Part II: The heart of a Catholic University- the School of Philosophy and Theology

[Part I can be read here]

Today I want to concentrate on the role of theologians in the university (since I am one!).

“Theology plays a particularly important role in the search for a synthesis of knowledge as well as in the dialogue between faith and reason. It serves all other disciplines in their search for meaning, not only by helping them to investigate how their discoveries will affect individuals and society but also by bringing a perspective and an orientation not contained within their own methodologies. In turn, interaction with these other disciplines and their discoveries enriches theology, offering it a better understanding of the world today, and making theological research more relevant to current needs. Because of its specific importance among the academic disciplines, every Catholic University should have a faculty, or at least a chair, of theology.

Given the close connection between research and teaching, the research qualities indicated above will have their influence on all teaching. While each discipline is taught systematically and according to its own methods, interdisciplinary studies, assisted by a careful and thorough study of philosophy and theology, enable students to acquire an organic vision of reality and to develop a continuing desire for intellectual progress. In the communication of knowledge, emphasis is then placed on how human reason in its reflection opens to increasingly broader questions, and how the complete answer to them can only come from above through faith. Furthermore, the moral implications that are present in each discipline are examined as an integral part of the teaching of that discipline so that the entire educative process be directed towards the whole development of the person. Finally, Catholic theology, taught in a manner faithful to Scripture, Tradition, and the Church’s Magisterium, provides an awareness of the Gospel principles which will enrich the meaning of human life and give it a new dignity.”

School of Philosophy and Theology

The challenge to lecturers:

University teachers should seek to improve their competence and endeavour to set the content, objectives, methods, and results of research in an individual discipline within the framework of a coherent world vision. Christians among the teachers are called to be witnesses and educators of authentic Christian life, which evidences attained integration between faith and life, and between professional competence and Christian wisdom. All teachers are to be inspired by academic ideals and by the principles of an authentically human life.

The challenge to students:

23. Students are challenged to pursue an education that combines excellence in humanistic and cultural development with specialized professional training. Most especially, they are challenged to continue the search for truth and for meaning throughout their lives, since “the human spirit must be cultivated in such a way that there results a growth in its ability to wonder, to understand, to contemplate, to make personal judgments, and to develop a religious, moral, and social sense”(23). This enables them to acquire or, if they have already done so, to deepen a Christian way of life that is authentic. They should realize the responsibility of their professional life, the enthusiasm of being the trained ‘leaders’ of tomorrow, of being witnesses to Christ in whatever place they may exercise their profession.

Do us students always “pursue excellence”? All too often, I think the answer is no. We procrastinate our readings and assignments, so that they are both done haphazardly at the last minute, and we hardly remember the readings beyond the class we discussed them in. We get away with it, get marks that are “ok”, and continue in that way. Personally, I think I’ve improved in this regard since coming to Notre Dame, mostly because I’m much more engrossed in my theology studies than I ever was in my Maths or Physics at USyd. But I look back with regret, wishing I had put in a bit more effort. I was certainly far from being “the model student”.

In terms of our essays (or any assignment), there is a tendency to set the bar low. If we “happen” to get a D or even an HD, that’s very nice, but aiming for that every time is a bit much. As long as we get by, or we’re not at the bottom of the class, then that suffices. After all, Ps get degrees, don’t they? Well, they do, but that is hardly what I would call a pursuit of excellence. Probably we could all do a bit of thinking about how seriously we take our studies, but that suggestion weighs most heavily on Catholic students, I’d say, since we are striving to imitate Christ in all things. How did He spend His first thirty years? In quiet, humble obedience, working diligently away. Would He have been a halfhearted carpenter? I think not. This call to take our study seriously weighs even more heavily on theology students, since we are writing about the things of God, and, in a certain way, justice demands that we do out utmost to learn and present the truths of God faithfully. To do so requires no little effort. Check out some hard-hitting remonstrances from St Josemaria to everyone, regardless of profession, regarding study- he doesn’t, however, advocate for study at the expense of prayer. Interior life and study go together.

With regards to the challenge to continue our search for the truth through our whole lives, an interesting phenomenon can be observed in the logos programme (the compulsory core curriculum). Many students seem to resent it, calling it a “waste of time”, “so annoying”, “stupid”, ‘boring” or “irrelevant”. Part of the frustration has probably lain in it being a rather confusing program in terms of logistics and admin. But even in terms of the content, of what one learns, and the questions one is forced to ask, it is concerning to me that so many would find it boring or irrelevant. These are the most relevant questions to your life that you can possibly ask! “Why am I here? What’s the meaning of my life? How can I discern what is right and what is wrong? Is there a God?” and so forth. Such attitudes betray the general apathy that plagues our society. Hopefully the core curriculum manages to stimulate a sense of wonder in some of the students, and impresses upon them the notion of objective truths that they ought to seek.

JPII goes on to say that this search enables them to aquire a Christian way of life. Obviously it is preferable that people attain this ASAP. The Christain worldview does much to alleviate confusion bad decision-making so prevalent in our culture. The sooner a person finds their life illuminated by the light of Christ, the better for them, in every possible sense. Thus, I think this certainly suggests what will be touched on later, the importance of evangelisation to non-Christian, or non-practicing Christian students at the university.

What does this mean for theology students in particular? It means we should be supplementing the work of the logos programme, by stimulating discussions about the most significant things in life with our fellow-students outside the classroom. Not in a pushy way, obviously. But in the context of authentic relationships. This means we need authentic relationships with non-theology non-Catholic students! And, practically speaking, this is actually a bit difficult to realise. I’ll speak more on this another time.

I was going to also talk about theologians in general, not just students, but I think that’s quite enough for one day!

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