Today, we tend to think of theology as one academic subject among many, and in a sense this viewpoint has its merits. Due to the rigor and systematic developments of Medieval Scholasticism, theology and philosophy was able to pave the way for the modern university. The methods and intellectual framework developed by thinkers such as St. Thomas Aquinas would have influence beyond the field of theology. The Science Historian Stanley Jaki even goes as far to say that Western Catholic theology provided the fertile soil in which our contemporary view of empirical science first took root. Without trying to get into a discussion about the relationship between empirical sciences and theology, it suffices to say that in the Western context, theology took on a distinctly rational and “scientific” character. As strong and disciplined as such an approach can appear, it can lead to a distorted tendency which limits the ability of theology to shape and transform lives.
Among the Church Fathers, the concept of theology had a broader significance. Although the rational nature of theology was not compromised, the Church Fathers saw a more direct link between prayer and theology. On the surface, this may seem rather unimportant in the scheme of things, but this connection between prayer and theology involves a deeper interpenetration. Prayer in the Christian context is more than a mere intellectual activity; it is a very participation in the life of the Trinity. This understanding of prayer finds its greatest expression in the Liturgy, in which we enter into the ongoing heavenly Liturgy. We become partakers of the Divine nature through faith, hope, and love which cannot be reduced to sentiment. Rather, they are fundamentally experiential in nature.
Thus Theology is both an intellectual activity that engages our intellect and an experience of God which transcends our ability to reason. Theology cannot be limited to learning information, but must also include a communion of heart and will in which we are united to God the Father in Jesus Christ and through the work of the Holy Spirit. Theology is creative in the sense that it finds its full flowering in expressions of love towards God and neighbor. Thus different fields of theology which are separated for the sake of analysis have an inner unity in the experiential dimension.