2015 Proposed Revision of Rationale for Theology Requirements

Genesis of Proposal

Deans Greg Crawford and John McGreevy, co-chairs of the Core Curriculum Review Committee, met with our department on March 30. After a fruitful discussion they welcomed the recommendation that the department submit a more formal proposal regarding departmental participation in the University’s core curriculum. We present this proposal as part of the core curriculum review process and as a means of reaffirming our conviction that “the core requirements in theology lie at the heart of the education that Notre Dame strives to give to each of its undergraduate students” (Academic Council, 2005). We have also tried to be responsive in this proposal to the concerns we have heard from the CCRC regarding more flexibility, more scope for engagement with other perspectives, and a more cohesive rationale for the various options that are available. The new flexibility in the first course has as an added benefit making it easier for more regular faculty to contribute to First Year teaching, and also makes it easier for students to choose a course that is not repetitive of whatever high school religion or theology they may have had (“13th Grade”). 

Basic Principles: Nature and Character of Theology

Theology is “talk about God” (Gustavo Gutierrez, On Job, xi). In particular, Theology is talk about God, and all things as related to God, from the perspective of God’s self-disclosure. Theology possesses unity as a discipline because, as Thomas Aquinas notes, it “considers things precisely under the formality of being divinely revealed” (Summa Theologiae I.1.3r). Since (again according to Thomas) what is revealed are truths which human reason cannot discover on its own, truths which clarify the nature and destiny of the world and of human beings from the perspective of God’s love, these truths ultimately remain beyond the complete grasp of reason and are accepted in faith. Another way of putting this is to say that “theological thought about God is thought about a mystery,” because what God reveals would not need to be revealed unless it were a mystery beyond the grasp of unaided reason (Gutierrez, ibid.). Vatican II sums it up this way: “It pleased God, in his goodness, to reveal himself and to make known the mystery of his will (see Eph. 1.9). . . the fullness of his love” (Dei Verbum 2). Theology accepts as revealed the mystery of God’s love, and, in the manner of “faith seeking understanding,” seeks not to reduce that mystery to reason, but uses reason to serve our appropriation of the mystery in faith as something that sheds indispensable light on the entirety of our lives, our history, and the cosmos in which we live. To study theology, then, means to learn a unique way of knowing, the apprehension of revealed mystery as such; it means to learn a mode of inquiry that uses reason, in both its constructive and critical modes, while surpassing reason; and to learn the uniqueness of the categories, such as “creation,” “sin,” and “redemption,” in which this inquiry is conducted, as well as their relevance to the world in which we live. 
 
This implies two distinguishable, though not entirely separate, phases for study. The first is foundational: “Sacred theology relies on the written word of God, taken together with sacred tradition, as its permanent foundation,” (Dei Verbum 10, 24). Learning theology means first learning its foundation in Scripture and Tradition, acquiring (a) a familiarity with Scripture and Tradition as the two ways in which Revelation is transmitted (including an account of the relationship between them) and, inseparably, (b) learning to some extent the content of Scripture and Tradition. 
 
For the second phase of study we can take our cue from Bernard Lonergan’s Method in Theology, where he describes Theology as “mediating between a religion and its cultural matrix,” in other words, providing interpretation or “understanding” of what is revealed in the midst of terms and questions arising from culture. In method, in its way of working, theology is always at once inherently doctrinal and inherently dialogical. It articulates authoritative teaching and enters that teaching into dialogue with questions and insights arising from culture, thereby in turn also engendering development of the teaching. The second phase of theological study will focus on providing students acquaintance with (c) the inherently doctrinal character of theology and, inseparably, (d), its inherently dialogical nature. 

