St. Thomas Aquinas begins his great work, the Summa Theologiae, with a question about the nature of Sacred Theology, which he prefers to call “sacra doctrina” or “sacred teaching”. Formally what we are doing in Sacred Theology is studying the sacred teachings which we have received primarily through Sacred Scripture, the “Sacred Writing”.
My students and I were struck by the answer he gives to the first question he takes up – why do we need sacred teaching? He brings in a beautiful quotation from Isaiah: the eye has not seen, O God, besides you, what things you have prepared for them that wait for you. But, he argues, we need to see those things, because our salvation depends on us wanting them and working towards them. And so God needed to let us know the beautiful things that He has prepared for us.
So the study of the sacred teaching has for its primary goal to study the last things, the heavenly things, to understand them so that we will love them more deeply and work for them more passionately and more intelligently.
This echoes one of my favorite passages from St. Paul:
Therefore if you be risen with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God. 2 Mind the things that are above, not the things that are upon the earth. 3 For you are dead: and your life is hid with Christ in God.
A beautiful thought to keep in mind as we study God’s revelation and the science of theology.