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Then, theologians made use of reason to establish revealed truth with precision and to defend it by showing that it was not contrary to reason, or by showing its internal intelligibility. In the latter case, they formulated a hierarchy ordo of truths, seeking which were the most fundamental and therefore the most illuminating of others. This scientific ideal, however, never took the form of a rationalistic hypothetical-deductive system. Rather, it was always modelled on the reality being contemplated, which far exceeds the capacities of human reason. Moreover, even though they undertook various exercises and used literary genres distinct from scriptural commentary, the Bible was the living source of inspiration for scholastic theologians — theology precisely aimed at a better understanding of the Word, and St Bonaventure and St Thomas Aquinas thought of themselves primarily as magistri in sacra pagina.

The theologian does not reason a priori , but listens to revelation and searches the wise ways God has freely chosen in his plan of love. Towards the end of the middle ages, the unified structure of Christian wisdom, of which theology was the keystone, began to break up.


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Philosophy and other secular disciplines increasingly separated themselves from theology, and theology itself fragmented into specialisations which sometimes lost sight of their deep connection. There was a tendency of theology to distance itself from the Word of God, so that on occasion it became a purely philosophical reflection applied to religious questions. At the same time, perhaps because of this neglect of Scripture, its theo -logical dimension and spiritual finality slipped from view, and the spiritual life began to develop aside from a rationalising university theology, and even in opposition to the latter.

The Language of Theology

Scholastic theology was criticised during the Reformation for placing too much value on the rationality of faith and too little on the damage sin does to reason. Catholic theology responded by maintaining in high esteem the anthropology of the image of God imago Dei and the capacity and responsibility of reason, wounded but not destroyed by sin, and by emphasising the Church as the place where God could truly be known and the science of faith truly be developed. The Catholic Church thus kept open the possibility of dialogue with philosophy, philology and the historical and natural sciences.

The critique of faith and theology made during the Enlightenment, however, was more radical.


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In some ways, the Enlightenment had a religious stimulus. However, by aligning themselves with deism, Enlightenment thinkers now saw an irreconcilable difference between the factual contingencies of history and the genuine needs of reason. Truth, for them, was not to be found in history, and revelation, as an historical event, could not serve any longer as a reliable source of knowledge for human beings. In many cases, Catholic theology reacted defensively against the challenge of Enlightenment thinking.

Essential Theological Terms

Catholic theology was thus left damaged in various respects by its own strategy in this encounter. At its best, however, Catholic theology also sought a constructive dialogue with the Enlightenment and with its philosophical criticism. Today there is a new challenge, and Catholic theology has to deal with a post-modern crisis of classical reason itself that has serious implications for the intellectus fidei. Does such an idea lead to intolerance and violence? There is therefore a problem in that the metaphysical orientation of philosophy, which was important for the former models of Catholic theology, remains in deep crisis.

Theology can help to overcome this crisis and to revitalise an authentic metaphysics. Catholic theology is interested, nonetheless, in dialogue about the question of God and truth with all contemporary philosophies. In Fides et Ratio , Pope John Paul II rejected both philosophical scepticism and fideism and called for a renewal of the relationship between theology and philosophy.

He recognised philosophy as an autonomous science and as a crucial interlocutor for theology.

Christian theology

He insisted that theology must necessarily have recourse to philosophy: without philosophy, theology cannot adequately critique the validity of its assertions nor clarify its ideas nor properly understand different schools of thought. A criterion of Catholic theology is that it should strive to give a scientifically and rationally argued presentation of the truths of the Christian faith. For this, it needs to make use of reason and it must acknowledge the strong relationship between faith and reason, first of all philosophical reason, so as to overcome both fideism and rationalism.

The unity of theology in a plurality of methods and disciplines. This section considers the relationship between theology and theologies, and the relationship also between theology and other sciences.

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At the very start of the Summa theologiae , St Thomas explains that everything in theology is understood with regard to God, sub ratione Dei. In so far as the human spirit is impressed by the Spirit of God through the revelation of the Logos and led to contemplate the infinite mystery of his nature and action, human beings also are enabled to do theology. In scholastic theology, the diversity of questions studied by the theologian might justify the use of various methods but it never placed in doubt the fundamental unity of theology.

