This is an overview of the history of theology
from the time of Jesus
to the present.
Ancient Greek and Hellenistic theology
Classical Greek theology
Various forms of systematic and philosophical reflection on Ancient Greek religion
and Greek mythology
arose in the classical period — from Hesiod
's attempts to organize the diverse materials of mythology into a unified Theogony
to the more properly philosophical analysis reportedly carried out by Socrates
Influential texts include:
See main article: Ancient Greek religion, section on Theology
Philosophical reflection on the gods, on religion, and on the origins and governance of the Universe, flourished in the Hellenistic period among both Greek- and Latin-speaking thinkers. Among the very diverse movements of Hellenistic philosophy in which theological reflection could be found were Skepticism, Cynicism, Stoicism, Epicureanism, Middle Platonism, and Neoplatonism. The Skeptics were to have a larger impact on Western reasoning than the Cynics; but this would not occur until after its having been reified during the middle years of the Roman Empire when it passed into the mainstream of Western thought.
Influential texts include:
Hellenistic theology, which could be deemed to last until the suppression of the Athenian Academy in 529 by Justinian I, overlaps with early Jewish and early Christian theology (see below), and several strands of thought important particularly to early Christian thought arise within Hellenistic circles: attempts to explain the apparent caprice of the gods, Atheism, the development of monotheism, the idea of God as first cause or form of the Good, the dualism of spirit and matter in humanity, and redemption (the release of the spirit from its material prison to a higher spiritual world) through knowledge.
See also Greek mythology, Hellenistic rationalism and Ancient Greek religion - Theology
Early Jewish theology
The 1st and 2nd centuries
Two strands of Jewish theology
develop in the 1st and 2nd centuries. On the one hand, there are those oral traditions of Rabbinic
) and legal discussion (Mishnah
) that eventually began to be written down towards the end of the 2nd Century AD.
Important figures (known as Tannaim) include
On the other hand, there is the attempt to accommodate traditional Jewish exegesis of the Jewish Scriptures and tradition with Greek philosophy — a strand of thought of which Philo (c.20 BC to 40 AD) is the best known proponent. The destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 AD and the dispersion of many Jews from Israel had a profound effect on Jewish Theology.
In the period of the Talmud
In the centuries after its compilation, discussion and commentary upon the Mishnah
flourished in Jewish academies in Israel
and in Babylon
. Collections of opinions from these discussions, known as Gemara
were eventually edited together and placed with the Mishnah itself, in both Israel (around 350 AD – the Jerusalem Talmud
) and Babylon (around 550 AD, with further editing in the two centuries that followed – the Babylonian Talmud
Important figures (known as Amoraim) include
Early Christian theology
Theologies of the New Testament
The New Testament
contains evidence of some of the earliest forms of reflection upon the meanings and implications of Christian faith, mostly in the form of guidance offered to Christian congregations on how to live a life consistent with their convictions – notably in the Pauline corpus
and Johannine corpus
A huge quantity of theological reflection emerged in the early centuries of the Christian church – in a wide variety of genres, in a variety of contexts, and in several languages – much of it the product of attempts to discuss how Christian faith should be lived in cultures very different from the one in which it was born. So, for instance, a good deal of the Greek language
literature can be read as an attempt to come to terms with Hellenistic culture. The period sees the slow emergence of orthodoxy
(the idea of which seems to emerge out of the conflicts between catholic
Christianity and Gnostic
Christianity), the establishment of a Biblical canon
, debates about the doctrine of the Trinity
(most notably between the councils of Nicaea
), about Christology
(most notably between the councils of Constantinople in 381 and Chalcedon
), about the purity of the Church (for instance in the debates surrounding the Donatists
), and about grace
, free will
(for instance in the debate between Augustine of Hippo
Influential texts and writers in the second century include:
Influential texts and writers between c.200 and 325 (the First Council of Nicaea) include:
Texts from patristic authors before 325 AD are collected in the Ante-Nicene Fathers.
Influential texts and writers between 325 AD and c.500 AD include:
Texts from patristic authors after 325 AD are collected in the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. Important theological debates also surrounded the various Ecumenical Councils – Nicaea in 325, Constantinople in 381, Ephesus in 431 and Chalcedon in 451
See also main articles on Patristics and Church Fathers.
Medieval Jewish theology
We may divide medieval Jewish theologians into three categories: those primarily concerned with commentary upon Talmud (who can be further divided into the Genoim and the Rishonim); those whose main interests were more in the area of philosophical theology; and those who were part of the Karaite movement that rejected Talmud.
were Babylonian rabbis who taught Talmud and decided on issues on which no ruling had been rendered during the period of the Talmud. "Geon" is Hebrew for "genius."
Prominent Geonim include:
were the leading rabbis between approximately 1250 to 1550, that is in the era before the writing of the Shulkhan Arukh
by Rabbi Yosef Karo
, which is considered the most authoritative compilation of Jewish law since the Talmud.
