Today, we have the opportunity to take stock and reflect on why theological studies are undertaken. After all, study is expensive and time consuming, and for many, it means sacrificing time with family and neglecting other responsibilities. Is it just an academic venture to learn how to research and construct an essay, to put together a good argument and reference correctly? This academic rigour is important; by it, one learns at the highest level and can speak to others in the most meaningful way. However, this is only a small part of the answer. If it stops there, then it remains purely an academic exercise.
The overarching answer to the question, why study theology? is, to ‘know’ our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God. This was the question the Lord asked his disciples: “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am? Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the Prophets.’ He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simone Peter answered and replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matt 16:13-16)
As disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, the aim is to ‘know’ Him as the Son of the living God. So, then we have the question: How is one to ‘know’ Him? That is, to know him intimately, to be united with Him, to be like Him, ‘to be holy as He is Holy’.
From the beginning, the Holy Scriptures speak of the human person as created “in the image of God and according to His likeness” (Gen 1:26). The reference to likeness does not refer to the physical attributes, for God is not physical; He is spiritual. To be according to the likeness of God, speaks of much deeper and fundamental attributes. St Peter sums up what the disciples of Jesus must do to be according to His likeness: “Therefore, gird up the loins of your mind, be sober and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ, as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘be holy, for I am holy.'” (1 Pet 13)
St Peter explains to his listeners that to know Christ, to be united with Him, comes by the grace of God, but it requires from the disciple to “gird up the loins of your mind”; that is, firstly, to study the word of God, to know it and to understand it so that one’s faith is solid, and secondly, to strive for holiness.
The study of theology must be more than an academic exercise. In order to ‘know Christ’ or to be ‘according to His likeness’, the student must strive for holiness though fasting, prayer, and the sacraments of the Church, and be constantly striving for virtues, such as humility, obedience, meekness, purity, faith, hope and ultimately love. These are accomplished through the grace of the Holy Spirit in order to be in the ‘likeness of God’, and only then can one begin to answer the question that the Lord asked of his disciples: “Who do you say that I am?”