Why Study Theology?

WelCom August 2019: Cardinal John Dew, Archbishop of Wellington For many years I have subscribed to the periodical entitled The Pastoral Review. It arrives from England every couple of months. I look…

WelCom August 2019:

Cardinal John Dew, Archbishop of Wellington

Why Study Theology? Archdiocese of Wellington

Cardinal John Dew. Photo: Woolf

For many years I have subscribed to the periodical entitled The Pastoral Review. It arrives from England every couple of months. I look forward to the Scripture reflections, which help me in the preparation of homilies and to the different spiritual and theological articles it provides.

The May/June edition of Pastoral Review contained the first of three articles by Professor Thomas O’Loughlin, Professor of Historical Theology at the University of Nottingham, entitled ‘Why Study Theology?’. The July/August/September issue has recently arrived with his second article, and I am already looking forward to the third of his articles.

I would love to see more people studying theology. In recent years we have run the Launch Out Formation programme in the Archdiocese of Wellington; a formation programme for those we have accepted for preparation to be lay pastoral leaders. This programme has three aspects to it:

  • spiritual formation;
  • pastoral formation; and
  • academic formation.

For almost 20 years now those who have participated in the programme have almost all said about the various theology papers how much they have loved them, and the question has invariably been ‘Why didn’t someone tell us this before?. It has given them a greater and deeper appreciation of their faith; it has enabled them to understand more and to articulate why we believe what we believe.

Anyone can study theology and as I have already said above, I would love to see more and more people doing so. We have wonderful opportunities through The Catholic Institute of Aotearoa New Zealand. TCI is registered by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority as a Private Training Establishment, and it is owned by the New Zealand Catholic Bishops who are the Trustees. It is not just me who would like to see more and more people take up theological studies, all the bishops want this. It is not only for the professional, the teachers in our Catholic schools and colleges, or for lay pastoral leaders or hospital or prison chaplains, or those working in youth ministry, it is for anyone and everyone.

I recently looked at the TCI website to see what some of those studying through TCI are saying. There were comments such as:

  • ‘it was a really positive experience’;
  • ‘the lecturers were very helpful, they supported us throughout the courses’;
  • ‘I felt really comfortable, whether it was in face-to-face lectures or by distance learning’;
  • ‘I was able to share with and learn from others’;
  • ‘it has helped me to speak about my faith and given me confidence to participate more in my parish’.

We could easily be tempted to think ‘theology’ is a body of knowledge or information that one ‘downloads.’ In the past it was often thought of as the body of information needed by a priest, or a set of answers that could be used to explain everything, as if it was the religious equivalent of geography or mathematics. Of course, theology does involve knowledge about how Christians live, how we worship, how our doctrines over the years have developed, and why they have developed, what it is that makes us disciples of Jesus.

One of the things we need to understand is that theology is not a matter of fixed answers and there are always a variety of explanations and interpretations. That is why we need more and more people to study theology and to be well educated about their faith, because so many people think the Church should be ‘black and white’ about everything and have definite clear answers. However, it has never been that simple.

As our parishes become more complex, as moral and ethical questions become more complex, and as clergy, lay pastoral leaders and chaplains become more and more stretched we need people who will engage with others on the serious questions of today, and who will engage with society in general on serious issues concerning our lives, our communities and our world.

“…we need more and more people to study theology and to be well educated about their faith…”

We might ask, ‘What is special about theology?’. I would say it is about having a developed, trained skill in thinking about the Christian life, reflecting on what we are doing, why we are doing it this way, and asking if the plan and design of God could be better served by thinking differently. Everyone thinks about questions of religion, but it can easily become very confusing. Theology can help us to understand our religion better. The more able we are able to think about religion, the more we are able to replace discord and dissension with dialogue, listening and learning. The more people pick up some theological knowledge and learn how to think and apply the Scriptures and our Church teaching the more we can add to our parishes and to our understanding of other religions. Religions can learn to respect one another, speak to one another, and learn from one another – and that will be all to the glory of God.

I would love to see more people engaging in theological studies. Why don’t you look up the TCI website www.tci.ac.nz and enrol?

Professor Thomas O’Loughlin was visiting New Zealand in July. He was one of three keynote speakers at a Eucharistic Convention in Auckland. He also gave a series of lectures around the country about ministry, discipleship and the sacraments to groups of priests, parishes and organisations. Professor Thomas has written this month’s Catholic Thinking article for WelCom, entitled
The Apprentices of Jesus.