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(thēŏl`əjē), in Christianity, the systematic study of the nature of God and God's relationship with humanity and with the world. Although other religions may be said to have theologies, this is a matter of controversy within, for instance, JudaismJudaism
, the religious beliefs and practices and the way of life of the Jews. The term itself was first used by Hellenized Jews to describe their religious practice, but it is of predominantly modern usage; it is not used in the Bible or in Rabbinic literature and only rarely
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, which holds that God is unknowable. This article will therefore confine itself to Christian theology.

The development of theology in Christendom arose from the need for educated Christians of the ancient world to express their ideas in terminology familiar in current thought. Hence arose the close relation of Christian theology with Greek philosophy formulated by the Greek and Latin Fathers of the ChurchFathers of the Church,
collective name for the Christian writers of early times whose work is considered generally orthodox. A convenient definition includes all such writers up to and including St. Gregory I (St. Gregory the Great) in the West and St.
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. St. AugustineAugustine, Saint
, Lat. Aurelius Augustinus, 354–430, one of the Latin Fathers of the Church and a Doctor of the Church, bishop of Hippo (near present-day Annaba, Algeria), b. Tagaste (c.40 mi/60 km S of Hippo). Life

Augustine's mother, St.
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, a Latin Father and one of the greatest theologians, introduced and standardized in his writings teachings that became central to Christian theology. Augustine's influence was paralleled in the East by that of OrigenOrigen
, 185?–254?, Christian philosopher and scholar. His full name was Origines Adamantius, and he was born in Egypt, probably in Alexandria. When he was quite young, his father was martyred.
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The great theological problems of the early church involved the relationship of the first and second persons of the Christian Trinity, the relationship of the divine and human in Jesus, and the relationship between God and humanity. One important struggle was over ArianismArianism
, Christian heresy founded by Arius in the 4th cent. It was one of the most widespread and divisive heresies in the history of Christianity. As a priest in Alexandria, Arius taught (c.
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, the heresy that denied the true divinity of Jesus. The nature of gracegrace,
in Christian theology, the free favor of God toward humans, which is necessary for their salvation. A distinction is made between natural grace (e.g., the gift of life) and supernatural grace, by which God makes a person (born sinful because of original sin) capable of
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 was also debated during the Middle Ages and the Protestant Reformation; the heretical Pelagians (see PelagianismPelagianism
, Christian heretical sect that rose in the 5th cent. challenging St. Augustine's conceptions of grace and predestination. The doctrine was advanced by the celebrated monk and theologian Pelagius (c.355–c.425). He was probably born in Britain.
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) contended that a human being has the ability to take the first steps necessary toward salvation apart from divine grace. Augustine insisted, against the Pelagians, that humanity is totally dependent on grace for salvation.

Scholastic theology (see scholasticismscholasticism
, philosophy and theology of Western Christendom in the Middle Ages. Virtually all medieval philosophers of any significance were theologians, and their philosophy is generally embodied in their theological writings.
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) sought to illuminate matters of religious faith through intellectual understanding. Scholastic theologians such as Thomas AquinasThomas Aquinas, Saint
[Lat.,=from Aquino], 1225–74, Italian philosopher and theologian, Doctor of the Church, known as the Angelic Doctor, b. Rocca Secca (near Naples).
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 attempted to reconcile seeming contradictions in revealed truths by presenting a doctrine with supporting argument, contradicting argument, and a solution. Aquinas' Summa Theologica is often regarded as the greatest work of Scholasticism. Scholastics differentiated carefully between theology and philosophy by confining theology to the field of the systematization and investigation of revealed truths; in this distinction philosophy is to proceed always from reason and does not investigate the truths that transcend reason. The distinction is maintained explicitly by Roman Catholic thinkers and implicitly by conservative Protestants. According to this differentiation CalvinismCalvinism,
term used in several different senses. It may indicate the teachings expressed by John Calvin himself; it may be extended to include all that developed from his doctrine and practice in Protestant countries in social, political, and ethical, as well as theological,
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 and LutheranismLutheranism,
branch of Protestantism that arose as a result of the Reformation, whose religious faith is based on the principles of Martin Luther, although he opposed such a designation.
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 are theologies, not philosophies.

