in revelation, speculative theology is concerned with this context in relation to its goal of understanding, namely, a comprehensive understanding of the truths of revelation in an ordered synthesis. It pursues this goal (1) by comparing the mysteries with things, laws, and relationships that are naturally known and with which the mysteries have a certain similarity or proportion (analogia ); (2) by comparing the mysteries among themselves in order to understand better their interrelationship, coherence, and order; and (3) by reflecting on the connection of the various mysteries and their implications with the supernatural end of man (cf. Vatican I in H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum 3016). The synthesis envisaged here is a comprehensive, scientific synthesis of revealed truths. It should be noted, however, that the theological syntheses, which are nothing but intelligible patterns of understanding, can be and have been achieved in categories other than those of scientific speculative theology.

Biblical Syntheses. For example, a biblical theologian can gather the events and truths of Scripture into an intelligible pattern by using biblical themes or categories; for example, as W. Eichrodt has done under the category of covenant for the OT or as S. Lyonnet has done for Pauline soteriology. Such syntheses can be very important and useful for understanding Scripture, and they help to put all its parts into perspective even, perhaps, for the exegete. Although a biblical synthesis in its very intention and organization goes beyond the expressed thought of any biblical author (and in this regard it is no longer biblical), it is still limited to the type of understanding possessed by the biblical writers.

It is a fact that the dynamism of the Christian mind manifested in history pushed beyond biblical categories to express more accurately and with fuller understanding the same truths that are expressed in the Bible. Even within the Bible, there is noticeable a movement that goes beyond mere description of concrete events and actions to more abstract expressions. This is true especially in the later sapiential books, where, for example, the description of God in action, image, symbol, and metaphor is transposed to a type of conceptualization that is more abstract and analogical; here, for example, God is called eternal, almighty, omniscient, etc. The thinking man, as he reads the Bible, comes face to face with questions that cannot be answered in the descriptive categories of the Bible; for example, the early Christological controversies could not be resolved within biblical categories but demanded clearer, more precise, and even more abstract expression of the mystery of Christ in such concepts as consubstantiality, Person, nature, and operation.

Humanistic Syntheses. Theological synthesis can also be achieved in contemporary humanistic categories, such as the whole Christ, the people of God, salvation history, and Christ the sacrament of encounter with God, and also possibly within the categories of phenomenology. Such syntheses are also important and useful, especially since they are made in terms more familiar and more readily understood by the contemporary educated man who is not a scientific speculative theologian. Moreover, such syntheses carry within them something of the power of concrete symbol and metaphor that are effective in moving men to religious response. This type of synthesis is of great importance in the aggiornamento of the Church, in keeping its kerygma continually up to date in a language that is meaningful to modern man. Humanistic syntheses, whether biblical or contemporary (and much of the biblical is still contemporary), are the work of intelligence, even specialized intelligence, operating in the concrete world of common sense. These syntheses are achieved in language that can be used in preaching the word of God. Thus they are kerygmatic in character rather than scientifically speculative.

Franciscan Synthesis. The synthesis achieved in the Augustinian tradition, especially by St. Bonaventure and the Franciscan school, might be described as affectively contemplative or mystical rather than scientifically speculative. At the root of the reaction in medieval augus tinianism against the use of Aristotle in theology was the rejection of the role of any intrinsic analogy in theology. For this school human reason was competent in regard to terrestrial things but not for spiritual and eternal realities. Science and philosophy could not enter internally into a theological elaboration of revealed truth; they were useful only as a propaedeutic for sharpening and training the mind or for providing extrinsic illustrations to explain the biblical images and symbols borrowed from the created world. There was no possibility for the human mind, even enlightened by faith, to ascend from creatures by an analogy of proportionality to some understanding of the divine mysteries; only the Scriptures and their interpretation by the Fathers and the holy men of God read and studied under the divine illumination given through the infused gifts of wisdom and understanding could manifest the true value and usefulness that creatures have. Whatever is true in philosophy is to be found in Scripture. Thus theology is a work of divine illumination rather than a work of reason enlightened by faith. In this tradition theology is primarily practical and affective rather than speculative; it is mystical in its mode rather than rational.

Scientific Speculative Synthesis. Each synthesis has its own special value in bringing to light the riches of revelation. If the theologian considers only those that are humanistic or phenomenological, he is neglecting a great deal of understanding of revelation in his work. Synthesis in scientific speculative theology means a systematic understanding of the truths of revelation achieved by defining as accurately as possible the (quasi) reasons of these truths and by comparing them with one another in order to understand them in an ordered unity coherent with but not measured by a reasoned conception of reality.

In this part of theology, reason enlightened by faith is used not to demonstrate the truths of revelation but to show how these truths fit coherently with or flow from a hypothesis that is postulated (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae 1a, 32.1 ad 2). The goal or purpose of any synthesis is not certitude but understanding; and in scientific synthesis it is the understanding of what is already established with more or less certitude in positive theology but in a unified way that is consciously consistent with the nature and laws of being and the principles of its affirmation in truth.

The normal way of coming to this understanding is from the analogy of nature and from the internal coherence of the mysteries themselves. Without a naturally known term of comparison, the speculative theologian does not begin with his feet on the ground and, in applying the analogue to the mystery, can never find the point at which the analogy is transcended for analogy involves a twofold ignorance. One knows something that is similar and at the same time dissimilar; but he does not know either what the dissimilar element is or how significant it might be. The danger is in not paying enough attention to the dissimilar element, which can be recognized for what it is not by any appeal to a priori principles but by testing each point in the sources of revelation and by comparing it with the other mysteries. Whatever in the analogy or in the theory developed from analogy is not coherent with the understanding of revelation witnessed to in tradition becomes suspect.

Still it is only by locating a naturally known term of comparison, conceiving it adequately, and exploiting it fully, applying it exactly to all the data in the sources, that one can understand where the analogue is transcendedwhere the mystery is. Hence, although the validity of any understanding of mystery as it is achieved in speculative theology depends on the validity of the knowledge of nature that is used as an analogue and on the transcendent range of the human intellect, it depends principally on enduring contact with the sources of revelation that are the ultimate criterion of its truth. Thus, it is not surprising that the scientific synthesis in speculative theology that came into existence with the acceptance and use in theology of a philosophy of nature and a philosophy of being lost its vitality in the measure in which it lost contact with the sources of revelation.

Role of Analogy. From experience and reflective introspection, one learns that the proper and proportionate object of the human intellect is the intelligible in the sensible. However, as intellect, it is not limited in its range to this object, as is evidenced by the fact that man desires to know everything, not just material reality. And in pursuing a knowledge of things transcending its proper object, the human intellect proceeds by way of analogy with what it knows properly. Because effects are similar to their causes, the knowledge of the material world can be a stepping-stone to an analogical knowledge of its cause. Whereas the medium through which the philosopher pursues his knowledge of God is the material world of creation, the medium through which the theologian pursues his knowledge is the revelation God has given of Himself in history. Since God is simple and uncaused, there is no real order of reasons or causes in Him. But there can be an order in man's analogical knowledge insofar as one truth man believes or knows about God can be seen to be the reason in man's understanding of another truth that he believes or knows. Thus, the human mind can perceive in some fashion how the truths it believes or knows about God can be related to each other in man's understanding from the analogy of the order of causes that it knows in material creation.

Order in Understanding. For example, in one's study of God, when he discovers some analogous conception from which all else in his knowledge of God follows, he can understand this as nature or essence and construct an order in his analogical understanding of the attributes of God for essence in creatures is that from which the properties of being flow. Likewise, in the study of the Trinity one believes that there are in the one God two processions, three Persons, four relations, etc. Although in God Himself there is no priority whatever of substance over procession or relation or Person, nevertheless in one's analogical conception of these truths there is a priority such that the analogical conception of distinct Persons presupposes in human understanding a conception of opposed relations, which in turn presuppose intelligible emanations or processions.

Thus, by the hypothesis of intelligible emanations in God, the theologian can come to understand something of the implications of his own understanding of the Trinity and through this some understanding of the Trinity itself; that is, how the truths he believes can be understood in some way as a unity of truths, reflecting dimly the simple understanding that God has of Himself. A good illustration of this speculative procedure in regard to the Trinity is found in P. McShane, SJ, "The Hypothesis of Intelligible Emanations in God," Theological Studies 23 (1962) 545568; in regard to original sin and the order of grace, see the synthesis proposed by R. J. Pendergast, SJ, "The Supernatural Existential, Human Generation, and Original Sin," Downside Review 82 (1964) 124; on the theory itself of speculative theology, see B. Lonergan, SJ, De constitutione Christi (3d ed. Rome 1961) 4256.

The role of analogy is at the heart of scientific speculative theology. A hypothesis developed carefully on the basis of analogy can attain the status of theory if all the conclusions that can be drawn from the hypothesis agree with everything one believes or knows from other sources. Theory can sometimes even attain the status of truth, if in the judgment of wisdom made by the Church it is witnessed to as a true development of the understanding of revelation; for example, the basic theorem of the supernatural seems to be the object of this witness by the Church in Vatican Council I (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum 301520).

Primary Synthetic Principle. Scientific syntheses in regard to the whole of revelation have rarely appeared in history and began only in the Middle Ages. Such syntheses stem from analogical conceptions or hypotheses that serve as primary principles for composing the truths of revelation into a pattern of unified understanding. For example, "the whole Christ," conceived after the analogy of the human organism, was suggested as such a principle by Cassiodorus and developed to a certain extent by Robert of Melun, Robert Kilwardby, Odo Rigaldus, William of Melitona, Gabriel Biel, and Peter of Ailly; it has been taken up again in great detail by É. Mersch, "L'Objet de la théologie et le Christus totus, " Recherches de science religieuse 26 (1936) 129157. The conception of all revealed truth in terms of "things and signs" suggested by Augustine was taken up by Peter Lombard. The conception of God as alpha and omega, principle and end, was the fundamental synthetic principle for Albert the Great and his disciple Ulric of Strassburg. St. Thomas Aquinas invented a term to express the fundamental analogical conception underlying his synthesis: God as revealable (Deus in quantum revelabile ), a conception that is not at all the same as the later Thomistic conception, "virtually revealed" (virtualiter revelatum ). Perhaps no on has explored the meaning of revelabile in St. Thomas better than É. Gilson in Le Thomisme (5th ed. Paris 1944) 841. [Cf. G. Van Ackeren, SJ, Sacra doctrina: The Subject of the First Question of the Summa theologiae of St. Thomas Aquinas (Rome 1952) 110112.] Thomas's revelabile

has never been seriously challenged, perhaps because relatively little attention has been paid to it. K. Rahner's outline of the dogmatic synthesis of theology [ Theological Investigations, v. 1, tr. C. Ernst (Baltimore, Md. 1961) 1937] is a thought-provoking attempt. It draws on M. heidegger's existentialism for its categories, and its basic theorem seems to be that all truths in theology can be understood in their unity only in terms of the humanity of the Word Incarnate, the revealer of the Father, and His personal encounter with men. Rahner's projected synthesis seems to be a kind of theological anthropology, which has not been worked out as yet. Whether this conception is a further development of St. Thomas's revelabile remains to be investigated.

