Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Task of a Theologian

I would like to start this post with a parable from Matthew chapter 13:

            “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field” (v.44).

I noticed recently that in this parable and the one in the next verse, the treasure and the fine pearls were actually found.

An old, tattered dictionary I have at my bedside (a copy of Webster’s New World Dictionary) defines the word discern as follows: “to perceive or recognize clearly.” The way the term discernment is used in our society adds a bit more to this definition, namely to perceive or recognize clearly what can be perceived or recognized clearly. From my observations, the term is almost always used to explain the state of looking for or perceiving something in the knowledge that that the object of discernment can be found and recognized. You cannot truly discern if a) you do not know what you are looking for, or b) you can never possibly find the answer. This seems to be common sense. But is it?

The parable above is enlightening. What I take from this passage from Matthew’s Gospel is that God’s Truth can be found. St. Anselm defined theology as “fides quaerens intellectum” (faith seeking understanding). Theology’s greatest aim is to understand God and His relationship with the world. Christian theology is a discerning process because we are seeking what we know we can find. As the beginning of John’s Gospel and his first epistle boldly proclaim, God has revealed His Word (the logos) to us. This Word has manifested itself through the life of Jesus of Nazareth, who because of his incarnation has made God known to us. Because Christ is the logos, he is the Truth and this Truth is available for the discerning, so to speak. “Seek and you will find” (Matthew 7:7b). The treasure and the pearls can be found, and this must be the primary aim of a theologian: to discover and proclaim the Truth. Of course we can never know everything about God, or we would be God. But what has been revealed to us can be discerned because the Truth is available. We can in fact understand God because of His Son. 

Theology is different from philosophy. Philosophers attempt to create their own theories about life--- to replace Truth with mere propositions. While theology knows that Truth stands objectively and cannot be manipulated by human thought, philosophy claims that the Truth that created everything including man comes from man himself, and thus can be altered and discarded at will. This is preposterous! Philosophy may help theologians understand the Truth once it has been found, but it can never replace the Truth. We know the Truth exists because of the Gospel, so our searching must be to find and better understand the Truth. Philosophers do not discern because they do not know what they are looking for, but we know what we are looking for. 

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