Is theology practical?
A lot of people like to mock theology because it seems like it doesn’t have any practical use.
Then they like to mock the people who choose it as a vocation because of its seeming impracticality.
And others are discouraged from entering the field because it seems useless to them.
So they wonder to themselves if theology is practical.
St. Thomas has been kind enough to give us an answer to this question.
Theology is not a practical science. It deals with many topics. Some are speculative, and others are practical. A person could focus on the practical ones and claim theology was a practical science because of them. But this would be dishonest because most of theology is speculative.
You probably didn’t expect the saint to say that theology was impractical. Most people make the mistake of equating practicality with goodness, yet St. Thomas did not do so. Christianity rejects this notion because the virtues which it encourages people to espouse are very impractical to maintain.
Now, let’s get deeper into the topic at hand.
The Types of Sciences
Three types of science exist. They are: practical, speculative, and mixed.
Practical sciences produce, refine, or direct action. A certain practice is attached to them. Engineering fields fall into this category.
Speculative sciences do not have a certain action associated with them. They are the products of extensive reason, and they produce further reason. Higher math belongs to this category.
Mixed sciences contain aspects of both, and St. Thomas argues that theology is of this sort.
Does It Matter if Theology Is Practical?
Yes. A lot.
It matters because of the way people think about belief.
Consider the question: What does it mean to believe something?
Most Western people hold that to believe something, it is sufficient to say that you believe it.
I say I’m a Christian. Therefore, I’m a Christian.
Yet their words are not coupled to their actions. They call themselves Christians, yet their behavior is unaffected.
So they’re lying.
If you say that you believe something, and if you do not act as though you believe it, then you do not believe it. You’re lying.
This is true whether you’re saying it to yourself or to others.
If you say outwardly to other people that you believe a thing, and if you do not act as though you believe that thing, then you do not believe that thing.
You are lying to other people.
And if you say inwardly to yourself that you believe a thing, and if you do not act as though you believe that thing, then you do not believe that thing.
You are lying to yourself.
So belief in the theology of a religion requires action. If action does not follow the assertion of belief, then that statement was a lie.
Most Westerners reject this idea, but they call themselves Christians. So they have degraded the meaning of the word to a statement which exists independently of one’s actions.
This is the reason why many people who call themselves Christian behave so badly, yet they are still accepted as Christians.
So theology must be a practical science in order to avoid constant lying and the decline of religious standards.
General Argument in Favor of Theology Being Practical
Theology is to be counted among the practical sciences. This is because practical sciences reach ends which then produce action.
Theology does the same. This is stated in James 1:22:
“Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only”
So Christians are called to action. This makes our study practical.
Theology Is Practical because It Creates Law
Both the New Testament and the Old are concerned with the Law which God had given to man. Laws are meant to direct action. So theology is practical and must be.
It Is Impractical and Purely Speculative
Practical sciences concern themselves with human behaviors. Yet theology concerns itself with God. So it does not belong to the set of practical sciences.
Aquinas Answers that Theology Is Speculative and Impractical
Theology concerns itself in some part with many sciences because it deals with the one thing they all hold in common.
That thing is divine revelation and those parts of it which pertain to the science in question.
So theology contains both speculative and practical parts because the sciences with which it deals belong to these sets.
But it should still be called a speculative science rather than a practical one. This is because the field’s chief concern is with God and those things pertaining to Him instead of with human acts.