Theology can seem far removed from our spiritual life—a cold, dry, clinical exercise—like studying botany textbooks compared to gardening. Theologians appear to have little in common with the Psalmist crying, “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?” (Ps. 42: 2). Many faithful Catholics do not find theology exciting. As a Dominican, I consider it my job to rectify this. Why should you be excited about theology? Here’s an answer.
At the beginning of the Summa Theologiae, St. Thomas lays out the method, nature, and role of sacra doctrina, God’s saving truth expressed in Scripture and Tradition, and known in theology. It is a science, formed in the light of revelation. It is primarily speculative, but also practical. It is the noblest of the sciences and is wisdom above all human wisdom. Its object is God.
Given current conceptions of science, it might sound strange to call doctrine a science. Is theology like botany or not? The point is that sacred doctrine gives us sure knowledge of God, through faith, rooted in God’s self-revelation. Yet there is more.
In question 1, article 2 of the first part, Thomas must answer the objection that sacred doctrine cannot be a science because science proceeds from self-evident principles or principles that can be reduced thereto. But the principles of sacred doctrine are not self-evident; rather, they must be accepted on faith. Ah! responds Thomas, sacred doctrine proceeds from the light of a higher science much as optics proceeds from geometry, and the higher science from which sacred doctrine proceeds is “the science of God and the blessed.” What does this mean?
It is more than an appeal to God’s omniscience. God knows Himself perfectly and shares this knowledge with us in revelation. The “science of the blessed” is the perfect revelation that awaits us in heaven, the vision of God that makes the blessed blessed, the Beatific Vision. God is immediately present to the saints. They know Him better than we can possibly know anything. They delight in Him more than we delight in anything. Sacred doctrine proceeds from the most certain, most knowable, most joyful knowledge.
Theology, therefore, is not simply a collection of propositions and proofs, but a participation even now in the goal of all our striving. As grace is the seed of glory, doctrine is the seed of vision. Our desire for this vision is the reason for doing theology: we love God and want to know God better. Sacred doctrine guides us on the journey to where faith gives way to vision, and the truths we come to know in it are incalculably precious, like windborne spray to wanderers in the desert. The power of the spray to satisfy thirst is nothing compared to the streams from whence it comes, but it tells wanderers that water is ahead. There they may quench their thirst.
Br. Columban Mary Hall, O.P. | Meet the Student Brothers in Formation HERE