José Manuel Fidalgo
1.2 Basis of the scientific character of theology
We say that Christian theology is a science because it is a rational and coherent exposition of a precise object (the revealed mysteries) which we examine in the light of well-defined principles, and which ends with a deeper understanding of those mysteries.
The most extensive and systematic effort to establish the scientific character of Christian theology was made throughout the 13th century. Saint Thomas was one of its main proponents.
– Saint Thomas Aquinas
Saint Thomas adopts the Aristotelian concept of science and tries to demonstrate that that concept accommodates theology in a satisfactory way. For Aristotle, there is an order and hierarchy among the human sciences which affects the principles of the science. On one hand, there are sciences that start off from evident principles that can be observed and immediately known. On the other, there are sciences that come from principles which are not evident in themselves, principles which have to be demonstrated or taken from another science. This last group of sciences is subordinated to the first group.
Making use of these notions, Saint Thomas defines theology as a science subordinated to the science [i.e., knowledge] of God and of the blessed. The theologian cannot by himself demonstrate the truths affirmed by the superior science, but accepts its content. He uses this content as a starting point and develops his own work from it.
Saint Thomas makes two important conclusions:
In the first place, with respect to the orderly development of the contents of faith, theology is a science in a true and proper sense. There is nothing that prevents us from recognizing its scientific character, just as we recognize those human sciences which depend on other sciences for their foundations. The principles of theology — the divine mysteries — are evident in themselves, and their light gives theological clarity and certainty.
Secondly, in so far as it is a dependent or subordinated science which is possessed by a subject who does not have the superior science (science of God and of the blessed) at the same time, theology is a true science but it needs a permanent reference to the superior science towards which it aspires as an ultimate objective.
– St Augustine’s theological tradition
The Augustinian tradition is represented mainly by Saint Bonaventure. It differs from the Thomistic tradition because it has a different notion of beatitude (science of the blessed). For the Augustinian tradition, beatitude means loving God (not science or knowledge of God) which is rooted in the will (not in the intellect). Theology must therefore be ordered towards and have an affinity with that supreme act of eternal bliss (love of God). This is why theology can never be theoretical or scientific. It should rather be considered a gift of God, like a seed that is planted for eternal life.