Theology and the University

Universities were founded in Medieval Europe for the training of clergy and slowly expanded to include laymen. Entrance to a university implied having some mastery of the seven liberal arts, and once there one could study civil law, cannon law, philosophy or theology. Theology was called the queen of the sciences. I don’t know how well the medieval system worked, it probably had both strengths and flaws.

In my last post I questioned if theology is really possible in a modern university, particularly an American one; our universities are driven by the pursuit of prestige, money and influence rather than truth or virtue. In such an environment, theology, the study of the truths of faith with the tools of reason, seems like an impossible endeavor.

This little article confirmed my suspicions. The author attacks “liberal” theologians, but I doubt their liberalism is the cause of problems she describes, unless you define liberalism as “lack of faith”.

My theologate in Canada was run for the students; the theology department of Boston College was run for the professors. Students were pawns to be collected and either groomed to continue the professors’ intellectual legacy at other Jesuit colleges, pumped for information about other professors, or bored senseless by Big Names sitting firmly on their laurels.

As much as she attacks BC, I’ve known some very devout Catholics who attend there. Like at Notre Dame, the students are often more Catholic than their professors or administrators. But perhaps the worst accusation she makes against BC is the disconnect between its tradition – a solid Jesuit school for working-class Irish kids from Southie – to a poor imitation of the Ivy League schools that abound in Boston and New England.

What would Saint Ignatius have thought, I always wondered, of the one million dollar building named after him? What would he have thought of the $40,000-a-year undergrad tuition-and-board? What would he, who told his Jesuits not to take money for their teaching, have thought about the millions made off the bodies of the football players? Boston College was founded for the poor Irish Catholics of South Boston, but the only Southie accents I heard came from the lips of one ancient retired Jesuit, a secretary and the groundsmen toiling over the landscape so beautiful, manicured and dead.

The article shows a Catholic school that traded in its faith for prestige. I am not a theologian so maybe I ought not give advice, but I’d imagine that if you want to study theology, you should retire to a monastery.

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