Living Contact with the Sources. In any case, the scientific speculative theologian must constantly remember that revelation was not given merely to satisfy man's mind but to enable him to live ever more fully the life of God given in Christ. This revelation has been given in concrete terms that engage the whole of man's being. Revelation is not a theory or a system, and the facts and truths of revelation do not fall easily into systematic order. Theories and systems, however, are unavoidable means by which the human mind extends its grasp upon reality, but they bear within themselves the limitations of an intellect that must use abstraction to progress in understanding. And something of the reality of the concrete existent is lost in the process, something of the richness and variety and depth of reality is compromised when put into systems that after all are constructs of the human mind; and hence any speculative synthesis that does not live within the sources of revelation is doomed to failure.

Just as man's life is not one type of activity but a composite of activities, more meaningful as they are distinguished and specialized and then unified in operation, so theology is not just one type of understanding (e.g., scientific) but a composite of various types of understanding that are distinguished and specialized but also unified in mutual interdependence in the accomplishment of its total task. Hence for the biblical scholar to say to the speculative theologian that he has no need of him is as harmful to theology as for the speculative theologian to take this attitude toward the exegete or biblical theologian [B. Lonergan, Divinarum personarum conceptionem analogicam evolvit (Rome 1957) 3738].

Comparison of positive and speculative theology. In brief, then, positive theology discovers, analyzes, and determines as precisely as possible the content of revelation by investigating the analyses and consequent understanding that have been achieved and verified in history. Speculative theology, however, aims at achieving an ordered exposition of whatever understanding of the truths of revelation has been discovered and demonstrated (with varying degrees of certitude) in positive theology. Moreover, in its return to the sources, positive theology returns to the primitive, descriptive, and metaphorical way of understanding found in Scripture and moves to the more developed way of understanding achieved by insights verified in the witness of tradition. The movement of knowledge here is historical, moving from what is first known historically to the unknown, from what comes first in the acquisition of knowledge, from what is more obvious and manifest (prius quoad nos ) to what is first in the order of being and intelligibility (prius quoad se ).

For example, from the titles and description of Christ and His work in the Scriptures (descriptive understanding), positive theology finds in history the emergence of a new type of understanding of the constitution of Christ and His achievement in terms of Person, consubstantiality, natures, operations, acts, and effects, together with their mutual relationsan understanding confirmed by the witness of Christian tradition. These insights give a more accurate and deeper understanding of the unity, duality, and activity of Christ expressed in the witness of the Church and provide theological principles for understanding the teachings of Scripture in a unified, synthetic manner.

Speculative theology, however, follows a different order. It begins not with what is most manifest in the Scriptures but with what is deepest in the constitution of Christ Himself, the personal union of natures in the Word wherein everything in Christ and all that He does as related in Scripture finds its unity in being, its ontological order, and its explanation. Thus, whereas positive theology may be said to begin from Scripture, speculative theology ends in the Scripture. Enduring contact with the sources of revelation is the only way to assure that what is understood in synthesis is really the same truths that are contained in Scripture and tradition, and not theological speculations that have been divorced from their anchor in revealed truth.

Is theology practical? Because revelation is not merely a word about Someone but a word from Someone to someone heard in faith, a transforming salvific word, understanding the word involves understanding the response and transformation called forth and expected by the word. God Himself is not only the object moving the intellect through the external medium of revelation and the internal light of faith to some understanding of His mysteries in truth. He is also the supreme personal good that imperatively calls man's whole being to personal fulfillment in Him. By understanding this truth, the intellect inspires, illuminates, and directs the will toward total commitment to God in love. As the Word sent from the Father breathes forth love, so the Word sent into the mind of man breathes forth, as it were, the life of the Spirit. It is the Word of God that establishes the authentic Christian "can," "ought," and "may" in answer to the question "What must I do that I may enter eternal life?" Hence, theology, the understanding of the Word, must unfold the Christian imperative, the urgency of love (caritas Christi urget nos ) to be incarnated in every human activity. It must lay out the pattern according to which the inner dynamic of the Christian commitment must work to assume mankind (individual, society, culture) into the current of God's salvific lovea work primarily achieved through participation in Christ's sacramental actions in the liturgy.

Practical theology (moral, ascetical, liturgical, practical), a poor term to describe what is meant, is concerned with the total response expected of man in hearing the word of salvation. It is not actually distinct from positive and speculative theology. In positive theology, faith uses historical reason to clarify the meaning as heard in the faith of the Church; in speculative theology, reason enlightened by faith endeavors to grasp a fuller understanding of this word and its expected response in the heart of man. Practical theology is that aspect of both positive and speculative theology that is directly concerned with man's response to God's revelation in full Christian living. Unfortunately, in the centuries following the Middle Ages it became separated from positive and speculative theology, and only since the 20th century has it been revitalized through a liturgical, kerygmatic, and pastoral renaissance.

The study of total Christian response to revelation as unfolded in individual, community, and liturgical action, if it remains on the level of principles and general applications, is referred to sometimes as speculatively practical theology. The existential engagement of this understanding of the word in directing human activity in one's personal life in community is called the practically practical aspect of theologya work of prudence, according to St. Thomas, whose theory of scientific theology did not explicitly extend to the understanding of human action in its concrete individuality.

With the development of historical consciousness and the consequent specialization of intelligence with respect to concrete historical reality, modern theology demands not only a theology of salvation history (which of course is made up of concrete events and acts) but a theology of existential Christian living (which is actualized only in the concrete Christian response). Here one becomes concerned with theology as a rationally developed Christian wisdom, which is not really possessed unless it manifests itself in wise Christian activity. A man may know what Christian wisdom requires of him in a concrete situation, but his wisdom breaks down unless he actually follows its direction. Practical theology therefore is an understanding of how the Incarnation of the Word is to be extended in space and time through individual and community action.

See Also: analogy of faith; analogy, theological use of; doctrine, development of; methodology (theology); mystery (in theology); reasoning, theological; revelation, theology of; scholasticism; symbol in revelation; theological terminology; theology, articles on; theology, history of; theology, influence of greek philosophy on.

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Thomas von Aquin auf Grund seiner Schrift "In Boethium de Trinitate" (Fribourg 1948). c. journet, The Wisdom of the Faith, tr. r. f. smith (Westminster, Md. 1952). a. grillmeier, "Antikes und neuzeitliches Denken in Begegnung mit dem Christentum," Scholastik 34 (1959) 370393. a. hayen, "La Théologie aux XIIe, XIIIe et XXe siècles," Nouvelle revue théologique 79 (1957) 100928; 80 (1958) 113132. w. kasper, The Methods of Dogmatic Theology (New York 1969). g. d. kaufman, An Essay on Theological Method (Atlanta, Ga. 1995). n. lash, "Decomposition or Rebirth: Recent Directions in Roman Catholic Theology," Month 240 (1979) 221224, 269274, 310312, 341344. b. j. f. lonergan, Insight: A Study of Human Understanding (New York 1957); "Theology and Understanding," Gregorianum 35 (1954) 63048; Method in Theology (Toronto, Ont. 1994). a. marc, Raison philosophique et religion révélée (Bruges 1955). f. marÍn-sola, L'Évolution homogène du dogme catholique, 2 v. (2d ed. Fribourg 1924). e. l. mascall, Words and Images: A Study in Theological Discourse (New York 1957). É. mersch, The Theology of the Mystical Body, tr. c. vollert (St. Louis, Mo. 1951). a. nygren, Meaning and Method (Philadelphia, Pa. 1972). w. pannenburg, "Hermeneutics and Universal History," History and Hermeneutics (New York 1967); Theology and the Philosophy of Science (Philadelphia, Pa. 1976); An Introduction to Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich. 1991). g. philips, "Deux tendances dans la théologie contemporaine," ibid. 85 (1963) 225238. g. rabeau, Introduction à l'étude de la théologie (Paris 1926). k. rahner, Grundkurs des Glaubens: Einführung in den Begriff des Christentums (Freiburg-im-Breisgau 1976), Eng. Foundations of Christian Faith, tr. w. v. dych (New York 1978); "Theology and Anthropology," Theological Investigations 9 (New York 1972), 2845. j. ratzinger, "Theologia perennis," Wort und Wahrheit 15 (1960) 179188. 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[g. f. van ackeren]


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THEOLOGY. The common impression that the theological climate of late medieval and early modern Europe was monolithic is far from the reality. On the eve of the Renaissance and Reformation, theology was marked by a pluralism that created a state of ambiguity. The various theological schools of the daynominalism, Scotism, Thomism, Augustinianism, Franciscanism, humanism, and othersvied for influence and dominance. On many levels, the differences among these schools were minimal, while on others they were profound, resulting in significant disagreements over church teaching.

As the changes of Renaissance society began to take hold, the theological approach of the Middle Ages no longer met the needs of the times and the spiritual longings of the people. The spirit of renewal that characterized the Renaissance called for an adaptation of traditional teaching, an appreciation of the historical context in the study of the Scriptures and the church fathers, and the application of the Gospel to the personal needs of the faithful. Scholasticism, which sought to bridge the gap between faith and reason by bringing reason to bear on theological matters, seemed to many in the Renaissance to be out of touch with contemporary realities. As Scholasticism immersed itself in dialectical speculations, it became more irrelevant, failing to move individuals to a more genuine living out of their Christian commitment. It was Scholasticism's orientation toward the abstract that drew the criticism of Renaissance thinkers such as Francesco Petrarch (13041374) and Desiderius Erasmus (1466?1536), who proposed the "New Learning" associated with humanism as a means of revitalizing theology. For Erasmus, learning was to lead to virtue, scholarship to God, and thus, the restoration of theology was to be the means toward the revival of a living and lived Christianity.


