Should the laity do theology?

Everyone has a duty to seek out the truth, and it is especially incumbent on the Christian to learn about God and the things of God, so that he may know, love, and serve him all the more. But clearly not everyone is called to be a theologian.

For one thing, not everyone has the time or the intellectual gifts; but more to the point, “sacred theology,” as in the science studied over lifetimes by theologians and taught in seminaries over a period of years, is the special domain of the clergy and of professional theologians. The clergy need to have an expertise in the science of God so that they can guide the faithful correctly; and theologians assist the Church in clarifying, organizing, and delivering this information.

Given the above, to what extent should the rank-and-file faithful attempt theology? We make theological assertions all the time–“God would never do that”; “The angels are like this”–“The universe could have been this way”, etc. But if we lack the schooling to offer any support for our assertions, other than “It makes sense to me,” or “so-and-so said this,” should we refrain from making such assertions? Should we qualify them with “In my lay opinion”? Should we all go to seminary?

A related question would be: where does apologetics end and theology begin, or vice versa?

We all have a duty to continue to learn about our Creator…to know God. In that sense, we all have a duty to study the realm of theology. However, not everyone is called to be a “Theologian”. The “rank-and-file” Christian can study theology by reading the Scriptures daily (or as often as possible), attending Mass, Bible study programs, reading the Catechism, etc… Some will want to go further than that and study other theologians, the ECF’s, the Councils, etc… And some will have the time and the calling to earn degrees in theology, etc…

I think that, unless a person actually says he is a Priest or a formally educated theologian of some sort, it can be assumed that all our comments are made via our lay-opinions. Some of our opinions can carry more weight when backed by Church doctrine, or the opinions of past theologians, etc…, but I think most people read their fellow lay-person’s thoughts as coming from a fallible person with little or no formal training.

In my lay-opinion :wink: , theology becomes apologetics when you are then attempting to explain it or defend it to someone else. The “apologetics” aspect is giving that reasoned defense/argument, or learning how to do so. I would view “theology” as learning more about my faith so I can internalize it and get to know God. The moment at which I learn for the purpose of explaining that to others, I would consider that “apologetics” training.

Now in hindsight, I’m seeing that I tend to do most of my studying with an “apologetics” mentality as opposed to simply yearning to internalize my faith. That’s something I need to work on. :o

What, then, is the value of all these undeclared FWIW posts (which constitute the vast majority of all posts–including mine–on discussion boards such as this)? Are we all just thinking out loud? butting heads? looking for affirmation? Getting catharsis? Are we really accomplishing anything? (I’m not trying to be negative or subversive here, but I think doing some or all of the above.)

Easy to do when the faith is under attack from all directions. I fall into it as well.

I use it for training myself in effective argumentation, and helping others as well (pointing out potential fallacies, inaccurate presentations of Church teaching, etc…). It’s also helpful for learning how to put the Church’s teaching into layman’s terms. And I dare say that some people have come here and realized a Truth that they had not previously known. For myself, I never knew the Church’s teachings on periodic continence until I came here, nor did I know how to explain ANY Church doctrine with any degree of certainty to anyone else. I’ve also learned where to find our doctrines in the Scriptures, which I had not previously been able to do. So, for that matter, all the FWIW posts encouraged me to go and learn my faith. :slight_smile:

Theology is more than just learning about God and doctrine through academic study. It requires an active participation in the divine and supernatural.

This is not my opinion but the definition of what a theologian is according to the Church.

No one “does” theology. Just because someone picks up books and learns a bunch of things about God doesn’t mean that they are a theologian. Throughout all of history, all the great theologians have been people of deep prayer and people who have perceived the realities of the divine world.

The devil knows more about God than all the theologians who ever lived combined but he doesn’t participate in the life of the Trinity. I can get a PhD in theology but I won’t become a theologian until the moment I start to pray.


Good points, Timothy.

It’s your responsibility to learn as much as you can. I never claim to be a theologian but I study all the time. We are in a war for souls; our soul and the souls of others is at stake. All of the Church Militant are supposed to be fighting. When I was deployed, I did not command thousands of men. Yet I understood the strategies of those officers appointed over me and learned as much as I could in tactics and weapons to be effective for myself and those around me. The officers that are appointed to a run a war do not win it on their own but rely on the soldiers that they send forward.

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Thanks everyone, for your input. (More thoughts welcome.)

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