The importance of theology

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On Monday 28 January, the Church celebrated the feast of one of the greatest theologians of all time, the Dominican Saint Thomas Aquinas.

The latter, who is also called Doctor Angelicus, due to his living of the virtues especially the sublimity of his thought coupled with the purity of his life, has been rightly considered as the Patron Saint of all catholic education, theologians and theology students. When addressing the enduring originality of the thought of Saint Thomas Aquinas in his encyclical regarding the relationship between faith and reason, Fides et Ratio, Saint John Paul II says:

“A quite special place in this long development belongs to Saint Thomas, not only because of what he taught but also because of the dialogue which he undertook with the Arab and Jewish thought of his time. In an age when Christian thinkers were rediscovering the treasures of ancient philosophy, and more particularly of Aristotle, Thomas had the great merit of giving pride of place to the harmony which exists between faith and reason. Both the light of reason and the light of faith come from God, he argued; hence there can be no contradiction between them… Although he made much of the supernatural character of faith, the Angelic Doctor did not overlook the importance of its reasonableness; indeed he was able to plumb the depths and explain the meaning of this reasonableness. Faith is in a sense an “exercise of thought”; and human reason is neither annulled nor debased in assenting to the contents of faith, which are in any case attained by way of free and informed choice. This is why the Church has been justified in consistently proposing Saint Thomas as a master of thought and a model of the right way to do theology” (no. 43).

In this pericope what emerges so dominant is the role dialogue plays when doing theology. After all, theology, in its very being, presupposes this dialogue. In fact, it is a dialogue which happens, first and foremost, within God himself. A God who has become a human being in the person of Jesus. Theology should never forget from where it is originated, the written Word of God. Hence, listening to what the Bible says is of paramount importance to enlighten today’s reality. In the document produced by the International Theological Commission, Theology Today: Perspectives, principles and criteria, we find: “Theology, in all its diverse traditions, disciplines and methods, is founded on the fundamental act of listening in faith to the revealed Word of God, Christ himself. Listening to God’s Word is the definitive principle of Catholic theology” (no 4).

But where does this kind of listening lead to? Theology has the aim of building the Church. In fact, theological reflection inculcates in us, as Church, the impetus of studying and celebrating liturgically God’s Word. Theology helps us see the soundness and relevance of the apostolic and patristic tradition not only in the primitive times of the Church but also in the current situation of world affairs. Furthemore, an authentic theological reflection is open and corrected by the sensus fidelium or sense of the faithful. In other words, and as the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, to “the whole body of the faithful. . . [that] cannot err in matters of belief. This characteristic is shown in the supernatural appreciation of faith (sensus fidei) on the part of the whole people, when, from the bishops to the last of the faithful, they manifest a universal consent in matters of faith and morals” (no.92).

Theology is to adhere with the ecclesiastical magisterium. As the same document attests, “the ministry of theologians, as well as being personal, is also both communal and collegial; that is, it is exercised in and for the Church as a whole, and it is lived out in solidarity with those who have the same calling” (no.45). The frontiers of human and ecclesial experience puts theologians at the forefront to dialogue with the ever-changing realities of our times. Such a task needs to be taken humbly, courageously, and with much openness and discernment.

But who is the theologian? The holder of a university degree in theology? The faithful adherent of an academic or ‘theological’ method decided by certain qualified elite? Pope Francis, in all his simplicity yet incisiveness, gives us the following answer: “We can study the whole history of salvation, we can study the whole of Theology, but without the Spirit we cannot understand. It is the Spirit that makes us realize the truth or – in the words of Our Lord – it is the Spirit that makes us know the voice of Jesus.” Thus, the theologian is the one who rolls his and her sleeves and serves Christ in the suffering in a spirit of attentive listening. As Pope Francis says: “We cannot become starched Christians, too polite, who speak of theology calmly over tea. We have to become courageous Christians and seek out those (who need help most).”

It was the life written witness of such Christians that made theology worth its salt. It is the life of such humble Christians that make theology the bread and butter of every baptized person.

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