Application to Core Requirements in Theology

Overarching Learning Goal for Theology Courses:
To become acquainted with the discipline of theology through a thoughtful reception and critical engagement of texts and traditions; specifically, to learn the discipline of theology as entailing a unique way of knowing and of seeking to understand revealed mystery. This will involve, as a sub-goal, learning the uniqueness of the categories, such as “creation,” “sin,” and “redemption,” in which theological study is conducted. The two phases of theological study, the foundational and the methodological, give rise to the two-course sequence.
 
The First Course, “Scripture and Tradition,” has as its major learning goals: (a) acquiring a familiarity with Scripture and Tradition as the two ways in which Revelation is transmitted (including an account of the intrinsic relationship between them) and, inseparably, (b) learning to some extent the content of Scripture and Tradition. It goes without saying that “Scripture” is used as Dei Verbum uses it, to refer to both testaments in the Christian canon. Three course options:
 
a. Scripture and Tradition: Foundation of Theology: A study of Scripture, including texts from both Old and New Testaments, and of the interpretation and reception of Scripture in the Tradition of the Church. The course can be organized thematically or chronologically, but in either case students should come away from the course with a deeper appreciation for the subtlety and sophistication of the Scriptural texts, of their characteristic themes and concerns, and of the reception and development of these themes in the ongoing tradition of the Church, especially, though not necessarily limited to, the period of the first four ecumenical councils. 
 
b. Scripture and Tradition: The Mystery of the Person of Christ: “The entire revelation of the Most High God is summed up in Christ the Lord” (Dei Verbum 7). Thus a course introducing students to the foundation of theology in Scripture and Tradition by focusing its examination of them through the lens of reflection on the mystery of the person of Christ. Students should come away from the course with an appreciation of the subtlety and the depth of the Church’s reflection on this mystery, even as they acquire a deeper appreciation for the subtlety and sophistication of the Scriptural texts, and of the reception and development of their concerns in the ongoing tradition of the Church. 
 
c. Introduction to the Catholic Faith. Through a study of the content of the Creed, the course especially demonstrates the way in which “Sacred tradition and sacred scripture are bound closely together, and communicate one with the other; flowing from the same divine well-spring, both of them merge, in a sense, and move towards the same goal” Dei Verbum 9). The course introduces students to the major doctrines that are expressed in the Creed, their roots in Scriptural narrative and proclamation, and their coherence as a body of teaching that can be “handed on” as Traditio.
 
The Second Course, “Doctrine in Development and Dialogue,” has as its major learning goal to show how, as a reflection on a living Tradition, Theology in its method is at once and inseparably both doctrinal and dialogical. The range of courses which would fulfill this requirement, each with its own title, has two basic patterns:
 
a. Concentrating on one theological doctrine, featuring its core teaching and showing the way in which articulation and understanding of the doctrine have developed in the give and take from questions which arise and which change as culture and history change. The course focuses on the dynamic of continuity and discontinuity in the articulation of doctrine even as it teaches the content of the doctrine. Students will come away from the course with increased, in-depth knowledge of a significant, characteristic teaching of the Christian faith, and with a heightened appreciation for the way doctrine develops as questions and insights from culture prompt a search for “understanding.” In the process, students will learn, at a level of greater depth, to think in theological categories and to appreciate how these categories are uniquely theological, not reducible to the categories of any other discipline. Examples: Theology of God, Theology of Grace, Fundamental Theology, Sin and Redemption, Theology of Creation, Liturgy and Sacraments, Catholic Social Teaching, Mary in Catholic Theology, Theology of Ecumenism, Preferential Option for the Poor, etc.
 
b. Concentrating on an issue or perspective in which theology engages the teachings of the faith in dialogue. For example, theology and science; faith and evolution; comparative theology; theology and literature; theology in dialogue with another religion; theology of inculturation; theology encountering atheism, etc. In the process, students will learn, at a level of greater depth, to think in theological categories and to appreciate how these categories are uniquely theological, not reducible to the categories of any other discipline, even as they promote a “seeking for understanding” that respects and engages the questions people actually bring to the Christian faith as it is lived in engagement in the world.