Prayer and Theological Study – K. Kapic and St. Anselm

little-book-theologians-kapic“One of the great dangers in theology is making our faith something we discuss rather than something that moves us. We lapse into this problem when we treat God as the mere object of our study rather than as the Lord we worship.

“…So how do we avoid depersonalizing our theological endeavors? How do we avoid not knowing the person we study? There is no substitute for prayer. Here we speak not merely of times set apart when we fold our hands and bow our heads, but also as a way of being. We are concerned not only to have a few minutes a day set apart for God but also to have a constant communion [with] him (1 Thess 5:17; cf. Jn 15:1-17). Whether eating, drinking, laughing or working, all that we do is done before the face of God. This is what undergirded the Reformation slogan coram Deo – living before God in all areas of life. This especially applies to our theological studies. Here we are on holy ground, and thus our attitude must be an attitude of prayer. If we are to be faithful, we must always be aware of his presence.

“…Anselm (1033-1109), the archbishop of Canterbury, explored questions about everything from the incarnation to potential proofs for the existence and essence of God. Modern students who read extracts of his work, however, often do not realize that he framed some of his writings not as logical puzzles but as extended prayers. Anselm begins his Proslogion by calling his readers to pray while reading, as he does while writing. His prayer gives us a model for our own studies:

I acknowledge, O Lord, with thanksgiving, that thou hast created this thy image in me, so that, remembering thee, I may think of thee, may love thee. But this image is so effaced and worn away by my faults, it is so obscured by the smoke of my sins, that it cannot do what it was made to do, unless thou renew and reform it. I am not trying, O Lord, to penetrate thy loftiness, for I cannot begin to match my understanding with it, but I desire in some measure to understand thy truth, which my heart believes and loves. For I do not seek to understand in order to believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this too I believe, that ‘unless I believe, I shall not understand.’

Taken from chapter 6, “Prayer and Study” in Kelly Kapic’s A Little Book for New Theologians: Why and How to Study Theology (IVP Academic, 2012), pp.64-70.


As an aside, the words at the end of Anselm’s prayer are often attributed to Augustine (354-430), as this prized picture in my home office has it. Perhaps Anselm was only quoting his spiritual forefather.