We explain what theology is, how it originated and the branches into which it is divided. Also, what are its general characteristics and importance.
What is theology?
Theology is the discipline that studies how we conceive of God : the characteristics attributed to him, the history of his veneration and other speculative and apologetic religious aspects. It maintains a philosophical perspective on the matter, so it is distinguished from religious doctrine or religious literature .
In other words, it is about the study of God as proposed by a specific religious tradition , generally the Christian one . However, the concept can also be applied to other mystical and religious traditions such as Islam and Judaism .
Broadly speaking, theology is interested in central themes in religious worship and its basic philosophical thought , such as humanity, salvation, the world and eschatology (the end of all things). It is a field of study that is difficult to define in the abstract, since its origins go back to the ancient Greek tradition and its methods to the medieval Christian one .
The term theology comes from the Latin theologia , which in turn make up two different Greek words: on the one hand, the word theos (“god”, “divine”) and on the other logos (“word”, “knowledge”).
It can be said, then, that the term means “the knowledge of God” or “the knowledge of the divine.”
Origin of theology
The word theology was used for the first time in Ancient Greece , whose polytheistic religion went hand in hand with a philosophical thought of the most important of the 4th and 5th centuries BC. C.
The Republic (379 BC) is attributed for the first time to Plato in his text , who defines it as the understanding of divine affairs through human reason.
This sense was inherited by the Romans . For them theology was assimilated to the method of proclaiming the gods, worshiping them, confessing before them and spreading their word.
The coming Christianity in turn inherited this formal meaning, becoming the medieval equivalent of a science : a consistent method by which to explain faith. This criterion prevailed during the Middle Ages, thus giving rise to Christian theology, the largest of all its variants.
The first concept of existing theology was that of Plato, who defined it as the approach to the divine fact through the tools of philosophy , that is, the tools of reason, instead of the poetic arts of his contemporaries. For the context of the time, the theological would be equivalent to the mythological .
Christianity dominated thought in Europe during the Middle Ages , with notions inherited from both Jewish and Greco-Roman traditions. He defined theology as the formal study of the reasons for defending and promulgating Christian doctrine against other religions condemned as false or infidel.
This was expressed by the first Christian thinkers, such as Origen Adamantius (1st-2nd century), for whom theology was “the true doctrine about God and about Jesus Christ as Savior . ” This spirit gave birth to Catholicism and its particular theology, which privileged faith over reason.
In this context Anselm of Canterbury (X-XI century) formulated it as: “Faith seeks to understand . ” On the contrary, in recent times it is preferred to define it as the “science of faith”.
Branches of theology
Traditional theology, inherited from Christianity, recognizes five different branches:
- Biblical theology. The study of the texts collected in the Bible , paying attention to their historical relationships, their versions and the very history of the composition of this sacred book.
- Systematic theology. The study of the doctrinal concepts of religion, as well as its relationship with the Bible and other important texts.
- Practical theology. He focuses his study on the “applicable” aspects of religion, its social tools, the methods of evangelism, and so on.
- Historical theology. Study the doctrinal path of the Church , through a synchronic perspective (by times) that allows us to understand the way in which it has developed up to the present time.
- Philosophical theology. It focuses its study on the metaphysical or fundamental precepts of religious doctrine, that is, the interpretation of its fundamental concepts.
Theology is inseparable from the culture that gives rise to it. In that sense, there are the following theological traditions:
- Abrahamic Theology. The one that applies to Abrahamic religions, that is, to those that start from the teachings of the prophet Abraham. They are subdivided into:
- Christian apology. The defense of Christianity from rational arguments and concrete logical reasoning.
- Catholic theology. The study of Christian sacred texts preserving the orthodoxy of Catholic thought, heir to medieval Europe.
- Protestant theology. Also called liberal theology, it studies the Christian sacred texts from the renewal and liberalization led by Martin Luther in what was called The Protestant Reformation (16th century).
- Orthodox theology. Away from both Catholicism and Protestantism, this form of religious study follows the teachings of the Orthodox Church.
- Islamic theology. The Kalam is known as the study of Islamic texts through dialectics.
- Jewish studies. One of the main doctrines of study of Jewish texts such as the Torah or the Talmud and that often contributes to the formation of Jewish rabbis.
- Polytheistic theologies. It is the one that applies to religions outside of the three great monotheistic doctrines (Christianity, Judaism and Islam). In many cases they can be resurrected in the form of “rational paganism.” We can list the following:
- Greco-Roman mythology . Study the founding myths and mystical texts or mythological stories that come from Ancient Greece and were later adapted by the Romans.
- Egyptian theology. It focuses on the religion of Ancient Egypt , one of the most important civilizing poles of the Mediterranean from remote antiquity.
- Nordic theology. He investigates the collection of mystical stories and writings of the Germanic peoples of northern Europe, among those who shared gods and a pantheon of warrior deities.
Approaches to theology
There are two main focuses in Christian theology:
- Biblical theology. It focuses on the historical character of sacred texts, understanding the Bible and other later writings as pieces of a discourse composed over time . Various authors address different theological dilemmas, which more or less amounts to a literate perspective on divine texts.
- Dogmatic theology. It addresses theological matter from a didactic point of view, analyzing what each theologian has been able to understand about religious doctrine, and on what precepts he based his faith, beliefs, etc. If the former is a literate theology, this is a pedagogical theology, on the teaching of doctrine.
Importance of theology
Theology is much more than a mere study of esoteric , supernatural, or mystical beliefs and matters . It involves among its interests a set of philosophical, cultural and social concepts, related to disciplines such as anthropology , historiography, cosmology, etc.
Since ancient times it has been a central discipline in the cultural evolution and intellectual life of nations, having in some historical moments even a prophetic value.
This is the name given to a current that groups together various Catholic and Protestant aspects of Christianity , which emerged after the Medellín Conference (Colombia) in 1968. Its purpose is to care for the poor, making use of human and social sciences to find a way of help them overcome their difficulties.
In other words, it is a Christian strand that, far from offering the reward of earthly paradise and urging the poor to conform, uses the resources of faith and other social and historical perspectives to help the disadvantaged to think their own way. reality.
The first Christian thinkers of liberation theology were the educator and former Presbyterian pastor from Brazil Rubem Alves , and the Catholic priest from Peru Gustavo Gutiérrez Merino.
The theology career is common to various universities or institutes of higher education of religious roots, especially Catholic. It pursues the application of the Christian philosophical vision to other disciplines and fields of knowledge, using faith as an instrument to guide the spirit of the times.
What does a theologian do?
Theologians are basically scholars and researchers. They start from Christian dogma to approach other disciplines and contribute philosophically, literary or bibliographically.
In addition, they can be important social actors, especially liberation theologians , since they can put their religious and philosophical knowledge at the service of transmitting a message of peace, justice or transformation.
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