Theological Method

The term theological method refers to a scientific method of studying religion. By using this method, the theological approach is not just confined to reading the Scriptures but also involves studying them and analyzing implications and nuances as well as questioning doctrines. There are different theological methods simply because reading and analysis are carried out from different perspectives according to a person's inclinations in religion.

Attempts at scientific explanation of Christianity started in the 13th century. The first person to employ the theological method was Thomas Aquinas (c.1225-1275). Aquinas was an Italian Dominican priest and his works were extremely influential to modern philosophy. His best-known works are Summa Theologica and Summa Contra Gentiles.

Aquinas introduced and explored the concept of the Divine Trinity, which consists of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. He believed that theology was the human science of the divine. Thomism incorporates many of Plato's and Aristotle's principles and applies them to early Christianity. The theology of Aquinas, albeit controversial, remained the most influential in Christianity for centuries. His teachings faced criticism immediately after his death by the Franciscans, although the Dominicans defended his methods.

In 1879, Leo XIII proclaimed Aquinas as the greatest of all philosophers and for years to come religious and secular educational institutions included the teachings of Saint Thomas in their curricula. Neo-Thomism later took over and followers continued to explore philosophical theories, employing the principles of metaphysics. In 1965, the ecumenical council decided to put an end to the influence of the Thomist reign, although it was later re-established by Pope John Paul II in 1998.

Various schools and orders heavily criticized Thomist theology in the 19th century and a strong non-Thomist movement developed, particularly in Germany. The Catholic Tubingen school came to be regarded as an alternative to Thomism. It was noted for its devotion to orthodox Catholicism and was influenced by post-Kantian idealism and Hegel's philosophy. The Tubingen school developed a speculative historical theology and the "Theologische Quartalschrift" was founded by Johann Sebastian von Drey in 1819. At this time von Drey was transferred to Tubingen University from the University of Ellwangen and developed a traditional Catholic school together with his most prominent students Johann Adam Mohler, Johann Baptist Hirscher and Johann Evangelist Kuhn.

The basics of Drey's method can be seen in 1812 in the Revision des gegenwärtigen Zustandes der Theologie (translated as the Revision of the Present Status of Theology) and in the 1819 publication of Kurze Einleitung in das Studium der Theologie (translated as a Brief Introduction to the Study of Theology). This theological method further develops apologetics, speculative and moral theology.

Drey's traditionalist method was a reaction against Georg Hermes' theology, popular in the first half of the 19th century, which Drey saw as Enlightenment rationalism undermining human faith and strongly opposed to the separation between science and history. Drey believed that philosophy, theology, history and science formed a unity. He claimed that God's revelations were transmitted through historical events. The aim of the Tubingen theological method is to determine which events are manifestation of God's revelation and which are simply accidental.

Mohler's major work, Symbolik (1832), makes a distinction between symbols of Catholicism and Protestantism. He thought that the Reformation in the 16th century was necessary for the Church but it did not happen the right way. Instead of sustaining its ecclesiastical unity, it became a revolutionary movement. Mohler believed that traditional Catholicism was the moderate path between the bipolar Protestantism - the utter pietism that denied reason altogether and the utter rationalism that totally rejected the supernatural.

Mohler clearly demonstrated that the basic differences between Catholicism and Protestantism are nothing but the consequences of the views of the Reformation leaders. Mohler's works also inspired the notion that metaphysically the Church represents the body of Christ and the Church as an institution is the embodiment of the Holy Spirit. He is credited with the development of an intuitive and historical method of studying the traditional Catholic doctrine. Initially, Mohler's works were accepted as an attempt to undermine Protestantism but in more recent readings, he is viewed as a mediator between the two Christian traditions.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Method in Theology: An Organon for Our Time
Frederick. E. Crowe.
Marquette University Press, 1980
Living Options in Protestant Theology: A Survey of Methods
John B. Cobb.
Westminster Press, 1962
Discerning the Mystery: An Essay on the Nature of Theology
Andrew Louth.
Clarendon Press, 1999
Teilhard's Vision of the past: The Making of a Method
Robert J. S. J. O'Connell.
Fordham University Press, 1982
Mystery and Method: The Other in Rahner and Levinas
Michael Purcell.
Marquette University Press, 1998
Bound to Differ: The Dynamics of Theological Discourses
Wesley A. Kort.
Pennsylvania State University Press, 1992
FREE! Theology as An Empirical Science
Douglas Clyde MacIntosh.
Macmillan Company, 1919
Reflections on Sociology and Theology
David Martin.
Clarendon Press, 1997
Faith Seeking Understanding: The Functional Specialty, "Systematics", in Bernard Lonergan's Method in Theology
Matthew C. Ogilvie.
Marquette University Press, 2001
John Craige's Mathematical Principles of Christian Theology
Richard Nash; John Craig.
Southern Illinois University Press, 1991
The Nature of Women and the Method of Theology
O-Neill, Mary Aquin.
Theological Studies, Vol. 56, No. 4, December 1995
Quarrels with the Method of Correlation
Ormerod, Neil.
Theological Studies, Vol. 57, No. 4, December 1996
Method in Liberation Theologies
Phan, Peter C.
Theological Studies, Vol. 61, No. 1, March 2000
The Turn to Pneumatology in Christian Theology of Religions: Conduit or Detour?
Yong, Amos.
Journal of Ecumenical Studies, Vol. 35, No. 3-4, Summer 1998
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