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Introduction to Theological Studies Prof. Felix Just, S.J. What Is Theology? (revised Jan. 27, 2005). Theology < Greek Theos + Logos. Theos = “God” not a personal name, but a generic title for the divine being “God” vs. “gods” (more on this below)

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Introduction to theological studies prof felix just s j l.jpg

Introduction to Theological StudiesProf. Felix Just, S.J.

What Is Theology?

(revised Jan. 27, 2005)


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Theology < Greek Theos + Logos

  • Theos = “God”

    • not a personal name, but a generic title for the divine being

    • “God” vs. “gods” (more on this below)

  • Logos = “Word; Phrase; Speech; Reason”

    • Not just a single w-o-r-d, but any language-based thought

    • “Talking about…” ; “Study of…”

      • Anthropo-logy = “Study of Humans”; Bio-logy = “Study of Life”

      • Geo-logy = “Study of the Earth”; Zoo-logy = “Study of Animals”

  • Theology = “Study of God”; “Talking about God”

    • God’s being, essence, nature, and/or attributes

    • God’s relation to human beings and the whole world


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Philosophy < Greek Philos + Sophia

  • Philos = “Love; Friendship”

    • Four Greek words for “love”: eros, philos, agape, storge

    • Philadelphia = lit. “Love of Brothers” (“City of Brotherly Love”)

    • Philanthropy = lit. “Love of Human Beings” (i.e. Charity)

  • Sophia = “Wisdom”

    • Wisdom vs. intelligence vs. knowledge vs. understanding

  • Philosophy = “Love of Wisdom”

    • Socratic Method: asking questions!

    • Not just reading books, but dialogue between persons

    • About what? Everything! Including “God”?


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Love of Wisdom / Talking about GodQuest for Knowledge / Search for Truth

  • Ancient World:

    • Classical Greece: Philosophers

    • Ancient Israel: Prophets & Priests

    • Other Cultures: Magi, Physicians, Kings, etc.

    • No separately specialized “Theologians”

  • Medieval Universities:

    • Four Disciplines: Philosophy, Theology, Medicine, Law

  • Modern Universities:

    • Liberal Arts, Humanities, Social Sciences, Natural Sciences, Engineering, Arts, Business, Education, Religious Studies…


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Types of Belief in God(s) – lots of “-isms”

  • Theism

  • Atheism

  • Agnosticism

  • Gnosticism, Polytheism

  • Pantheism, Deism

  • Henotheism, Monotheism

  • Paganism, etc.


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Types of Belief in God (I)

  • Theism

    • Belief in the existence of a God or any gods

    • The generic term, of which other –isms are subcategories

  • Atheism

    • The opposite: Belief that God and/or gods do “not exist”

  • Agnosticism

    • “Not knowing” whether God exists; overall non-belief

  • Gnosticism

    • A religious system that believes salvation comes through “knowledge” (Gk. gnosis) of one’s divine origin and destiny


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Types of Belief in God (II)

  • Polytheism

    • Belief in the existence of “many” (Gk. poly) gods

      • Egyptian: many gods, mostly in animal form

      • Greek & Roman: a large family of gods, on Mount Olympus

  • Pantheism

    • Belief that divinity resides “everywhere” (Gk. pan)

      • The whole universe is divine; divinity is within everything that exists

      • But there is no “God” separate from or external to the world

  • Deism

    • Belief that God created the world, but then abandoned it

      • God exists, created us, but exerts no further influence on the world

      • Based on 18th-century rationalism (e.g. Thomas Jefferson)


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Types of Belief in God (III)

  • Henotheism

    • Allegiance to “one” god over the others

      • All nations have their own “gods”; “Our god is better than your gods”

  • Monotheism

    • Belief in the existence of “only” one God

      • What others call “gods” are at most spirits, but not divine

    • Christians believe in one God, but Jesus & Spirit also divine

      • “Trinity” = one divine “nature,” three divine “persons” (not 3 diff. gods)

  • Paganism

    • Religions of “others” who don’t believe in “our” God/gods

      • Popular connotations negative: pagans, heathens, unbelievers

      • Academic meaning neutral: all non-Jewish, non-Christian religions


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Identifying God (Titles & Names):

  • Generic Titles:

    • God / god, Deity, Divine Power, El, Elohim, etc.

    • Father, Mother, Creator, Lord, King, etc.

  • Proper Names:

    • Jewish: YHWH (Yahweh? Jehovah?); Ya/Ja

    • Mesopotamian: Asherah, Baal; Ishtar, Marduk, Tiamat, etc.

    • Egyptian: Aten, Horus, Isis, Osiris, Ra, Seth, Thoth, etc.

    • Greco-Roman / Olympian: Zeus=Jupiter; Athena=Diana; etc.

    • Muslim: Allah


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Talking about God (Philosophically):

  • God is Absolute (positive & negative):

    • ALL: omnipotent (all powerful); omniscient (all knowing); omnipresent (everywhere); omni-benevolent (all merciful)

    • NOT: invisible (not seen); immutable (unchanging); immortal (not dying); infinite (not limited); etc.

  • Language is Limited (analogies & opposites):

    • God is transcendent (beyond) & immanent (internal)

    • So God-talk is possible, but always analogical / inadequate

    • Both/and Approach: via positiva & via negativa


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Summary / Review

  • Philosophy & Theology

    • Philosophy < Greek Philos + Sophia

    • Theology < Greek Theos + Logos

  • Types of Belief in God (“-isms”)

    • Theism vs. Atheism vs. Agnosticism

    • Deism vs. Pantheism vs. Polytheism

    • Henotheism vs. Monotheism (incl. Trinitarian Christianity)

  • Talking about God

    • Generic Titles vs. Proper Names

    • Analogical Language: absolutes & opposites


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