Today a friend asked me about the distinction between philosophy and theology. In the course of responding, I said what I have said before, namely that theology is what happens when faith gets to follow its own impulses. He then asked me, reasonably enough, whether it is not important to distinguish between faith and theology.
Yes, I said, of course it is: you can’t be saved without faith, but you can be saved without “doing theology.” Similarly, everyone is capable of faith, but not everyone is capable of becoming a theologian.
But one must be careful about drawing these lines too sharply. Trying to distinguish between theology and faith is a lot like trying to distinguish between the religious life and the universal call to holiness:
- The religious life is nothing but a radical living out of one’s baptismal promises. Similarly, theology is nothing but a radical pursuit of the inner impulses of faith.
- The religious life is a particular calling, and yet in some way should be imitated by all. Similarly, to be a theologian is a particular calling, and yet puts certain virtues on display that all should desire.
- It is hard to distinguish the religious life from the universal call to holiness without either idolizing the religious at the expense of the laity or making light of the religious out of jealousy for the laity. Similarly, it is difficult to distinguish between faith and theology without either exaggerating the importance of “doing theology” or insisting that a “simple faith” is actually better and holier.
- Some religious, by their lives, convince us that the religious life is an august calling to be imitated by all in some way, while many religious leave us only mildly edified or even mildly scandalized, as they themselves would admit. Similarly, some few theologians—Cardinal Ratzinger springs to mind, or St. Augustine—convince us by their writings that one can be a saint precisely through intellectual endeavor in a way that one cannot be a saint precisely through playing the violin or precisely through making cupcakes, and they persuade us that we should all aspire to be like them in some way. But many theologians, as they themselves would admit, are uninspiring or even mildly scandalous. (Some, of course, are never-ending sources of the worst sort of scandal.)
Perhaps we need some new terminology to describe the distinction between faith and theology. How about the “theological state” and the “universal call to theology”?