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Theology Guide Systematic Theology: Home

What is systematic theology?

A Formal Definition

If theology is the study of God, systematic theology is the subdiscipline concerned with summarizing and understanding, as a coherent system of thought, the doctrinal traditions of Christianity. 

Roman Catholic systematic theology attempts to best present a synthetic understanding of the Christian faith as mediated through the Scriptures and the Catholic Tradition and as interpreted by the conciliar and papal magisterium. It focuses on theological questions about anthropology, revelation and faith, dogma and the development of doctrines, Christology and soteriology, Trinity, ecclesiology, eschatology, and a theology of religions.  Sometimes the field is called doctrinal or dogmatic theology.

The subdiscipline is called systematic theology because of a contemporary focus on understanding Christian thought—dogma, doctrine, revelation, and reflection on revelation--as an organic whole, a system of propositions that define and influence each other.


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Important Basic Definitions

  • Doctrine: “This word (from the Latin doctrina, meaning a ‘teaching’ or a ‘body of teachings’) is sometimes used generically to refer to all the authoritative teaching of the Church and sometimes to a specific teaching. In a technical sense, “doctrine” refers to those teachings that are officially taught as related to revelation but not explicitly part of revelation.”
  • Dogma: “The word (from the Greek dogma, meaning a ‘tenet’ or ‘what one thinks is true’) has had a variety of meanings in Christian history.  Since the nineteenth century, ‘Dogma’ has come to mean an authoritative teaching of the Church in regard to faith or morals that is considered to be a matter of revelation and so an obligatory matter of belief (see the Catechism of the Catholic Church #88-90).”
  • Revelation: “This word (from the Latin revelare, meaning ‘to unveil’ or ‘to disclose’) refers to the unveiling of self-manifestation of God and God’s divine plan of salvation through the prophets in the Old Testament and through Jesus Christ in the New Testament (see the Catechism of the Catholic Church #50-53).”

From John Ford's  Glossary of Theological Terms


Resources for Study of Systematic Theology

Although the Catechism of the Catholic Church is an excellent resource for catechesis (learning the faith), it is not truly a theology text.  The Catechism pulls from many theologians’ works on dogma and doctrine to present their ideas in ways understandable to the new or growing believer.  Use it, but look at its footnotes--and read what the theologians had to say on the topic.  

Most contemporary Church documents, including the documents of the Second Vatican Council, may be found at the Vatican’s website.

Please click on the “introductory materials” tab above in order to get started.


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