As a result of the 18th-century Enlightenment, especially the work of Immanuel Kant, a new rational theology arose in the 19th cent. This must be carefully distinguished from the "rationalism" of scholasticism, because 19th-century rational theology assumes as axiomatic the ability of reason to criticize adequately every truth. The theological school of Tübingen was the center for the extreme "rationalistic theologians," and there the "higher criticism" of the Bible, which revolutionized much of Protestant thought, was brought to its first fruition. The most profound of 19th-century Protestant German theologians, and perhaps the most influential of the new rationalists, was Friedrich SchleiermacherSchleiermacher, Friedrich Daniel Ernst
, 1768–1834, German Protestant theologian, b. Breslau. He broke away from the Moravian Church and studied at Halle. Ordained in 1794, he accepted a post as a Reformed preacher in Berlin.
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. The new rationalistic theology developed very rapidly, and hardly any two theologians of it agree in detail; there are various systems of modernismmodernism,
in religion, a general movement in the late 19th and 20th cent. that tried to reconcile historical Christianity with the findings of modern science and philosophy.
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In the 20th cent. the Protestant neoorthodoxy movement emerged in Europe and America. It owed much to the theology of Karl BarthBarth, Karl
, 1886–1968, Swiss Protestant theologian, one of the leading thinkers of 20th-century Protestantism. He helped to found the Confessing Church and his thinking formed the theological framework for the Barmen Declaration.
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 and Reinhold NiebuhrNiebuhr, Reinhold
, 1892–1971, American religious and social thinker, b. Wright City, Mo. A graduate of Yale Divinity School, he served (1915–28) as pastor of Bethel Evangelical Church in Detroit, where he became deeply interested in social problems.
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. The movement, which accepted the methods and findings of modern biblical criticism, interpreted religion as only one aspect of contemporary life and emphasized faith and revelation as divine gifts. Among Roman Catholics in the 20th cent., liberation theologyliberation theology,
belief that the Christian Gospel demands "a preferential option for the poor," and that the church should be involved in the struggle for economic and political justice in the contemporary world—particularly in the Third World.
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, which originated in Latin America, emphasized the importance of fighting oppression and aiding the poor through active roles in political affairs, but beginning in the 1980s it was strongly criticized by the church hierarchy. Under Pope John Paul II, the Roman Catholic Church strongly reasserted its control over the teaching of theology by Catholic theologians, removing official sanction from Hans KüngKüng, Hans
, 1928–, Swiss Roman Catholic theologian and author. Ordained in 1954, he became (1960) professor of theology at Tübingen Univ. and later served (1962–65) as adviser to the Second Vatican Council.
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 and others who deviated from church doctrine.

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the study of god; the aggregate of religious doctrines on the nature and activity of god that is developed through idealist speculation on texts accepted as divine revelation.

One premise of theology is that there exists a personal god who communicates indisputable knowledge of himself through his “word.” This is why theology, in the strict sense, is possible only within the framework of theism or at least within a theistic tendency. A second premise of theology is that there exists a sufficiently developed basis in idealist philosophy to support the conclusions of theology. The basic sources of traditional theology are Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, as well as the works of Plato, Aristotle, and the Neoplatonists. Although theology cannot do without a philosophical conceptual apparatus (for example, the use of the Neoplatonic term “consubstantial” in the Christian “creed”), it is by its own essence different from philosophy, including even religious philosophy. Within the limits of theology as such, philosophical thought is subordinate to heteronomous foundations: an auxiliary hermeneutic, or interpretative, role is assigned to reason, which accepts uncritically and seeks only to explain the “word of god.” Theology is authoritarian, and in this sense it is the negation of any independent thought, including philosophy.

Two levels of theology were distinguished in patristic studies: a lower level comprising philosophical speculation on the absolute as the nature, primal cause, and end of all things (what Aristotle called theology, a synonym for first philosophy, or metaphysics); and an upper level, comprising the “truths of revelation,” which reason cannot comprehend. In the age of Scholasticism, these two types of theology were designated as natural theology and the theology of divine revelation. Such a structure of theology is most characteristic of traditional Catholicism. An emphasis on mystical, ascetic “experience” embedded in “tradition” defines the approach of Orthodox theology: tradition permits neither natural theology nor biblical studies to be discounted. Protestant theology sometimes gravitated toward a denial of the concept of natural theology. In the 20th century such tendencies were stimulated by the influence of existentialism and by the effort to prevent theology’s clashing with science and its accompanying philosophical generalizations. It was precisely on the question of the concept of natural theology that the leading proponents of dialectical theology, K. Barth and E. Brunner, sharply differed.