Besides the humanist critique, Scholasticism also came under assault by the Protestant reformers. The Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas (12251274) was criticized for its treatment of Aristotle and the Holy Scriptures. Ironically, the polemical engagement with Scholasticism that came to characterize the Renaissance and the Reformation resulted in a rehabilitation of Thomism itself. Leading this rebirth of Thomism was the Dominican Jean Capréolus (c. 13801444), whose defense of the theology of Thomas sparked a new interest in his thought in the late fifteenth century. More important for this revival of Thomism was the work of another Dominican, Tommaso de Vio (14691534), known as Cajetan. Between 1507 and 1520 Cajetan wrote what was to become an extremely influential commentary on the Summa Theologica of Thomas, which exhibited a refreshing originality.

Thomism received a powerful stimulus and a wide dissemination from the Salamanca School, especially with the work of the Spanish Dominican Francisco de Vitoria (1486?1546), who based his teaching largely on the Summa Theologica. Vitoria evolved his own method by considering questions rather than particular sayings of the Summa Theologica, initiating a new school of Thomistic thought. The popularity of his lectures and conferences allowed him to have far-reaching influence.

The new Scholasticism that resulted from the revival of Thomism sought, like its medieval counterpart, to reconcile faith and reason. But, unlike the abstractions and speculations of late medieval Scholasticism, it sought a theology that was simpler, clearer, and more relevant to the lives of people. In many ways it was more practical as it reexamined the method of theological proof, confronted the issues raised by the reformers, sought answers to the ethical issues raised by the colonization of the New World, and emphasized popular religious instruction and preaching. By the middle of the sixteenth century, Thomism seemed to have triumphed over other theological schools. Not only did Thomists dominate the Spanish universities, but at the Council of Trent (15451563), Thomism was clearly in ascendancy. Many of the Tridentine decrees reflected the teaching of Thomas, as did the Roman catechism and the theological manuals used by the seminaries. Many of the new religious orders of the period, especially the Society of Jesus, declared Thomas to be their official teacher. The constitutions of the society legislated Thomas, along with the Bible, as the basic text in theology. Given this Thomistic emphasis within the Society of Jesus, many of the leading Thomists of the late sixteenth-century were JesuitsRobert Bellarmine (15421621), Francisco de Toledo (15151582), and Francisco Suárez (15481617). The climax of this Thomistic revival came with the declaration of Thomas as a "Doctor of the Church" by Pope Pius V in 1567.


Humanism's critique of Scholasticism along with its desire for a scripturally based theology led to the development of dogmatic theology as a distinct theological discipline. The major figure in this development was the Dominican theologian Melchior Cano (15091560). In his De Locis Theologicis (1563), he put forth the essential role of what he called auctoritates ('positive sources') in the work of theologyScripture, the church fathers, and the councils. He demonstrated that theology took its principles from these sources. Thus, the quality of the conclusions in theology was determined by the quality and certitude of these sources. Cano's work looked to formulating these sources, establishing the criteria for assessing their value, and to positing the conditions under which they best served their purpose. The work created a theological methodology that was decisive in the development of a dogmatic theology that was positive in nature.

Dogmatic theology received an important impetus from the Council of Trent, which saw the need to provide an organized body of common doctrine. This need, together with the concern for the sources and the strong sense of dogma emerging from Trent, constituted the first stage of a recognizable dogmatic theology. The first aim of such a theology was to present the actual teaching of the church together with the theological note proper to it, followed by the exposition of that teaching. Hence its aim was pedagogical.


Humanism's call for a return to the sources opened up new possibilities for theology. The importance placed on the study of the Bible, along with the revival of the writings of the church fathers, had a significant effect on theology in the Renaissance and the Reformation. In the Scholastic approach to theology, the Scriptures had lost their centrality and were relegated to an arsenal of evidence called upon to buttress the speculative arguments of the theologians. However, for the humanists, the concern was to restore Scripture to its place of centrality from which theology itself would emerge. For this to happen, theology needed to rely not on the Latin Vulgate, but rather on the original text of the Scriptures. Erasmus, in Education of a Christian Prince (1516), argues that the great weapon of the Christian is the knowledge of Holy Scripture, since it is the wellspring of Christian piety. Through a return to Scripture, theology would be reformed. In turn, this scriptural revival would lead to a reform of Christian life and society.

The recovery of the patristic sources was an equally important contribution of humanism to theology. Here again, Erasmus played a significant role. He saw the fathers as engaged in genuine theology as opposed to the theologians of the day. Their authority derived from their closeness in time as well as in spirit to the divine source, and their chief value lay in their interpreting and helping to understand the Scriptures. Moreover, the writings of the fathers instructed and inspired individuals in living a Christian life. This reflects Erasmus's understanding of theology as practical in nature, as a guide to life rather than a subject for debate, and as a matter of transformation rather than speculation. Since Erasmus saw in the church fathers a more authentic and effective transmission of the teachings of Christ, he sought to make them better known through his patristic editions.

Besides the restoration of theology, the writings of the church fathers became the arsenal for controversial theology. This form of theology, which was seen as a first step toward the renewal of Catholic theology, developed as an answer to the doctrinal novelties of the reformers. The fathers provided the necessary witnesses for those aspects of Catholicism that were being challenged by the reformers. Controversial theology set a clear line of demarcation between the Catholic faith and the teachings of the reformers. Consequently, the teaching of theology entailed discriminating the true from the falsethat is, that which is Catholic from that which is hereticalin order to prepare for the battle against the adversary. Controversialists rose up not only in Germany with Johann Eck (14861543) and Peter Canisius (15211597), but also in England with John Fisher (14691535) and Cardinal Reginald Pole (15001558). The most famous of the controversialists was Robert Bellarmine, who held the chair in controversial theology at the Roman College run by the Society of Jesus. Bellarmine's method was highly influential as he surveyed the whole field of Protestant-Catholic differences. A similar approach was employed by Francisco Suárez, who also taught at the Roman College. Suárez made clear distinctions between traditional church teachings and the novelties of the reformers. Suárez, along with Bellarmine, came to symbolize the long line of controversialists who championed the cause of the Counter-Reformation.


Another offshoot of the return to the sources was the deepening of mystical theology. The renewed interest in Pseudo-Dionysius (c. 500 c.e.), along with the scriptural revival, particularly of the Old Testament, fostered the mystical theology of the Renaissance. The mystical theologian focused on those Christians who, having conquered sin and its evil inclinations, and having grown in grace, drew near to Christ and were united to him. Mystical theology was not concerned with the good or the better so much as what was the best, which consisted in intimate union with God. Thus, mystical theology emphasized conforming the human will to the will of God through the successive stages of purgation, illumination, and contemplation. Mystical theology was especially vital in the life of St. Teresa of Ávila (15151582) and St. John of the Cross (15421591).


Throughout the Middle Ages practical handbooks for confessors were always available to assist the faithful in the living out of a good life. The Thomistic revival of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries was a step of considerable importance in the evolution of moral theology, which differed from its medieval counterpart. Moral theology came to be understood as the science of Christian life and action. It treated of the last end of the human person, of the morality of human acts, of natural and positive law, and of ecclesiastical sanctions within the context of theological reflection. Thus, it became a science distinct from dogmatic or speculative theology, embodied in a new literary genre, the Institutiones morales (Moral instructions).

Distinct from moral theology is ascetical theology, which is less concerned with the good and the evil, the licit and the illicit, the permitted and the forbidden, but is more interested in the greater and lesser good. The proper function of this branch of theology is to deal with the illuminative way.

MARTIN LUTHER (14831546)

Overthrowing the Scholasticism that he knew, which was mostly nominalist in orientation, Martin Luther went back to the Scriptures to rediscover the message of salvation. Distrustful of human reason in fallen humanity, he sought to substitute for Scholastic theology a theology that was devout and scriptural. Proceeding from the authority of Augustine, Luther initiated a movement for reform of Christian doctrine and life that shattered the unity of Christendom.

The theological reformation initiated by Luther resulted from a rediscovery of God through Christ in the Scriptures. This rediscovery culminated in the twin banners of the Protestant Reformationsola fide (by faith alone we receive Christ and his righteousness) and sola scriptura (authority resides in the Bible alone). The problem that plagued Luther was the concept of the iustitia Dei, which he understood as a punitive justice. In his view, God was a stern judge who weighed merit against sins. It was impossible, in Luther's mind, for sinners to stand before God in righteousness. This was the theological dilemma that culminated in the tower experience, so called because his new insight into the Gospel came to him in the tower of the Augustinian monastery in Wittenberg. The insight he gained in this experience led Luther to understand God's righteousness not as a demanding justice, rather as his mercy. The righteousness of God is no longer a demanding justice before which an individual may stand by virtue of his or her own good works and the forgiving grace of God. The righteousness of God is now primarily the grace which transforms and makes one righteous. Human activity no longer has any part in the ultimate determination of one's destiny. Grace alone enables one to stand before the righteousness of God. Humanity is righteous before God because of the atoning sacrifice of Christ. Belief in that act makes one just.

The essence of Luther's theology rested upon a different conception of the relationship between God and humanity. From his view of salvation based on faith grew most of the other doctrines of Protestantism. Good works played an important role in Luther's theology, but always as a result of faith, not the cause of it. Faith frees the individual by separating works from salvation. Once freed from the continual concern over salvation, the true believer could devote his or her life to doing good out of gratitude to God and not because it would contribute to salvation. Therefore, faith is not the end of Luther's theology, rather its beginning. From faith grows love, the active expression of the true Christian's faith. Thus, many elements of Catholicism were rejected as unnecessary.

JOHN CALVIN (15091564)

The heart of John Calvin's theology, the core of which he acquired from Luther, was belief in the transcendent majesty and absolute sovereignty of God. The knowledge of God was the ultimate aim of life for Calvin. This knowledge was not an abstract knowledge, rather knowledge of God in relation to humanity; it could be acquired through creation and through Scripture. In the Scriptures we know God through Jesus and thus, Calvin understood the Bible as the only authority for our knowledge of God, which reveals all that should and can be known about Him.

However, Calvin insisted that the essence of God is inscrutable and that an infinite chasm separates the divine from the human. Due to the Fall, all humanity is corrupt and spiritually deformed. Therefore, humans are worthless in the sight of God. Yet, despite humanity's depravity, God did not abandon humans. The only mediator possible between God and humanity is Jesus. Through his atoning death on the cross, reconciliation was made possible. Through the redemptive grace of Christ and the gift of faith received from the Holy Spirit comes a spiritual union with Christ. This union brings about a regeneration or sanctification that renders the believer "born again," becoming a new creature in Christ and the inheritor of salvation. This results not from any human merit or effort but from faith in Christ.

