Around April, members of the World Mission Society Church of God informally visited Rollins College to share their religious views with the student body. Every so often, they would stop people at random to inquire as to their beliefs. Specifically, they would ask if the student had heard of God the Mother, the fourth Person of the Christian God alluded to throughout the Bible. I had the pleasure of being stopped by a WMSC member on the way to the cafeteria and listening to him passionately expound his theology. While he left me unconvinced, I was glad to learn of yet another way to interpret the Divine Mystery.
“Surely,” I thought, “countless others must have their own way of apprehending the true nature of God. I as a Catholic apprehend God as the Holy Trinity in Unity, but how well do even I understand my own theology?”
Fortunately, I happened to be writing my thesis on Christian existentialism and the nature of belief at the time the church member approached me, so I thought I might take a moment to share what I had learned:
Theology is a science that takes natural truths discovered by science and supernatural truths revealed according to a religion and uses deductive reasoning to draw conclusions about God. Theologians consider their field a science because it uses induction to discover premises and first principles to reason from. In other words, theologians can work only from whatever is scientifically demonstrated to be true (e.g., the human body is composed of 11 periodic elements) and what has been revealed by faith (e.g., the human soul is immortal). This means if advances in science reveal new truths about the natural world (e.g., evolution), theologians have to reckon with them. On the other hand, theologians always must account for those truths especially made known by Divine Revelation (e.g., humans are the only animals that possess reason) that science is bound to recognize.
If this sounds like it’s a whole lot to juggle, it’s because it is. The Catholic Church has good reasons for not defining too much theology as dogma. For one, theologians are only human, and humans are known for being imperfect. (Well, there’s one dogma the Church has defined.) For another, a lot of theological conclusions have little to do with everyday life. That isn’t to say they’re unimportant, just that little details like the hierarchy of each species of angel probably won’t cause you to act nicer to your baby sister. And yet, many theological conclusions are important. For instance:
The Trinity is beyond human comprehension.
Good to know, right? All those geniuses walking around with Ph.Ds. in theology can’t fully explain how 1+1+1=1. The closest St. Augustine gets to an answer is something like this: God is a spiritual being. Humans are spiritual and material. Humans are created in God’s image. The part of God’s image humans are created in can’t be material, so it must be spiritual. The spiritual part of humans is the soul. Therefore, the human soul must be made in the image of God. What is the soul like? The soul thinks, and it wills. God thinks, and He wills. Therefore, the soul of God (which is all God in His Divine Nature is) performs these two actions. Similarly, God has revealed He has a Son and Holy Spirit. His Son Jesus has referred to the Father as the One He and the Holy Spirit come from. Connecting the dots, the Son and Holy Spirit coming from the Father are understood to be the intellect of God and the will of God respectively. But since a soul is in reality intelligence and will, these three can’t be separated. They’re simply the three ways humans have of understanding the Divine Nature of a God as revealed by Him.
All credit for the above goes to the 2000-plus years of theology done long before me. And if you didn’t understand it, that’s okay, because I still don’t understand the Mother of God. See, there’s a secret to theology, and that secret is:
Most people don’t (need to) know theology.
Theology is about science, but religion is about belief. You don’t need to know the 11 elements that comprise your body to use it; just eat and drink healthfully, and the rest takes care of itself. Similarly, you don’t need to understand Augustine’s De Trinitate to be a good Christian; just love other people as you love yourself, and God takes care of the rest.