"Theology is the faith of the Church seeking to understand what it believes."

Before being an academic discipline, Theology is the living and, at times, exalted knowledge about God that the Holy Spirit offers to all the baptized who live according to his inspiration.

Juan Antonio Martínez Camino-June 15, 2021-Reading time: 5 minutes
book girl

Photo credit: Siora Photography / Unsplash

Theology has always been for all the baptized. In recent times, even academic theology has become more readily available to all. This is a blessing. It is good that the laity are aware of this and are encouraged to study theology.

The Church will be enriched by their active participation in this service so relevant for the vitality of the ecclesial community and for its evangelizing mission. Even more so, when today the number of the faithful ordained for the apostolic ministry is decreasing, who are the ones who have been dedicating themselves almost exclusively to the study of theology.

Nature of Theology

What is Theology? Certainly, it is an academic discipline. But before that, Theology is the living and, at times, exalted knowledge about God that the Holy Spirit offers to all the baptized who live according to his inspiration.

The Church has recognized this in a special way by declaring Saints Teresa of Jesus, Catherine of Siena, Therese of Lisieux and Hildegard of Bingen to be doctors of the Church. Since 1970, the year of the doctorate of the first two, the Catholic doctrine has been officially recovered, according to which the faithful who are neither pastors nor have studied theology, as is the case of these saints, can also be great theologians.

The Holy Spirit offers to all the gift of wisdom, that is, the excellent knowledge of God. Of course, also to men, although up to now - for unquestionable reasons of justice and opportunity - only women are the faithful who, without being pastors or having studied theology, have been officially recognized with a doctorate.

Theology studies

Theological studies, on the other hand, are a practical science. Its object is not mere knowledge, but the knowledge of faith. Theology is the faith of the Church seeking to understand what it believes. Catholic theology starts from the basic principle that only God speaks well of God. If it is not possible to know a human person without having listened to him, it would be even more impossible to know God if he had not communicated himself, or without his communication. In fact, God communicates in many ways. The whole of creation speaks of the Creator. But the eternal Word, incarnate, is his personal and full communication. This is the faith of the Church, to the understanding of which the secular endeavor of Theology is dedicated. Academic theology is the systematic effort to know Jesus Christ in the light of faith and with all the instruments of human knowledge.

St. Paul already speaks of theology infused by the Spirit. St. Peter exhorted Christians to "give a reason for the hope. Academic theology has its germ there, but it will develop as the faith is implanted in the different cultures, beginning with the Greco-Roman one. Saint Justin and Saint Irenaeus were already great theologians in the first centuries of the Church. St. Jerome and St. Augustine were masters who laid the foundations for the development of the science of faith with the means of human knowledge of their time.

In the Middle Ages, theology will be at the heart of the development of university institutions, which were developed then and continue to this day. St. Thomas Aquinas taught in Paris. Palencia, Valladolid, Salamanca are the cradle of the university among us, together with the cathedral schools of these episcopal sees and with the impulse of the masters of the religious orders.

Today, in Anglo-Saxon countries, the Faculty of Theology is still part of the university.

Juan Antonio Martínez CaminoPresident of the Episcopal Subcommission for Universities and Culture

Today, theology studies have been removed from the university in countries that adopted the French Enlightenment system in their academic systems, as is the case of Spain. But in Anglo-Saxon countries the Faculty of Theology continues to be part of the university.

One of the perspectives of the excellent biography of Benedict XVI, written recently by Peter Seewald, is precisely that of the gestation of this great theologian, who would become pope, in the bosom of German academic institutions, both ecclesiastical and state: first at the School of Theology of the Diocese of Munich, in Freising; then at the Faculty of Theology of the University of Munich, provisionally accommodated in Fürstenried, just after the end of the war. In Freising, the very young Ratzinger studied with classmates who, like him, aspired to be ordained priests. In Fürstenried, on the other hand, he had lay fellow students who helped each other in their academic work. Among them, the case of Esther Betz, daughter of the founder of a large German newspaper, student of theology since 1946 and later assistant to Professor Schmaus, is striking. This woman, a businesswoman, finally, like her father, in the publishing and journalistic world, maintained her friendship with her fellow student until her death, even when he was already Pope. The correspondence between the two theologians is one of the most original sources of Seewald's biography.

The laity have the doors of all academic institutions completely open to them for the study of theology. Naturally, the diocesan seminaries and the centers of studies of the religious, only for the lay people aspiring to the priesthood or members of the respective congregations. But the Faculties of Theology and the Higher Institutes of Religious Sciences, distributed throughout the geography of Spain, admit everyone to their official degrees, as long as they meet the indispensable academic requirements.

All the faculties (except for the internal faculties of religious congregations) have lay people as official students. In the Superior Institutes of Religious Sciences, which have about 4,000

In some places, it is even made easier for lay people who already have a university degree to study theology. In some places, even the official study of Theology is especially facilitated for lay people who, possessing a university degree, are already working in their profession. I can testify to the interest and benefit with which my students in this category studied Theology in the years when I was a professor in the TUP (Theologia Universitaria para Postgraduados), a program aimed at obtaining the degree of Baccalaureatus in Theologia (with civil recognition as a Graduate) offered in the evenings by a Pontifical University in Madrid.

Reasons to study Theology

Why study theology if one does not intend to be or is not a priest or religious? Each one can have personal motivations to keep to himself. But there are two types of objective purposes that justify the study of theology at one of the various academic levels at which it can be pursued.

First, because a baptized person, aware of the treasure that is the professed faith, usually desires to know it more and better than in the first catechesis. This is especially true for those who have cultivated their spirit through other types of study.

Theology helps to live the faith better, to appreciate it more, to defend it from the attacks of the dominant culture, unfriendly to Christian life and, of course, to be trained for the apostolic mission proper to every baptized person, in the family, profession and social life in general.

Secondly, lay people study theology in order to be able to exercise offices or missions in the Church that have often been carried out by priests, but which are not reserved to them. There are very many of them. Let me mention just a few. The teaching of Theology at all levels, from the professorships in the Faculties and Higher Centers, to the religion classes in the centers of infant and secondary education, state or of social initiative; in all these areas good professionals of Theology are needed, also laymen.

Theology helps to live the faith better, to appreciate it more, to defend it from the attacks of the dominant culture.

Juan Antonio Martínez CaminoPresident of the Episcopal Subcommission for Universities and Culture

The performance of various offices in the ecclesiastical mission and administration: courts, diocesan curiae, institutes of consecrated life, parishes, etc. Even in civil life, theology can be a precious complement to offices related to law, health sciences or various types of consultancy.

Theology has always been closely linked to the Christian faith, which is a friend of reason and knowledge. Conversely, Western civilization is so deeply rooted in the Christian faith that its noblest traits could hardly survive without the sap of Christianity. There is nothing to prevent the laity from being protagonists in this great history of evangelization and culture.

The authorJuan Antonio Martínez Camino

Auxiliary Bishop of Madrid. President of the Episcopal Subcommission for Universities and Culture.

Read more
La Brújula Newsletter Leave us your email and receive every week the latest news curated with a catholic point of view.
Banner advertising
Banner advertising