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Theology is reasoned discourse concerning God (Greek θεος, theos, "God", + λογος, logos, "word" or "reason").

It can also refer to the study of other religious topics.

A theologian is a person learned in theology.



History of the term

The word "Theology" is derived from Hellenistic Greek, but its meaning has changed significantly through its use in the European Christian thought of the Middle ages and Enlightenment

The term theologia is used in Classical Greek literature, with the meaning "discourse on the gods or cosmology" (see Lidell and Scott's Greek-English Lexicon for references).

Since the authority of Hellenistic city states was partly based on religious observance, those who first sought to ask difficult questions about the gods were often viewed as heretics, or in the language of the day "atheists". Socrates is famous for having been condemned to death for teaching youths atheism (though in fact he had not). Plato, his pupil, wrote several discourses on the gods, though his doctrine of forms and emanations would be more significant for later Theology.

Aristotle divided theoretical philosophy into mathematice, phusike and theologike, with the latter corresponding roughly to metaphysics, which for Aristotle included discussion of the nature of the divine. The term has since been appropriated by a number of Eastern and Western religious traditions.

Drawing on Greek sources, the Latin writer Varro influentially distinguished three forms of such discourse: mythical (concerning the myths of the Greek gods), rational (philosophical analysis of the gods and of cosmology) and civil (concerning the rites and duties of public religious observance).

Christian writers, working within the Hellenistic mould, began to use the term to describe their studies. It appears once in some biblical manuscripts, in the heading to the book of Revelation: apokalupsis ioannou tou theologou, "the revelation of John the theologos". There, however, we are probably dealing with a slightly different sense of the root logos, to mean not "rational discourse" but "word" or "message": ho theologos here is probably meant to tell us that the author of Revelation has presented God's revealed messages – words of God, logoi tou theou – not that he was a "theologian" in the modern English sense of the word.

Other Christian writers used the term with several different ranges of meaning.

  1. Some Latin authors, such as Tertullian and Augustine followed Varro's threefold usage, described above.
  2. In patristic Greek sources, theologia could refer narrowly to the discussion of the nature and attributes of God.
  3. In other patristic Greek sources, theologia could also refer narrowly to the discussion of the attribution of divine nature to Jesus. (It is in this sense that Gregory Nazianzus was nicknamed "the theologian": he was a staunch defender of the divinity of Christ.)
  4. In medieval Greek and Latin sources, theologia (in the sense of "an account or record of the ways of God") could refer simply to the Bible.
  5. In scholastic Latin sources, the term came to denote the rational study of the doctrines of the Christian religion, or (more precisely) the academic discipline which investigated the coherence and implications of the language and claims of the Bible and of the theological tradition (the latter often as represented in Peter Lombard's Sentences, a book of extracts from the Church Fathers).

It is the last of these senses which lies behind most modern uses (though the second is also found in some academic and ecclesiastical contexts), and while the term "theology" can refer to any discussion of the nature of God or the gods, or indeed the discussion of any religious topic, it is also regularly used to denote the academic study (in Universities, seminaries and elsewhere) of the doctrines of Christianity, or of any other religion, or of the relationships and contrasts between various different religions, although the latter is a field more usually termed "comparative religion."

History of theology


Theology and religions other than Christianity

In academic theological circles, there is some debate as to whether theology is an activity peculiar to the Christian religion. If so we should distinguish Christian Theology from others. It is seen by some to be a term only appropriate to the study of a deity (a theos) within a presupposed belief in the ability to speak and reason about the subject (in logia) - and so to be less appropriate in religious contexts which are organized differently (i.e. religions without a deity, or which deny that such subjects can be studied logically). Image:Averroes.jpg

For example, some academic courses on Buddhism which are dedicated to the rational investigation of a Buddhist understanding of the world prefer the designation Buddhist philosophy to the term Buddhist theology, since Buddhism lacks the same conception of a theos. The same might be said of Hinduism which has many devas (deities). See for example, Vaishnava Theology, Advaita Vedanta and Krishnology.

