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Theosophical Encyclopedia

Theology

The study of God, of God’s relation to nature and humanity, and of religious, doctrines, practice, and experience. The term is used particularly in Christianity because of the latter’s focus on the role of God in human history, but does not find relevance in some religions such as Buddhism and Jainism, which are non-theistic. Theology in Christianity is generally an attempt to analyze or justify through reason what has been assumed to be true by faith and imposed by an authority, such as scriptures or the church. Where there are no such assumptions, then such inquiry is generally regarded as philosophy. On the question of the existence of God, for example, Christian theology is not free to conclude that there is no God, whereas philosophy may freely arrive at such conclusion if reason justifies it.

Theology as a term was first used by Aristotle (384-322 BCE) in his Metaphysics. He describes theology as one of the three theoretical philosophies, together with mathematics and physics (Bk. VI:1). But the study itself antedates Aristotle. The study of the divine being was already the subject of the dialogues of his teacher, Plato, written about later by the Neo-Platonist Proclus (410-485) in his Theology of Plato. In the East, the nature of the Deity has been the subject of the earliest scriptures such as the Vedas, Puranas, and the Upanisads. These theological speculations were freely explored without any dogmatic authority. It was in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition that theology has acquired a dogmatic nature and sometimes enforced with secular sanctions, such as with the threat of being declared a heretic and being imprisoned or executed.

In the Christian context, theology is divided into a number of branches. Natural theology is the study of the relationship of God with nature and existence on the assumption that knowledge of God may be known by natural reason. The most well-known exponent of this was Thomas Aquinas. Revealed theology, on the other hand, relies on what is revealed or handed down by scriptures or spiritual authority. Moral theology deals with the nature of moral conduct. Mystical theology is the study of the nature and practice of mysticism or the spiritual life.

Many sub-theologies have been created to describe special aspects of theological studies, such as dogmatic theology (the study of Christian dogma), systematic theology (studying major theological themes systematically), historical theology (study of the historical, social and cultural dimensions of theological ideas), biblical theology (theology as found in the Bible), negative or apophatic theology (understanding God through negation), liberation theology (linking theology with social justice), comparative theology (comparison of theologies of different religions), etc.

Theology and Theosophy. Helena P. Blavatsky has a strongly negative view of Christian dogmatic theology, calling it “a corpse without a soul” (IU II:264), the “dogmatic, undemonstrated and undemonstrable theology of our Christian ages” (IU I:36). She deemed that the inner teachings of Christ and the Gospels have been lost sight of by modern theologians. Thus, Blavatsky devoted the entire second volume of her Isis Unveiled on “Theology” to explore comparative theology, and to attempt to demonstrate that underneath the exoteric teachings of popular religions lie the principles of an ageless wisdom, of which theosophy is a but a modern expression. In her introduction to the work, she states that “we must show our false theologies in their naked deformity, and distinguish between divine religion and human dogmas. Our voice is raised for spiritual freedom, and our plea made for enfranchisement from all tyranny, whether of SCIENCE or THEOLOGY” (IU I:xlv). In her preface to the second volume, she wrote:

An analysis of religious beliefs in general, this volume is in particular directed against theological Christianity, the chief opponent of free thought. It contains not one word against the pure teachings of Jesus, but unsparingly denounces their debasement into pernicious ecclesiastical systems that are ruinous to man’s faith in his immortality and his God, and subversive of all moral restraint.

We cast our gauntlet at the dogmatic theologians who would enslave both history and science. . . . (IU II:iv)

Basically, theosophy, while recognizing the value of reason in getting nearer the truth, affirms that one must transcend the rational faculty and make use of spiritual intuition in arriving at Reality. Such spiritual insights have been validated through the centuries by mystics and initiates, and have represented them by symbols and allegories since they are basically ineffable. Blavatsky therefore put emphasis on the study of the principles of esotericism in arriving at the deeper secrets of religious scriptures, symbols and myths.

V.H.C.

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