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Theology ( Greek θεολογία theología , from ancient Greek θεός theós 'god' and λόγος lógos 'word, speech, doctrine') means “the teaching of God ” or gods in general and the teaching of the content of a specific religious belief and its documents of faith in particular.

Personification of the Christian theological faculty on the monument to Emperor Charles IV in front of the Old Town Bridge Tower of Charles Bridge in Prague

Historical development of the term

Greek antiquity

The term theologia appeared in ancient Greece in relation to the polytheistic world of gods there. There he referred to the "speech of God", the singing and telling (Greek "mythein") of stories of gods. (Later Christian theologians such as Karl Barth understood this term to be “God's speech to man”.) The oldest evidence of this mythical understanding of theology can be found in Plato's state (379a). Plato applies the myths of the gods of the theology criticized as the critical standard of the question of truth as the one, good and unchangeable. In Aristotle a reshaping of the theology term shows theology as the uppermost of the theoretical sciences directed therein to the divine than the first and actual principle ( metaphysical (Aristotle) 1064a / b). Theology has thus changed from mythology to metaphysics .


In the second century the term was picked up by Christian authors, the apologists , who used it in contrast to the mythologia (telling stories of gods) of the polytheistic pagan authors. For Eusebius the term means something like "the Christian understanding of God". For all patristic authors, however, the term did not refer to Christian teaching in general, but only to the aspects of it that were directly related to God. The author of the Gospel of John and Gregory Nazianzen were the only early Christian authors who were specifically designated as "theologians" because God was the focus of their teaching. The questions about the saving action and the saving order of God for humans were dealt with under the concept of economics (Greek "oikonomia").

Thomas Aquinas

Theologians in the early church were often bishops , in the Middle Ages they were usually monks . With the emergence of universities as religious colleges in the Middle Ages, theology usually formed the first faculty . In the High Middle Ages, Peter Abelard ( early scholasticism ) and Bonaventura ( high scholasticism ) first gave the term the more general meaning “the area of holy knowledge”, which encompassed all of Christian teaching. Theology became a fixed term in this sense, in particular due to the Summa theologica of Thomas Aquinas , who viewed theology primarily as a speculative, theoretical science.

The reformers again emphasized the practical aspect of theology more strongly. Martin Luther thus also stands in the tradition of monastic anchoring of theology as it was effective in the Middle Ages for example with Anselm of Canterbury and Bernhard von Clairvaux . Theology was practical science in the sense that it was entirely related to the appropriation of salvation by God, that is, to the practical fulfillment of the life of faith. In this sense, numerous representatives of Lutheran orthodoxy also determined theology as a scientia practica , which, however, must also borrow from theoretical science in its implementation. This is why the theological systems of Lutheran orthodoxy often outwardly acquired a similar character to the old scholastic sums, but were structured differently in terms of content and their systematic structure (which was based on the analytical ordo of Aristotle) ​​was more oriented towards the practice of faith. Sometimes a stronger or purely theoretical understanding of theology was established again.

The distinction between theology as a science and the practice of faith and the direct knowledge of faith was prepared by the theologian Georg Calixt at the time of Lutheran orthodoxy . It is also available in rudiments from Abraham Calov and Johann Andreas Quenstedt . While these, however, place theology before faith, the relationship is reversed in the Enlightenment : Theology is secondary as a form of reflection compared to faith or religion. This ratio determination occurs for the first time with Johann Salomo Semler . Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher understood theology as a positive science related to church leadership. While the distinction between theology and belief is still decisive for theological discourse today, the orientation of theology towards church leadership remains controversial.

Christian theology

The theologies in Christianity are to be understood as scientific discussions with the sources of faith ( biblical theology and historical theology ) and the practice of faith ( practical theology ) as well as a systematic analysis and representation of faith ( systematic theology , including fundamental theology , dogmatics and ethics ). In the 20th century, intercultural theology was added as a discipline , which examines the relationship between Christian theology and practice in the context of different cultures, religions and societies and is dedicated to questions of intercultural and interreligious interaction.

Christian theology mostly refers to a specific denomination . Not only the content presented, but also the ways of thinking and the methods used are determined by the respective denomination. In scientifically pursued theology this fact itself is problematized and reflected upon again.

Criticism within theology

Criticism accompanies the whole of church history, because disputes between the established church and deviating currents are always connected with criticism (of the views of others). In addition, there is also a self-critical questioning of one's own understanding from the start. Paul warned: “Check everything and keep what is good!” ( 1 Thess 5:21  EU ) and referred to the provisional nature of our respective state of knowledge (“our knowledge is piecemeal ...” 1 Cor 13 : 9.12  EU ). Presently, theological dictionaries emphasize the critical role of theology. For Heinzpeter Hempelmann , criticism is "the only appropriate answer to (a) claim to revelation", because the traces of an event such as the incarnation of God are to be perceived as "distinguishing and testing". Franz Graf-Stuhlhofer deals with the topic of criticism in the field of Christian religion in the book Read Christian Books critically and in the study Facets of Critical Thought .

Criticism of theology

Some theorists of science deny that every (Christian) theology is scientifically based because of its confession and criticize its presence and funding at state universities in the form of theological faculties .

