Rev. John P. Cush is a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn. He serves as Academic Dean and as a formation advisor at the Pontifical North American College, Vatican City-State. Fr. Cush holds the Doctorate in Sacred Theology (STD) from the Pontifical Gregorian University, where he also teaches as an adjunct professor of Theology and U.S. Catholic Church History. He has served as a parish priest, high school seminary teacher, and as a Censor Librorum for his Diocese, as well as a theological consultant for NET TV. Fr. Cush is a regular contributor to the Brooklyn Tablet and the Albany Evangelist.
One of the things that can intimidate a person who is beginning his or her study of theology is all of the branches of theology that are out there. As I mentioned before, theology is ultimately the study of God and the things of God, which has to be done with and in the Church as a person of faith. It has to use the “skeleton,” if you will, of a solid philosophy (which Saint Thomas Aquinas has provided to the Church) and the study of theology needs to proceed with an examination of Divine Revelation — Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Following that, we study what the Magisterium, the official teaching of the Catholic Church has to say about an issue. Then, and only then, does positive theology enter into the picture.
In future articles, I hope to detail more on the proper use of philosophy for theology and as well as what we mean and we as Catholics interpret Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. I also intend to discuss how the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the documents of the Second Vatican Council can be used in the beginnings of Catholic theological study.
However, when one goes to a Catholic bookstore and sees all these theology books, it can be more than a little bit confusing. There seems to be a whole lot of “-ologies” out there and it can be really intimidating. Christology, eschatology, ecclesiology, pneumatology — what’s it all mean? Like any academic field, theology has its own set of technical phrases. Many of these phrases come from Latin and Greek roots. Among the classes that a seminarian needs to study in the course of his intellectual formation in the seminary is Latin, as well as Greek (and, in some seminaries, Hebrew). Is this to make the seminarian into an expert in these languages? Not so much that as to give him the basic capacity to read the Sacred Scriptures (Hebrew/Greek) and the official documents of the Church in their original languages. Can a person who wishes to study theology do so without a knowledge of Greek and Latin? Sure, but the experience will be so much richer when you can pick up the Holy Gospel and know the context and subtlety of the words chosen by the divinely inspired writer.
There is the theological field of fundamental theology. This is a branch that studies the transmission of Divine Revelation through Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, as well as how the Magisterium of the Church interprets them. It also speaks about the credibility of Divine Revelation, giving reason for our hope (1 Peter 3:15), which is, in a way, the field of apologetics. Fundamental theology is the area where theology is in dialogue with culture, science and philosophy. As one could imagine, it is a very essential field for the promotion of the New Evangelization. Faith, belief and unbelief, atheism, agnosticism, and secular humanism are all considered in the area of fundamental theology. One might say that fundamental theology is the “Why?” of theology. An important document of Vatican II to study that can help us understand fundamental theology (as well as for a growth in our understanding of biblical theology) is Dei Verbum (the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation). The first sections of the Catechism of the Catholic Church covers much of the areas studied in fundamental theology.
There is the theological field of dogmatic theology. This is the field that is, in many ways, the “What?” of theology. It deals with the doctrine of the faith. It studies God, both as One and as the Most Blessed Trinity. It discusses Christology (who Jesus is) as well as Soteriology (how Jesus is Savior). It studies Pneumatology (which is the study of the Holy Spirit). It studies the Church, who we are (which Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution of the Church in the Modern World, Lumen Gentium, can be a great aide to our understanding) as well as how the Church needs to be in the world (of which Vatican II’s Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, is a great explanation). Dogma covers Mariology, the study of the Blessed Mother, as well as Grace, God’s life within us. In addition, theological anthropology, the study of who man is in light of Christ, is part of dogmatic theology, as well as protology (the study of creation) and eschatology, the study of the four last things — death, judgment, heaven and hell — are explored. Finally, dogmatic theology studies the sacraments of the Church. The first sections of the Catechism of the Catholic Church covers much of the areas studied in fundamental theology.
Some schools of theology put dogmatic theology and fundamental theology together and call it “systematic” theology. For the sake of making a clear distinction between the two fields, I have kept them separate.
Next week, I hope to continue to give you an explanation of some more branches of theology — spiritual, moral, biblical, historical, liturgical and pastoral theology. Yes, there are many different branches of theology and we need to have people, men and women, clergy, religious and laity, trained in these various branches of theology. But we can never become so specialized, so refined, so removed and scientific in our study of theology that we lose sight of what (and who) it is we are really trying hard to know — our Lord in and through the Church!