November 1, 2011

Advice to Theology Students

Here's how it goes in one of your courses: You are assigned a textbook or two and a bunch of articles to read. If you're lucky, you are also made to read some primary sources. Then you hear some lectures and participate in some discussions, which might or might not be illuminating.

Then you have to write papers or even give a presentation. But here's the thing, if the papers you write or the presentations you give only serve to reproduce the lines of argument and theological assertions of the textbooks and articles you were assigned, or the lectures you heard, you are not receiving an education. You are only allowing yourself to be socialized.

The textbooks you are assigned often do a marvelous job of summarizing and serving up centuries of theological reflection on divine revelation and reasoned reflection of God's action in the world. But in doing so they all have embedded in them very certain choices of theological opinion. This is even more the case with articles. Even the primary sources you are assigned have been selected from various possibilities.

This isn't about the tedious old divisions of liberal and conservative, progressive and traditional, etc. Being socialized into learning to utter the slogans and pet concerns associated with any of these labels is boring and beneath your intellectual dignity when you can have a real theological education instead.

So, do your homework. Read the things assigned to you. But when it comes to a chance to reflect upon theological questions yourself, go further and deeper. First, pick up your Bible. What do the Scriptures say about the question or topic at hand? Second, read your Catechism. Or better, read your Catechism alongside your Denzinger. Don't have one of those? Click here and order one. Not later, now.

Don't settle for being socialized into the 'theological imagination' of your school or the 'correct' opinions of the authorities in your life, whatever camp these fall into among the factions of this tired world. Stay close to the Scriptures, stay close to the living tradition of the Church's teaching. Be empowered, and be educated.


Greg said...

What do I have to offer you to get you to come teach theology here on the West Coast?

From St. John's Seminary you are a fifteen minute ride to the beach, an hour to the best wine country in the world, in the middle of the missions established by friars, never will you see an icicle dangling dangerously from your eaves, the orange groves are all around, Mexican food can be quite good.

But most of all there is a large contingent of faithful hungering for formation.

What about a few weeks as a visiting professor in the summer?

Anonymous said...

True, and probably true for more academia than you imagine. Politically Correct is a taught and learned attribute.

Also there is a first paragraph typo (with might)

Brother Charles said...

Thanks for encouragement and corrections!

Viator Catholicus said...

sed contra...
Scripture, Tradition, and Magisterium are presumed as the sune qua non. But, we all can't reinvent the theological wheel. A young theologian should adopt a Master - preferably St. Thomas Aquinas, but the Church does approve others. I am not saying to blindly follow one such Doctor of the Church, but choose one who seems most cogent and know his or her thought well. Later in life the young theologian through prayer and wisdom will be able to discern possible blindspots in the Doctor and offer correction.

Don't be lured by the fruit of the trees in some western "paradise!"

Brother Charles said...

Point well taken, thank you. Unfortunately, Scripture, Tradition, and Magisterium cannot always be presumed in every classroom.

michael said...

Your link has been corrupted and instead bringing one to Denzinger it now links to Dupuis. Has "an enemy done this"?

Brother Charles said...

Indeed...believe it or not, that's the edition in English.