When I made the decision to study theology in addition to English in college, I had no idea I was embarking on a faith journey as well as an academic one. But that’s how it is with Catholicism: ours is a faith of both the head and the heart. Learning is supposed to enhance our faith and vice versa. All the same, there are some basic facts about Catholic theology that I didn’t know at the time I started my degree. I am a cradle Catholic, but the facts I discovered are things that I had never even considered before, so I thought I would share those particulars with you so you can consider them, too.
1. Catholic theology is vast.
This should be obvious, but to me, it wasn’t. Our faith is so complex and huge in so many ways and there are multiple facets to it that you can explore. There’s sacramentology, eschatology, ecclesiology, ecumenism, biblical studies and exegesis, liturgical studies, Christology, Mariology, Trinitarian theology, Catholic social teaching, and Theology of the Body/sexual ethics, to name a few of those facet. Not to mention the writings of the apostolic fathers and the saints, and the theology and philosophy of different religious orders. While this vastness can be daunting at times, it is such a reason to rejoice. As Catholics, we are part of the Body of Christ. That Body has lasted for over two thousand years and the immeasurable intellect of this Body matches the immensity of its heart.
2. You can’t learn it all.
As previously mentioned, Catholic theology is huge and is comprised of multiple fields of study. It’s so expansive, no one can know everything about it. Consider its subject matter. Theology helps mankind understand God, who is an infinite, eternal being. He has been, is now, and always will be. He is the I AM. It goes without saying that theologians will never run out of subject material because there is always more to be discovered about God (not in terms of new revelation, but in terms of ways of experiencing, examining, interpreting, and explaining revelation). How God has interacted and continues to interact with humanity is also a profound mystery that millions of saints and scholars have contemplated and written about. And that doesn’t even take into account the other ways people have expressed what they have felt and discovered about God, such as art, literature, architecture, and music. Try as hard as we might, we cannot know everything about God, simply because we can’t in this life. Yet another reason to look forward to Heaven, right?
3. Theology involves quite a bit of philosophy.
Philosophy is an incredibly interesting and previously hallowed subject, yet these days most don’t care about it. It seems to be one of those hit-or-miss subjects in American education; very often you either learn at least a little about it or you don’t learn it at all during your secondary education. I belong to the latter category and managed to struggle through the philosophical bits of my classes. Yet philosophy and theology are intimately linked because they both deal with the subject of man: who he is, how he thinks, what makes him up, how he interacts with the world around him, and what he’s destined for. Another reason to look into philosophy if you want to go deeper into theology is that philosophy helps you understand various anti-religious mindsets. It’ll also help you understand the mindset of our current culture, which has its roots in the writings of John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Thomas Hobbes, to name a few. If you can manage it, philosophy will only enhance your understanding of theology.
4. Your level of theological knowledge has little to do with whether or not you’re a good Catholic.
Yep, it’s true. Don’t get me wrong, it is to your benefit to know at least the basics of your faith in order to have an active understanding, appreciation, and response to living a Christian life. As St. Augustine once wrote, “I believe in order to understand; and I understand, the better to believe.” And it’s important to know that we all have different levels of understanding and loving God and different ways of expressing that love. That’s totally great and even better, that’s how God intended it to be. 1 Corinthians 7:12-31 attests to this fact. So while some may have a fancy theology degree and you don’t, that says nothing about you or your relationship with God. We’re all on this pilgrim journey to Heaven together and ultimately, our knowledge about God won’t matter. What we did with that knowledge and how we lived the love that knowledge inspired within us is what will truly matter.