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Why Theology Matters

Theology gets a bad rap, often seen as a bunch of eggheads asking questions that no one really cares about. In the Middle Ages, it revolved around how many angels could dance on the head of a pin, or so the legend goes. Today it focuses on doctrinal subtleties and commandments that most people would rather do away with. Theology matters, however, because truth matters. God is Truth and he has revealed himself to us so that we can know him, come to know ourselves, and live in a loving communion with him.

What is theology? Aquinas calls it a science, an organized body of knowledge that proceeds from the truths of a higher science, namely God’s own knowledge of himself. Through faith, God enables us to know him in a way that goes beyond the natural grasp of reason. This supernatural knowledge enlivens the mind, awakening reason to a new way of seeing: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). We all desire to the know the truth and theology reflects the need to think about and understand the faith, our knowledge of the highest and most important realities.

The Church gives us this time of Lent for renewal and purification. It is a time, of course, for breaking off our attachments to things, although it should also involve more time for reflection and prayer. Yes, Lent is a great time to study theology! Although we may not all pick a work of academic theology, we should all seek to understand our faith better, following the example of Our Lady, who “treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). The more we know, the more we can love and can understand the movements of God in our lives. Theology entails a lifelong task of coming to know God more, of encountering him in Scripture, meditating upon the mysteries of faith and conforming our minds to the truth.

For those ready for a more serious dive into academic theology, there are some amazing resources recently translated and made available by Emmaus Academic Press. The first is Mauro Gagliardi’s Truth Is a Synthesis: Catholic Dogmatic Theology (2020), translated from Italian, which provides a thorough overview, at just over 1,000 pages of the central doctrines of the faith. While firmly rooted in the great theological tradition, it leads the modern reader into an active search for truth: “Theology is not in the realm of opinion, but rather that of healthy debate and engagement, a search for Truth in an ever more perfect way. Moreover, theology does not study the sources off faith merely out of a historical interest …. Certainly the historical approach to texts is necessary, but it is not everything. There must be an ‘alethic’ approach (from the Greek aletheia, meaning ‘truth’). The theologian studies the sources to discover and learn in a deeper way the Truth, which is always ‘relevant’ and never ‘overcome’” (98). While standing against contemporary relativism, a deep dive into the Church’s theological tradition can guide us along the divine way of truth.

Even if theology is not simply the study of historical sources, we do need models in this search for truth, mentors in how to think rightly in relation to faith. Emmaus Academic has undertaken a project of enormous importance in making one of these guides accessible, translating Father Matthias Scheeben’s (1835-88) magnum opus, his Handbook of Catholic Dogmatics, into English for the first time in nine volumes. Scheeben was one of the greatest theologians of the 19th century, who in a mystical fashion, both prayerful and penetrating, leads his readers into the great mysteries of faith. At the beginning of the first volume, Scheeben relates how theology not only teaches us about God but should also lead us to him, because “a teaching that has God as its object and its principle must therefore have God also as its goal and lead to Him, and therefore must teach and bring about the religious union of man with God” (Vol. 1, 2019, 1). Scheeben’s theology bears witness to how theology not only instructs but should lead us into a greater love of God.

In addition, through a partnership with the Aquinas Institute, Emmaus Academic is making St. Thomas Aquinas’s opera omnia available for the first time in English. Although the Angelic Doctor’s two great summas, the Summa Theologiae and the Summa Contra Gentiles, have been long available in English, another major work, written earlier in his life, his Commentary on the Sentences, will be available in translation for the first time (with four volumes already available), as well as other important works, such as his biblical commentaries. Along with Scheeben’s Dogmatics, the appearance of these works is of monumental importance for theology.

Theology does not focus on arcane questions or mere opinion. It helps us to grasp the realities that God has revealed to us so that we can know him and share in his own divine life. Although many people today cast doubt upon our ability to know anything with certainty, theology rests firmly upon the fact that God has spoken to us and calls us into a communion of knowledge and love with him. As we take more time for prayer during Lent, we can grow in our understanding of our faith as we encounter the One who is Truth itself.

Jared Staudt
Jared Staudt
R. Jared Staudt, PhD, is a husband and father of six, the Associate Superintendent for Mission and Formation for the Archdiocese of Denver, a Benedictine oblate, prolific writer, and insatiable reader.
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