Moreover, the application of the term Theology to religions similar to Christianity can be misleading. in Islam, theological discussion which parallels Christian theological discussion has been a minor and even slightly disreputable activity, named "Kalam"; the Islamic analogue of Christian theological discussion would more properly be the investigation and elaboration of Islamic law, or "Fiqh".

In Judaism the historical absence of political authority has meant that most theological reflection has happened within the context of the Jewish community and synagogue, rather than within specialised academic institutions. Nevertheless Jewish Theology has been historically very active and highly significant for Christian and Islamic Theology. Once again, the Jewish analogue of Christian theological discussion would more properly be Rabbinical discussion of Jewish law and Jewish Biblical commentaries.

Theology and the Academy

Theology has a significantly problematic relationship to Academia that is not shared by any other subject. Most universities founded before the modern era grew out of the church schools and monastic institutions of Western Europe during the High Middle Ages (e.g. University of Bologna, Paris University and Oxford University). They were founded to train young men to serve the church in Theology and Law (often Church or Canon Law). At such Universities Theological study was incomplete without Theological practice, including preaching, prayer and the Mass. Ancient Universities still maintain some of these links (e.g. having Chapels and Chaplains) and are more likely to teach Theology than other institutions.

During the High Middle Ages theology was therefore the main subject at universities, being named "The Queen of the Sciences" alongside the Trivium and Quadrivium that young men were expected to study. This meant that the other subjects (including Philosophy) existed primarily to help with theological thought.

With the Enlightenment universities began to change, teaching a wide range of subjects, especially in Germany, and from a Humanistic perspective. Theology was no longer the principle subject and Universities existed for many purposes, not only to train Clergy for established churches. Theology thus became unusual as the only subject to maintain a confessional basis in otherwise secular establishments.

As a result theology is often distinguished from many other established Academic disciplines that cover the same subject area. Those who contend it is different claim it is distinguished by its viewpoint (it is studied from within a faith, rather than from without) and its practical involvement (theology cannot be truly studied or understood without a practical faith). Many of the early Church Fathers described the theologian as a person who "truly prays.". Non-religious theologians often disagree with these viewpoints, arguing that the term theology covers the study of religion or peoples' beliefs about God, rather than God himself. They also argue that human reason alone is sufficient to understand such subjects and that prayer and worship are not necessary.

Nevertheless theology should be distinguished from the following disciplines;

Comparative religion/Religious studies

Philosophy of Religion

The History of Religions

Psychology of Religion

Sociology of Religion

All of these approach religion with humanistic presuppositions and assume a uniformity in religious faith and experience, unlike most theology.

Theological studies in different institutions

In Europe, the traditional places for the study of theology have been universities and seminaries. Typically the protestant state churches have trained their ministers in universities while the Catholic church has used seminaries. However, the secularization of European states has closed down the theological faculties in many countries while the Catholic church has increased the academical level of its priests by founding a number of pontifical universities. However, at least Finland and Sweden have state universities with faculties of theology training Lutheran priests as well as teachers and scholars of religion. As study of theology in these countries includes a strong (Christian) humanist content, graduates of theology who do not wish to embark on clerical career may find work also in marketing, business or administration, although this is frowned upon by many.

In the United States, study of theology does not enjoy state endorsement due to the nature of the United States Constitution. Theological studies (often called Biblical studies) take place in a large number of universities, the academic level of which may vary considerably. The academic freedom of thought in many of these institutions may not reach the level of the faculties of theology in European state universities. Theologians ending up with view deemed "heretical" by the denomination upholding the institution may find themselves out of work.

Divisions of theology

Theology can be divided up in any number of ways. Many of these divisions have originated in the study of the Christian religion, although some have been adapted and extended to apply to other religions, or to the study of multiple religions.

In many Christian seminaries, the four Great Departments of Theology are: 1. Exegetical Theology; 2. Historical Theology; 3. Systematic Theology; and 4. Practical Theology.

The four departments can usefully be subdivided in the following way:

1. Exegetical Theology: a) Biblical Studies (analysis of the contents of Scripture); b) Biblical Introduction (inquiry into the origins of the Bible); c) Canonics (inquiry into how the different books of the Bible came to be collected together); d) Biblical Theology (inquiry into how divine revelation progressed over the course of the Bible).