Towards the end of the middle ages, however, there was a tendency to distinguish and even to separate scholastic and mystical theology, speculative and positive theology, and so on. This development is inevitable and understandable because of the scientific nature of theology and the demands of research. As a result, in central fields of Catholic theology today very different forms of thinking co-exist: e. The plurality of theologies is undoubtedly necessary and justified. Then also, because of the diversity of the objects it considers and interprets e. God, human beings, historical events, texts , and the sheer diversity of human questioning, theology must inevitably have recourse to a plurality of disciplines and methods, [] according to the nature of the object being studied.

The plurality of theologies reflects, in fact, the catholicity of the Church, which strives to proclaim the one Gospel to people everywhere, in all kinds of circumstances. Plurality, of course, has limits. There is a fundamental difference between the legitimate pluralism of theology, on the one hand, and relativism, heterodoxy or heresy, on the other. Pluralism itself is problematic, however, if there is no communication between different theological disciplines or if there are no agreed criteria by which various forms of theology are understandable — both to themselves and to others — as Catholic theology.

Essential to the avoidance or overcoming of such problems is a fundamental common recognition of theology as a rational enterprise, scientia fidei and scientia Dei , such that each theology can be evaluated in relation to a common universal truth. The existence of a common theological tradition in the Church which must be distinguished from Tradition itself, but not separated from Tradition [] is an important factor in the unity of theology.

Essential Theological Terms

There is a common memory in theology, such that certain historical achievements e. It is true that certain aspects of prior theological tradition can and must sometimes be abandoned, but the work of the theologian can never dispense with a critical reference to the tradition that went before.

The various forms of theology that can basically be distinguished today e. There should therefore be intensive communication and cooperation between them. Dialogue and interdisciplinary collaboration are indispensable means of ensuring and expressing the unity of theology. Since ancient times, theology has worked in partnership with philosophy. While this partnership remains fundamental, in modern times further partners for theology have been found. Biblical studies and Church history have been helped by the development of new methods to analyse and interpret texts, and by new techniques to prove the historical validity of sources and to describe social and cultural developments.


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Practical theology has profited from the encounter with sociology, psychology and pedagogy. Indeed, an over-hasty fusion between faith and philosophy was already identified by the Fathers as a source of heresies. In this critical assimilation and integration by theology of data from other sciences, philosophy has a mediating role to play. It pertains to philosophy, as rational wisdom, to insert the results obtained by various sciences into a more universal vision.

Recourse to philosophy in this mediating role helps the theologian to use scientific data with due care. For example, scientific knowledge gained with regard to the evolution of life needs to be interpreted in the light of philosophy, so as to determine its value and meaning, before being taken into account by theology. The relationship between theology and religious sciences or religious studies e. Today these old controversies sometimes reappear, but nowadays there are better conditions for a fruitful dialogue between the two sides.

On the other hand, the physical sciences and contemporary epistemology more generally have shown that there is never a neutral position from which to search for truth; the enquirer always brings particular perspectives, insights and presuppositions which bear upon the study being conducted. Catholic theology acknowledges the proper autonomy of other sciences and the professional competence and the striving after knowledge to be found in them, and has itself prompted developments in many sciences.

Theology also opens the way for other sciences to engage with religious issues.

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Christian theology - Wikipedia

Through constructive critique, it helps other sciences to liberate themselves from anti-theological elements acquired under the influence of rationalism. By expelling theology from the household of science, rationalism and positivism reduced the scope and power of the sciences themselves. Catholic theology criticises every form of self-absolutisation of the sciences, as a self-reduction and impoverishment.

As scientia Dei and scientia fidei , theology plays an important part in the symphony of the sciences, and so claims a proper place in the academy. A criterion of Catholic theology is that it attempts to integrate a plurality of enquiries and methods into the unified project of the intellectus fidei , and insists on the unity of truth and therefore on the fundamental unity of theology itself. Catholic theology recognises the proper methods of other sciences and critically utilises them in its own research. It does not isolate itself from critique and welcomes scientific dialogue.

This final section considers the fact that theology is not only a science but also a wisdom, with a particular role to play in the relationship between all human knowledge and the Mystery of God. The human person is not satisfied by partial truths, but seeks to unify different pieces and areas of knowledge into an understanding of the final truth of all things and of human life itself.