Calvin took this idea one step further. The justifying grace of Christ is not for everyone, only for those whom God preelects. God's word germinates only in the elect, those whom he has already chosen for salvation even before their creation. Only on these individuals does Christ's redemption have any effect. The rest of humanity is predestined to perdition.


Despite the critiques launched against the church by many Renaissance humanists, most remained within the institutional framework of Catholicism. Lutheranism and Calvinism diverged from the mainstream of the Renaissance when it exaggerated the Augustinian focus on the depravity of humanity and the servitude of the human will.

See also Bellarmine, Robert ; Bible ; Calvin, John ; Calvinism ; Catholicism ; Catholic Spirituality and Mysticism ; Church of England ; Erasmus, Desiderus ; Humanists and Humanism ; Luther, Martin ; Lutheranism ; Methodism ; Pietism ; Reformation, Catholic ; Reformation, Protestant ; Scholasticism .


Althaus, Paul. The Theology of Martin Luther. Translated by Robert C. Schulz. Philadelphia, 1966.

Bagchi, David V. N. Luther's Earliest Opponents: Catholic Controversialists, 15181525. Minneapolis, 1991.

Dowey, Edward A. The Knowledge of God in Calvin's Theology. New York, 1952.

George, Timothy. Theology of the Reformers. Nashville, 1988.

Gritsch, Eric, and Robert W. Jenson. Lutheranism: The Theological Movement and Its Confessional Writings. Philadelphia, 1976.

Kaiser, Edwin G. Sacred Doctrine: An Introduction to Theology. Westminster, Md., 1958.

MacKenzie, R. A. F. "The Concept of Biblical Theology." Catholic Theological Society of America Proceedings 10 (1955): 4873.

Niesel, Wilhelm. The Theology of Calvin. Translated by Harold Knight. Philadelphia, 1956.

Olin, John C. Six Essays on Erasmus and a Translation of Erasmus' Letter to Carondelet. New York, 1979.

Pelikan, Jaroslav. The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine. 5 vols. Chicago, 19711989.

Wendel, François. Calvin: Origins and Development of His Religious Thought. Translated by Philip Mairet. Reprint. Durham, N.C., 1987.

Francesco C. Cesareo


views updated Jun 08 2018



Defined by Richard Hooker, the Renaissance theologian, as "the science of things divine," theology (from the Greek word theos, "God," and logos, "word," "doctrine") is a sustained, rational discourse on *God, His nature, His relationship to man and the universe, the manner in which He communicates His will to mankind, including such kindred topics as providence, *miracles, prayer, worship, *free will, *sin, *repentance, the problem of *evil, immortality, and angelology. Theology has been particularly prominent in Christian thought, the Christian thinkers having devoted a good deal of reflection to the implications of their faith. For historical reasons (the heritage of the Bible with its strong practical emphasis; the influence of the Talmud, in which the ideal of law is paramount; the absence of doctrines such as the Trinity calling for precise definition; the dispersal of Jews in many different communities with varying patterns of thought), the genius of Judaism has been directed more toward the practices of the faith than toward abstract speculation, more to what God would have men do than to what God is. Therefore it has been frequently asserted that Judaism has no theology. Attempts at constructing a Jewish theology have sometimes been met with fierce opposition both by secularists, who object to the theos of theology, seeing it as retrogressive and as leading to heresy hunting, and by the Orthodox, who object to the logos of theology as harmful to faith, which, they claim, demands only obedience to the law and which can only be disturbed through an inquiry into its roots. Some declare, therefore, that the whole theological exercise is un-Jewish. While there may be some truth to the contention that Judaism does not know of any systematic theology (even this is belied by the efforts of the medieval Jewish thinkers), it is obvious that God has been at the center of Jewish life and thought since the beginnings of Judaism. Jews have thought profoundly about God and there is a Jewish theology even if some prefer to call it by some other name. There is the further point that the halakhic approach can only be defended on non-halakhic grounds. "Pan-Halakhism," to use a phrase coined by A.J. *Heschel, is self-defeating.

Theology in the Bible

The whole of the Hebrew Bible has God as its concern: the only biblical book containing no direct reference to God is the Book of Esther. The Bible does not, however, stand on its own in the Jewish tradition. The Torah is the Bible as interpreted in and by the historical experiences of the people of Israel. This goes a long way toward explaining why there have been no serious attempts among Jews at writing a biblical theology. For example, in discussing the theological difficulties of God "…visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation…" (Ex. 20:5), the Jewish theologian will not be content with this text on its own but will seek to discover how it ties up with other texts, such as Deuteronomy 24:16 and Ezekiel, chapter 18. Above all, he will wish to know how the biblical doctrines fared at the hands of their Jewish interpreters throughout Jewish history. The modern Jewish theologian also accepts the insights provided by biblical criticism, archaeology, and philology. He recognizes the developing nature of biblical thought. His theology builds on the Bible but utilizes all the tools provided by modern scholarship for the understanding of the Bible. The study of biblical theology is, then, for him not a means of acquiring a ready-to-hand series of infallible texts, but a method of discovering how it all began, how the impact of the Divine first made itself felt in Israel's collective life, how man quested for God, and how God allowed Himself to be found. While biblical theology has succeeded in establishing itself as a legitimate branch of biblical studies (H.H. Rowley (ed.), Old Testament and Modern Study (1951), 311–45; E. Jacob, Theology of the Old Testament (1958), 11–26) those who engage in it, all of them Christian scholars, generally approach the Old Testament from the point of view of the "New" and the interpretations of the Church. The criteria for determining the "permanent values" inherent in the biblical record, adopted by the Jewish theologian, are those provided by the Jewish tradition.

The key theological idea in the Bible is the sovereignty of God. He is the "living God," Creator of the world and all that is in it: One, All-powerful, All-good and Holy, demanding of His creatures that they practice justice and righteousness. He chooses Israel to be a "light to the nations." He is both transcendent and immanent, uncontained by the highest heavens and yet "tabernacling" (i.e., dwelling as in a tent; see Cross, in: Biblical Archaeologist Reader, 1 (1961), 201–28) in the midst of the Children of Israel. He has many names but His special name is yhwh. Myths are not attached to Him as they are to pagan gods. He has no feminine partner and there is no name in the Bible for "goddess." He is beyond birth and death and all similar human manifestations, though He is frequently described in anthropomorphic terms. These terms are, however, in no way incompatible with a highly spiritual outlook.

The Bible contains no systematic treatment of theological problems. Even the Books of Job and Ecclesiastes, with their majestic probing into the terrible question of why the righteous suffer, have little to say on the more fundamental difficulty of why there should be any suffering or evil at all. That nothing is impossible for God is stated in the Bible (Gen. 18:14; Jer. 32:27), but it is foreign to biblical thought to consider the problem, widely discussed by the medieval thinkers, whether this means that God can do the logically impossible, and whether things involving a contradiction fall under the scope of divine omnipotence. With very few exceptions the biblical books are silent on the whole question of the hereafter. The biblical picture is of the all-pervading presence of God: His footsteps heard in the wind and storm, His being felt in the dealings of man. The Bible, however, contains no command to believe and has no interest in theological speculations as to His true nature. All this is largely due to the severely concrete, "organic" nature of ancient Hebraic thought which hardly bears any resemblances to the philosophical thinking that is the heritage of the Greeks and to which the Western world owes its theology. To a greater or lesser extent the same is true of rabbinic thought.

Rabbinic Theology

The rabbinic period saw the emergence of new theological ideas and the strengthening of older ones. The Torah became the name for the sum total of Jewish religious teaching and its study the supreme religious duty. Rabbinic Judaism, according to some interpretations, is not a "religion of salvation": for the rabbis, this life is good in itself, not merely a school for the eternal life, yet the rabbinic approach to Judaism is distinctly otherworldly. The "eternal life" of the world to come is always contrasted with the transient nature of this life. The biblical doctrines of sin and repentance are deepened, especially by the doctrine of the two inclinations in man: the "good inclination," yeẓer ha-tov, which pulls him upward, and the "evil inclination," yeẓer ha-ra, which drags him down. In the thought of this period biblical universalism is to some extent obscured by a particularistic emphasis typical of a minority group struggling for its survival. Anthropomorphic descriptions of God abound in rabbinic literature, though they are generally qualified by the suggestion that they cannot really be applied to God. In his dealings with man God operates by the principle of "measure for measure": as man behaves so does God behave toward him. The notion of God as king is found in the Bible. In rabbinic literature, however, the term "the kingdom of God" (malkhut shamayim) expresses both an attitude of mind in which man acknowledges God's sovereignty and the ultimate reign of God over all His creatures.

In dealing with the difficult subject of rabbinic theology one must always be aware of the rough and ready spontaneous nature of rabbinic thinking and guard against imposing on the sources a system that is basically alien to them. G.F. Moore's warning (Judaism, 1 (1927), 357) is apposite:

Judaism, in the centuries with which we are concerned, had no body of articulated and systematized doctrine such as we understand by the name theology. Philo, indeed, endeavored to harmonize his hereditary religion with a Hellenistic philosophy, but the resulting theology exerted no discoverable influence on the main current of Jewish thought. As in the case of the Bible itself, any exposition of Jewish teaching on these subjects, by the very necessity of orderly disposition, unavoidably gives an appearance of system and coherence which the teachings themselves do not exhibit, and which were not in the mind of the teachers. This fact the reader must constantly bear in mind. It must further be remarked that the utterances of the rabbis on this subject are not dogmatic, carrying an authority comparable to the juristic definitions and decisions of the Halakah; they are in great part homiletic, often drawing instruction or edification from the words of Scripture by ingenious turns of interpretation, association, and application, which seized upon the attention and fixed themselves in the memory of the hearers by the novelty, not of the lesson, but of the way the homilist got it into the text and out again. Large liberty in such invention has always been accorded to preachers, and every one knows that scholastic precision is not to be looked for in what is said for impression.

The warning has been so strongly reinforced by Max *Kadushin's researches (Rabbinic Mind, 19652) into the nature of rabbinic thought and the extreme difficulty of distinguishing between authentic rabbinic dogma and the mere operation of concepts as a dynamic exercise, that a case can be made for denying altogether that there is a rabbinic theology. Summing up, it may be said that the rabbis were certainly much concerned with theological themes, but one would look in vain in rabbinic literature for any kind of systematic treatment of these themes.

