The Sacra Doctrina Project is devoted to the study of theology as a scientia which is properly speculative and sapiential in nature, aiding in both the preservation and faithful unfolding of the sacra doctrina of the Catholic Church. We aim to do this by working firmly within the Catholic intellectual tradition and especially under the tutelage of the doctor communis, St. Thomas Aquinas, of whom the Church prays “that we may understand what he taught.” (Prayer, Roman Rite Mass for the Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas) It is our hope that, in recovering the study of theology for the sake of the truth, we might help reclaim the sacred heritage of the Church’s doctrine under the banners of holy wisdom.
Theology is ordered toward the contemplation of the divine nature and the relation of all creation to God. As such, it is not merely pastoral, practical, or catechetical. Indeed, speculative theology must be the foundation for these worthwhile endeavors, yet it must transcend them in its scope and rigor. It seeks as much as possible an elevated apprehension of the divine as well as the unity of truths known to human reason and those revealed by God, particularly the mystery of the most Holy Trinity, the central mystery of divine revelation and our Catholic faith. Such theology is not fruitless speculation but aims both at the clarity needed to properly evaluate theological claims and at the fulfillment of the natural desire to know intimately that which one loves. The speculative character of theology requires that the truth about God be sought for its own sake, insofar as man is called therein to the perfection of his rational nature. For, in the words of the Lord, “this is eternal life, that they know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou has sent” (Jn 17:3).
As both scientia and sapientia, theology is not merely an historical undertaking but is a study of the truth concerning God, a task as necessary today as it has been in every age. We aim to recover the study of the theological tradition from those who would relegate it to mere history, and we thereby hope to undertake the pursuit of holy wisdom by following in the footsteps of the Fathers and Doctors of the Catholic Church.
Theology is not simply an intellectual exercise, nor is its lifeblood to be found in the gratuitous pursuit of novelty which so plagues academe and erodes the life of faith in Catholic and other Christian institutions of higher learning. We decry as inherently harmful to the study of theology that theory which seeks innovation in the discipline for its own sake. While it is good for theologians to collaborate in seeking to advance the scientia of sacra doctrina, the primary motivation for the academic study of theology must be as it has been handed down in the theological tradition of the Catholic Church, a tradition which St. Augustine calls “ever ancient, ever new.” Theology must be rooted “within the Church’s faith” and presented as “an offering made to the whole Church” which the theologian is ready to modify according to “fraternal dialogue” and the teaching authority of the Magisterium (Donum veritatis, §11). Theology must be an exercise in giving evidence for the truth of the sacred doctrine of the Church. Accordingly, it must always be ready to come to the defense of that supernatural endowment whenever it is assailed (cf. 1 Pt 3:15).
Theology is a science which is sapiential in nature, and as such it aims to know reality as much as is possible through the eyes of the divine intelligence, that is, to see particulars according to the simplicity and purity of universal first principles and the primary causality of God. Indeed, as St. Thomas Aquinas notes, theology is properly a scientia only insofar as “it proceeds from principles known by the light of a higher science, namely the scientia of God and the blessed” (ST, q.1, a.2, c.). It thus considers what is known to God alone about Himself, insofar as He has revealed this to men. In this way, theology bears the character of divine wisdom itself. Since “wisdom is the knowledge of divine things” and is ordered to contemplation, as Augustine says (De Trinitate, XII.14.22), such knowledge ought to enliven in the soul the life of prayer. Thus, the theologian ought to cultivate prayer as a necessary habitus for a truly theo-logical method.
Moreover, such a vision is notably Christian in that it opens a path to intimacy and union with God. The virtuous pagans once desired to be alone with “the alone one itself” and yet mourned that no such way seemed open to them, since “irresistible beauty … stays within holy temples and does not go forth to the outside” (Plotinus, Enneads, I.6.8). However, it is with Jesus Christ that the Way is opened, and thus Christian theology is radical insofar as it provides a guidepost to the gratuitous gateway by which man can be caught up and brought into the presence of the divine. To contemplate God is not merely a scholarly enterprise but a loving invitation to charity, holiness, and, ultimately, deification and beatitude. As such, sapiential theology tends toward the spiritual and mystical heart of the Church.
