I have just finished reading the 2014 edition of a French scientific monthly, an annual update of the latest discoveries in Physics, Mathematics, Astronomy, Robotics, Archeology, Medicine and High Tech (“Sciences et Avenir”, Hors Série, octobre-novembre 2013). There is no mention of either Theology or Fairyology (which are pretty much the same thing). It’s no surprise, of course, because not only were there NO discoveries in Theology during 2013 – there have NEVER been any discoveries in what theologians used to have the hide to call “the Queen of the Sciences” !
These cruel – because accurate – remarks deserve a moment’s reflection.
The review’s very first article is devoted to exoplanets. Its first sentence informs us that “last June, three ‘super-Earths’ were detected in the habitable zone of their star, Gliese 667C, bringing to a dozen the number of known habitable exoplanets in our Galaxy”. Such a discovery brings us one step closer to the realization of every astronomer’s dream : finding a planet with humanly tolerable temperatures and water in liquid form, both essential for life.
This single example, among the numerous other recent scientific discoveries mentioned in the magazine, contrasts sharply with the content of all those doctoral theses in Theology which present no discoveries at all about the subject of the discipline, namely God. They may offer new insights into or interpretations of biblical, patristic or other theological texts – what people have said about God and what He is supposed to be like, what supposedly divinely revealed, inspired, books claim He has done (including exploits which patently contradict what science knows is possible), as well as what He expects us to do and what will happen to us if we don’t. But none of the theses gives us any new knowledge about God. They may enlighten us about the religious beliefs people have held over the centuries, but because the God people worship does not even exist, there is little hope they can enlighten us about Him, anymore than they could about fairies, trolls or leprechauns.
There was a time, fifty years ago, when I seriously thought I could broaden the understanding of the rare specialists in Medieval Theology who might be interested, by analyzing Saint Bonaventure’s doctrine on the power and efficacy of preaching. I even believed my thesis could deepen the appreciation of contemporary preachers for the mission they were accomplishing in the pulpit. A paperback, non-academic version of the thesis was sure to be a bestseller which the clergy and lay-preachers would consider a … godsend. (I never did conquer the Demon Pride.)
But my thesis, like all the others defended in the world’s faculties of Theology, would have offered no new knowledge which could be compared with the discoveries of previously unknown exoplanets. My long years of study and painstaking research of all that the Seraphic Doctor had written, as well as all the analyses of what other theologians have said about him and his doctrine, gave me no new understanding of the deity about Whom Bonaventure and the rest of us, theologians and priests, wrote and preached. Neither Theology nor Fairyology has any need of an annual update on their most recent discoveries. There are none.