Well, most of us will answer this question by breaking down the word like this:
“I know ‘ology’ means ‘the study of.'” In Greek, the logos we’re referring to here means “treatment of.”
“So, what is ‘theo’?” Actually, it is from the Greek theos, or “god”.
Theology, then, is the treatment of, or study of God.
Bored? I know many of you know this stuff, but it is important to start from the beginning.
Faith: An Implied Requirement in Any Science
Not just anyone can do theology. Only the believer. How can you study nothing?
For the atheist, God definitively doesn’t exist. There is nothing. Again, how can you study nothing? You can’t. Objects in reality, objects in time and space that present themselves to my intellect can be recognized, studied and understood. Something must exist in order for it to be known. And, one must believe in that object’s existence, ie. have faith.
This applies to every science. I will repeat: faith applies to every science. Let me show you:
In order for the biologist to study living things, he or she must believe that those living things actually do exist, and that he or she is not just a brain, in a jar, in some laboratory that is being manipulated in various fashions by some mechanized electrical process – meaning that everything sensed is a mere illusion.
While this, and other crazy possibilities could actually be the case, the biologist, without performing any sort of scientific processes upon himself, can, in fact, be quite certain about his real existence in time and space, along with the many objects he bumps into. His certainty lies mostly in: experience, intuition, freedoms, etc. Yet, none of these “scientifically” prove anything. Instead, they point out a great probability, that he is, in fact, real, and so is the world. And, he believes it. For the human being in real life, stopping every second to verify things with the scientific method would cause a tremendous traffic jam in this thing called life. Scientism is an impossible reduction. A certain level of faith is required for every endeavor in life, from the faith I have that my mother is not going to poison me this morning, to the faith I have in the driver across from me at the traffic light. This holds true in every pursuit of knowledge.
To return to our biologist: in order for the biologist to do real biology, life must exist – must be real. Now, the highly unlikely prospect that the biologist is actually just a brain in a jar could actually be the case, so some degree of faith is required, even for the scientist!
My ultimate point with regard to theology: one must have faith in God in order to do real theology, in order to give a treatment of God, in order to understand what God is, what God consists of, what God does, etc. So, in order to do theology, in order to study God, God must exist. God must somehow be knowable in time and space, which is where human beings operate.
St. Anselm, back in the day, set his aim as “faith seeking understanding” (fides quaerens intellectum). This, then, can help us to sum up our definition of theology. It requires faith and demands an account for that faith. Faith seeking understanding means, to quote the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “an active love of God seeking a deeper knowledge of God.”
Theology is this seeking.