Monday, June 15, 2009

The Deep Roots of Theology - Saint Thomas Aquinas and Sacra Doctrina

In the Summa Theologica Question 1, Saint Thomas teaches us that besides philosophical science there should be from God another knowledge, one not simply built up by human reason, but one given to man by God himself - this Saint Thomas calls Sacra Doctrina, inspired or sacred doctrine. So theology itself, when explored at its heart, depths, and roots, must be understood as coming ultimately from God, although its instruments and methods evolve out of human history and sciences. Man, directed to God in a way that surpasses human reason, is graced with God's own gift of Himself in sacra doctrina. Things beyond the rational understanding of man are offered to us that we may receive them by faith.

Sacred Doctrine is God's gift to us, different from philosophy and other human endeavours, being from God suprarationally and supernaturally. And yet, sacra doctrina is a science, according to Saint Thomas, and because it comes from God, it is a science of God and of higher realities than those that are accessible to human reason. The principles of this divine or sacred science come from God and are fulfilled in God, Who is the object of the single one, practical science labelled 'sacra doctrina.' Thomas calls this science, this sacred doctrine, the most noble, or the highest - for it contains God and reveals God. In the beginning, the groundwork of instrumentality for developing sacred doctrine, which itself is Tradition, begins in the pagan era of philosophy, where language, concepts, and ideas originate which will later be used in the process of developing a theological science. The development of sacra doctrina, and of theology as whole, is the story of the development of tradition. The notions which become normative for theology begin within the inculturation of thoughts and ideas expressed in ancient Western civilisation. A systematic, logically-ordered process emerges out of the annals of historical development.

Classical paganism/pagan thought, or pre-Christian western philosophy, is where it all begins. Etiologies about the gods and creation arise from the poetry of the earliest pagan writers. Platonism and Stoicism are instrumental in the development of later theological ideas. Platonism emphasises the transcendence of the divine, an agnosticism to first principles, and the belief in different forms and heavenly realities. Stoicism and Epicureanism begin as small movements of elite followers having agnostic views on the meaning and purpose of life. Stoicism in particular develops a systematic treatment of divine things, a poetry, a theology written-down, a natural theology affirming the beginning and sustenance of the world. The Stoics believed the myths, symbols and legends of pagan religion, and were the first to give a systematic treatment or account of the divine world. Images and mythology are used to explain the reality beyond this reality. Proclus, in the early Christian era, focusses on the nature of being, good and evil, and the created order. Aristotle and Plato, the fathers of western philosophy, are instrumental in the development of theology. They attempt to answer the questions that matter, about God and reality, using scientific methods. They develop the science of 'metaphysics' to explain the meaning of reality. Later Christian theology takes into full account both philosophical systems of Aristotle and Plato.

Early Christian theology is born out of data of Holy Scripture combined with the trains of thought found in philosophy. Platonic philosophy's concern for salvation and the higher world leads to the development within the Church of a theological process. The Hebrew wisdom tradition, reflected in Christianity's exponent Saint Paul, opened itself to the wisdom and sciences of the world. The Apostolic Fathers and postapostolic Christianity slowly began to use philosophical concepts, with selection, sparingly, and often eclectically. They wished to distinguish Christ from the world, Jerusalem from Athens. Apologetics soon demanded philosophical approaches to the subject of Catholic faith. However, as philosophy threatened to endanger Christianity's unique claims, theology developed systematically out of the need for apologetics. From an early Greek Christian 'gnosticism' found in Saint Clement of Alexandria and Origen, the Church deepens her own understanding of the Faith. Eventually theology proper evolves as an exploration and deep elucidation of the meaning of God and His relationship to the created world. In the ancient Eastern Church, theology is understood as a mystical endeavour, a science of God in the soul, a higher and superior knowledge of God through prayer. In the Western Church, theology comes to full fruit in Saint Augustine of Hippo: in him theology moves from a apologetic, a via negativa, and a speculative theory of religious knowledge, to a positive movement of intellect and life. Philosophy becomes applied to the work of theological searching, and intellectual activity in faith becomes rooted in the theological way. We could continue to explore the development of theology through Abelard and the Middle Ages, until we arrive at the Scholastic period. Theology grows and evolves into a science of its own kind, the highest and queen of the sciences. Sacra Doctrina will be finally be defined and explained by Saint Thomas.

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45th Anniversary of Saint Barnabas Atlanta

What a sheer joy to celebrate today the 45th Anniversary of   Saint Barnabas Anglican Cathedral, Atlanta, Georgia!