Medieval Jewish Theology

Influenced by Aristotelian and Neoplatonic philosophy and by the Arabic *Kalām, the medieval Jewish thinkers produced important systematic treatises on Jewish theology. It was in this period that Jewish theology had its true birth. The term "medieval Jewish philosophy" is, in reality, a misnomer. The medieval thinkers pursued theology rather than philosophy in that, despite being undoubtedly influenced by Greek thinking, they began and ended with faith. Their use of reason was not consciously directed toward the working out of new philosophical positions, but to establish traditional ones, securely grounded in faith. They were religious believers writing for religious believers. What they sought to offer their readers was a reasoned defense of Jewish beliefs even if in the process they arrived at very unconventional attitudes.

The first great systematic Jewish theologian, *Saadiah b. Joseph Gaon, wrote his Emunot ve-De'ot ("Beliefs and Opinions") in Arabic in 933. *Baḥya b. Joseph ibn Paquda's Ḥovot ha-Levavot ("Duties of the Heart"), though in the main an ethicoreligious tract, is theological in content, especially in its treatment of the unity theme in the first part (Sha'ar ha-Yiḥud, "Gate of Unification"). *Judah Halevi's able defense of Judaism in the Kuzari deals with many theological topics. The work of the Jewish Aristotelian thinker Abraham *Ibn Daud, Emunah Ramah ("Sublime Faith"), is entirely of a theological nature. All of *Maimonides' writings, with the exception of his medical treatises, are of theological import; the three most important works, from the theological point of view, are a commentary to the Mishnah (the most significant of the three) in which he expounds the 13 principles of the Jewish faith as he saw them and accords theology the status of law; Moreh Nevukhim ("Guide of the Perplexed"); and a code of Jewish law, Mishneh Torah or Yad ha-Ḥazakah ("The Strong Hand"). *Levi b. Gershom's Milḥamot Adonai ("Wars of the Lord") is a particularly bold series of theological speculations. Ḥasdai *Crescas wrote Or Adonai ("Light of the Lord"), a theological statement in which Aristotelianism is vigorously criticized. His pupil, Joseph *Albo, wrote Sefer ha-Ikkarim ("Book of the Principles"), a full-scale investigation into the dogmas of Judaism. Isaac b. Moses *Arama's Akedat Yiẓḥak ("The Sacrifice of Isaac") is a collection of philosophical sermons on the Pentateuch containing much, though not very original, theological material. Isaac *Abrabanel produced a number of similar works. Joseph b. Ḥayyim *Jabez was a Spanish theologian, hostile to philosophy. R. Moses b. Joseph di *Trani (Mabbit) in his Beit Elohim ("House of God") deals with three major theological themes: prayer, repentance, and the dogmas of Judaism.

The God of the medieval thinkers is, in the main, impersonal, impassionate, and utterly beyond all human associations. His is a unity "simple to the furthest extent of simplicity" with not the slightest trace of multiplicity. Granted such a conception, the biblical anthropomorphisms presented a serious obstacle. How could one speak of God as "good" and "wise" or even as "one" or say that He "exists," since all these are terms taken from human experience and their attribution to God in toto suggests plurality in His being? A dominant theme, consequently, though not followed by all the medieval thinkers, is the negation of God's attributes in any positive form. It is permitted to say what God is not; never should an attempt be made to describe Him as He really is. Typical of this approach are Maimonides' observations: "All men, those of the past and those of the future, affirm clearly that God, may He be exalted, cannot be apprehended by the intellects, and that none but He Himself can apprehend what He is, and that apprehension of Him consists in the inability to attain the ultimate term in apprehending Him. Thus all the philosophers say: We are dazzled by His beauty, and He is hidden from us because of the intensity with which He becomes manifest, just as the sun is hidden to eyes that are too weak to apprehend it" (Guide 1:59). "If I knew Him I would be Him" (Albo, Ikkarim, 2:30) is another typical medieval summation of theological limitation. Yet so much thought is given to the doctrine of negation in these works that this, too, has to be treated as an important branch of medieval Jewish theology.

Medieval thought is even more otherworldly than that of the rabbis. The dichotomy of body and soul is especially pronounced. The pleasures of the world are seen as a hindrance to spiritual perfection. The sage has to resort to them but only in great moderation and to keep body and soul together. Eternal bliss is in direct proportion to man's efforts on earth to grasp metaphysical truth and make it his own. The contradiction between these ideas and those of traditional Judaism, as found in the Bible and the Talmud, was acutely sensed and the usual device adopted was to declare that the Bible and the rabbis, when they dealt with theological matters, were not to be understood literally but allegorically. For the first time the mechanics of revelation were discussed in detail. Can one become a prophet even after the close of the Bible? Is prophecy a gift or an attainment? How does God communicate with the prophet? Since God has no vocal organs, what meaning can be given to those biblical passages in which He is said to "speak" to man? What is the difference between the state of prophecy attained by Moses and that of the other prophets? In what way can apparently irrelevant passages in the Pentateuch be considered the word of God? What were God's reasons for ordaining rules such as the dietary laws which on the surface seem to have no rational or ethical justification?

The problems of creation and free will exercised the minds of these thinkers to an extraordinary degree because it was in these areas especially that philosophical thought appeared to contradict traditional Jewish views more strongly. Is matter eternal, as Aristotle suggested, or is it created? Can the believing Jew agree with Plato that from all eternity there exists a hylic substance upon which God imposed form or is the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo essential to Jewish faith? Is time a creation or was it always "there"? Is man really free and, if he is, how is this compatible with God's foreknowledge of his actions? Can a man be blamed for entertaining false beliefs since he cannot have any control over what he believes? These questions were not only new in the history of Jewish thought but entirely inconceivable in the earlier, unreflective biblical and rabbinic periods.

The kabbalists produced their own systems, but insofar as these are closed, with little room for rational or critical assent or dissent and with many a warning against the introduction of human reason into the spheres of the divine mysteries conveyed by revelation, they belong to theosophy rather than to theology. For all that, profound theological themes were considered by the kabbalists. The central problem to which the kabbalists addressed themselves was theological. It comprised such queries and answers as: How can the finite world of error and multiplicity have emerged from the Infinite? The reply of the Zohar in terms of emanation and the Lurianic answer in terms of God's withdrawal "from Himself into Himself" to leave room for the emergence of the finite; the Lurianic contemplation of how evil has its source in the divine contraction; the kabbalistic views on man's soul and its relationship to God; the aim of divine worship as conceived by the kabbalists – for God's sake not for man's. All of these questions are theological and demand that a Jewish theology examine them, albeit in a critical light; accepting the insights they contain and rejecting those ideas which cannot defend themselves at the bar of consistency and coherence.

Another theological question raised by kabbalistic teachings is how far Judaism can sustain dualistic ideas. The doctrine of the Ten *Sefirot, for example, comes close to affirming that there is multiplicity and dynamism in the Godhead and was, in fact, attacked on these grounds by the opponents of the Kabbalah. They went so far as to compare kabbalistic ideas on these matters with Christian speculations on the Trinity. The kabbalists themselves are naturally at pains to deny any suggestion of dualism. *Ein Sof and the Sefirot, they repeatedly declared, are one, expounding their ideas in the famous illustration of water poured into bottles of different hue.

Audacious theological speculations are to be found in ḥasidic thought. R. *Naḥman of Bratslav, for instance, believed that it is inherent in man's finite situation that he encounter difficulties when confronted by the Infinite. For this thinker, doubt, paradoxically, is not faith's foe but its vindication (J.G. Weiss, in Alei Ayin… li-Shelomo Salman Schocken (1952), 245–91). R. Mordecai Joseph Leiner of *Izbica was a religious determinist, holding that, in reality, "everything is in the hands of Heaven, even the fear of Heaven" (J.G. Weiss, in: Sefer Yovel le-Yiẓḥak Baer (1960), 447–53). In Ḥabad Ḥasidism God alone enjoys ultimate existence, all creatures being included in His blessed unity. The attitude approaches Far Eastern religious ideas on the illusionary nature of worldly existence and it was attacked by the opponents of Ḥasidism as rank heresy. This type of ḥasidic pantheism (more correctly, panentheism) finds its consistent advocacy in the writings of *Shneur Zalman of Lyady and his disciple R. *Aaron b. Moses ha-Levi of Starosielce. The acute ḥasidic explorations into the nature of the love and fear of God and the ḥasidic teachings on contemplative prayer are major contributions to a Jewish mystical theology.

Modern Jewish Theology

From the days of Moses *Mendelssohn onward the scope of Jewish thought in the Western world embraced theology. The closer contacts with Christian thought brought in their wake a fresh consideration of the vexed question of dogma in Judaism; of the true significance of ethical monotheism; of the relationship between Judaism and Christianity and between religion and culture; and of the meaning of revelation. Mendelssohn himself wrote on these topics and on the immortality of the soul. In the 19th century the main theological thinkers were in Germany. They were influenced by the philosophers Kant and Hegel, especially, and by the theologians Friedrich Schleiermacher and Albrecht Ritschl. Thinkers such as Abraham *Geiger, Zacharias *Frankel, Leopold *Zunz, Nachman *Krochmal, Solomon Ludwig *Steinheim, Samuel *Hirsch, Solomon *Formstecher, Samson Raphael *Hirsch, and Hermann *Cohen made their contribution to theology even though many of their interests lay in other directions such as history, philosophy, or apologetics. In particular, the thinkers of the Reform movement were compelled to think through the logic of their new positions and hence were moved to concentrate on theological questions. An incidental result was that the Orthodox leaders were obliged to treat theological problems seriously. An outstanding Orthodox theologian in the 20th century, Rabbi A.I. *Kook, placed the problems of religious Zionism and the challenges presented by modern science and technology at the center of his thought. For example, Kook saw evolutionary theory as being compatible with the optimistic views of the Kabbalah. Isaac *Breuer was another 20th-century Orthodox thinker, with an interest in the religious interpretation of human history and with a view of the Jewish people as "meta-historical." The Lithuanian *Musar movement produced a galaxy of religious thinkers, operating, to be sure, within strictly traditional limits, but striving to uncover the psychological motivations of religious life. The writings of the somewhat nonrepresentative members of this school, Rabbi J.L. *Bloch (Shi'urei Da'at, 2 vols., 1949–56) and Rabbi E.E. *Dessler (Mikhtav me-Eliyahu, 3 vols., 1955–64), contain detailed and searching examinations of purely theological problems, such as the nature of miracles, free will and God's foreknowledge, and the relationship between human time and God's eternity.

For the majority of contemporary Jewish theologians the central theme is the defense of traditional theism. This is the doctrine of God as both transcendent and immanent in the universe, involved in all its processes, but also beyond the universe. If there were no universe there would still be a God, but without God there could be no universe. Theism involves the rejection of the following doctrines as untrue: deism – God is only wholly immanent; polytheism – there are many gods; dualism – there are two gods, one good, the other evil; atheism – there is no God; and agnosticism – man by his nature cannot know whether or not there is a God. Many Jewish theologians have followed Kant and Protestant theologians in declaring that the truth of God's existence cannot be determined by rational proofs, as in medieval theology, but that it is to be accepted through mystical intuition, tradition, or the existentialist "leap of faith."

