The Study of Theology: Fides Quaerens Intellectum Part II

In part I of this reflection, I made some observations regarding faith and what it means to two great thinkers, Aquinas and Anselm.  I then pointed out that while faith is a calculated leap, it is still informed by reason and it does not start its work with a tabula rasa, if you will, but from truths revealed by the Word Incarnate.  I then pointed to the mystical experiences of the great Saints as a starting point for theological reflection.  Accordingly, from such reflections, one moves beyond reason’s limitations into the realm of the unknown and accepts the mystical experiences as mysteries. This recognition and acceptance of the mysteries as mysteries serve to differentiate another facet of theology.

Much like Catherine Albanese’s two types of religion, i.e. the ordinary and extraordinary, theology has two different dimensions. The one serves to examine the actual human experiences and to make sense of them in context of the “otherness,” and the other is to make an attempt at apprehending the unknown.  And when the unknown is recognized in itself, it is understood as mystery. Here, one can see how faith helps reason to transcend its limitations by offering it an explanation of “otherness.” If theology did not offer an explanation and an ascent to a higher Truth, it would be no different than philosophy—as philosophy derives its truth from reason and evident principles with no ascending to the “otherness” required.

When theological explanations arise from principles and reasons proposed above, they are adequate to capture the mundane experiences in context of created being and Creator. Essentially, when theology is practiced in such a manner, it is a reflection of sacramentality—the coming to know of and understanding God through creation. Sacramentality allows one to see the created world as such and yet does not linger onto its intrinsic being but looks towards that to which it points. In this way, theology is not studied for its own sake but for the sake of understanding the ultimate telos of creation in relation to God, viz. the seeking to understand God through faith. For example, Aquinas’ five ways are not merely philosophical, but they are sacramental in that they utilize the created world to reason out the existence of God. These demonstrations exhibit a characteristic of theology insofar as, while not rejecting their philosophical merit, they come to a conclusion of God which is based on faith. The arguments in themselves are metaphysically plausible and necessary, but the conclusions demand a sort of faith for they are not like those principles of mathematics wherein the truth of the conclusion cannot be disputed—for one can certainly dispute the groundings for metaphysics and the existence of God.

On the other hand, theological explanations that ignore the various aspects and differences of the human experience are less than helpful. While theology is a science of the highest good, viz. God, and that its subject is objectively studied, the human experience varies from person to person. Indeed, if any explanation of a theological kind ignores this difference in experiences, such an explanation is inadequate since it ignores the personal communication between the mundane and the divine. Therefore, in order for a theological explanation to be helpful, it must first resist itself from one interpretation, and to secondly allow for some type of personal interpretation in the context of both relation and objectivity to its subject—God.

Human reason has its limitations as reason acknowledges and when it encounters the mysteries of faith it looks for an explanation. This explanation via theology while helps to shape reason and direct it to God, towards Whom which it tends. But the explanation of that which is unknown must come after the acknowledgement, or belief, that there is something here that is unknown—an otherness. The dis-ease of the human condition is that this “otherness” is not within its grasp; hence Unamuno’s thirst of immortality—to live forever is to be comforted from this dis-ease. Theology can help this dis-ease by first grasping the mystery as mystery and to secondly understand it as mystery. Both Anselm and Aquinas had this in mind when they spoke of theology, for the former—‘fides quaerens intellectum’; and the latter—a science of God.  When, therefore, theology is presented and explained accordingly, it is helpful for it allows for different human experiences of limitations to ascend to its subject—God. Per contra, if theology does not allow for this, it is not only inadequate, but less than helpful.

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