Is theology good?
Is it worth studying?
Does it have anything over other studies?
Theology is often critiqued by modern people. They believe that it lacks value because it concerns itself with the immaterial. Modern people, meanwhile, are hugely materialistic and like to deny the value of things which appear impractical. What a mistake!
Theology is good. It produces knowledge which orients oneself closer to God. It is also necessary for creating standards of belief and justifying them. Without theology, religion loses consistency and eventually dies out. Moral relativism rises when this happens, and laws begin to lose legitimacy.
So theology is good because it allows us to move closer to God and because it creates standards. What follows concerns the practical value of theology and the position Thomas Aquinas took on the subject.
Theology, Force, and Laws
In order for a country to exist, it needs laws. These laws are standards which the people of that country are meant to obey.
The country needs these standards in order to prevent the people within from destroying each other. If the laws do not exist, then people are liable to do horrible things to one another.
So the rulers of a country need to create laws. They must also have some method of ensuring that their people follow the law.
And a ruler has recourse to two methods for gaining their obedience: force and morals.
A ruler can use force to make his people follow him, but this is a bad idea. His people will begin to hate him, they will be miseerable, and he will be overthrown.
So it is better not to use force to maintain fidelity to the law. It is far better to rule with moral authority.
Competent leaders try to convince their subjects that they have the moral fiber needed to be an acceptable ruler. If the people beneath him believe that the ruler is a good man, and if they beleive his alws are jsut, then he does nto need to force them to obey.
So good rulers try to portray themselves and the laws they pass as decent.
However, in order for a ruler to be seen as a moral person, then his people must believe that morality exists. They must also agree upon moral standards with which to judge their leader. If either one of these is lost, then the ruler has only recourse to force when he wants to compel obedience.
Yet rule through force should be avoided.
So moral standards need to be set, and something needs to create and maintain them.
That something is religion.
Religion Creates Moral Standards
Religion provides the moral standards which re used to justify a ruler’s authority. This is good for the ruler because he no longer needs to rely on force in order to keep his power. It is also good for the subjects because now their leader does not need to tyrannize them.
But in order for religion to create moral standards, it needs a method for doing so. If it does not, then the leaders fo the religion will invent whatever suits their interests and insert their self-serving lies into the belief system.
So the religion must be developed and held accountable to some standard process which limits the ability for religious leaders to pervert it for their own ends.
Theology is that process. Theology creates the standards which religions use to define their practices and discover truth.
So theology permits religious standards to exist. These standards then allow morality to exist. The existence of morality then allows rulers to behave morally. And moral rulers are better than immoral ones because the latter must rule through tyranny.
Aquinas On The Greatness of Theology
Pagan religions do not create standard belief systems. Christianity does.
Christians spent most of their early history trying to standardize the religion and produce consistent teachings. This required them to invent many practices which had not previously existed within the Western Roman Empire.
One of these was theology. Christians were not the first people to use standard theology, but they were the ones who exposed the pagans of Western Europe to the practice and made it widespread there.
So, because the early Christians were introducing this new field of study into the region, they needed to defend it. Not only did they need to defend it, but they needed to prove the field’s greatness relative to other venues of study. The greatness of the new science would give it the justification needed for it to be used as the standard for defining truth.
The Stance Against It: Lack of Certainty
Theology cannot be greater than other sciences. This is because the purpose of science is to find certain truths. Theology cannot do this.
Theology concerns itself with the nature of God and posits that God is a thing which is both unknowable and outside the universe. Therefore, it never can conclude with certainty that anything which is holds is true.
Theology can only ever be mere theory. Therefore, it is lesser than the sciences which can establish truth.
A Second Opponent: Theology Requires Reason
Theologians admit that their study requires the use of reason in order to find truth. This means that the study is dependent upon man’s brain and its limitations. So it must always be constrained by man and his own constraints.
So theology’s dependence upon reason rednders it a lesser science relative to philosophy and psychology.
What the Bible Says- Proverbs 9:3
The Bible states in Proverbs 9:3:
“Wisdom sent her maids to invite to the tower.“
Which affirms that wisdom is one thing and that others are subordinate to it. Wisdom refers to the knowledge of God. So scripture is affirming here the lesser rank of the sciences relative to theology.
Aquinas’ Position on the Subject
Some sciences are only speculative. Others are practical. Theology contains both parts. Therefore, it is of a higher rank than the others.
First, it should be stated that not all speculative sciences are of equal value. Some are able to produce a greater degree of certainty than others, and these may be called better. Moreover, some sciences concern themselves with topics of greater importance, so these may also be called better than those which deal with lesser topics.
And theology is greater than other speculative sciences on both of these accounts. This is because it draws from infallible divine revelation, which is superior to human reason.
Furthermore, theology deals with the relationship between God and His creation. Now, because God is the source of all being, He must also be the most important subject which a science may concern itself with. So theology is superior in this second regard as well.
Then there are arguments stating that theology is of little value because it lacks practicality. This position is false. The purpose of this science is to produce endless bliss by bringing man closer to God. No other goal is greater than this. Even the other sciences only aim at minor aspects of theology’s overall goal.
So theology is superior to other studies from each of the methods of valuation which are used to establish worth.
Other Sciences Cannot Find Truth
The human brain is flawed. Its flaws are many and varied.
So the things which seem to eb true are often false, and the things which seem to be false are often true. This is because of the errors common to human reason.
So truths which science may produce may only be errors in man’s understanding of the subject of his reason.
And those parts of faith which seem doubtful can just as easily be attributed to flaws in man’s understanding as well.
So man’s ability to know the truth in theology or any other science is limited by the errors inherent in man.
Yet theology concerns itself with things greater than those which other sciences deal with. So the knowledge is offers is of greater value than that found within other fields.
So theology and other studies are both held back by the flaws in man’s reason, and theology produces information of greater value than what is to be found elsewhere.
Therefore, theology is greater than other sciences because all studies suffer from the same constraint, man’s limits, and the certainty it produces is more valuable than that found elsewhere.
Theology Uses, But Does Not Need, Reason
Theology uses reason, and it should, but the former does not depend upon the latter. Reason is only used as a tool for improving clarity. This is because theology relies upon divine revelation, and the statements found therein are often clear and easily understood. Reason is a tool which theology uses to reconcile teachings which appear to be in conflict with each other.
Moreover, because theology depends upon God as the source of its materials, it does not require other sciences in order to produce knowledge. This independence allows it to exist as a higher field of study.
Now, some people may mistake the use of other sciences and reason within theology as evidence of its dependence. The proper response to this criticism is to clarify that the others are only used because man has separated himself from God, and he needs further tools to improve his understanding of The Almighty.