When we try to distinguish between metaphysics and theology, we run into difficulties, especially since many traditionalists still follow Guenon’s condescending appraisal of theology as an inferior and in a sense anthropomorphized type of knowledge. We do not think this is justified but, as was the case with much of what Guenon wrote about Christianity, was the result of an unusual failure on Guenon’s part to truly appreciate the Christian tradition and its various schools of thought. He speaks of Christian theology as ‘entirely lacking a metaphysic’ but if that is true it is only true of a certain category of theological exposition and does not take account of men like Pseudo-Dionysius or Meister Eckhart, to cite only two examples.
Unfortunately, and to Guenon’s credit, he was mostly correct, at least descriptively, regarding what has become ‘mainstream’ Catholic theology since Aquinas, since this way of ‘doing philosophy’ does have its limitations. Theology is the highest development of philosophy in the sense that it typically proceeds via the methods of discursive thought. It does not limit itself to that data, and takes for granted the contents of the revelation in which it is situated, but at the same time and as a consequence it tends to disregard the contemplative mode of knowledge, since it needs for its development a more controlled and ‘systematic’ style of exposition.
Yet even this is an oversimplification because it suggests that theology excludes metaphysics always and everywhere and almost due to its very nature. We should instead say that theology tries to reconcile the data of revelation with the principles of rational discourse, and in this way it is neither a form of profane philosophy or a work of pure metaphysical contemplation touching on the universal.
That is to say, theology is as high as one can go if one restrains oneself to the philosophical point of view and grants at the same time the preeminence of the data of a given revelation.
This is not to denigrate theology in any way, but merely to put it in its proper place. It only becomes problematic when the metaphysical component is denied or is incompletely incorporated into a religious tradition, in which case it winds up being spliced in as a subordinate branch of theology. This can only happen when knowledge of metaphysics is forgotten or rendered incomplete, and this seems to have been the case with the Scholastics of medieval Europe. Theology, properly understood as the highest point of contact with the universal from the philosophical point of view, can be described as the ‘first particularization’ of metaphysical knowledge, but not identical with it.