Twentieth-century interest in existentialism is reflected in Jewish theological works. Of the three outstanding theologians produced by German Jewry in this century, Leo *Baeck is the exponent of the more classical type of religious thought; Franz *Rosenzweig represents the "new thinking" associated with existentialism; and Martin *Buber can be described as a religious existentialist. Less influenced by continental philosophy, Milton *Steinberg, on the other hand, is emphatic that the views of a Kierkegaard, for example, are incompatible with the Jewish approach to religion and ethics, and some thinkers have scorned Jewish preoccupation with religious existentialism, dubbing it "Kierkegaard with a yarmulka."

Two prominent theologians with a worldwide influence are A.J. *Heschel and J.B. *Soloveitchik. Heschel's numerous theological works have as their theme "God in Search of Man," which is the title of his best-known book. Heschel is opposed to that liberal theology which avows that man is capable of raising himself spiritually by his own unaided efforts. Like Reinhold and Helmut Richard Niebuhr, and with an almost Barthian ruthlessness, Heschel roundly declares that an over-optimistic view of man's potentialities is thoroughly unbiblical. The nature of man's heart is evil from his youth. Even the saintliest of men is tainted by sin and God alone gives man the power to survive in the struggle. Heschel also stresses the sense of wonder as an essential ingredient in religious life.

With the exception of his two essays, Ish ha-Halakhah ("The Man of Law," 1965) and Ish ha-Emunah ("The Man of Faith," 1968), Soloveitchik wrote little, but as the mentor of more than a generation of Orthodox rabbis he was responsible, above any other contemporary thinker, for defending the sober, painstaking, unemotional approach typical of halakhic Judaism. The halakhic man sees his greatest good and highest privilege in obeying God's will as it is revealed in Jewish law. Religious ecstasy is viewed with a degree of suspicion and as supererogatory. Of all Jewish thinkers, Soloveitchik is undoubtedly closest to the idea of Kierkegaard's "knight of faith."

Religious naturalism finds its most powerful advocate in Mordecai M. *Kaplan. The doctrine of a finite God has its Jewish followers, notably in Levi Olan. Among other modern theologians mention should be made of Louis *Jacobs and Will *Herberg. There is also considerable influence on Jewish thought, especially in the United States, of the ideas of A.N. Whitehead and of process philosophy. The more recent "death of God" theology is generally rejected by Jewish theologians with the exception of Richard L. *Rubenstein. Two questions of especial concern, for obvious reasons, to contemporary Jewish theologians are the Holocaust and the State of Israel. How can theology make sense out of the horrors in which a third of the Jewish people was murdered? Can it still be maintained that God works in human history? If the hand of God is to be discerned in the emergence of the State of Israel why was it powerless to intervene during the Hitler regime? Modern scientific theories raise theological problems of their own, particularly in the area of miracles and petitionary prayer, and these have been considered by Jewish theologians. While the logical positivists have been refuted, there has hardly been any reaction in the Jewish theological camp to the problems of religious language rendered acute by modern linguistic analysis.

A number of symposia on Jewish beliefs have been published, notably, Rediscovering Judaism: Reflections on a New Jewish Theology (ed. by A.J. Wolf, 1965); Varieties of Jewish Belief (ed. by I. Eisenstein, 1966); and The Condition of Jewish Belief (1966) originally published in Commentary (Aug. 1966). The questions in the Commentary symposium, addressed and replied to by rabbis of the Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform groups in the United States, throw light on the particular subjects of contemporary theological interest. They are the following:

(1) In what sense do you believe the Torah to be divine revelation?

(2) In what sense do you believe that the Jews are the chosen people of God?

(3) Is Judaism the one true religion?

(4) Does Judaism as a religion entail any particular political viewpoint?

(5) Does the "God is dead" question have any relevance to Judaism?

There is, and has been, no Jewish journal devoted only to Jewish theology but Judaism, Conservative Judaism, Central Conference of American Rabbis Journal, and Tradition in the United States, and Perozedor, Petaḥim, and De'ot in Israel contain many articles of a theological nature.

[Louis Jacobs]

Feminist Theology

First articulated in the 1980s by a number of U.S. Jewish feminists trained in a variety of academic disciplines, this theological discourse turned the feminist critique of American society, religion, and culture inward by focusing on Judaism itself. While specific concerns differ, Jewish feminist theologians share an understanding of religion as rooted in personal experience, leading to a reluctance, if not refusal, to assert universal truths or make universal claims. Their goal is not to persuade others to share any predetermined vision, but to articulate their own understanding of the self, God, and the world, and to view these realities through the lens of Jewish female experience.

This theology is feminist because it is consciously rooted in the conviction that personal experience is shaped by gender as well as by cultural, historical, and economic factors. It presupposes, as well, that traditional Jewish theology, like traditional Christian theology, is androcentric. Using the experiences of Jewish men as a lens through which the world is viewed, such theology minimizes or ignores ways in which Jewish women's piety has gained expression. The Jewish feminist theologian attempts to hear her own voice and feel her own presence within the sources of Jewish tradition. Before she can reform or transmit Judaism's religious teachings, she tries to discover what women's religious experiences have been. She does so by reading between the lines of traditional texts, filling in stories, writing new ones, and making conjectural leaps. Consequently, Jewish feminist theology, as Jewish theology in general, can best be described as responsive. Its commitment to Judaism need not be a commitment either to the past norms of Jewish tradition or to their current articulations as expressed by Judaism's major religious movements. Rather, its allegiance is to the fundamental categories of God, Torah, and Israel, shaped by the experiences of the theologian as woman and as Jew.

Since feminist theology is self-consciously rooted in the theologian's life story, it can also be understood as contextual. Instead of attempting to create theological systems that transcend personal experience, feminist theologians have firmly grounded their theologies in the realities of their lives. The similar concerns of such contemporary Jewish feminist theologians as Judith Plaskow, Marcia *Falk, Rachel Adler, Rebecca Alpert, and Ellen Umansky can thus be attributed to their writing in a similar context, as white, middle-class, religiously liberal, university-educated U.S. women of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. This does not mean that feminist theological claims have relevance only for the theologian herself. On the contrary, she hopes that by drawing on her experiences and sharing her stories, she will encourage others to draw on their experiences as well. In so doing, she offers women and men a means of formulating their own articulated and unarticulated responses to the categories of God, Torah, and Israel. She also offers women and men a means of viewing their own experience as Jewish experience, enabling them to recognize, as Rabbi Laura Geller has written, the "Torah of our lives as well as the Torah that was written down."

One of the greatest contributions of Jewish feminist theology is its insistence that it is possible for diverse groups of people to talk seriously about Jewish theology outside of a legal framework. While religiously liberal rabbis have long discussed the creation of a non-halakhic Jewish self-identity, feminist theologians have been the first to create, however loosely, a network of religiously liberal theologians, both modern and post-modern, who have formally and informally examined traditional and liberal Jewish theological claims together. Further, in attempting to ground this theology in their experiences as women, feminist theologians like Plaskow, Adler, Melissa Raphael, Laura Levitt, and Miriam Peskowitz have called into question not only traditional male, hierarchically dominant, theological language, but also the ways in which theology is created. Through new blessings (Falk), midrashim (Plaskow, Adler, Umansky), poems (Merle Feld), and rituals intended for specific moments in women's lives (Levitt, Penina Adelman, Savina Teubal et. al.), feminist theologians have added a vibrancy to late 20th and early 21st century liberal Jewish theology.

[Ellen M. Umansky (2nd ed.)]


S. Schechter, Some Aspects of Rabbinic Theology (1909); K. Kohler, Jewish Theology (1918); G.F. Moore, Judaism… 3 vols. (1927–30); W. Herberg, Judaism and Modern Man (1951); J.J. Petuchowski, Theology of Haham David Nieto (1954); A.J. Heschel, God in Search of Man (1955); idem, Torah min ha-Shamayim be-Aspaklaryah shel ha-Dorot, 2 vols. (1962–65); M. Steinberg, Anatomy of Faith (1960); A.A. Cohen, Natural and Supernatural Jew (1962); J. Guttmann, Philosophies; I. Maybaum, Face of God after Auschwitz (1965); E.L. Fackenheim, Quest for Past and Future (1968); E.B. Borowitz, New Jewish Theology in the Making (1968); E.E. Urbach, ḤazalPirkei Emunot ve-De'ot (1969); L.H. Silberman, in: ajyb 70 (1969), 37–58. add. bibliography: R. Adler, Engendering Judaism: An Inclusive Theology and Ethics (1998); M. Falk, The Book of Blessings (1996); L. Levitt, Jewish Feminism: The Ambivalent Search for Home (1997); J. Plaskow, Standing Again a Sinai: Judaism from a Feminist Perspective (1990); M. Raphael, The Female Face of God in Auschwitz (2003); E.M. Umansky and D. Ashton (eds.), Four Centuries of Jewish Women's Spirituality (1992).


views updated May 29 2018


Theology means, literally, knowledge of God. From the 1750s to the 1820s the number of American theologians grew rapidly. The most significant feature of the era was the rise of popular theology, apace with popular government: Americans by the thousands and later by the millions strove for and believed they attained knowledge of God's will for all aspects of religion. Although a few, such as Benjamin Franklin, Ethan Allen, and Thomas Jefferson, questioned the authority of the Bible, the American denominations, from Baptists to Unitarians, continued to regard Scripture as divinely inspired, however they differed in interpretations. Plentiful English Bibles, the growth of literacy, and the political empowerment of ordinary people fed the theological zeal of Americans, as did the freeing of churches from government regulation, the rapid growth of population, and headlong westward expansion.

salvation, free will, and predestination

Theologians drew various conclusions from the Bible regarding the path to salvation (soteriology). Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists, among others, practiced infant baptism (pedobaptism), catechized their young, and encouraged them to live according to Christian teachings. In these traditions one typically followed a lifelong course toward salvation. But revivalists and others continued to hold a stricter standard: church membership was a privilege only for adults who had earned it by their behavior, their belief, and, in many congregations, their testimony of a conversion experience. For the Baptists (literally antipedobaptists, though they disliked the term), conversion preceded baptism, which, following the New Testament, was by immersion and for adults. For Baptists, as for most Protestants, the sacrament of the Lord's Supper (Holy Communion) was not a means to salvation but a privilege for those who had proved themselves already among the sanctified.

