On the need for both scientia and sapientia

Augustine distinguished between scientia (knowledge perceived from the external world through the senses) and sapientia (knowledge, or wisdom, concerned with eternal reality). Augustine understood knowledge (scientia) and wisdom (sapientia) as ‘separate instruments for learning God’. Concluding that both scientia and sapientia are necessary for the theological task, Ellen Charry observes, ‘Modern academic theology has largely limited itself to scientia. While it is essential for pointing seekers in the right direction, in Augustine’s view scientia alone is unable to heal us. The goal of scientia is to move the seeker to sapientia, wisdom.’

(Linda Cannell, Theological Education Matters: Leadership Education for the Church (Newburgh, IN: EDCOT Press, 2006))

About Marc Cortez

Theology Prof and Dean at Western Seminary, husband, father, & blogger, who loves theology, church history, ministry, pop culture, books, and life in general.

Posted on November 6, 2010, in Teaching Tips, Theology and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. Nice! Augustine’s dialectic, in his time and age is both a science and a procedure in which Platonic, Aristotelian, and even most important Stoic elements come together. But scientia and sapientia are so important, together! ‘Augustine gives dialectic a twofold pedagogical function: one for the teacher (docet docere) and one for the learner (docet discere). But in both may we become how to know, and thus become knowers.

  2. I agree, both are needed! The explicit dualism is what TFT seeks to overcome by his ‘Christ-conditioned stratified knowledge of God’. God-ward and man-ward in the hypostatic union in Christ.

    I don’t understand why theologians don’t take notice of this ground-breaking paradigm that TFT has offered. It’s like folks just talk right around it . . . weird.

    • “I don’t understand why theologians don’t take notice of this ground-breaking paradigm that TFT has offered.”

      Maybe because he uses language like “Christ conditioned stratified knowledge of God.” That is worse than Van Til!:-)

      • That’s like a sound bite, and must be seen in his (TF’s) fuller theological meaning and even context.

      • That is a ‘sound-byte’. Why do folks get hung up over $2 words, and deal with the conceptual stuff that it is seeking to symbolize?

        I caught your smiley face, pgroach, but its that kind of attitude that I am talking about . . . like a dismissive one, w/o really dealing with what is being presented.

        I also find it interesting that folks will spend all kinds of time engaging strange/technical language when it comes to bib studies, for example, but not when it comes to a theologian. Each field has its own lexicon, for the serious theological student this means that they need to “learn it.”

      • Here, here! To really “do” theology, we must walk softly, and listen as we engage. The Spirit/spirit of Christ!

  3. Whoa! You assume I was being dismissive of TFT. Definitely not him (I wrote a couple of posts on this very blog, appreciatively interacting with his work on the Incarnation). But you asked a question, and I answered. But, then you impugn my motives and intelligence based on four lines of text. So, didn’t you just do the exact thing to me you thought I was doing to TFT? Why? I wasn’t even using big words.

    But there is actually a legitimate point there in what I was getting at (Father Bob missed it too, I guess). Words and terms are important, but they can obscure as much as reveal. Even professional theologians (not just theo-bloggers) get weary with jargon and strung together terms that might be common in the profession but which muddies more than clarifies. John Milbank gets this leveled against him – a lot. Rightfully so.

    • Pgroach,

      Okay, sorry, I jumped to a conclusion, then. That’s what’s so fun about blogging, we have these little anecdotal interactions where clarity reigns supreme ;-).

      Yeah, I’ve heard that about Milbank; sometimes, I think, though, some terminology is intended for precision vs. confusion (even though that’s not always achieved). It’s interesting though, we don’t have problems with MD’s using technical “in-house” language; but it seems to be a problem for theology (for some). I do realize theology has more of a “public” audience, but then maybe the “public” should be asked to learn a little too :-).

      Pgroach, I’m sorry, really . . . I did jump to a conclusion — I apologize for that.

      • Thanks for the reply – no worries.

        I will say that, awhile back, I did get interested in reading more Torrance from reading your blog – so I am in your debt. I will be working on Advent sermons this year with Torrance’s lectures on the Incarnation in hand (Bible too).

  4. pgroach,

    TFT is near the holy ground! 🙂 Milbank, well he is just a postmodern maker. But you are right words and definitions are very important, especially in theology. Note how postmodernity likes to change the meaning of words, i.e. Deconstruction.

  5. Bobby, technical terms are great for communicating quickly and clearly, but only when all parties agree on what they mean. The difference with medical language is that there are common, industry-wide, and well understood definitions of those terms. For the most part, that kind of widespread agreement does not exist in theology. We tend to forget this and use terms/language that only we (and those who operate in our theological circle) understand.

    • Agreed, Marc.

      But my point wasn’t that we all understand parlance in particular; but in a general way (just as MD’s have a general lexicon that they all understand, and then within their “specialties” they have particular lexicons that only those in those specialties use).

      My assumption is, when commenting at this sight, that most who read here are in the “theology/bib studies” realm.

      But then, I do also realize that Torrance probably represents his own “specialty” field of sorts . . . .

      My zeal is often over-zeal, Marc; it gets ahead of me, esp. with things that I am passionate about, sorry 🙂 .

      • “Torrance probably represents his own “specialty” field of sorts”

        There’s no “probably” about it. I think the difficulty with Torrance right now is that he definitely has his own unique vocabulary and way of thinking, but his theology hasn’t reached the level of popularity where you can generally expect people (even people who are relatively well informed theologically) to understand it without explanation.

      • True. And I would imagine that Torrance will always be who he is, as is, Barth; idiosyncratic, and almost wayward in their theological advances — at least by way of appearance. I mean Barth studies has been moving forward at a rapid pace — yourself, being one of those moving it forward — and he is still considered amorphous to most. I hope this isn’t how Torrance will be left, but probably 😦 .

      • Both the work of Barth & Torrance are part of that theological life and study that continue to create the top of the rock in western biblical/historical theology itself. Personally I see TFT’s Trinitarian thought ahead of Barth. But again certainly Barth & Torrance should be seen in close connection. They are both purveyors of a Trinitarian theology that is biblical and yet developmental in the growth of theological thought and thinking, but comes from the best of the Church Catholic-Historical itself.

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