2. Historical Theology (study of how Christian theology develops over time): a) The Patristic Period (which can be subdivided into i. the Ante-Nicene Fathers; ii. the Nicene Fathers; and iii. the Post-Nicene Fathers); b) the Middle Ages; c) the Reformation and Counter-Reformation; d) the Modern Period.

3. Systematic Theology: a) the Existence of God; b) the Attributes of God; c) the Trinity; d) Christology; e) Creation; f) Providence; g) Doctrine of Man (theological anthropolgy); h) Soteriology; i) Justification; j) Sanctification; k) Eschatology and the Afterlife.

(though note: subdivisions in the area of Systematic Theology are probably more apt to vary across differeng theologies than in the other 3 types of theology)

4. Practical Theology: a) Moral Theology (Christian Ethics and Casuistry); b) Ecclesiology; c) Pastoral Theology (including i. Liturgics; ii. Homiletics; iii. Christian Education; iv. Christian Counselling) ; d) Missiology.

Theology can also be divided up into :

Academic subdisciplines;

Topic (or by 'Loci');

  • Angelology (less common than it used to be) - angels, the unseen world
  • Bibliology (a less common term than most of the others) - the Bible, the nature and means of its inspiration, etc.; hermeneutics is the study of proper biblical interpretation (exegesis).
  • Christology (normally only in Christianity) - Jesus Christ, the nature of Christ, the relationship between the divine and human in Christ
  • Covenant theology, an interpretive grid that understands God's plans in the Old and New Testaments as being a result of God's covenant with his chosen people. This movement is an alternative to Dispensationalism. (Covenant theology is one way to approach the subdiscipline of Biblical Theology.)
  • Demonology (much less common than it used to be) - Satan, demons, evil spirits
  • Dispensational Theology - an interpretative grid that views God's relationship with the created order as passing through successive "dispensations", in each of which the covenants of the previous one(s) may no longer be valid. (Dispensationalism is one way to approach the subdiscipline of Biblical Theology.)
  • Ecclesiology - the church
  • Eschatology - literally, the study of 'last things' or 'ultimate things'. Covers subjects such as death and the afterlife, the end of history, the end of the world, the last judgment, the nature of hope and progress, etc.
  • Harmatiology (often considered under 'soteriology') - sin
  • Missiology (often a subsection of ecclesiology) - missions, evangelism, etc.
  • Soteriology - the nature and means of salvation
  • Theodicy - Attempts at reconciling the existence of all the evil and suffering in the world with the nature and power of the God or gods of the religion
  • Theological anthropology - nature of human being, formerly known as the Doctrine of Man.
  • Theology Proper - God or the divine: attributes, nature, and relation to the world. Often includes discussion of Creation and providence. See the nature of God in Western theology.
  • Pneumatology - the Holy Spirit or divine Spirit; sometimes also 'geist' as in Hegelianism and other philosophico-theological systems;


  • Apophatic theology (or negative theology; sometimes contrasted with "cataphatic theology") - the discussion of what God is not, or the investigation of how language about God breaks down
  • dialectical theology
  • Natural theology - the discussion of those aspects of theology that can be investigated without the help of revelation, scriptures or tradition (sometimes contrasted with "positive theology") - the discussion of those aspects of theology



  • "Theology is the effort to explain the unknowable in terms of the not worth knowing." - H. L. Mencken
  • "An authentic theology will not allow man to be obsessed with himself." - Thomas F. Torrance in Reality and Scientific Theology
  • "Theology announces not just what the Bible says but what it means." - J. Kenneth Grider in A Wesleyan-Holiness Theology (Kansas City: Beacon Hill, 1994), p. 19.
  • "Theologians, they don't know nothin' bout my soul." - Wilco, "Theologians", A Ghost Is Born.
  • "I have no use for cranks who despise music, because it is a gift of God. Music drives away the Devil and makes people gay; they forget thereby all wrath, unchastity, arrogance, and the like. Next after theology, I give to music the highest place and the greatest honor." — Martin Luther, quoted in Martin Marty, Martin Luther, 2004, p. 114.

See also

External links


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