Two giants of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther and John Calvin, agreed that all were born sinners and could not achieve salvation except through the free grace of God, enabled through the atonement of Christ. The Arminian notion, which gained ground throughout the eighteenth and triumphed in the nineteenth century did not deny this, but suggested that all persons could freely choose to apply for this divine gift by prayer and reformation of character. Many Calvinists, though they exhorted everyone to seek salvation—Anglican George Whitefield (1714–1770), Puritan-Congregationalist Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758), and Baptist Isaac Backus (1724–1806) are striking examples—insisted that Christ's atonement was limited to those predestined for salvation. This doctrine has always seemed at best impractical, and at worst a spiritual elitism reminiscent of Christ's enemies as described in Scripture. To the devout predestinarian certain facts were inescapable: through original sin mankind was incapable of redemption without divine grace; the will to seek salvation was itself proof of the workings of that grace; the rejection of salvation by sinners proved that Christ's atonement was limited. How else explain the rejection of so precious a gift by so many? Underlying all these beliefs was the idea of the absolute sovereignty of God, who wrote the spiritual script for all mankind.

From the eighteenth century to the present, when Americans speak of Calvinism they often mean predestination; when they speak of free will, they mean Arminianism. It should be noted, however, that the denominations strictly in the Calvinist line—Baptists, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Reformed Churches (both Dutch and German) all had their divisions over this issue. Baptists were mostly predestinarian until the era of the American Revolution, when the Free Will Baptists emerged and flourished. And Whitefield, who never left the Church of England, remained a predestinarian, as did many other "low church" Anglicans and Episcopalians, well into the nineteenth century. On the other hand, most Anglicans were Arminian; John Wesley (1703–1791), the founder of the Methodist Episcopal Church, USA, who always considered himself a member of the Church of England, was a thoroughgoing Arminian.

persistent pietism

Another essential strand in Christianity was Pietism. Some denominations and sects embodied virtually all the elements of Pietism: a sincere effort to live in Christian love and harmony in both family and community, adhering to a strict code of personal behavior, and setting apart some time each day for religious devotions. German-speaking groups, mostly in Pennsylvania, including Mennonites, Dunkers, Moravians, and Schwenkfelders—strongly exemplified Pietism, as did the Quakers. But Pietism was present in all denominations, especially among Lutherans, Baptists, and Methodists. Wesley's mature faith was strongly shaped by his encounters with the Moravians. Wesley thus added Pietism to Arminianism, and capped his system with perfectionism: the belief that one could entirely transcend sinfulness in this world, even before graduating to the next. Both Pietism and perfectionism would grow and express themselves in different strands of American Christianity. The Second Great Awakening produced, along with a wave of revivals and their innovation, the camp meeting. It also produced a variety of reform agendas, led by missionary societies, Sunday schools, the temperance movement, and the early stirrings of the antislavery movement. The urge toward perfection began to suggest the approach of the Second Coming; theological speculation began to dwell on the possibility of the Millennium.

imitating the apostles: itinerant ministries

Itinerancy, the practice of traveling from town to town and province to province for the purpose of preaching, became an issue during the Great Awakening of the 1740s and after. Where churches were established by law, as in most of New England, Maryland, and Virginia, established ministers often prevented itinerants from preaching, either by refusing them the use of their churches or by having them arrested for preaching in barns or fields. Whitefield, the greatest itinerant of the century, proved unstoppable; the rest, occasionally silenced in one place, soon found another. Where new congregations could not find suitably ordained ministers, Methodism's apostle, Francis Asbury (1748–1816), authorized intelligent laymen to lead congregations. As the nation matured, circuit-riding ministers visited such congregations until they could find suitably educated ministers. Similarly, the Baptists chose intelligent and devout laymen as ministers, launching the age of the Baptist farmer-preacher. The Methodists and Baptists expanded with the frontier, becoming the largest Protestant denominations in the United States. Ministers of the formerly established churches often criticized them for their lack of education, to which they replied that Jesus and his twelve apostles were not college graduates but itinerant ministers. Furthermore, as quickly as possible Methodists and Baptists founded colleges and seminaries.

some leaders in thought and action

The most richly stored and original theological minds of the era either directly influenced religious developments or trained the ministers and laymen who did. Jonathan Edwards, of Connecticut and Massachusetts, was a revivalist as well as a theologian. He combined scientific insights from John Locke and Isaac Newton with traditional theology to write profound works on the religious affections and the sovereignty of God. John Wesley, who preached and wrote exhaustively to save the souls of millions, sent Francis Asbury, exactly the right man to make Methodists of Americans. Isaac Backus, successfully self-taught, led the Baptists in balancing Congregational independence with consistent beliefs and practices, while working for the complete freedom of churches from secular government. Yale's Nathaniel William Taylor (1786–1858) worked out a practical reconciliation between Calvinism and free will by redefining the doctrine of original sin. Not all developments were in this liberal direction. Archibald Alexander (1772–1851), from the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, helped found the Princeton Seminary in 1812, and persuaded two generations of students that Presbyterians should return to their Calvinist roots in sixteenth-century Geneva. Earlier, Henry M. Muhlenberg (1711–1787) of Philadelphia succeeded in bringing order to the various forms of German and Scandinavian Lutheranism that arrived with various waves of immigrants. Samuel Seabury (1729–1796) of Connecticut and William White (1746–1836) of Philadelphia saved Anglicanism by successfully separating the Episcopal Church from the Church of England. Both progressives and conservatives earnestly believed they were restoring and realizing essential, traditional Christianity.

See alsoAnglicans and Episcopalians; Antislavery; Baptists; Bible; Camp Followers; Catholicism and Catholics; Congregationalists; Methodists; Missionary and Bible Tract Societies; Moravians; Pietists; Presbyterians; Religion: Overview; Religion: The Founders and Religion; Revivals and Revivalism; Temperance and Temperance Movement; Unitarianism and Universalism .


Ahlstrom, Sidney E. A Religious History of the American People. 2nd ed. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2004.

Bonomi, Patricia U. Under the Cope of Heaven: Religion, Society, and Politics in Colonial America. Updated ed. Oxford, U.K. and New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Butler, Jon. Awash in a Sea of Faith: Christianizing the American People. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990.

Hatch, Nathan O. The Democratization of American Christianity. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1989.

McLoughlin, William G. Isaac Backus and the American Pietistic Tradition. Edited by Oscar Handlin. Boston: Little, Brown, 1967.

Noll, Mark A. America's God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln. Oxford, U.K. and New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Robert McColley


views updated May 18 2018

392. Theology

See also 43. BIBLE ; 59. BUDDHISM ;69. CATHOLICISM ; 80. CHRISTIANITY ; 135. EASTERN ORTHODOXY ; 151. FAITH ; 183. GOD and GODS ; 203. HELL ; 205. HERESY ; 227. ISLAM ; 231. JUDAISM ; 332. PROTESTANTISM ; 349. RELIGION .

a student or supporter of the theological ideas of Albertus Magnus, 13th-century German Scholastic philosopher.
the theological doctrine that states that the wicked have no afterlife. annihilationist , n.
the doctrine that denies the fall of man. antilapsarian , n.
the belief that Christians are freed from the moral law by the virtue of Gods grace. antinomian , n., adj.
the study of the methods and content of defenses or proofs of Christianity. apologetical, adj.
1. the doctrines and ideas of St. Augustine, 5th-century archbishop of Hippo, and the religious rule developed by him.
2. the support of his doctrines.
3. adherence to his religious rule. Augustinian , n., adj.
the belief that Christ will return to earth in visible form and establish a kingdom to last 1000 years, after which the world will come to an end. Also called millenarianism . chiliast , n. chiliastic, adj.
an advocacy of the maintenance of a confession of faith as a prerequisite to membership in a religious group. confessionalian , n., adj.
the doctrine that the substance of the body and blood of Christ coexist in and with the substance of the bread and wine of the Eucharist. Cf. receptionism, transubstantiation, virtualism .
the doctrine stating that in ecclesiastical affairs the state rules over the church. Erastian, n., adj.
any set of doctrines concerning final matters, as death, the judgment, afterlife, etc. eschatological , adj. eschatologist, n.
1. the theories of John Hutchinson, an 18th-century Yorkshireman, who disputed Newtons theory of gravitation and maintained that a system of natural science was to be found in the Old Testament.
2. the tenets of the followers of Mrs. Anne Hutchinson, an antinomian who lived in the early days of the Massachusetts Colony. Hutchinsonian, adj.
1. the unique nature of the Godhead and hence the Holy Trinity.
2. any of the three parts of the Holy Trinity.
3. the personality of Christ separate from his dual nature, human and divine. hypostatic, hypostatical, adj.
the theological doctrine that the body and blood of Christ are present in the bread and wine after they are consecrated.
1. Obsolete, a person who believes that the vowel-marks on the word Jehovah in Hebrew represent the actual vowels of the word.
2. the name given to the author(s) of the parts of the Hexateuch in which the sacred name is written Jehovah, instead of Elohim. Jehovistic, adj.
worship of the highest order that can be offered only to God.
the doctrines of Georg Major, a German theologian who believed that good works, being a necessary product of Christian faith, are necessary for salvation. Majorist, n., adj.
1. the introduction of new, especially rationalistic, views or doctrines in theology.
2. such a view or doctrine. Also neologism. See also 236. LANGUAGE . neologist, n.
the 19th-century movement by Catholic scholars to reinstitute the doctrines of the Schoolmen in their teachings. Neo-Scholastic , adj.
1. the precepts and ideas of William of Occam, 14th-century English Scholastic.
2. support of his precepts. Occamist, Occamite , n. Occamistic, adj.
1. the doctrines and precepts of Origen of Alexandria, 3rd-century Christian theologian and teacher.
2. adherence to his doctrines. Origenist , n. Origenian, Origenistic, adj.
1. Obsolete, all that is contained in theology.
2. a comprehensive, synthetic theology that covers all gods and religious systems. pantheologist , n. pantheologic, pantheological, adj.
1. Also patristics. the branch of theology that studies the teachings of the early church fathers.
2. a collection of the writings of the early church fathers. patrologist , n. patrologic, patrological, adj.
a branch of theology that studies the doctrine of evil. See also 146. EVIL .
the belief that a race of men existed before Adam. pre-Adamite, n. pre-Adamitic, adj.
a belief in predestination. predestinarian, n., adj.
1. the action of God in foreordaining from eternity whatever comes to pass.
2. the doctrine that God chooses those who are to come to salvation.
the belief that the second coming of Christ will usher in the millennium. premillennialist , n. premillennian, adj.
the doctrine that in the communion service the body and blood of Christ are received but the bread and wine remain unchanged. Cf. consubstantiation, transubstantiation, virtualism. receptionist, n.
the doctrines of the schoolmen; the system of theological and philosophical instruction of the Middle Ages, based chiefly upon the authority of the church fathers and on Aristotle and his commentators. Scholastic, n., adj.
the belief of a sect that arose in the 4th century that the substances of the Father and Son were similar but nonetheless different. semi-Arian , n., adj.
the theological doctrine that faith insures salvation, irrespective of good works. solifldian, n.
soteriology, soterialogy the doctrine concerning the means and possibility of salvation. soteriological, soterialogical , adj.
the belief that the bread and wine consecrated in the Eucharist are subject to natural processes, as decay. stercorarian, stercoranist , adj.
a doctrine concerning heil and punishment in the afterlife.
Rare. a quack or spurious theologian; a charlatan of theology.
1. any theological speculation.
2. the assumption that other disciplines, as philosophy or science, are inferior to theology.
the doctrine that the consecrated elements of the communion only appear as bread and wine, for they have been converted into the whole substance of the body and blood of Christ. Cf. consubstantiation, receptionism, virtualism. transubstantiationalist, n.
division into three parts, especially the theological division of mans nature into the body, the soul, and the spirit. trichotomic, trichotomous. adj.
the doctrine attributed to Calvin and other reformers that the bread and wine of the communion remain unchanged but are the vehicle through which the spiritual body and blood of Christ are received by the communicant. Cf. consubstantiation, receptionism, transabstantiation .


