The Golden Age of Christian Theology
The golden age of Christian theology was the era of holy fathers and teachers of the first millennium of Christian history. It was the time when the gospel faith had found a rich, complex, detailed expression in many theological works that eventually became classical when the revelation, embodied in the Old and New Testaments, began to be perceived through the prism of secular knowledge and, most importantly, through the prism of classical philosophy. This was the time of a synthesis of classical philosophy, which had a pagan origin, and Christian Revelation.
Later, fundamental theology and various theological disciplines continued to develop in the ever-changing cultural and historical conditions in the East and the West. Having begun in the form of preaching, catechetical teachings, and polemical writings, theology developed into a body of religious knowledge and a system of educational and scientific disciplines. Thus, theology became a science, with its sources, methods, and research traditions. Moreover, it became the foundation of the Christian European University, where theology was the first and main faculty in these universities, and for a long time, the status of theology as the queen of sciences persisted, undisputed by anyone.
Then, in Europe, well-known processes of secularization began, thus affecting different areas of life. First, there were a secularization of sciences, primarily natural ones; consequently, the phenomenon of modern science emerged. Then came the secularization of public life, culture, and education. Finally, the secularization of politics began. Religion and the Church were increasingly driven out to the side of life, pushed into a kind of ghetto, into private life, right up to the radical expulsion from the sphere of all social relations and to the establishment of the system of state atheism that the people of the older generation remembered well from their own experience. However, today the situation is completely different. Thus, the goal of this work is to study the history of theology, the interpretation of spirituality, the concepts of secularization and sacralization as well as the connection between politics, society, and theology today. Public theology is a relation of religion to society; it plays a significant role in the 21st century, possesses some approaches, and appears variously worldwide.
Short History of Theology and Its Role in Education
Today, theology is taught in many universities around the world. In medieval Europe, theology as a scientific discipline appeared with the opening of universities. There, theology was at the center of absolutely all educational processes. This was higher science, as the largest authority of medieval philosophy. All other sciences were to serve theology. In European universities, for example, in Strasbourg, there are two theological faculties, Protestant and Catholic, that cooperate and exchange teachers. In Oxford and Cambridge, theological faculties are the oldest and the first, according to the internal university qualifications.
However, the current situation has been in the process of formation for several decades. In Europe, Nazism and the Holocaust forced the church to overestimate radically its relationship with the state and society. Even a separate branch of theology was born – political theology as a reaction mainly to German totalitarianism and World War II. Historically, the Church, both in the Christian East and the Christian West, even before their separation, had a two-dimensional relationship. Now, it is called the public-political sphere, which is sometimes still generalized by the Greek word ‘politeia’. Namely, these relations were exhausted by the state. Only relatively recently, the churches have begun to realize that this two-dimensionality is not enough because there is another powerful dimension that has become self-sufficient in relations with the state. This dimension is society.
This awareness forces the Church to move from two-dimensional Church-State relations to three-dimensional – Church-State-Society, or even in a different order – Church-society-state, where the state is pushed to the third plan. It should be noted that in the history of the Christian Church, there were cases when some church leaders realized the need to develop relations with society as such and not only with the state. It is believed that the blessed Augustine with his fundamental work On the City of God had laid the foundation for the relationship of the Church with this third dimension, society. In the East, there is no similar reasoning, but there are valid examples, for instance, St. John Chrysostom. After the fall of the Byzantine Empire, the Eastern Church had lost its Christian status as its conventional pillar. Its only support was the community, to which the hierarchy gradually began to draw. The Christian proto-nation in the Ottoman Empire, the so-called ‘millet,’ had also become a proto-civil society, with which the Eastern Church entered into close relations, thus finding for itself that third dimension that was to be an alternative to the Church-state relation.
In a slightly different way, the Orthodox Church developed its relations with society on the territory of what had emerged after the fall of the Russian Empire. In that empire, the Church’s and society’s relations were about the same as in Byzantium, that is, completely in the shadow of relations with the state. In the Soviet Union, the Church had never been able to build a separate relationship with society. On the one hand, militant atheist propaganda stood between the Church and society. On the other hand, the Church itself could not find for itself a different dimension than the relationship with the state. After the state had driven the Church away from itself, the latter closed in its ghetto and waited patiently for recognition. When it was recognized again after the fall of the Communist regime, firstly, it began to re-develop relations with the state instead of engaging in building relations with society. Thus, post-Soviet society did not yet fully understand its subjectivity that was separate from the state.