Prominent Rishonim include:
Medieval Jewish philosophy
Medieval Christian theology
While the Western Roman Empire declined and fell, the Eastern Roman Empire, centred on Constantinople, remained standing until 1453, and was the home of a wide range of theological activity that was seen as standing in strong continuity with the theology of the Patristic period; indeed the division between Patristic and Byzantine theology would not be recognised by many Orthodox theologians and historians.
Christological controversy after Chalcedon
Iconoclasts and iconophiles
Before the Carolingian Empire
When the Western Roman Empire fragmented
under the impact of various 'barbarian' invasions, the Empire-wide intellectual culture that had underpinned late Patristic theology had its interconnections cut. Theology tended to become more localised, more diverse, more fragmented. The classically-clothed Christianity preserved in Italy by men like Boethius
was different from the vigorous Frankish
Christianity documented by Gregory of Tours
which was different again from the Christianity that flourished in Ireland
in the seventh
and eighth centuries
. Throughout this period, theology tended to be a more monastic
affair, flourishing in monastic havens where the conditions and resources for theological learning could be maintained.
Important writers include:
Theology in the time of Charlemagne
Both because it made communication between different Christian centres easier, and because there was a concerted effort by its rulers to encourage educational and religious reforms and to develop greater uniformity in Christian thought and practice across their territories, the establishment of the Carolingian Empire
saw an explosion of theological inquiry, and theological controversy. Controversy flared, for instance, around 'Spanish Adoptionism
, around the views on predestination of Gottschalk
, or around the eucharistic views of Ratramnus
Important writers include:
With the division and decline of the Carolingian Empire, notable theological activity was preserved in some of the Cathedral schools that had begun to rise to prominence under it – for instance at Auxerre
in the 9th century
in the 11th
. Intellectual influences from the Arabic world (including works of classical authors preserved by Islamic scholars) percolated into the Christian West via Spain, influencing such theologians as Gerbert of Aurillac
, who went on to become Pope Sylvester II and mentor to Otto III
. (Otto was the fourth ruler of the Germanic Ottonian Holy Roman Empire
, successor to the Carolingian Empire). With hindsight, one might say that a new note was struck when a controversy about the meaning of the eucharist blew up around Berengar of Tours
in the 11th Century
: hints of a new confidence in the intellectual investigation of the faith that perhaps foreshadowed the explosion of theological argument that was to take place in the twelfth century.
Notable authors include:
Early Scholasticism and its contemporaries
Anselm of Canterbury
is sometimes misleadingly called the 'Father of Scholasticism' because of the prominent place that reason has in his theology; instead of establishing his points by appeal to authority, he presents arguments to demonstrate why it is that the things he believes on authority must be so. His particular approach, however, was not very influential in his time, and he kept his distance from the Cathedral Schools. We should look instead to the production of the gloss
on Scripture associated with Anselm of Laon
, the rise to prominence of dialectic
(middle subject of the medieval trivium
) in the work of Abelard, and the production by Peter Lombard
of a collection of Sentences
or opinions of the Church Fathers and other authorities. Scholasticism proper can be thought of as the kind of theology that emerges when, in the Cathedral schools and their successors, the tools of dialectic are pressed into use to comment upon, explain, and develop the gloss and the sentences.
Notable authors include:
High Scholasticism and its contemporaries
The 13th Century saw the attempted suppression of various groups perceived as heterodox, such as the Cathars
and the associated rise of the mendicant orders
(notably the Franciscans
), in part intended as a form of orthodox alternative to the heretical groups. Those two orders quickly became contexts for some of the most intense scholatsic theologizing, producing such 'high scholastic' theologians as Alexander of Hales
(Franciscan) and Thomas Aquinas
(Dominican), or the rather less obviously scholastic Bonaventure
(Franciscan). The century also saw a flourishing of mystical theology
, with women such as Mechthild of Magdeburg
playing a prominent role. In addition, the century can be seen as period in which the study of natural philosophy that could anachronistically be called 'science' began once again to flourish in theological soil, in the hands of such men as Robert Grosseteste
and Roger Bacon
Notable authors include:
Late Scholasticism and its contemporaries
Scholastic theology continued to develop as the thirteenth century gave way to the fourteenth, becoming ever more complex and subtle in its distinctions and arguments. The fourteenth century saw in particular the rise to dominance of the nominalist
theologies of men like William of Ockham
. The fourteenth century was also a time in which movements of widely varying character worked for the reform of the institutional church, such as conciliarism
and the Hussites
. Spiritual movements such as the Devotio Moderna
Notable authors include:
See also Scholasticism
The beginnings of Kalam
Islamic theology or Kalam, in the sense of ordered, rational reflection upon Allah and his Qur’an, is commonly held to begin at the end of the 7th century – the first century A.H. – with debates about divine and human freedom.
