The Distinction and the Relation Between Religion and Theology

Religion is something that bestows on us the greatest of benefits, because it delivers us from eternal moral death and everlasting punishment – providing we behave and act in accordance with it. Just as it is beneficial for us to live forever, so is religion, which is the work of God, valuable and beneficial for us. Since God is extremely good to us through religion, we should be just as grateful to Him as He has been good to us, and continues to be. The failure to perform this duty leads us into ingratitude and thanklessness toward God, our great benefactor, and it is the greatest of offences to become forgetful of the gratitude due to God. This attitude presupposes insensitivity to the generous gifts of God, just as gratitude presupposes a realization of them.

A soul which is insensitive to the generous acts of God is dead spiritually and lacks all skill in good works. But a soul which is conscious of God’s generosity toward it, is alive and active, and capable of acquiring every virtue, for it desires progress and moral perfection. When religion is seen as the first and greatest of God’s generous gifts to man, we have every reason to conclude that man’s gratitude to God in His generosity ought to be seen as our first and greatest duty – by right reason and by voice of the facts.

We already have considered the duty of gratitude on our part toward God, and we have examined carefully its nature and its need to balance the generosity shown to us through religion by God, who is merciful and compassionate to all. Let us now consider the distinction between theology and religion, and the relation between them. We begin with the first question raised by this subject: Does religion differ from theology, and if so, in what manner?

Religion has been defined as the knowledge of the religious laws by which the soul is reconciled with God and becomes His friend, by which it is saved and sanctified, or as the science of mediation carrying out its own special task with the aid of a mediator. Religion is founded on the religious consciousness which begins to grow and comes to birth in man because of his transgression of the moral law and his guilt in the presence of the lawgiver who wrote the moral law in his heart.

Theology is defined as the knowledge of the eternal God; the knowledge of the nature and distinguishing characteristics of God; and the knowledge of the relations of the Eternal with creation and with man who was created in the image and likeness of God. The distinction between religion and theology is perfectly clear, and only the ignorant confuse the two, imagining religion to be theology or theology to be religion.

The essential characteristic which distinguishes religion is this: The science of theology aims at achieving knowledge of the God who is, while religion aims at the knowledge and practice of the laws for saving the soul and the way in which the soul can act and be fit and well, and be delivered from its sin by obtaining divine mercy. Religion presupposes theology, which is a science of the eternal Being or the science of “that which has happened,” which in turn is based upon faith in God which becomes implanted in our soul by way of right reason.

In fact, the difference between religion and theology is like the difference between the sciences of medicine, and hygiene and dietetics. Just as medicine has its own object, its own nature, and its own goal, so too, dietetics has its own object, nature, and goal. The object for medicine is the sick body. Its nature is to both treat and diagnose the diseases of the body. Its aim is the curing and alleviation of diseases.

The object for dietetics is a healthy body. By its nature it is concerned with the strengthening and regular development of the body by means of suitable foods. For its aim it has the perfecting of the body and its maintenance in a robust and vigorous condition. Thus just as medicine and dietetics are different, so religion and theology are different, and the distinction between them must be examined in more detail.

From the viewpoint of man, the subject of religion is a soul which is sick with sin. Its nature is to diagnose and treat spiritual diseases; its purpose is to heal the soul and eradicate sickness caused by sin, through the scriptural remission of sin. Viewed objectively, the object of religion is a saviour, mediator, and redeemer by whom man may be saved, restored to friendship with God, and sanctified.

True theology, however, has the eternal God, the Ancient of days, as its object. It searches and inquires into His perfection. It seeks full knowledge of God, of His nature, and of His relations with man and the universe. Religion leads to salvation and reconciliation with God via a mediator and saviour. Theology leads to full Knowledge of the eternal God via orthos logos (right reason). True religion leads to true theology, but true religion is the handmaid of true theology.

Just as there is false religion and true religion, so also there is false theology and true theology. True religion cannot contradict true theology, for it is fashioned by orthos logos; nor can true theology contradict true religion. But true religion contradicts false religion and exposes it, eventually exterminating it. Likewise, true theology contradicts false theology, demanding its refutation and demise.*[1] True theology saves true religion from superstitions and prejudices; it does not allow the smallest particle of falsehood to enter therein. By purifying the soul, true religion makes it capable of thinking in accordance with orthos. logos, and of building up the true science of theology. These two are mutually collaborative and safeguarded.

God is one. Hence the science of God also is one, not many. That science which relates the truth about God and reveals His true nature, and explains His relationship with both creation and man, is the true science of theology. But all other sciences which incorrectly exposit the nature of God and His relationship with creation, are false theological sciences, unworthy of attention and credence.

The only true theology is Orthodox theology, for it alone reveals God as He truly exists. Every theological system which opposes Orthodox theology is false and unworthy of belief; every system which concurs with it is true and merits belief. Just as only one true theological science exists, for God is one, so too there is only one true religion, for it is impossible for many and mutually contradictory religions to exist.

Already it has been acknowledged that the only true religion is that of the holy Orthodox Church. because it has been proved that the true religion must be the product or off­spring of true theology. Therefore, all other religions, because they are inconsistent with the one, true Orthodox Christian religion, are false and wholly unworthy of belief.

