Theology and Spirituality

Somewhere along the way, theology became independent of spirituality. By theology I mean the study of God, by spirituality I mean those practical exercises which are ordered to growth in charity. Though it is clear that these things are distinct, it is not clear that theology should be viewed as independent from spirituality, and in fact it is quite possible that to believe that the former needs the latter by its very nature.

The Old Testament, for example, tends to view “wisdom” which is clearly some perfection of intellect, as inseparable from love and fidelity towards God, or at least some sort of order to divine things. Examples of this pour copiously from many Old Testament books.

St. Thomas also views his theology as necessarily spiritual as well, as is clear from the prologue to the Contra Gentiles, where St. Thomas is stating the purpose or doing theology:

 Of all human pursuits, the pursuit of wisdom is the more perfect, the more sublime, the more useful, and the more sweet. The more perfect, because in so far as a man gives himself up to the pursuit of wisdom, to that extent he enjoys already some portion of true happiness. Blessed is the man that shall dwell in wisdom (Ecclus xiv, 22). The more sublime, because thereby man comes closest to the likeness of God, who hath made all things in wisdom (Ps. ciii, 24). The more useful, because by this same wisdom we arrive at the realm of immortality. The desire of wisdom shall lead to an everlasting kingdom (Wisd. vi, 21). The more sweet, because her conversation hath no bitterness, nor her company any weariness, but gladness and joy (Wisd. viii, 16).

St. Thomas is also clear that growth in grace gives one a more perfect knowledge of God than they can have without grace, and so a certain growth of theology can only take place by a growth in spirituality:

We have a more perfect knowledge of God by grace than by natural reason. Which is proved thus. The knowledge which we have by natural reason contains two things: images derived from the sensible objects; and the natural intelligible light, enabling us to abstract from them intelligible conceptions. Now in both of these, human knowledge is assisted by the revelation of grace. For the intellect’s natural light is strengthened by the infusion of the light of grace; and sometimes also the images in the human imagination are divinely formed, so as to express divine things better than those do which we receive from sensible objects, as appears in prophetic visions.

The proper cause or why St. Thomas’s theology is simultaneously a spirituality is because he sees theology as being simultaneously speculative and practical: 

 Sacred doctrine, being one, extends to things which belong to different philosophical sciences because it considers in each the same formal aspect, namely, so far as they can be known through divine revelation. Hence, although among the philosophical sciences one is speculative and another practical, nevertheless sacred doctrine includes both; as God, by one and the same science, knows both Himself and His works.

The Thomists that came after St. Thomas very quickly severed his theology from spirituality: we have clear indications that this had happened by the time of John of Sterngassen, who was a contemporary of St. Thomas. This, I think, is a terrible idea, and we would do well to return to the Wisdom of the Scriptures and the Thomism of St. Thomas, which both saw theology as inseparable from growth in grace, perfection, and likeness to God.

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