Theology is an act of faith, hope, and love. While it is possible for a non-Christian to study the Catholic religion (and, therefore, our faith), it is impossible for them to engage in theology. For theology is not the study of God. It is prayer. In its purest form it is contemplation which is a pure gift from God. The attainment of contemplation by our own power is impossible. What all of this means is that fundamentally theology is an expression of an intimate, familial relationship with God. Even more, the relationship of the beloved with her Lover.
So what precedes theology? Faith given in Baptism. Through this gift the Holy Spirit unites us to the Beloved Son of the Father. Our heart is brought into the heart of the Son aflame in its infinite totality with love for the Father. We are brought into this love so that through the Son, by the Spirit we are set aflame – indeed, become the flame – with a singular love of the Father. But what of the Son and the Spirit? Does this exclude love of them? God forbid! What a revolting, hideous, and excruciating thought! To love the Father is to love the Son and Spirit, for there is only one God and one love. To love the Father is to enter into His love for the Son and the Spirit; it is the love of the Holy Trinity into which we enter.
The gift of faith does not stand on its own in bringing this communion of love about: there is also the necessity of encounter. Faith, the Spirit in us, opens our hearts to encountering our Lord Incarnate, Who ceaselessly meets us and calls our name. It is only in encountering Him that we seek to know Him (The desire to know is always there though!) It is only in knowing Him that we love Him. To know is to love, and to love is to know.
There are two types of encounter. The first is encounter with Mystery. All, from our earliest ages of awareness, have this encounter. The second encounter is also with Mystery, but it also consists of the revelation that the Mystery has a name: Jesus Christ. The difference is this: the soul who has encountered Mystery is the heart that longs and yearns, but it knows not for who or what. Consequently, they are either aimless in their wanderings or attach themselves to something that is not their true desire and satisfaction. Eventually the soul in this state says, “By many experiences, I have learned that the love of this world is false and fleeting. I am always forced either to lose my love when what I have chosen for myself perishes, or to change it when something that is more pleasing comes along. I thus remain uncertain, carried on the tide of my desires, since I can neither be without love nor find true love.” (Hugh of St. Victor, Soliloquy on the Betrothal-Gift of the Soul, para. 7) The soul who has encountered the Mystery and knows His name – Jesus Christ – knows the One for Whom his heart longs and his wanderings are no longer aimless. This encounter is also an awakening of one’s identity: I am the beloved. I am loved by the One Who is Love. The encounter draws the soul into the relationship of beloved and Lover. Relationships require knowledge of the one with whom we are in a relationship. The degree of the relationship correlates with the degree of knowledge . So how do we have knowledge of God?