views updated May 11 2018


Deeds of the Creator God.

According to Egyptian mythology, the gods were responsible for the creation and sustaining of the world and everything in it. One question that needed to be worked out, however, was the nature of the gods' continuing relationships with their creations, particularly man. In the Middle Kingdom (2008–1630 b.c.e.) text known as the Teachings for Merykare, the king's father explains the creator god's actions on behalf of man. After establishing order by vanquishing chaos (described as the "water monster"), the god provides breath and light for his children. For food, he provides them with plants, cattle, fowl, and fish. The creator god continues to take an interest in his creation, and every day he watches them as he sails through the sky. When they are sad, he takes notice. In order to aid his children, the god provided them with rulers to protect the weak, and perhaps most importantly, with heka ("magic") "to ward off the blow of events."


But if the gods created the world, and outfitted it for the benefit of man, how is it that it contains elements which are inimical to man? Here scholars encounter the Egyptian view of theodicy, how to account for the presence of evil in a world created by the gods. In the Egyptian view, isfet ("evil") was not the creation of the gods. Evil resulted from the actions of mankind. Egyptian texts contain several references to a rebellion by mankind. In the text from the time of Merykare it is said that the creator god "slew his foes, reduced his children when they thought of making rebellion." In a passage from the Middle Kingdom Coffin Texts Spell 1130, the creator god states that "I made every man like his fellow, but I did not command that they do evil. It is their hearts that disobey what I have said."

Book of the Heavenly Cow.

More references to a rebellion of mankind find mythological expression in the New Kingdom composition known as the Book of the Heavenly Cow. This text appeared first in the tomb of Tutankhamun (1332–1322 b.c.e.), and thereafter in several royal tombs of the New Kingdom. The text states that at one time Re ruled as king over gods and men. When Re grew old, mankind began to plot against him. Re summoned the other gods to a meeting to discuss his response to mankind's actions. In the story, Nun advises Re to send his fiery eye (Hathor) to destroy those who plotted against him. Hathor undertakes her task with relish, and kills those conspirators who had fled into the desert. Before Hathor can complete the job of destroying mankind, Re has a change of heart. He concocts a plan to get Hathor drunk on what she thinks is human blood, and in her altered state she fails to continue in her destructive work. Re preserves mankind, but as a result of their rebellion he withdraws to the sky on the back of his daughter, Nut, the sky, who takes the form of a cow.


The ancient Egyptians believed that at birth, a person's name, profession, length of life, and time and manner of death were assigned by a god or goddess. Some texts describe the manner of death of an individual as decreed by deities referred to as the Seven Hathors. In The Doomed Prince, the Seven Hathors attend the birth of a prince, and decree that he shall die by means of a crocodile, a snake, or dog. In The Story of Two Brothers, the Seven Hathors attend the creation of a wife for one of the brothers, Bata, and decree that she shall die through execution by means of a knife. In the Middle Kingdom Khufu and the Magicians, Re sends the goddess Meskhenet to attend the birth of his three children, and to decree that each will in turn assume the kingship of all Egypt. Other deities involved with determining a person's fate include the goddess Shay, the personification of fate who was thought of as allotting a person's length of life and manner of death, and Renenet, the goddess of harvest and fertility. Renenet could assume the form of a woman suckling a child or of a serpent, and was thought of as assigning those physical aspects of a person that seem to be beyond an individual's control, such as height, weight, complexion, and even material goods and prosperity. Gods were also thought to control fate, and Amun, Khnum, and Horus were each said to assign an individual's fate. In a text known as A Calendar of Lucky and Unlucky Days, a particular date is listed as being lucky or unlucky based on mythological events which were thought to have occurred on that date. Some dates contain a notation that assigns a particular fate to anyone born on that date. Anyone born on day three of the first month of Akhet would die by a crocodile, while anyone born on day six of the second month would die on account of drunkenness. Day five preserves a particularly interesting fate; one born on that date was fated to die "of copulation." The extent to which one's decreed fate was unalterable is uncertain. In The Doomed Prince mentioned above, the flow of the narrative seems to suggest that the prince will eventually escape his three ordained fates, but since the end of the papyrus is missing, this conclusion cannot be certain.


introduction: The Teachings for Merykare primarily discusses the king's obligations to his people. In one digression, however, the author describes both creation and the way that evil entered the world through mankind's rebellion against the gods.

Well tended is mankind—god's cattle,
He made sky and earth for their sake,
He subdued the water monster,
He made breath for their noses to live.
They are his images, who came from his body,
He shines in the sky for their sake;
He made for them plants and cattle,
Fowl and fish to feed them.
He slew his foes, reduced his children,
When they thought of making rebellion.
He makes daylight for their sake,
He sails by to see them.
He has built his shrine around them,
When they weep he hears.
He made for them rulers in the egg,
Leaders to raise the back of the weak.
He made for them magic as weapons
To ward off the blow of events.

source: "Instruction for Merykare," in The Old and Middle Kingdoms. Vol. 1 of Ancient Egyptian Literature. Trans. Miriam Lichtheim (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1973): 106.


Jan Assmann, The Mind of Egypt (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2002).

Bob Brier, Ancient Egyptian Magic (New York: Quill, 1981).

Susan Tower Hollis, The Ancient Egyptian "Tale of Two Brothers" (Norman, Okla.: University of Oklahoma Press, 1990).

Frank T. Miosi, "God, Fate and Free Will in Egyptian Wisdom Literature," in Studies in Philology in Honour of Ronald James Williams. Eds. Gerald Kadish and Geoffrey Freeman (Toronto: SSEA Publications, 1982): 69–111.


views updated May 23 2018

Theology (Gk., theos, ‘god’, + logos, ‘discourse’). Reflection on the nature and being of God. Initially, in Greek, the word was reserved for poets such as Hesiod and Homer who wrote about the gods. A distinction was then made between their myth-based theology and the kind of philosophical enquiry undertaken by Aristotle. The term is not natural to the Jewish understanding of God unfolded in scripture (though Philo, with his Greek leanings, called Moses theologos, the spokesman of God). The term was introduced by the Church fathers, but not yet as a separate discipline of human enquiry and reflection. Theologia means more naturally ‘speaking of God’, i.e. praise. The systematic organization of theology began especially with the scholastics, as with the concern of Aquinas to show that revealed truths were not believed unreasonably, and was taken in different (more Bible-controlled) directions by the Protestant reformers. Theology, especially as a university discipline, and systematic theologies became increasingly valued, being, in time, broken up into different disciplines, e.g. dogmatic, doctrinal, systematic, pastoral, historical, biblical, etc. Theology thus developed as a highly coded and formal system, in which rules of appropriateness are generated within the system. Attempts to break out of the circularity (some have said sterility) of such a strongly coded system (e.g. in liberation theology, or plural ‘theologies of … ’) are unlikely to return theology to the human community of knowledge, since they themselves are evaluated from within the circle; but see political theology.

The same is (so far) true of individual attempts to reconnect theology with life, e.g. of K. Rahner, or of T. F. Torrance, who saw in modern science an exemplary way in which truth is achieved or attempted, not by detachment from reality, but by a relationship to reality which evokes new attempts; thus both theology and science begin with faith, understood as a rational, intuitive, but nevertheless cognitive apprehension of what is real. ‘What is real’ in the case of theology is God, who gave himself in an act of grace to be known in the Word made flesh. Theology develops the methods and constructs (e.g. creeds) appropriate to its subject-matter, but it remains integrated to the whole endeavour of human enquiry and wisdom. Outside Christianity, ‘theology’ is not isolated from life in the same way, though kalām in Islam came under suspicion of leading in that direction.


views updated Jun 11 2018

the·ol·o·gy / [unvoicedth]ēˈäləjē/ • n. (pl. -gies) the study of the nature of God and religious belief. ∎  religious beliefs and theory when systematically developed: in Christian theology, God comes to be conceived as Father and Son | a willingness to tolerate new theologies. DERIVATIVES: the·ol·o·gist / -jist/ n.


views updated May 17 2018


Theology is the cognate of the ancient Greek word theologia, meaning discourse or study of the gods or divine things, as in Plato's Republic. The term was retained when monotheistic conceptions of God became much more abstract than references to an individual god, as in neo-Platonic conceptions of the One, the Thomistic act of Esse (being), and twentieth-century theologian Paul Tillich's Ground of Being. In contemporary usage, the term refers to the comparative discourse among religions, some of which, such as Buddhism and Confucianism, do not have serious conceptions of gods but rather alternatives to monotheistic notions.

See also Theology, Theories of; Thomas Aquinas

robert cummings neville


views updated Jun 27 2018

theology Systematic study of God or gods. In its narrowest sense, it is the investigation or expression of the beliefs and precepts of a religion. In a much broader sense, theology is intricately related to philosophical and historical studies and strives to achieve an understanding of various beliefs. Such preoccupations exercise the minds of theologians of Islam, Hinduism and most other religions, including Christianity.