Putting the Theology Cart before the Philosophical Horse
My job has been keeping me extra busy lately and I haven’t had a lot of time to sit down and think about philosophy as much as I would like. However, I do, at the very least, try and stay on top of all the philosophy that populate my RSS reader. One of my favorite blogs is Dominicana which is a is a publication of the Dominican Students of the St. Joseph Province of the Order of Preachers, who live and study at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC. The Dominicans are one of my favorite communities and if I lived anywhere near a chapter I would seriously try and join.
To return to the point, the Dominicana blog does a good job of updating their content everyday and their entries are invariably well-written. A case in point is the 18 December entry “The Christian and the Cave“ by Br. Mannes Matous, O.P.. It’s an entry much like the one I featured yesterday that covers the relationship between faith and reason and the importance of philosophy for the study of theology.
Matous writing about the requirement that priests in formation require several years of philosophy notes that the
typical response to all this is that philosophy helps you to think critically and that a good philosophical background is necessary for a good theological education. And I could not agree more fully. But one additional perk is that philosophical arguments often serve as great analogies for the Christian life.
In the rest of the entry Matous make a good case for his larger point that the philosopher liberated from Plato’s Cave is in a sense much the same as a Christian Evangelist in that both are motivated by a love for their neighbors.
But it is Matous’ minor point that I’d like to touch on because I know the truth of it from my own experience. Since theology programs are much more common in some circumstances than philosophy programs I once decided to start a master’s degree in theology with the intention to come back to philosophy when I could. However, I quickly learned that the material I was studying, particularly in moral theology, did not seem to gel with me. I don’t know if the other people in my classes had this same problem or not but I believe they may have been accepting the material dogmatically. They must have been learning it dogmatically because, speaking for myself, I lacked the tools to evaluate the arguments and the claims and I suspect most of the others in the class did as well. I struggled along until one day a classmate of mine, after I confided my troubles to him, informed me that I was going about it the wrong way and that you had to study philosophy first. I knew he was right and since philosophy was what I really wanted to begin with anyway I didn’t see any reason to continue on with my theology program. Still I wonder whether the poor grounding in philosophy (good philosophy in the vein of Aquinas anyway) might be responsible for a lot of the theological silliness plaguing the Church today.