The dogmatic content of theology is understood as being eternal and absolute and not subject to historical change. In the most conservative variants of theology, especially in Catholic Scholasticism and Neoscholasticism, the quality of timeless truth is granted not only to the “word of god” but also to the basic theses of natural theology, which state that “eternal revelation” coexists with “eternal philosophy” (philosophia perennis). In the transition from the Middle Ages to the modern era, unorthodox thinkers were subjected to persecution not only for their divergent interpretations of the Bible but even more so for their disagreement with the Scholastic interpretations of Aristotle. However, in the face of changing social formations and cultural epochs, theology constantly had to face the problem of how to deal with the changing world in order to express new content in the language of immutable dogmatic formulations. Its conservatism threatens to isolate theology completely from development in the modern era and to place it in the spiritual “ghetto” of modernism associated with the “secularization” of religion.

In the history of Christianity a constantly recurring need to “modernize” church thought and practice has been clearly manifested. Such tendencies exist also in the theological history of all creeds. Theology’s modern crisis, however, is incomparably more profound than any of the preceding crises. The theological theses that have been disputed by the free thinking and the atheism of past eras are not the only matters under question. Even more serious for theology is the questioning of its apparently eternal premises by the modern social consciousness and by social psychology.

Theology is not possible outside the social organization of a Christian church or of a Judaic or Muslim community, since the concept of “god’s word” loses meaning outside the concept of “god’s nation” as the recipient of the “word.” This was expressed by Saint Augustine when he said that he would not believe even the Gospels if the authority of a universal church did not prompt him to do so. Not until very much later did Protestantism arise and attempt to separate the authority of the Bible from the authority of the church; it sought to deprive theology of its institutional nature and to allow it to be practiced by all believers and not just by those who had been “entrusted” by the church to teach.

The pragmatic needs of the church as an organization gave rise to a variety of theological disciplines. Russian Orthodoxy classifies these disciplines as (1) fundamental theology, which expounds basic theses in apologetic arguments with believers of different creeds and with nonbelievers; (2) dogmatic theology, which develops and refines doctrine; (3) moral theology, which defines the ethical behavior expected of a church member; (4) comparative theology, which demonstrates the advantage of Orthodoxy over other Christian creeds; and (5) pastoral theology, which deals with practical questions concerning priests and with matters pertaining to liturgy, homiletics, and canon law.

The essence of theology as a system of thought serving the church and subordinate to the church’s authority makes theology incompatible with the principles of autonomy essential for philosophy and for scientific investigation. Consequently, with the coming of the Renaissance, not only materialist but also some trends of idealist philosophy developed in opposition to theology and created a rich tradition of theological criticism. Erasmus, for example, criticized theology as a dull and boring mental game standing between man and the Gospel’s “philosophy of Christ.” Bourgeois economic and social progress further emphasized the practical uselessness of theological speculation; this was clearly reflected, for example, in the works of F. Bacon and the Encyclopedists. Criticism of theology was also substantiated by criticism of the Bible as the basis for theology. Spinoza, for example, was one scholar who engaged in such criticism.

A new level of antitheological thought was achieved by L. Feuerbach, who posited that theological speculation was an alien form of human consciousness and that the theological image of god developed systematically as the negative and transformed image of man. However, Feuerbach’s dramatic picture of man’s transferring his power to god as a negative image of himself is beyond all socioeconomic considerations. Marxism, which arises from an entirely new view of the socioeconomic preconditions of religion and theology, overcame the abstractness of Feuerba-chism and the inconsistency of all preceding criticism of theology. As the strongest criticism of theology since the time of the Enlightenment, Marxist atheism has shown that theological constructs are the reflection of historically specific antagonistic social relations that subordinate man to a nonhuman origin.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. the systematic study of the existence and nature of the divine and its relationship to and influence upon other beings
2. a specific branch of this study, undertaken from the perspective of a particular group
3. the systematic study of Christian revelation concerning God's nature and purpose, esp through the teaching of the Church
4. a specific system, form, or branch of this study, esp for those preparing for the ministry or priesthood
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005


Ironically or humorously used to refer to religious issues.


Technical fine points of an abstruse nature, especially those where the resolution is of theoretical interest but is relatively marginal with respect to actual use of a design or system. Used especially around software issues with a heavy AI or language-design component, such as the smart-data vs. smart-programs dispute in AI.
This article is provided by FOLDOC - Free Online Dictionary of Computing (
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