Thursday, February 06, 2003

What is the value of theology?
Sometimes the endless stream of words about God in speculative theology seem to perpetuate the distance between ourselves and the Living God. While it is true that mystical wisdom has a certain priority in the life of a Christian, the Church has resolutely affirmed the value of the theological enterprise. Much wisdom on this topic can be gained from looking at John Paul II's 1998 encyclical, Fides et Ratio. Strictly speaking it, is about philosophy, but it says enough about theology along the way, that you can get a clear picture of his attitude (and that of the Church) toward the speculative theological enterprise.

John Paul II reminds us of what St. Thomas thought about this,
Yet the priority accorded this wisdom does not lead the Angelic Doctor to overlook the presence of two other complementary forms of wisdom—philosophical wisdom, which is based upon the capacity of the intellect, for all its natural limitations, to explore reality, and theological wisdom, which is based upon Revelation and which explores the contents of faith, entering the very mystery of God. (FR 44)
John Paul points out the example of St. Anselm,
For the saintly Archbishop of Canterbury the priority of faith is not in competition with the search which is proper to reason. Reason in fact is not asked to pass judgement on the contents of faith, something of which it would be incapable, since this is not its function. Its function is rather to find meaning, to discover explanations which might allow everyone to come to a certain understanding of the contents of faith. Saint Anselm underscores the fact that the intellect must seek that which it loves: the more it loves, the more it desires to know. (FR 42)
The pope warns against a resurgence of a fideism,
which fails to recognize the importance of rational knowledge and philosophical discourse for the understanding of faith, indeed for the very possibility of belief in God. (FR 55)
And the error is not just an intellectual one, but the Pope is concern with our attitude:
Other modes of latent fideism appear in the scant consideration accorded to speculative theology, and in disdain for the classical philosophy from which the terms of both the understanding of faith and the actual formulation of dogma have been drawn. My revered Predecessor Pope Pius XII warned against such neglect of the philosophical tradition and against abandonment of the traditional terminology.
Pope John Paul II strongly affirms that essential value of speculative theology, even in the form of argumentation:
For its part, dogmatic theology must be able to articulate the universal meaning of the mystery of the One and Triune God and of the economy of salvation, both as a narrative and, above all, in the form of argument. It must do so, in other words, through concepts formulated in a critical and universally communicable way. Without philosophy's contribution, it would in fact be impossible to discuss theological issues such as, for example, the use of language to speak about God, the personal relations within the Trinity, God's creative activity in the world, the relationship between God and man, or Christ's identity as true God and true man. This is no less true of the different themes of moral theology, which employ concepts such as the moral law, conscience, freedom, personal responsibility and guilt, which are in part defined by philosophical ethics. (FR 66)
One of the most important affirmations of Fides et Ratio is to absolutely affirm the truth value of human speech and intellectual inquiry. The denial of this is at the heart of the sickness of contemporary societies. To assume an attitude of chronic antagonism toward the speculative theological enterprise is to unwittingly ally oneself with the nihilistic forces in our day that seek to destroy truth itself.
The word of God refers constantly to things which transcend human experience and even human thought; but this “mystery” could not be revealed, nor could theology render it in some way intelligible, (102) were human knowledge limited strictly to the world of sense experience. Metaphysics thus plays an essential role of mediation in theological research. A theology without a metaphysical horizon could not move beyond an analysis of religious experience, nor would it allow the intellectus fidei to give a coherent account of the universal and transcendent value of revealed truth. (FR 83)
It is certain that theological speculation should not be our ultimate act in regard to God: adoration should. But it is also certain that the Church enthusiastically confirms the value of speculative theology as a preparation for a proper act of worship.

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