The sapiential character of theology entails a deep unity to theological discourse. We lament the fragmentation and compartmentalization of theology which now pervades theological study. The splintering of theology into myriad subfields, which often work apart from one another and do not engage in dialogue, is contrary to the nature of theology itself, which is an organic and unified whole. The loss of the unity of theology has led to countless errors with respect to God, Christ, man, and the cosmos. Furthermore, the tendency in many institutions of higher learning to renounce the name of theology in place of a “religious studies” department has further obscured and hindered the quest for God, putting forth the divinely revealed faith of the Catholic Church as one among many equally viable paths. In order to contemplate divine truth in its fullness and advance the scientia of sacra doctrina, the theologian must be formed according to its inherent unity.
Rooted in the Tradition
The Sacra Doctrina Project finds its foundation in the theological tradition of the Catholic Church and works always in accordance with Her Magisterium. Working especially from within the tradition of St. Thomas, whose reception and synthesis of both the Western and Eastern traditions we strive to emulate, and in accordance with the consistent exhortation of the popes, the Sacra Doctrina Project seeks to emulate the Angelic Doctor in both content and method.” We seek, indeed, to imitate the theology of St. Thomas, “the perfect theologian,” insofar as “his writings, which contain the principles of, and the laws governing, all sacred studies, must be said to possess a universal character” (Studiorem ducem, §§11, 20). For this reason, we maintain that working from the fullness of the Church’s tradition requires constant recourse to the sources of Divine Revelation, since "sacred theology rests on the written word of God, together with sacred tradition, as its primary and perpetual foundation.” Moreover, as the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council stated, the study of the Word of God in Sacred Scripture “is, as it were, the soul of sacred theology” (Dei Verbum, §24). We are convinced that this study must also include Sacred Scripture’s definitive reception by the Fathers of the East and of the West, and the theological synthesis of the Scholastics and their successors. Finally, it is our conviction that speculative and sapiential theology loyal to the magisterial teaching of the Church’s ecumenical councils, from Nicaea to the Second Vatican Council, is the foundation for all fruitful work commissioned by Our Lord.
Rooted in Reason
We recognize the metaphysical, ontological, and epistemological foundations of the philosophical realism upon which theology builds, acknowledging that human reason has apprehended principles which theology cannot ignore or modify but can only integrate into her understanding of God’s revelation. Philosophy and theology can and ought to inform each other on account of their reflecting a unified reality under two distinct but interwoven modes of knowledge. As such, philosophy acts both as that which enables theology to “assume the nature, form, and character of a true science” and that which “tends to smooth and fortify the road to true faith” (Aeterni patris, §§4, 6). As queen of the sciences, the scientia of sacred theology is ably supported in its discourse about God by philosophy, as by a handmaid (cf. Prov. 9:3).
Working as Loyal Disciples
The Sacra Doctrina Project seeks to pursue these goals through projects that educate the faithful and effect theological literacy and conversation on the scholarly level. Our work is intended for established theologians and philosophers as well as those pursuing graduate and undergraduate degrees in these and related fields. In this way, we hope to answer the Church’s call to the theologian to aid Her in presenting the true and the good as reasons for faith, hope, and love. In this regard, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s instruction on the vocation of the theologian is worth quoting at length:
Truth, by its nature, seeks to be communicated since man was created for the perception
of truth and from the depths of his being desires knowledge of it so that he can discover
himself in the truth and find there his salvation (cf. 1 Tim 2:4). For this reason, the
Lord sent forth His apostles to make ‘disciples’ of all nations and teach them (cf. Mt 28:19).
Theology, which seeks the ‘reasons of faith’ and offers these reasons as a response to those
seeking them, thus constitutes an integral part of obedience to the command of Christ,
for men cannot become disciples if the truth found in the word of faith is not presented
to them (cf. Rom 10:14). (Donum veritatis, §7)
It is our conviction that speculative and sapiential theology loyal to the sacred teaching of the Catholic Church is the foundation for all fruitful work commissioned by Our Lord. As such, our goal is to work, with the help of God’s grace, toward the service of this commission by preserving and promoting the theological bedrock of sacra doctrina.