If you are thinking taking up theological studies, take a minute to read this list. Having studied theology “on the side” for over a decade now, I’ve gone through enough heartache and shame to not want you to suffer through what I suffered.
Think of these points as a devil’s advocate in that they will show the various dangers that can occur when one studies theology. Knowing them before you begin your first class can help you fight their temptations and complete your courses without remorse.
When You Spend More Time in Study than in Prayer
St. Thomas Aquinas once said that we must “first contemplate, then share the fruits of our contemplation.” One cannot share what they do not first acquire. Hence, if one desires to share God, they must first come into communion with him through prayer. Too often, studious theologians put the cart before the horse as they pursue God by studying him before actually knowing him. The former is the mark of a logician, the latter is that of a mystic.
When You Sacrifice Your Primary Vocation(s)
St. Paul wrote, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8). Many lay theologians fall into the temptation of desiring to know God above all things, including their families and their jobs. This is also the case for religious men and women who delve so deep into the science of God that they allow their attention toward community and family to dwindle. Whether you are a religious or a lay man or woman, the fact of the matter is that when you are given responsibilities to love and care for others as your primary vocation, studying theology may hinder your ability to complete that mission that God has already given you.
When You Pursue the Winning of Arguments
In my social media scrolling, I’ve found that Facebook fighting has become a normalized means of “evangelization” in today’s world. Many people have pursued theological proofs only to use them to defeat another person, usually a stranger, in a moral, political, or canonical debate. They care more about winning the argument than winning souls. Such is the way for those who have lost the main reasons why we study theology in the first place — namely, to love.
When You Lose Yourself to Logic
When theologians place their noses into the books of reason, there is a temptation for both nostrils to breath in the heavy burden of logic. It becomes their only air and leaves little possibility of believing in the impossible. Miracles are thought to be exceptions to the divine rules, angels become figments of our imagination, and devils cease to exist. This is a dangerous path as it keeps the soul barred from the mystery of God, to whom much mystery is due. G. K. Chesterton warns against such a fruitless habit: “Poets do not go mad; but chess-players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers; but creative artists very seldom. I am not, as will be seen, in any sense attacking logic: I only say that this danger does lie in logic, not in imagination.”
When Knowledge Becomes More Important than Wisdom
In our puny efforts of examining God’s ways through knowledge, we lack the true means by which we come to understand him to the capacity that we are able, namely, through wisdom. Any theologian of goodwill can tell you that the more they learn about God, the more they realize that there is to learn. It is a never-ending field of study because the one thing we research and learn about is the one Eternal God whose mind is so far advanced than our own. The temptation par excellence of the devil is to create a theologian whose primary mission in life is to accumulate mere facts about God and thus become truly ignorant.
Should You Study Theology?
Do I recommend that you study theology? Yes, but with an elevated regard to the salvation of those for whom you are pursuing your studies. In the words of St. Philip Neri, “Do whatever you wish; for me it is enough you do not sin.” In other words, if your heart and time are disposed to it for the saving of souls, do it.
However, if the study of God distracts you from doing what God has chosen you to do, it’s not for you (at least, not right now).
One thing is for sure, you are more predisposed to knowing God’s will and attaining true wisdom in one hour of adoration than in 100 hours of studying theology. The heart is better tamed to listening to the voice of God when you are in his presence. There, you speak with him in your soul and he responds with divine pedagogy in your life.
On the other hand, when one studies theology, you are predisposed to filter another man’s words (even if it is orthodox work) through your mind before it arrives into your soul. Hence, studying theology becomes a labyrinth of sorts, a maze that can help you come to know God, but it may not be necessary, nor prudent, for most when it comes to loving Him or serving Him.
Sometimes the easiest thing to do when you are seeking God is to look around where you already are and simply be.