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Christian Faith: Dogmatics in Outline

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by B. A. Gerrish
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Christian Faith: Dogmatics in Outline by B. A. Gerrish

Subject Matter of Dogmatics

Christian dogmatics, as a part of Christian theology, has for its subject matter the distinctively Christian way of having faith, in which elemental faith is confirmed, specified, and represented as filial trust in God the Father of Jesus Christ.

The Greek word theologia ("theology") is older than Christianity, but it is not to be found in the Greek New Testament.1 The second-century Apologists, sometimes regarded as the fi Christian theologians, took more readily to the term philosophia ("philosophy"), which does occur once in the New Testament--in the pejorative sense of "sophistry" (Col. 2:8). Justin Martyr (ca. 100-ca. 165) continued to wear his philosopher's cloak after he embraced Christianity: he thought of himself as a Christian philosopher. But "theology" became the accepted term for Christian reflection and discourse on God, and the number of Christian "theologians" was taken to include the biblical writers themselves, preeminently the author of the Fourth Gospel. By drawing attention to the theological motives of the individual authors or compilers of the New Testament books, modern biblical scholarship--in particular, redaction criticism of the Gospels--confi rms the justice of finding the church's first theologians already in the Scriptures. Old Testament scholars have made a similar case for the individual sources of the Pentateuch..

In the Old and New Testaments theological reflection remained unsystematic--even in Paul's Letter to the Romans, in which a limited pattern of sorts becomes visible. A more orderly and extensive presentation of Christian theology appeared in the third century in Origen of Alexandria's (ca. 185-ca. 254) On First Principles. However, "theology" as the name for a comprehensive science of matters that relate to God established itself only with the growth of the medieval universities, in which theology took its place as one discipline among others--and supposedly their "queen." Even then other names were used, such as sacra pagina ("the sacred page," i.e., interpretation of Scripture) and doctrina fidei ("the doctrine of faith").

I. From Sacred Doctrine to the Science of Faith

Thomas Aquinas (1225-74), the most eminent of the medieval schoolmen, distinguished the theology that pertains to sacred doctrine from the theology that is part of philosophy. The science of sacred doctrine is called "theology," he explains, because its concern is with God and with other things only insofar as they relate to God; and it differs from philosophical theology in that it views everything under the single aspect of revelation. Why, then, did Thomas proceed in his summary of sacred doctrine, the Summa theologiae (or Summa theologica), to offer five rational proofs for the existence of God, which surely belong to the domain of philosophy? We may let his procedure pose for us the general question, Where should any system of theology begin, including our own?

1. Sacred Doctrine and What Everyone Calls "God"

Thomas decided to launch his Summa theologiae not with the articles of faith, but with what he called a "preamble" to the articles of faith: a demonstration that God exists. "For faith presupposes natural knowledge, even as grace pre- supposes nature, and perfection supposes something that can be perfected" (ST 1:12). Thomas's "five ways" infer the existence of God from God's effects, which are open to sense experience. Why he chose to present the proofs before dealing with the proper concern of sacred doctrine--the revealed knowledge of God--has been debated. The objection has been made that his proofs start Thomas off on the wrong foot, because they are at odds with Blaise Pascal's (1623-62) famous Memorial, the record of his religious experience of 23 November 1654, found in the lining of his coat after his death: "God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of the philosophers

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Ebook Details
Pages: 400
Size: 1.3 MB
Publisher: Westminster John Knox Press
Date published:   2015
ISBN: 9781611646047 (DRM-EPUB)

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Nonfiction > Religion > Christianity > Theology
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