However, today, theology has become a demanded educational direction throughout the world. Graduates with a theological education are engaged in many spheres of social life such as scientific, educational, expert activity, the field of social adaptation, and educational work with youth. As the world-historical practice confirms, theology itself is a discipline that preserves the self-identification of the national spiritual tradition in the plane of education and science.
Currently, society does not rebuild itself but is being restored, so it is necessary to build traditions, to revive the best from the historical past, extracting from world practice only the necessary and useful for cultural and educational traditions. It is obvious that for the full development of culture and morality in the country, the restoration of the structures of civil society requires a theological education. This has to do with all aspects of the life of society: politics, economic economics, culture, and the system of education. World outlook, culture, and human morality are invested in the family, school, or university walls. The spiritual development of society is necessary for full-fledged and healthy progress in all spheres. Spiritual education allows society to develop in all directions. A person with spiritual knowledge can fully replenish their inner and intellectual level. However, it is not about replacing theology with philosophy. These two traditions should cooperate, find common ground and develop without separating from each other; otherwise, society simply cannot develop freely. Nowadays, the life of society involves interaction, considering the interests of different social, confessional, and ethnic groups.
Theological education, which is oriented toward the spiritual development of the country, guarantees the safety of the development of society, the preservation and strengthening of moral values, traditions of patriotism, and humanism. In addition, it provides an opportunity to raise the cultural and scientific potential of the state by neutralizing negative factors and conditions that contribute to the emergence of religious extremism, separatism, and the resulting social inter-ethnic and inter-confessional clashes as well as terrorism on religious grounds.
Interpretations of Spirituality by Society
The concept of spirituality can be designated today as one of the most popular ones in political and confessional rhetoric, and at the same time, the most blurred one in the semantic sense. Spirituality is traditionally opposed to the process of relativization of axiological systems, acting as the image of an unconditional “friend” and one of the main guidelines for the development of society. In scientific literature, there are two basic interpretations of spirituality: secular and religious. Secular interpretation presupposes a socio-cultural understanding of spirituality, and, as a rule, links its development with the non-material sphere.
The content analysis of scientific articles, the subject of which is the concept of spirituality, allows the construction of a synonymous series that includes the most frequently mentioned words characteristics of spirituality such as morality, immaterial, collective, and public. Among the characteristics-oppositions, most often mentioned are individualism, destruction of traditions, and disintegration. At the same time, these oppositions are associated exclusively with the crisis of spirituality but not with the crisis of the education system and the fall of the general level of culture.
In this connection, it is also necessary to distinguish between the categories of the spirituality of society and human spirituality since the former includes and presupposes the obligatory presence of a material factor. Sources of formation and tools for intergenerational translation of spiritual values are exclusively material because they are related to state regulation and the activities of such social institutions as education, science, culture, etc. The implementation of these social institutions is impossible without a developed infrastructure (schools, libraries, museums, etc.), budgetary financing, and a wide range of programs for state support and management of the social sphere.
The secular interpretation of spirituality approximates the rhetoric of the first persons of the state, but in it, as a rule, there are no oppositions. In particular, in the speeches of former US President Obama, spirituality is most often understood more broadly, being placed on par with management in the social sphere. However, it is distilled into a separate semantic category: spirituality and culture, spirituality and education.
The stereotypical understanding of spirituality, the most common in ordinary consciousness, corresponds to a rather narrow religious interpretation. Spirituality is associated exclusively with the belief in the transcendent; as a rule, it is put in one synonym with religion and as a derivative of religiosity – morality. Religious understanding of spirituality determines the approach to culture as a derivative of Orthodoxy or other “titular” religion; therefore, it is monopolistic in any case. Accordingly, the only legitimate carrier of spirituality and the subject of management a priori is the church, taking on the role of an unconditional “friend”. The general, both secular and religious interpretation, is, firstly, a motivational approach, when the concept of spirituality is characterized by socially significant behavior, prompted not by the needs of man but by his values. Thus, the characteristic of the consciousness of the personality determines social activity and acts as one of the mechanisms of its self-regulation. Secondly, morality is the main synonym for spirituality, although in different ways. Thus, when analyzing Pope Francis’ speeches, in which there is an appeal to the concept of spirituality, one can see that the main characteristic of spirituality in the understanding of the head of the church is morality. At the same time, the concept of spirituality is accompanied by the formation of an image-opposition, the image of the enemy. The opposition to spirituality is predicted by crisis, corruption, distemper, Europe, and the Internet, thus forming an objectified image of the enemy, both external and internal.