Criticism of theology, for example, is directed against

  • a lack of openness to results : "God", "faith", " revelation " and the like are assumed and cannot be falsified . Such a claim to absolute truth is excluded in other sciences. With the exception of individual sub-disciplines, theology as a whole merges into philology , Hebrew studies , history and religious studies without affirming the truths of faith .
  • A lack of freedom of teaching : Theological chairs would be filled in agreement with the Church and a teaching permit would be required at least in Catholic faculties , which could be withdrawn in the event of a conflict, see list of Catholic theologians whose teaching permits were withdrawn . This means that freedom of teaching or research is no longer guaranteed.
  • a removal of dogmatic theology from people's experiences, especially from their longings, fears and needs. This could sink to a "conceptual fetishism".
  • the parallel existence of a Protestant and a Catholic theology in universities. Since both refer to the same tradition, this separation would contradict any claim to scientific quality.

There are various reactions on the part of theologians to these points of criticism:

Some theologians do not see God as the immediate subject of a theological science; for example, Wolfhart Pannenberg sees God as an object of faith . Proponents of natural theology, on the other hand, argue for the fundamental knowability of God with the help of (natural) reason, i.e. also without belief or acceptance of revelations.

Sometimes criticism of theology is based on a scientifically oriented "objective" concept of science. In the context of the philosophy of science since the 1960s there has been a change in perspective, for example through Thomas S. Kuhn's suggestion that psychological factors play a role in the decision of researchers for or against a paradigm shift . The analytical philosophy was influential.

Theology in other religions

Denominational faculties and seminars are only available for Christianity, Judaism and Islam. In the context of comparative religious studies, there is an academic study of many religions and their contents, and courses such as Jewish Studies and Islamic Studies are offered, but the perspective and methodology here is clearly different from a theological approach, and there is also no denominational approach Definition.


In Judaism there are no generally binding dogmas and consequently no theology in the true sense (“doctrine of God”). The University for Jewish Studies in Heidelberg is supported by the Central Council of Jews in Germany. She is dedicated to the science of Judaism . There are also courses in Jewish Studies at several universities that can be attended regardless of religious affiliation.


The Islamic Studies institutes and seminars at the universities deal with the history and practice of Islam.

In Islam itself there is a traditional theology called Ilm al-Kalam . The Islamic jurisprudence Fiqh and Shari'a are also significant .


Brahman is the indescribable, inexhaustible, omniscient, omnipotent, non-physical, omnipresent, original, first, eternal and absolute principle. It is without a beginning, without an end, hidden in all things and the cause, the source and the material of all known creation, but itself unknown and yet immanent and transcendent in the entire universe . The Upanishads describe it as the one and indivisible, eternal universal self, present in and in which all are present.

From some directions the Ishvara (literally: the “supreme Lord”) is seen as the manifested form (see Avatara ) of Brahman. The power of illusion by which the Brahman is seen as the material world, the individual souls and the Ishvara is called Maya . There are also beings subordinate to him who are called devas . According to this view, they are considered to be the worldly utterances of the one Ishvara.

According to the Advaita Vedanta , man is in his innermost essence equal to Brahman, and this unity is to be recognized. Advaita Vedanta ( nonduality ) is the teaching of Shankara (788–820 AD), which aims at this realization of oneness. On the other hand, according to the teaching of the Vishishtadvaita of Ramanuja, the highest principle is all that exists. However, there is a qualitative difference between the individual soul and the highest principle. At the other end of the spectrum is the purely dualistic philosophy of Dvaita Vedanta des Madhvas, which strictly distinguishes between soul and the highest principle (see: Indian Philosophy ).

See also


Selected literature on Christian theology can be found in the main article there

Web links

Wiktionary: Theology  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Theology  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Journals (theology)  - sources and full texts

For web links to the theologies of certain religions cf. respective neighboring article, e.g. B. the main article Christian theology .

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Henning Wrogemann, Intercultural Theology and Hermeneutics, Gütersloh 2012; H. Wrogemann, Theology of Interreligious Relationships, Gütersloh 2015.
  2. Manfred Marquardt sees "the task of theology" in the "examination (= criticism) of church preaching and teaching", in Art. Critique , II. Theological. In: Theologische Realenzyklopädie , Volume 20, 1990, pp. 77-81.
  3. Heinzpeter Hempelmann: Art. Critique / Criticism. In: Evangelical Lexicon for Theology and Congregation, Volume 2, 1993, pp. 1185f.
  4. ^ Franz Graf-Stuhlhofer: Read Christian books critically. A textbook and workbook for training your own judgment based on excerpts from conservative Protestant non-fiction books (Theological Teaching and Study Material, 26). VKW, Bonn 2008.
  5. Franz Graf-Stuhlhofer: Facets of critical thinking. In: Journal for Theology and Congregation . Volume 19, 2014, pp. 32-44.
  6. Cf. for example: Rudolf Weth , Christof Gestrich, Ernst Lüder Solte: Theology at state universities? Kohlhammer, Stuttgart, Berlin, Cologne, Mainz 1972. - Patrick Becker, Thomas Gerold (Hrsg.): Theology at the university. Attempt to determine your position . Lit, Münster 2005.
  7. Heinz-Werner Kubitza: The seduced youth - A criticism of the youth catechism YouCat, Sensible answers to Catholic questions , Tectum Wissenschaftsverlag (2011), chapter 78
  8. Eugen Drewermann : Faith in Freedom or Depth Psychology and Dogmatics , Volume 1, Patmos, 1993.
  9. Stefanie Rotermann: Why (still) theology at universities? , LIT Verlag Münster 2001, ISBN 3-8258-5386-1 , chapter 2.1.2
  10. Wolfgang Stegmüller made the results and problems of analytical debates known in the German-speaking area; he specified u. a. Kuhn's theses within the framework of Joseph D. Sneed's conception ( structured theories).
  11. Important contributions came from John Leslie Mackie and Hans Albert ( Critical Rationalism ).