Thursday, May 04, 2006

Definition of Theology


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The Definition of Sacred Theology*

A. Nominal Definition. The word "theology," according to its etymology (λογος περι θεοû), means de divinitate ratio sive sermo ("teaching concerning God": St. Augustine, De civitate Dei VIII.1). Thus theology is "the science of God." It is also "the science of faith," as is seen from St. Anselm's defintion, fides quaerens intellectum ("faith seeking understanding").

B. Real Definition: "Science about God and his creatures under the aspect of Deity, as He falls under virtual revelation" (Scientia de Deo eiusque creaturis sub ratione deitatis, ut cadit sub revelatione virtuali: Garrigou-Lagrange, De Revelatione Vol. 1, pp. 8ff). This definition can be analyzed into four points:
1) Genus: The genus of Sacred Theology is "science"; that is, Sacred Theology is within the group of things we call "sciences." Definition of Science: "A science is a speculative intellectual virtue that enables its possessor to demonstrate or deduce conclusions concerning an object by using the object's causes as principles of demonstration." E.g., An isoceles triangle is a triangle with two equal angles; triangles with two equal angles have two equal sides; therefore, an isoceles triangle has two equal sides. General Classification of Sacred Science: Since Sacred Theology is a science, it follows that it is a quality of (accident in) the mind: a science is a speculative intellectual virtue; a virtue is a good operative habit; and a habit is a quality, that is, one of the nine accidents within the ten categories or ultimate genera (Cf., Aristotle, Categories 2).
Aquinas on Sacred Theology as a Science, ST I.1.2: Sacred doctrine is a science. We must bear in mind that there are two kinds of sciences. There are some which proceed from a principle known by the natural light of intelligence, such as arithmetic and geometry and the like. There are some which proceed from principles known by the light of a higher science: thus the science of perspective proceeds from principles established by geometry, and music from principles established by arithmetic. So it is that sacred doctrine is a science because it proceeds from principles established by the light of a higher science, namely, the science of God and the blessed. Hence, just as the musician accepts on authority the principles taught him by the mathematician, so sacred science is established on principles revealed by God.
2) Obiectum materiale ("material object"): The objectum materiale, that is, the thing that is considered by this science (its "subject") is "God and his creatures." It is primarily God, and secondarily, created things: Omnia pertractantur in sacra doctrina sub ratione Dei, vel quia sunt ipse Deus, vel quia habent ordinem ad Deum ut ad principium et finem. ("In sacred science all things are considered under the aspect of God, either because they are God Himself or because they refer to God as their beginning and end." ST I.1.7.)

3) Obiectum formale quod ("formal object which"): The material object (God and creatures) is considered "under the aspect of Deity, as He falls under virtual revelation." This aspect is called the objectum formale quod. The objectum formale quod serves to explain why Sacred Theology is one science and not a collection of many sciences: despite having multiple material objects (God and creatures), it nevertheless has one formal object, since creatures considered formally, are reducible to one sole object: Deity.
Aquinas on the Object of Sacred Theology, ST I.1.7: “God is the object of this science. The relation between a science and its object is the same as that between a habit or faculty and its object. Now properly speaking, the [formal] object of a faculty or habit is the thing under the aspect of which all things are referred to that faculty or habit, as man and stone are referred to the faculty of sight in that they are colored. Hence colored things are the proper objects of sight. But in Sacred Science, all things are treated of under the aspect of God: either because they are God Himself or because they refer to God as their beginning and end. Hence it follows that God is in very truth the object of this science. This is clear also from the principles of this science, namely, the articles of faith, for faith is about God. The object of the principles and of the whole science must be the same, since the whole science is contained virtually in its principles. Some, however, looking to what is treated of in this science, and not to the aspect under which it is treated, have asserted the object of this science to be something other than God--that is, either things and signs; or the works of salvation; or the whole Christ, as the head and members. Of all these things, in truth, we treat in this science, but so far as they have reference to God."
Aquinas on the Unity of Sacred Doctrine, ST I.1.3: "Sacred doctrine is one science. The unity of a faculty or habit is to be gauged by its object, not indeed, in its material aspect, but as regards the precise formality under which it is an object. For example, man, ass, stone agree in the one precise formality of being colored; and color is the formal object of sight. Therefore, because Sacred Scripture considers things precisely under the formality of being divinely revealed, whatever has been divinely revealed possesses the one precise formality of the object of this science; and therefore is included under sacred doctrine as under one science.
4) Obiectum formale quo ("formal object under which"): In Sacred Theology, The Deity, which is the formal object "which," is not considered in itself, simply, in every way that it is knowable to us. Rather, Sacred Theology studies God and creatures under the aspect of Deity, insofar as they are knowable to us through divine revelation.
Now, a distinction must be made between formal and virtual revelation. Formal revelation is that which is contained in the sources of revelation (Scripture and Tradition), whether explicitly or implicitly. Virtual revelation is that which is not, per se, contained in the sources, but which can be deduced therefrom through a theological argument, that is, by combining a naturally-known premise with the premise from formal revelation; e.g.:
P1: Our Lady exists in Heaven in a healthy bodily state (formally revealed).
P2: People who exist in a healthy bodily state can perform sense acts (premise from reason).
C: Therefore, Our Lady can perform sense acts in Heaven (virtually revealed).
This type of conclusion, properly speaking, is the objectum formale quo of Sacred Theology. This objectum formale quo serves to distinguish Sacred Theology from natural theology. First expounded by Plato, developped by Aristotle and his tradition, natural theology (as is called by St. Augustine and Varro) or Theodicy (as has been called since the 19th century) is a philosophical investigation of truths about God. As such, it is indeed, like Sacred Theology, a "science concerning God." However, in natural theology God only insofar as He can be known by natural reason. Sacred theology, on the other hand, considers God under the light of Divine Revelation. (cf. St. Augustine, De Civ. Dei VI.5).
Fully expressed, then, the complete object of Sacred Theology is: "God and his creatures under the aspect of Deity, as He falls under virtual revelation." This complete object of Sacred Theology serves as the differentia (specific difference) in the definition; it sets apart Sacred Theology from other sciences:
Aquinas on Natural and Sacred Theology, ST I.1.1 ad 2: Sciences are differentiated according to the various means through which knowledge is obtained. For the astronomer and the physicist both may prove the same conclusion: that the earth, for instance, is round: the astronomer by means of mathematics (i.e. abstracting from matter), but the physicist by means of matter itself. Hence there is no reason why those things which may be learned from philosophical science, so far as they can be known by natural reason, may not also be taught us by another science so far as they fall within revelation. Hence theology included in sacred doctrine differs in kind from that theology which is part of philosophy.
*Note: These notes are adapted primarily from Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, Introduction. Other traditional scholastic sources were used to expand the text: particularly Aquinas' Summa Theologiae I.1 and Garrigou-Lagrange, De Revelatione Vol. 1, pp. 8ff.
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