Nichols wrote the book: The Shape of Catholic Theology: An Introduction to Its Sources, Principles, and History
9. Three incomplete definitions of theology, and Nichols definition
A) Glorified Spirituality: How can you have a science about something “mysterious”? Can’t you only speak about your response?
Nichols: Faith seeks understanding, and that which we seek to understand is Truth Himself. It is a way of knowing, not just a way of feeling.
We can know what God has revealed of Himself and study this. Faith has to feed study to be a theologian, otherwise you are merely someone engaged in religious studies.
B) Just Papal and Episcopal Interpretation: Theology merely attempts to explain and defend what Popes and the Bishops have proclaimed about faith
Nichols: This is one aspect of the theological disciplines. However, theology is more than this. The theologian listens to the whole of Divine Revelation, and asks questions that arise for his exploration. The Pope and Bishops don’t think of all the questions, they safeguard the answers. The Magisterium sets the boundaries of theological exploration. Any theology that cuts itself off from the Holy Spirit working through the Apostles is not a proper theology.
The point is not just papal and church documents, but the field of study is all of Revelation.
C) Just a Bunch of Facts: Good theology just stores up a big collection of facts, dates and “technical” ideas about God and the Church…like an encyclopedia. Sometimes referred to as “positive theology.”
Nichols: The ultimate goal of theology is to connect the dots, to provide a positive, cohesive vision of who God is and what He is saying. This is referred to as “systematic theology.” However, we cannot do systematic theology without positive theology. If we don’t have some of the dots in the right spot, we won’t get the right image when we go to connect them.
The goal is to be able to put it all together, so that it makes sense, so as to grow in intimacy with God.
Listening, followed by explaining: the 2 movements in the theological enterprise
Okay, so what is theology?
Nichols: The task of theology is the disciplined exploration of what is contained in revelation. Theology serves revelation; it “unpacks” revelation; and it follows a method and structure in order to hear God’s Word as clearly as possible.
The goal of theology is union with God — the faith which seeks understanding.