The Qadariyyah were those who defended a fairly strong view of human freedom, and included
'The Jabriyyah were there opponents, and included
evolved into Mu‘tazilah
which for some time was the dominant form of kalam
, imposed as official orthodoxy under the Abbasid
dynasty, until the accession of Al-Mutawakkil
, after which it was suppressed. For the five principal doctrines of Mutazilism, see the main article
. Prominent Mutazilite theologians include:
From the late tenth century onwards, Mutazilite kalam
, opposition to which had hitherto been almost indistinguishable from opposition to kalam
itself, found a new opponent within kalam
: Ash'ari kalam
. Asharite kalam
rose to become the dominant form of Islamic kalam
, and helped distinguish kalam
— from philosophy (a distinction which is less clear when considering Mutazilite
Prominent Asharites include:
Note should also be taken of the variant of Asharism know as Maturidism. Prominent Maturidi authors include:
Falasafa (Islamic philosophy)
Whilst the boundaries are sometimes rather porous, scholars of Islamic thought often make a distinction between Falasafa
) and Kalam
(Islamic theology). Prominent writers normally held to stand on the Falasafa side of the divide include:
Reformation and Counter-Reformation Christian theology
The Renaissance yielded scholars the ability to read the scriptures in their original languages and this in part stimulated the Reformation, a Theological movement that based its "Protests" on a new understanding of the Bible. Most important were Martin Luther, John Calvin, Zwingli, Melanchthon, Martin Bucer and the Anabaptists. Their Theology was developed by successors such as Theodore Beza, the English Puritans and Francis Turretin.
The Roman Catholic counter-reformation spearheaded by the Jesuits under Ignatius Loyola took their Theology from the decisions of the Council of Trent. The overall result of the Reformation was therefore to highlight distinctions of belief that had previously co-existed uneasily.
The fall of Constantinople in the East, 1453, led to a significant shift of gravity to the rising state of Russia, the "Third Rome". The Renaissance would also stimulate a program of reforms by patriarchs of prayer books. A movement called the "Old believers" consequently resulted and influenced Russian Orthodox Theology in the direction of conservatism and Erastianism.
Modern Christian theology
After the Reformation protestant groups continued to splinter, leading to a range of new theologies. The "Enthusiasts" were so named because of their emotional zeal. These included the Methodists, the Quakers and Baptists. Another group sought to reconcile Christian faith with "Modern" ideas, sometimes causing them to reject beliefs they considered to be illogical, including the Nicene creed and Chalcedonian Creed. these included Unitarians and Universalists. A major issue for Protestants became the degree to which Man contributes to his salvation. The debate is often viewied as synergism versus monergism, though the labels Calvinist and Arminian are more frequently used, referring to the conclusion of the Synod of Dort.
The Nineteenth century saw the rise of biblical criticism, new knowledge of religious diversity in other continents and above all the growth of science. This led many church men to espouse a form of Deism. This, along with concepts such as the brotherhood of man and a rejection of miracles led to what is called "Classic Liberalism". Immensely influential in its day, classic liberalism suffered badly as a result of the two world wars and fell prey to the criticisms of postmodernism.
Vladimir Lossky is a famous Eastern Orthodox theologian writing in the 20th century for the Greek church.
Postmodern theology seeks to respond to the challenges of post modern and deconstructionist thought, and has included the death of God movement, Process Theology, Feminist theology and Queer Theology and most importantly Neo-orthodox Theology. Karl Barth, Rudolf Bultmann and Reinhold Niebuhr were Neo-Orthodoxies main representatives. In particular Barth labeled his Theology "Dialectical Theology", a reference to existentialism.
The predominance of Classic Liberalism resulted in many reactionary movements amongst conservative believers. Evangelical theology, Pentecostal or Renewal theology and Fundamentalist theology, often combined with Dispensationalism, all moved from the fringe into the academy. Marxism stimulated the significant rise of Liberation Theology which can be interpreted as a rejection of Academic Theology that fails to challenge the establishment and help the poor.
From the late nineteenth century to the early twentieth groups established themselves that derived many of their beliefs from Protestant evangelical groups but significantly differed in doctrine. These include the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Latter Day Saints and many so called "cults". Many of these groups use the Protestant version of the bible and typically interpret it in a fundamentalist fashion, adding, however, special prophecy or scriptures, and typically denying the trinity and the full deity of Jesus Christ.
Ecumenical Theology sought to discover a common consensus on theological matters that could bring the many Christian denominations together. As a movement it was successful in helping to provide a basis for the establishment of the World Council of Churches and for some reconciliation between more established denominations. But ecumenical theology was nearly always the concern of liberal theologians, often Protestant ones. The movement for ecumenism was opposed especially by fundamentalists and viewed as flawed by many neo-orthodox theologians.
The pattern of challenge from a changing world, liberal response from official representatives and orthodox backlash from conservatives is found also in the history of Islam and Judaism. Reform Judaism represents a liberal interpretation as against Orthodox Judaism, and moderate or Liberal Islam continues to be theologically distinct from Islamic Fundamentalism, notably its Wahabi and Deobandi Schools.