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Author: Ted Fairchild

This lesson introduces theology as "theos logos," i.e. the academic and scholarly study of God, with emphasis on both the scope and limitations of theology.

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Source: Music by Amy Fairchild; "Mr. Heart" Olsen, Roger E. The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition and Reform. Downers Grove, IL. InterVariety P, 1999.

Video Transcription

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Hello, and welcome to Theology. I'm not sure exactly what your progression is along this religion's pathway, but theology is bound to show up at some point in one way or another. Looking back historically, theology has been around as long as the human mind and heart and soul have been interested and preoccupied with understanding the nature and the existence of God. Theology is a formal approach that reaches back through history and the languages that have given expression to these questions.

So let's begin with language. Theology comes from two Greek words-- "theos" meaning God and "logos," which is equally difficult to define. In ancient Greece, the philosophers and theologians had many interpretations of it, and this influenced the religions that emerged in and around the region. Philo of Alexandria, for example, had a very developed doctrine of the logos, which refer to the logos as God. Also as the word of God, God's action, and the logos as mediator between man and God.

So theology then is really the perfect word to use to get into the study of God. The language and the history around it, in addition to what it points to is really rich and various and inspiring. As a formal discipline of study, it's different from the phenomenology of religion, because it works with the questions related to the underlying reality of the unseen. It seeks answers to these questions often in a way that demands more of an involvement with the faith or a faith, one particular religion or another.

As we have discussed in other lessons, the age old preoccupation with these questions related to the unseen has guided the development of human thought and religious expression, and theology in a general sense refers to this process. One thing to notice though is that during the European Enlightenment, the coupling of theology with formal academics began to be questioned, began to be brought into debate. And this continues to the present day.

The basis for the arguments has to do with whether or not the investigations are objective, whether or not a commitment of faith is necessary when doing theology, and if so, does it get in the way of what's being studied? So that was a question of impartiality and partiality with regard to studying theology.

Because of its strong link with Greek philosophy, theology is mainly associated with the three traditions of the West, the three monotheistic religions-- Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. But it can also be used in certain ways to refer to other philosophies and religions and approaches to the unseen, which seek to answer some of the same fundamental basic questions.

So let's look now at some of the important figures in the history of theology, one from each of the monotheistic religions. Theology was thriving during Middle Ages, and it was nearly inseparable from the study of other subjects. It was considered to be the pinnacle of academics, and for that reason it was given the name "The Queen of the Sciences."

Moses ben Maimon, or Maimonides, was a hugely influential Jewish medieval philosopher, theologian, and physician from the 12th century. He sought to integrate Greek philosophy and rationalism with his own Judaic tradition, and he applied it to the study of the Torah, the Hebrew Bible. Moses ben Maimon was known for many works, Maimonides was known for many works, especially the Mishneh Torah, or the repetition of the Torah, which is a codification, or coding, of Jewish religious law and observances.

He also wrote a philosophical text called "Guide for the Perplexed." And just a little bit later, Saint Thomas Aquinas came on the scene to energize Roman Catholic thought. This method is referred to, the method that he used is referred to as scholasticism. And like Maimonides, Aquinas put a lot of work into trying to harmonize and reconcile Hellenistic Greek philosophy with his faith, the Roman Catholic faith.

Aquinas's principal text is called the Summa Theologica, and Aquinas's foundational concept in the Summa involves Aristotle's notion of prime mover, the first mover, first unmoved mover. And he used this metaphysical idea of motion to argue for God's existence, known as the proof of God's existence from motion.

A lot of the scholasticism of Maimonides and Aquinas, especially, can be traced back to a medieval Muslim theologian named Ibn Sina, or Avicenna, from the early 11th century. Avicenna was a philosopher, metaphysician, who wrote volumes on the nature of being in existence, the existence of God and his creatures, the relationship between a necessary and contingent being, or dependent existence. So those are our three principal theologians. It's time to do a quick review.

The word theology comes from two Greek words-- "theos" meaning God and "logos," which has many interpretations. Theology deals with the questions related to the underlying reality of the unseen. It is most often associated with the three monotheistic religions of the West-- Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. And the three medieval theologian philosophers we mentioned were Ibn Sina, or Avicenna, Maimonides, and Thomas Aquinas.

And we also looked at the fact that although they come from different traditions, they shared an approach that was new at the time, giving rise to a chain of influence. And their approach to theology included a rigorous examination of Greek philosophy and metaphysics, integrating it with their own respective religions. And finally, theology as a modern discipline continues to explore and search for answers to the big questions, whether it be from within a religious tradition or from without. So that wraps it up. We look forward to seeing you next time. Thanks.

  • Theology

    The study of God, including questions regarding God's existence, nature, and character.