Having considered this truth, let us examine what the university editors of Voice of Religion*[2] state to be their official opinion concerning religion, and determine if they concur with the proven truth which admits to only one true religion because the science of true theology is only one, even as God is one. In number 1, page 2, of their policy statement, the editors of Voice of Religion proclaim: “Since, according to our most profound conviction, both religion in general, and the Christian religion in particular, are founded on the truth, there cannot be any intrinsic, irreconcilable conflict between science and religion.”

What is “religion in general?” It is the veneration of gods through the worship of idols, animals, or man, or through an eclectic worship which selects from all the religious creeds what it considers correct and makes a grotesque eclectic religion. This is religion in general, according to the learned editors of Voice of Religion. They are quite convinced that both religion in general and the Christian religion are founded on the truth. Perhaps all religions are true – Islam and Buddhism, and the religion that discovers divinity in created things or in animals, or in man, or even in everything, as in religious pantheism. This is the profound conviction of these new hierophants of religion in general.

All religions are true according to the official but unproved premise of Voice of Religion, which voices the convictions and feelings of its editors, rather than of the science of theology, of which they know nothing at all. If all religions are true, and thus are able to procure salvation, then everyone can be saved, whether he worships under the form of idols, matter, animals, man, or of everything – or Christ or Mohammed – and, it stands to reason, also if he worships under the cloak of simony and disbelief in the truth of God.

It makes no difference to the enthusiasts who are the editors of Voice of Religion. One can see the nature of the theology taught by Diomedes and his colleagues, and it is said that they must be the instruments for starting the reformation of the Church. *[3] Such an unscientific theology as this, declaring all religions to be true, is being taught in the university of Greece, a monstrous theology confusing the minds of those unhappy students who listen to it for the sake of the diploma. One can see why they do not like the true science of theology as it distinguishes between light and darkness, and recognizes only one religion as true, the Christian religion – not as the pope or the Protestants assert – but as the Eastern Orthodox Church of Christ confesses it. One can see why they hate those who teach the truth, for they do not agree with their own errors.

The second question is the relation between religion and theology. The analogy for this already has suggested itself. The relation between religion and theology is similar to the relation between medicine and dietetics. Just as medicine cures the diseases of the body and makes it capable of spontaneous and normal movement, activity, eating, and of feeding according to the rules of dietetics, so religion cures the soul of sins, and makes it capable of understanding God according to orthos logos (right reason), because it has been delivered from passions and irrational desires.

Naturally, when the soul has accepted religion and has been cleansed by its means, it is led to the knowledge of the eternal God, in whose existence it believes, and leaving the circle of religious belief in God, it longs to know. to learn, and to understand the nature of God and His relationship with creation and with man. It is impossible for anyone to know God by his very nature, unless he has been cleansed first by religion.

Therefore, religion opens the way to the knowledge of God and to total knowledge, because knowledge of God is total knowledge. Religion reveals to man the means of salvation and the laws by which his nature is cleansed from sin and consequently is sanctified. Knowledge of God leads to total knowledge and to man’s theosis. *[4]

As religion is the forerunner of morality, so it is also the forerunner of theology and philosophy, because it preaches repentance and remission of sins. and gives the soul the ability to move and act in the theoretical and practical stations of its life through the philosophical sciences and philosophy. This is the reason why the ancient as well as more recent, non-Christian communities were not able to know God, any more than they were able to keep the laws of morality. But since God has revealed His nature through the Holy Scriptures, and through the incarnation of His Son has been revealed among men and made more understandable in His nature and His relationship with creation and with man, men – by accepting religion and cleansing themselves from all sin by means of the religion of Christ – have been exalted to the knowledge of the eternal God. Thereby they have come to know God – the maker of all things, father and creator – and this is the object of the science of theology.

In practicing our religion, we study theology. As students of theology, we come to the full knowledge of the nature of the eternal God, and we rejoice in such inestimable knowledge. Of true theology and true religion, the first has the role of mistress and the second that of handmaid, but both labour together in the work.

For religion, it is the task of cleansing the soul from sins and leading the way to theology, while for theology it is guiding the soul to the understanding and full knowledge of the eternal Being. Moreover, the handmaid remains only until she has completed her own task; then she fades away, for she is transitory and performs a temporary service. The mistress, however, remains forever, for her task is permanent – the knowledge of the eternal Being who knows neither change nor variation.

FOOTNOTES:

  1. Editors’ note: A foremost example of false religion and false theology is the unscriptural and antichrist ecumenical movement. No true Orthodox bishop, priest, or layman supports this ungodly idol.
  2. A periodical published during the era of Apostolos Makrakis.
  3. Diomedes was an author and theologian, and a contemporary of Makrakis; he was a student in heterodox schools of the West.
  4. Editors’ note: Adequate exegesis of the term theosis in the context of Orthodox theology would fill volumes. More frequent definitions of theosis include “making divine, “union with God,” and “deification of man” – which most Orthodox theologians assert will occur following the resurrection of the dead, in the Kingdom of Heaven.

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