Practical Theology is one of the departments of theology, and aims principally at the treatment of the functions of Church life. For centuries the term was abused and confused, and the sphere of practical theology in the organism of theological science was an ill-understood question until the proper conception of its nature and limits was given by that master-mind of German theology, Schleiermacher; and, thanks to his clear-sightedness, practical theology is no longer to be confounded with a diluted, popularized edition of scientific theology "for students incompetent to learn the theoretic science" (Planck), nor is it any longer used as a synonym of Christian ethics or pastoral theology, but it has taken its place in the circle of theological sciences as an independent department, coordinate with exegetical, historical, and systematic theology.
The Christian religion presents itself to the student under four aspects-as a divine revelation, as a history, as a system of doctrines and duties, and, finally, as a corporate life. As now the department of exegetical theology embraces all those sciences which in any way treat of the Holy Scriptures; that of historical theology, all which in any way treat of sacred or Church history; that of systematic theology, all which set forth the doctrinal and ethical systems of Christianity; so practical theology comprehends all the practices and hourly needs of the Church, and as such this department embraces the subordinate sciences of Church government, edification, and worship. It includes and covers such special branches as Pastoral Theology, Homiletics, Catechetics, Christian Paedagogics, etc. Being the science of the collective functions of the Church regarded in her unity, it is able to give due attention and prominence to each of those functions-the regulative, the educational, and the edifying, a thing impossible, under the old-fashioned arrangement, SEE THEOLOGY, to compass within the limits of a Pastoral Theology (q.v.). Says Dorner, "It is since the idea of the Church, and of her essential functions and attributes, has been more clearly recognized that practical theology, which was formerly for the most part an aggregate of rules and regulations without any organic connection between its several precepts, has been reconstructed. Nitzsch's practical theology, in particular, brings forward its connection with the other branches of theology. Systematic theology, which is based upon exegetic theology and faith, and developed by the history of doctrines, exhibits Christian truth in the abstract, and therefore the ideal of faith and practice. Historical theology, finishing with a delineation of the present state of the Church, sets the empiric reality and its defects over against this ideal. The contrast between the two, the variance between the ideal and the real, produces the effort to reconcile this opposition by means of theological usages, in conformity with the requirements of the age. Thus practical theology, as a science, owes its origin to the ecclesiastical procedure of the times; and, as this is necessarily technical, practical theology is also a technical study." Schleiermacher called practical theology the crown of a theological course of study, and, as we have already said, was the first to bestow upon it a scientific organization. In this labor he was laudably followed by theologians of the most diverse schools, as, e.g., Roman Catholic Von Drey, Protestant Nitzsch, Hegelian Marheineke, compromising Hagenbach, Lutheran Harless, and such other noted men as Ehrenfeuchter, Moll, Palmer, and Schweizer. Most are agreed in describing practical theology as a science for the clergy, and thus not doing full justice to the vocation of the believing laity in Church work. Their rights in this respect have chiefly been made apparent by the hitherto much neglected theory of Church government, and by voluntary associations for domestic missions. On the other hand, the just notion that, since the Church's existence and increase are brought about by constant reproduction, it is necessary to start from the origin of the Church in individuals, to proceed to their gathering together, and thence to the Church, may be designated as the prevailing tendency in the construction of a practical theology. Hence the theory of missions (called also Halieutics) and catechisation, the aim of which is a preparation for confirmation, form the first or main division. The second embraces the doctrine of worship, or of the construction of the public services of the Church (liturgies, with hymnology and sacred music and homiletics), the superintendence of the spiritual interests of individuals (cure of souls), and the direction of the flock (the pastoral office); while the organization of the Church, and the entire system of Church law, by which the activity, whether of the individual or of the community, must be limited, form a third division. See Nitzsch, Praktische Theologie; Dorner, Gesch. d. protestantischen Theologie; Bickersteth, Christian Student's Biblical Assistant, p. 498; and especially Moll. Das System der praktischen Theologie (Halle, 1864, 8vo), which is a compendious but very systematic and thorough treatise, covering the whole field of practical theology as now understood. See also M'Clintock, Encyclopaedia and Methodology of Theol. Science, pt. 4; Meth. Qu. Rev. Jan. 1864, p. 159 sq. The Germans support a Zeitschrift für praktische Theologie, which is printed at Leipsic and has a wide circulation.