In Europe during the High Middle Ages, schools of higher learning utilized the trivium (grammar, logic, and rhetoric) and quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy) of classical liberal arts. It was in this environment that theology was named “queen of the sciences.”
Theology as Science
When we think of “science,” we usually think of the study of the natural world and that which can be quantitatively measured—subjects such as biology and physics. Historically, though, of the “natural” sciences, only geometry and astronomy were part of the standard university curriculum. So what was a science? Augustine defined it as anything to do with knowledge of the temporal world. Thomas Aquinas considered theology a science because it encounters special and general revelation.
The tradition of Wissenschaft provides a bridge to our modern understanding of science. Wissenschaft was the ideology of learning in German universities during the 1800s. Within this system, a science is “a legitimate area of study oriented to a particular object, and possessing appropriate methods of investigation.” This is similar to the concept of “science” in the Medieval era, yet has endured into the 21st century. According to this definition, theology is a science with an object of study (God and His actions on earth) and a means for study (the Bible and general revelation).
Theology as Supreme
So, theology was seen as a science in the Middle Ages. How, then, was it supreme over, and therefore “queen of,” the other sciences? In the Medieval universities, it was understood that the various branches of learning required an overarching standard. That standard was the Bible. Because the Bible was seen as the source of all truth, theology became the natural standard by which other scholarship had to abide. The scholars of the day rightly saw that one’s view of God and the Bible affects every other area of life. A scholar’s theology is the foundation of his worldview and shapes his study of philosophy and other fields. Theology, then, was the “queen of the sciences”; that is, God’s Word is the majestic source of knowledge that informs all other knowledge.
The Bible and a Theological Standard
Although the scholastic standard has changed in our world, a Christian’s belief in biblical inerrancy supports theology as “queen.” The Bible warns us to avoid “the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge” (1 Timothy 6:20). Rather, we should strive to “correctly handle the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Theology truly is the starting place for learning. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7).