Adjectival Theology

I have read a lot of theology lately and I have noticed something: why do we use adjectives and adjectival phrases when talking about the Faith? Do we need adjectives when we speak about the Faith? As a part-time philosopher, I wonder: do these accidents create a new ontological reality? Or to put it more in a scholastic framework: can language express truth?

Let me explain. An adjective is

… a word whose main syntactic role is to modify a noun or pronoun (called the adjective’s subject), giving more information about what the noun or pronoun refers to.

So an adjective modifies the noun. It changes it in some way. It opens up the noun and gives new meaning to the noun. Is this the same as accidents in Aristotle’s Metaphysics? Does the way we speak about something change the object?

So why do we use:

  • Evangelical Catholic
  • Traditional Catholic
  • Neo-conservative Catholic
  • Charismatic Catholic
  • Vatican II Catholic
  • Anglican Catholic

I have heard all of the above being used recently. Are not all the adjectives inherent in the noun? (With the exception of Anglican maybe?) So why use them? What I find even harder to understand is why do we use adjectival phrases such as these:

  • The Faith as we understand it.
  • The Faith in its Anglican expression.
  • The Faith once delivered to the saints.

Do not these modify the noun Faith to make it a new reality? The definite article makes the adjectival phrase even harder to understand. Is it just a way to escape an accusation of arrogance?

So my basic question remains: Why do we feel the need to use adjectives and adjectival phrases in theological discourse?


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