As can be seen from the above information, the concept of spirituality in society varies. Thus, the reflection of the concept of spirituality is found both in politics and in the stereotyping of society. In this case, it is obvious that theology has penetrated all levels of society and has firmly taken its place in politics. This is a reflection of the relationship of religion to society. Today, the church is aware of its inextricable link with society. Therefore, more and more representatives of various denominations become public persons.
Sacralization and Secularization Are the Leading Processes of Modern Religious Life
In the modern world, the role of religion is significant, although one must consider that much depends on the ability of one or another religion to adapt to modern realities in a fast-moving technocratic world. Currently, innovations do not appear throughout the life of several generations but emerge during only 2-5 years. People can communicate with each other via the Internet, being on different ends of the planet. The majority of the world’s inhabitants have minimal scientific knowledge about the physical structure of the world. They have also experienced several social and ideological revolutions, for example, sexual, etc.
At the same time, the influence of religion is also realized through its functions in society. Indeed, the fulfillment of these functions convincingly demonstrates that religion does not unreasonably claim to regulate the life of a person and society as a whole. Examples include the influence of religion on culture (the ban on all kinds of fine arts in Islam), science (the inquisition in medieval Europe and its persecution of scientists), and politics (the political activities of the Roman Catholic Church). However, modern people do not always agree with the rules of religious regulation.
Modern researchers emphasize the progressive movement of religion in the 21st century. It is reduced and counterbalanced by two opposite phenomena – sacralization and secularization. The former is a phenomenon, in which all actions, people’s behavior, and social relations institutions fall under the control and management of religious organizations and authorities. At the early stages of the development of civilization, sacralization existed within the framework of people’s direct activities and their communication. Later, with the emergence of religious organizations, the process of clericalization was outlined. This is also a sacralization but not a spontaneous one since it was ideological, backed up by official theological doctrine. Its main stages are codification, dogmatization, and canonization of dogma, with a clearly expressed desire to include theological foundations into the human mind, through the prism of which a further process of thinking and decision-making will take place.
In each separate state, the processes of sacralization and clericalization developed inimitably. Thus, in the Islamic states, they were performed by the formation of theocratic states without the presence of powerful single religious centers. The main tasks for Muslims were the implementation of the ideas of their religious community, and the realization of a symbiosis of spiritual and secular principles. In Islam, political leaders were simultaneously religious leaders.
In Christian European states, sacralization reached its apogee in the Middle Ages. Every human act and every social phenomenon was subordinated to the church. Culture and crafts, including painting, architecture, sculpture, and music, contained only Christian-biblical motifs and reflections on their themes. Science, in particular, philosophy, was seen as an aid to religion and theology. The political system also reflected a theocratic approach.
After the Renaissance, especially in the period of the Enlightenment, a reverse process began: secularization emerged as a way to move the behavior of people and social activities from the control of religion. Initially, secularization affected only the processes of reformation of the Catholic Church, when its property was alienated in favor of the state, but then, it became a broader phenomenon. Since the end of the 18th century, in most countries of Europe, not religious faith but also logic and knowledge began to be regarded as the source and main impulse of any human activity. The right to free-thinking was established.
According to sociologists, the process of secularization has both positive and negative consequences. However, it does not lead to the elimination of religion. It contributes only to the changes in its arrangement and position in the life of society. The processes of sacralization and secularization are dialectically interrelated. Thus, the modernization of beliefs and cults in modern religions gives every reason to believe that religion in one form or another continues to influence all spheres of social life, the process of socialization of the individual, science, culture, etc. The history of civilization teaches that most religions contain a significant adaptive potential, or the ability to adapt to the changing conditions of this world, to react to changes in various spheres of public life such as the economy, the social sphere, politics, and culture.
Concerning the significance of secularization, it must be emphasized that this process does not coincide with the affirmation of atheism. Secularization is the prerequisite of free-thinking, which is an element of both public and individual consciousness. It represents a worldview position that defends the independence of a person from religion and the church in solving personal and social problems. Religious studies distinguish such varieties of free thinking as godlessness, skepticism, anti-clericalism, indifferentism, nihilism, and atheism. The extreme form of freethinking is atheism which is not limited to the objection to religious worldview, the criticism of various aspects of religion and religious organizations but that also affirms a purely materialistic worldview.
