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(LifeSiteNews) — LifeSiteNews recently reported on the new statutes imposed on the Pontifical Academy of Theology which “present what appears to be an essentially anti-Catholic concept of theology, tasking theologians with engaging in dialogue with various cultures and religions rather than drawing on the timeless, and unchanging truths of the Catholic faith.” 

Deforming theology into a weapon to undermine the Catholic faith has been one of the chief tools used against Catholic orthodoxy in recent decades. 

The academic status of theology has been widely used to promote heresy and to shame the laity into silence. 

Many readers will have had the experience of being told by unorthodox priests that the priests’ dissent cannot be questioned because “they have studied theology” or that their own orthodox position is not “good theology.” We could call this “weaponized theology.”  

This makes it more important than ever to understand what Catholic theology really is, and how theological study – at any level – can help to nourish and strengthen our faith.  

What theology really is 

Theology is defined as “the science about God and about divine realities.”1 

Let’s look at each part of this definition in turn. 

  • “Science”A science is a body of data which is arranged systematically in such a way that it is demonstrated, with proofs and explanations, that the data under consideration are certain and true. Sciences are distinguished from each other by the object they study.  
  • “About God and about divine realities” – The science of theology has God as its object of study. It is also concerned with created things, in so far as they are considered in relation to God. The technical term for this matter of study is “material object.” 

The two kinds of theology 

There are two ways that we can have knowledge about God. The first is through using reason to gain knowledge about God from the world around us. As St. Paul said, “the invisible things of him, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made; his eternal power also, and divinity” (Rm 1:20).  

The knowledge about God that can be attained through natural reason is called “natural theology” and is a branch of the science of the philosophy. Philosophy is the greatest of the sciences in which man can engage through his natural reason. 

The second way in which we can have knowledge about God is through His own revelation of Himself. The study of divine revelation is called supernatural or sacred theology. It is the highest and greatest of all the sciences. St. Thomas Aquinas gives the following reasons for the superiority of this science: 

  • The “higher worth of its subject” – it deals with God himself 
  • Its “greater certitude” – its principles have been revealed directly by God and cannot be wrong 
  • It “treats chiefly of those things which by their sublimity transcend human reason” – such as the mystery of the Holy Trinity and the Incarnation of Our Lord 
  • And it is “ordained to… eternal bliss” – theology leads us towards eternal life, and not to any merely temporal good.  

“Hence it is clear,” St. Thomas concludes, “that from every standpoint, it is nobler than other sciences.”2  

We can distinguish the two forms of theology by what we call their “formal object”: 

  • Natural theology has the material object “knowledge about God” but the formal object “as knowable by natural reason”.  
  • Supernatural theology also has the material object “knowledge about God” but the formal object “as knowable by divine revelation.” 

The two sciences are thus complementary but distinct. As the theologian Micaele Nicolau SJ wrote:  

“[N]atural theology ascends from the knowledge of creatures to God; supernatural theology descends from the knowledge of God and his revelation to the knowledge of other things.”3  

True theology is inseparable from the Catholic faith 

To reach true conclusions, every science must begin with principles that are already known with certainty.  

These principles may be self-evident, as are the foundational principles of mathematics, or they may have been already proved to be certain by another science. Thus, the engineer takes truths established by mathematics as the foundations of his discipline, without himself needing to understand all the mathematical proofs.  

Sacred theology is based on truths revealed directly by God. And, as Vatican I taught, 

[W]e believe to be true what He has revealed, not because we perceive its intrinsic truth by the natural light of reason, but because of the authority of God himself, who makes the revelation and can neither deceive nor be deceived.4 

To be a theologian, then, one must assent to the certitude of the revelation. This is done through an act of faith: 

This faith, which is the beginning of human salvation, the Catholic Church professes to be a supernatural virtue, by means of which, with the grace of God inspiring and assisting us, we believe to be true what He has revealed.5 

Natural reason alone is not sufficient for the theologian. He must have supernatural faith. Pope Gregory XVI taught: 

It is impossible to know God without God who teaches men to know Himself by His word. It is the proud, or rather foolish, men who examine the mysteries of faith which surpass all understanding with the faculties of the human mind and rely on human reason which by the condition of man’s nature, is weak and infirm.6 

And Pope Pius IX instructs us that the Church: 

[N]ever ceases to repeat to [those in error] that faith bases itself not on reason but on authority because it is not suitable that God, in speaking to mankind, should use arguments, as if we could refuse to believe. Rather, He spoke as was appropriate, as the supreme judge of everything, who does not have to argue but who rather issues His pronouncements. The Church clearly declares that the only hope of salvation for mankind is placed in the Christian faith, which teaches the truth, scatters the darkness of ignorance by the splendor of its light, and works through love.7

The Supreme Pontiff continues: 

The Church teaches and proclaims that if sometimes we can use human wisdom to study the divine word, our wisdom should not for that reason proudly usurp to itself the right of master. Rather, it should act as an obedient and submissive servant, afraid of erring if it goes first and afraid of losing the light of interior virtue and the straight path of truth by following the consequences of exterior words.8 

True theology is always the study of the revelation “once delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). It flows from it and is always in accord with it. As the theologian Nicolau wrote: 

[T]he object of investigation is the doctrine of faith; the objective principle from which the investigation begins is the doctrine revealed by God, which can be received only by faith; finally, the subjective principle of the investigation is reason illumined by faith. For this reason theology is a help for teaching the faith and for understanding and relishing faith.9  

Theology must be based on the teaching of the Catholic Church 

We know what is contained in Divine Revelation because God established an infallible Church to teach the faith under the end of time. Vatican I taught: 

So that we could fulfil our duty of embracing the true faith and of persevering unwaveringly in it, God, through his only begotten Son, founded the church, and he endowed his institution with clear notes to the end that she might be recognized by all as the guardian and teacher of the revealed word.10 

And therefore: 

[B]y divine and catholic faith all those things are to be believed which are contained in the word of God as found in scripture and tradition, and which are proposed by the church as matters to be believed as divinely revealed, whether by her solemn judgment or in her ordinary and universal magisterium.11 

It is the magisterium of the Catholic Church alone which provides the supernatural data of sacred theology.  

As Nicolau clearly explains: 

The proximate, immediate and supreme norm or rule of faith for a Catholic is the teaching of the living Magisterium of the Church, which is authentic and traditional. For, this magisterium gives the whole revealed teaching, its genuine meaning and true interpretation, and it takes care that at all times and everywhere it proposes the infallible, authentic and revealed doctrine.  

Therefore, for the theologian, who must begin from the doctrine of the faith, his first task will be to know or to establish the doctrine itself of faith as proposed by the proximate norm of faith, the magisterium of the Church, or to investigate what the magisterium of the Church says about each thing.12   

We can see clearly, therefore, that no one who dissents from the teaching of the Catholic Church can ever claim to be a theologian. 

  1. Michaele Nicolau SJ, Sacrae Theologiae Summa IA, Trans. Kenneth Baker SJ,  p12. 
  2. ST I. q. 1. a.5.  
  3. NicolauSTS 1Ap13. 
  4. Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic FaithVatican Council I, 24 April 1870. 
  5. Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic FaithVatican Council I, 24 April 1870. 
  6. Pope Gregory XVI, Mirari VosNo. 22. 
  7. Pope Pius IX, Singulari Quadem, No. 7. 
  8. Pope Pius IX, Singulari Quadem, No. 7. 
  9. Nicolau, STS 1A, p13. 
  10. Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic FaithVatican Council I, 24 April 1870. 
  11. Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic FaithVatican Council I, 24 April 1870. 
  12. NicolauSTS 1A, p14.