Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Theology better Defined

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I made a distinction yesterday between theology, on the one hand, and catechism, apologetics and religious studies, on the other. The latter are defined as sciences properly - science = knowledge. Theology is wisdom in the strictest sense = knowledge of the First Cause (God). Philosophy would be oriented to knowledge of the first principles of being - the plural being essential in this case.

But how does one come to know God?

One should make a distinction between the mediate objects of theology - i.e. Augustine's doctrine of the Church or Bonaventure's doctrine of inspiration - and that which is the object per se of theology - God. I call them 'mediate' since they do that, they mediate knowledge of God. Thus, it is not useful to make the primary distinction in theology as that between theology and mysticism. Mysticism is just the higher part of theology. Mysticism is the end of the words-about-God (logoi about Theos). By mysticism I mean to encounter the mystery, to encounter that which lies hidden, to remove the veil of un-knowing and un-loving - which are equally signs of ignorance.

All of this has been said as a preface to what I would call the very heart of the theological enterprise, epitomized by that key text of theology (outside of Scripture) - Book 14.4.20-21 of Augustine's On the Trinity. Yes, I am discussing this in class this afternoon.

Augustine's On the Trinity - The Magna Carta of Theology

This work is - in my opinion - the greatest single work of theology ever. All the 'On the Trinities' written before it - by Sts. Hilary, Basil and Victorinus etc. were, compared to it, merely doctrinal fleshings-out. Augustine's is a brilliant work of discovery that really owes nothing to any of these.

Its essential insight is rather simple. To understand the Trinity we must look inward at our own mental operation. Here we find a non-physical analogy for God (as opposed to St. Patrick's three-leaf clover, for instance). Indeed, the more perfect our mental act the more it comes to mirror the Blessed Trinity. The three aspects of the mental act are distinct, follow an order or priority, at yet perfectly equal: to remember, to understand, to love. In God the sequence (order of procession: from the Father procedes the Son, from the Father and the Son procedes the Holy Spirit), admits of no temporal succession, of course, for there was never a time when the Son and the Spirit were not. Further, it is more perfect an act of cognition the higher and better the idea remembered, understood and loved, since one cannot love a bad idea. That there is an idea of God in us because we are who we are is a wonderful statement: note, we remember God, because God has some how already told us about Himself.

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