Optimal for the development of society and its stability is the assertion in the public consciousness of the principles of tolerance, the right to freedom of conscience, and the desire for dialogue between different faiths, believers, and atheists. The aforementioned principles and rights, in particular, the right to freedom of conscience, are enshrined in international legal instruments and legislation of different countries. It is especially necessary to emphasize that a balanced and correct attitude of the state to different confessions and churches is a condition for inter-confessional accord and social stability. Thus, it becomes clear that religion is a very dynamic and multifaceted social phenomenon that can play an important positive but also a negative social role. In today’s world, where there has been an interaction between supporters of sacralization and secularization, where people have become more closely connected, information is transmitted quicker and a constant dialogue of cultures, including religions, takes place. Therefore, there exist many problems, the main of which is the problem of religious conflicts and tolerance.
Theology, Politics, and Society
The modern course of social development has forced people to take a fresh look at the problem of the relationship between politics and religion as well as theology. The dynamics of the modern political process make the church an independent subject of politics. The complication of social development had a serious impact on the role of the church in society, on changing its relationship with the state, and on other elements of the political system.
Religion, as a form of public knowledge because of its objective position in society, cannot be independent of politics. In its essence, religion has never been reduced only to faith in God, to the performance of religious rites. Theology, first of all in a certain form, explains and assesses the real world, and regulates real relations between people. One way or another, religion and theology are always a whiter or less harmonious system of representations, attitudes, and actions. Thus, expressing the worldview of a particular social group or having an ideological influence on various social groups, religion and theology are integral components of politics.
The idea of ?? the state (secular) and ecclesiastical (spiritual) power that emerged in the Middle Ages reflected social reality. This period of human development was not accidentally called the era of the classical Christian civilization when religion was the core, the guiding center of the whole life of society. All other forms of social creation had only executive functions regarding religion, including politics. The undivided dominance of religion, its penetration into all spheres of life, and its supremacy over the state formed certain political norms.
The emergence of capitalist social relations brought several new features to the relationship between politics and religion. The former gradually assumes a dominant position, pushing the latter back to the background or, rather pushing it into the shade, in solving social problems of the development of society. Modern relations between politics and religion have several features, related to the specific conditions of their interaction. Here, however, it should be borne in mind that the view that divides these two spheres in social science seems to be very simplistic and contradictory and, to a certain extent, even one-sided.
For modern relations of politics and religion, several tendencies in different directions, clearly show all their complexity. First, there is the so-called secularization of politics. This process, which began in modern times and continues to this day in the conditions of developed political systems, had lost its conflict character and began to flow in calmer and more veiled forms. This trend primarily affects the relationship between social institutions, the state, and the church. Secondly, the opposite tendency is aimed at cooperation, interpenetration, and interaction of religion and politics. Thus, it manifests itself in other forms and at a higher level than it was in the past.
Within the framework of this trend in the development of the relationship between politics and religion, several specific forms of its manifestation can be identified. First, in many countries, there is a clear tendency to the theologization of politics. This phenomenon is typical both for the dominant policy and for the political forces, striving for power. The classic example of the theologization of the dominant policy in England, the USA, etc. In this case, the demonstration of the religiousness of a politician is an inalienable attribute, allegedly emphasizing their devotion to the Motherland and the desire to serve the people. For example, in the United States, a candidate for an elected political office is obliged to openly declare their affiliation with a particular religion, both chambers of Congress have their chaplains, and the President swears on the Bible when taking office. A special place is occupied by the theologization of the policy that is not dominant but that only has an impact on social development primarily due to the theologization of the policy of mass social movements. The main role in this process is played by the leaders of these movements.
For most modern movements, the usage of various kinds of theological innovations, modernist slogans, concepts, or ideas is characteristic. Often, the theological moment is used to impart a lofty goal to a policy that does not “boil down to a bare pursuit of power”. The second manifestation of the process of interaction between religion and politics can be called the politicization of religion. This trend indicates an increase in the activity of religious organizations in the political process. In this way, theologians take a more active stance toward society as a whole. Not limited to criticizing the current spiritual decline of society, and its moral vices, theologians are increasingly called to change the existing state of affairs.
The methods of the real impact of theology on politics can be quite different. One of the most common of them is the increased influence of the church on political leaders. Here, the rate is placed on those social groups that are most interested in changing this social reality. Special activity, in this case, is shown by non-traditional religions, while traditional official religions retain moderate politicization. The most striking example, in this case, is the liberation theology in the USA and Latin American countries, which is a politico-ideological system with vivid religious coloring. However, one should keep in mind that the cooperation of politics and religion in a democratic society is limited. Theologians worry that the excessive politicization of religion and the involvement of the church and believers in the political struggle will adversely affect the position of religion in society. At the same time, the democratic political system excludes absolutist social worldviews that are primarily associated with religion. In making a distinction between the politicization of religion and the theologization of politics, one should always remember that in practice, these two processes are so closely intertwined and interrelated that it is simply impossible to distinguish them.
