What is Theology?

Last week we celebrated the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. This week we also visit a most important doctrine of the faith, the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi Sunday).

Did you ever wonder where these mysteries came from? Did they get invented so popes and bishops could put on those fancy vestments? It might be well to look at their origins and how they developed. (These doctrines have a history that gradually took shape over several centuries.)

It may surprise you to hear that the titles of “Most Holy Trinity” and “The Body and Blood of Christ” were not spoken in this catechetical manner for the first few centuries of the Church. St. Peter, if asked to give a definition of the Trinity, might have answered, “the what?” The celebration of the Body and Blood (the mass), was earlier referred to as “The Breaking of the Bread”. Sometimes we can do things or believe things that only later do we discover the words to express “why.”

Of course, the reality of both of these teachings was present from the beginning. But, the titles and their precise explanations developed over the early centuries. The church was in search of a vocabulary to accurately talk about what she already “knew in her heart”.

This searching for the right words (which correctly state what faith believes) is called Theology. You might ask, what comes first, faith or theology? The answer is they come together. St. Paul describes the partnership of faith and theology (words). Speaking of our ability to believe in Christ he says, “But, how can they believe in him (Christ) if they have not heard? And, how can they hear without someone to preach? . . . Thus, faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.” Romans 10: 14-18.

The purpose of words is to make known what already IS. So, faith in what is comes first . . . then the words to ex-press it. Words are the delivery system for faith. Faith enters our minds through speech. Without words we are locked in a room of unknowing. Remember in sixth grade when our teacher made us prove we understood a new word? She would insist, “now put that word into a sentence!” THEN we knew we understood.

But how can we be sure our sentences about faith (theology) are correct? There is a little drill that keeps us on course.

1. What did Jesus say? The words of Christ and the New Testament (and the Old Testament as well) contain the Word of God. It is on this word that faith begins. We believe on the authority of these words spoken by God in sacred scripture. Theology calls this the source of “Revelation”.

2. The words of Sacred Scripture can be turned in many directions. Some interpretations are very insightful and full of great spiritual benefit. This is the job of theology; to think and pray (and believe!) over what God intends to “reveal” there. And then it articulates it in words that bring an ever deeper understanding.

3. But, what happens if some theology gets it wrong? Or what if two theologies contradict each other? Great theological disputes have taken place about the simplest of bible quotations. (For example, Jesus’ words to Peter, “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church.” Mt. 16:18 has caused great debate amongst theologians.)

There is a safety net. Revealed in sacred scripture (and taught by theologians!) is the promise to the church that the Holy Spirit will “lead you to all truth.” Scripture points to the gift of inerrancy about matters of faith and morality. “I will not leave you orphans,” Jesus said. “I will send you the Spirit of Truth.” Jn. 16:13

So, here’s the net. Scripture (God’s Word) and Tradition (the constant teaching of the church, about the contents of Scripture) . . .

together . . . express the content of faith. Then theology takes that content and sort of creates lesson plans to help us understand it.
These two rivers of truth (Scripture/Tradition) flow into the one river called Revelation. Revelation is the content of what we believe about God and Jesus Christ. Theology is the words to help us understand what we believe.

Thus, the whole Body of Christ, the Church, can be assured of the true faith in Jesus Christ.

Sorry for the lecture!

Hope you enjoyed your time with Bishop Clark.
Fr. Tim