Brookline Carmel Bulletin
September 4, 1960
“And they shall all be taught of God.” (John 6, 45)
We might paraphrase the above text rather prosaically, “Everyone shall learn theology.” That’s why theology means, “Knowledge of God.”
There are two main divisions of theology, Dogmatic and Moral. A kind of symmetry is to be seen in them. Saint Thomas Aquinas calls Moral Theology the science, which studies ‘the movement of the rational creature toward God.’ Dogmatic Theology can be described s the science that studies the movement of God toward the rational creature.
Saint Thomas says further that our essential happiness in Heaven will consist in the Beatific Vision, in which God reveals Himself directly to the intellect in the light of glory without the intervention of ideas and concepts. Saint John of the Cross says that the only difference between the Beatific Vision and Faith is the difference between seeing and believing. Therefore God really gives Himself to the soul under the propositions (dogmas), which state the truths of our Faith. The proper object of Dogmatic Theology is the totality of revealed truth and its logical consequences. As time goes on, the Church, enriched by new experience and faced with new situations, deduces more and more truths from the deposit of Faith, such that Dogmatic Theology is a vital, growing discipline. Because God is infinitely knowable, the inexhaustible mine of Wisdom and Knowledge, it is capable of unlimited development. For this reason we can say it is the movement of God toward His rational creatures.
Moral Theology, concerned as it is with man’s movement toward God studies human acts: their origin, nature, influencing factors, the principles leading to the formation of a right conscience, sin and the virtues. It is so broad it covers the whole field of moral activity. It not only points out the bare minimum which must be done if one wishes to be saved, it indicates also how one might practice heroic virtue. Unfortunately, most individuals are more concerned with ‘staying in bounds’, and the priest must apply his knowledge of Moral Theology to explain the limits beyond which we cannot go if we want to remain the friends of God. It has been accused of being the science, which seeks out loopholes in the Moral Law. This is, however, not at all a fair indictment.
Spiritual Theology is included in the framework of Moral Theology. It is the science, which studies the concrete development of the supernatural life of grace in the soul of the man striving for perfection. It is most concerned with singling out those moral practices which enable a man to attain sanctity, which enable him to depart completely from self in order to arrive at union with God. Chiefly, it studies at close quarters the disattachment of the soul from creatures (mortification), and the subsequent (and also concomitant) encounter of the soul with God (prayer). Because it is interested in the concrete development of grace in the soul in the here and now, it delves into its depths. Thus it draws heavily upon the findings of psychology, for it is well known that grace builds on nature, and many minor quirks must be ironed out before grace can have its full effect. Of course the opposite is also true to some extent. Grace can have a therapeutic effect upon the soul and assist mightily in overcoming such defects. In other words, a man is not a saint without at the same time being perfectly sane and mature, i.e., perfect on the natural plane.
The very nature of Spiritual Theology brings the soul up against a redoubtable practical difficulty. Since it is concerned with the actual state of soul of the man tending toward perfection, every man that becomes a saint must, in the process, have worked out (at least in his mind) his own personal ‘textbook’. My novice-master told us many years ago that we are all pioneers in the spiritual life; we have to blaze our own trail to sanctity. No one else in the whole world is quite like us. No one sees things from the same vantage point; no one has exactly the same experiences, the same problems, difficulties, and successes. Nor can we represent perfectly to our advisor the exact state of our soul (unless we are among the greatest of the literary greats). Even if we could, our listener interprets them in the light of his own personal history. But this is really a wonderful thing. Nothing is so stimulating as a good stiff personal challenge, nothing so rewarding as having met it successfully. Spiritual Theology holds out the most stimulating of all challenges and promises the richest of rewards; intense, profound spiritual fulfillment.
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