The problem of the interrelationship of politics and religion is especially acute in modern conditions. Firstly, their close relationship is caused by the fact that religion, or rather the church, is one of the most important means of preserving and gaining power. To maintain their power, the dominant forces cannot rely only on coercion, on the physical strength of repressive organizations. Of particular importance in this regard is the impact on the inner world of people, or rather the ideological manipulation of their consciousness and behavior.
Currently, it is difficult to separate the religious factor from the national, global, etc. In itself, the religious factor in contemporary world politics has ever-increasing importance that has a wide variety of manifestations. Thus, the rapid growth of the number of fundamentalists, who often coincide in their attitudes with right-conservative forces, should be noted. This trend is typical mostly for Islam. In addition, one should remember that now, the church does not leave any acute social problem of the present time without its attention.
Theologians are ready to offer several options for solving environmental and demographic problems. They develop a variety of ways to prevent the threat of nuclear war. They seek to give their interpretation to interethnic conflicts. The position of various churches on the issues of war and peace is quite original. Thus, for example, secretly justifying and supporting religious wars, such as jihad, and religious clashes in Northern Ireland, on the whole, religious organizations in the international arena advocate pacifism and even condemn the arms race. The strengthening of the religious factor in politics is also evidenced by the nomination of prominent religious figures for important political posts.
Regarding the immense significance of the relationship between religion and politics in modern conditions, one should never forget that both religion and politics are inherently connected with huge masses of people. They affect the interests of the widest sections of the population. In this regard, when considering the specific forms of the relationship between religion and politics, the influence of many factors should be considered. These factors include the peculiarities of mass consciousness, the level of religiousness of society, and the conditions and forms of activity of the church and the state in shaping public opinion as well as the influence and strength of traditions in society, the level of development of political culture, etc. The close interconnection of religion and politics in modern realities is conditioned by the fact that the church, as an institution of the political system of society, is characterized by all the basic attributes, inherent in social organizations. Its elements are ideology (general doctrine), religious activity (cult and extracurricular), proper organization (the church system for managing the life, activities, and behavior of believers), and the operation of a certain system of norms and rules of conduct (religious morality, canon law).
The emergence of the so-called social theology, whose various trends try to offer their interpretation of pressing social problems, has also had a significant impact on the strengthening of the relationship between religion and politics in modern conditions. Among its main areas are labor theology, the theology of the world, politics, culture, revolution, and so on. Despite the existing internal disagreements, the representatives of social theology defend the need for theological knowledge of the world, which will help to know the truths of Revelation. Thus, all social problems will receive a purely religious interpretation. From all that has been said, it is quite obvious that without a serious study of the relationship between religion and politics, it is impossible to understand the most important events of modern development. Moreover, purely by quantitative indicators for the majority of the world community, religion is still the dominant worldview. It forms many social norms and ideals, but it also influences the whole course of social development.
To clarify the essence of the relationship between religion and politics, the theoretical approach is not limited to describing concrete examples of the manifestation of this relationship. It necessarily requires certain generalized formulations and the identification of stable links and laws. The consideration of the interrelationship of politics and religion in a pure form should be complemented by the analysis of their relationships with other spheres of society’s life, which will allow them to reveal their mutual influence in greater detail and a reasoned manner.
Theology as a science has developed for more than one century. Its history has deep roots and it is reflected in all spheres of today’s public life. Society and religion have always been closely related. The current situation in the world shows that theology reflects the attitude of religion to society, and it is broadly reflected in politics and education. All countries of the world have their religious representatives in society as they constantly participate in cultural, political, and public life. In this regard, the concept of spirituality has acquired a new meaning. The concepts of sacralization and secularization have also had to do with strengthening the influence of theology on modern society. The 21st century, even though it has just started, is rich in events, to which theology has direct relevance. Political leaders rely on the notions of theology in public speeches and vow in the Bible, which speaks in favor of the growing influence of religion on society. Theological education gains popularity in various countries of the world, which also indicates the inextricable link between religion and society. Strengthening this connection undoubtedly has a beneficial effect on the world community. Thus, precisely such high religious consciousness makes one a highly moral and cultural individual.