Why Theology Matters

Jim @ Not For Itching Ears asserted that God doesn’t care about theology. Citizen Tom attempted here to rebut his assertion. I suppose the claim was presented because of the intention of wanting to bring together different denominations, but true ecumenicalism shouldn’t forgo truth for religious indifference or syncretism, God in the Old Testament puts those ideas to rest quite often. Jim from his original post doesn’t address Philippians though he brought up to me when I questioned that religious doctrinal indifference is never a theme in the undisputed letters of the Pauline canon. Jim’s argument rests on the Greek phrase “Ti Gar”, which is sometimes translated “What does it matter” in the passage that he quotes Philippians 1:17-18.  I made the point that Paul is very concerned in the Corinthian correspondences, Galatians, Romans, etc. with the understanding revelation correctly. The occasions for Paul’s letters generally center around defending the revelation against circumcision parties or defending his own apostleship. So, I had my suspicions that this just didn’t seem like the correct reading of Philippians, which is usually considered an authentic letter of St. Paul. The few commentaries that I perused didn’t even sniff Jim’s interpretation of the text, so again, exegesis is a conversation, it cannot be done in a vacuum. 

The complete thought of the periscope begins at verse 12, so again, in exegetical work, careful reading must be applied to a particular passage, a verse should not be taken out of its context both within the theme of the letter, it’s rhetorical devices, and its form. 

12 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. 

15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. (ESV Phil 1:12-18)

The entire context of verse 18 centers around Paul’s imprisonment which, as we can see from the complete periscope, advances the Gospel message either by men who do so for the sake of Christ’s gospel or personal gain, it has nothing to do with a group getting the gospel wrong. If one group was preaching adherence to the Mosaic law to be justified by Christ, from the context of Paul’s other letters, he would not have been so accepting, but Paul’s concern is the spread of the true message of the good news. 


So, does theology matter to God? Yes. It begins with the kerygma. God loves us and has a plan for us. So, the question should be asked in this manner, does theology matter for us? 

And because of this question we have to fully understand what is theology.  

Theology starts with the most knowable cause itself; it instructs man who God is through metaphors and analogy because man learns through the senses. It is a science that studies higher things, but It differs from the modern understanding of science that is only concerned with information; or the gathering of information to test hypothesis. However, the purpose of science is the certitude of the four causes. The supreme science to arrive at the conclusion of satisfaction is metaphysics. 

Metaphysics does differ from theology as the study of being as being that begins with cause and effect and rises to the cause. The classical understanding of science to knowledge in the strict sense of the word is one that proceeds from cause and effect. Theology is primarily about God as is all religious knowledge; it is not anthropology; it is primarily about the Trinity. Theology is not about the subjective needs of man, it is about God, who is the material object of study and His revelation which is the formal object. 

The trajectory of understanding in Theology is a top down approach where authority takes precedent. In theology, one looks at everything from God’s point of view, where reason cannot follow without help. So, does it matter to God—absolutely in this context. The subject matter is not diverse like it is in philosophy, but it has unity in the subject matter. It is one single unified vision of everything coming from God and leading one back to God in Christ. It is a conformity between nature, grace, and glory. 

The understanding of the nature of faith is predicated on the understanding of theology as a real science, which begins with the Creator and His revelation. Faith is a virtue, and it is necessary. It exists in its subject.

The starting point of the cause helps to understand how the act of our will as a response to grace toward God’s will in love—as St. Paul reminds us in Galatians 5:6—different from some of these commonly held misunderstandings on what is faith—for example, merely blind confidence. Theology depends on faith and revelation, which is how one assents to the propositions of theology as a science—science in the proper sense of all knowledge. In the proper sense of understanding theology as a science—dependent on faith and revelation—one could not be a theologian if one lacked faith because of theology’s dependence of both faith and revelation, one would either be a historian or a philosopher.

Faith is our response to revelation—which is grace; a free gift that is an invitation to the Divine life. One cannot merit this free gift of grace. For modernity, faith is the blind assent to a proposition; however, this is not the proper sense of the definition of the term. The act of belief as a form of knowing is distinct from the act of science and the act of opinion. These differences can be distinguished by the Aristotelean model of the three acts of the mind: simple apprehension, judgment, and reasoning.

There are two ways in which a person can come to judgment within this model. The first is philosophical in which one reasons through composing, combining, comparing, contrasting different beings. The second way is the movement of the intellect by an act of the will. If a person has assented to some propositions of faith through reason but cannot fully understand who God is, they will have a natural desire to move the intellect.  It is from the revelation of God that our natural desire is satisfied by an act of the will to faith. 

For example, Jesus gives us provocation to trust in His divinity through the signs of miracles. So, by these signs, a person can believe in His divinity because a person trusts in the authority in which Jesus speaks. An example of assenting to the authority and divinity of Jesus through signs would be St. Thomas the Apostle’s response to the sign of touching the man Jesus’ wounds which causes him to assent to the faith of the divinity of Jesus with the response, “My Lord, and my God.”[1]

So when it comes to assenting to a proposition, there is a similarity and difference between science and faith. In science, the mind is convinced by the examination of the scientific method and cause and effect. After such discourse through examination, assent puts an end to any further dialogue and ends examination. However, in faith, discourse and assent are in movement together at the same time. It is faith seeking understanding. When our will assents to faith in Christ, it moves also orders our will to acts of charity as the fruits of that faith.            The nature of faith is more closely related to a verb because it moves twofold from the intellect to faith by revelation and acts of charity.  The act of faith is when the intellect is moved by the will assents to the articles of faith given to us by God through revelation. It differs from doubt, opinion, and science because it assents by trust in the revelation of the revealer. It is done by ordering our will with God’s will by acts of charity. 


[1] St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, II-II 4.

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