Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Program Report (2011)

Norcia, Cascia, Assisi, & Rome!

St. Augustine, St. John Chrysostom, St. Thomas Aquinas, & Bl. John Paul II!

Baptism, Matrimony, Holy Orders, & the Eucharist!

Lectures, seminars, preaching, & a scholastic disputation!

Fr. Cassian leads us through some pages of Papa Ratzinger's new book 'Jesus of Nazareth'.
It was an exciting two weeks, and it got of to a great start with a seminar on the Holy Eucharist led by Fr. Cassian, OSB, the prior of the Benedictine monks of Norcia.

Praedicatio - we arrived in Norcia on Trinity Sunday and attended a late Mass offered by Fr. Thomas, OSB. His preaching on the doctrine of the Trinity was superb, although it is a difficult topic to take in even when one hasn't been traveling all night and day! We were very blest to have holy Mass available to us every day both at the Sisters' Convent (Forma Ordinaria) and at the monastery (Usus Antiquior). Unfortunately, there was less preaching than would have been ideal for our scholastic program, but we were grateful for what we had, and we'll beg the monks for more next time!

Lectio - after Fr. Cassian's inaugural seminar/lecture on the Holy Eucharist, Fr. Thomas stepped in and provided us with an excellent series of lectures on the Eucharist in relation to the other sacraments which we were studying: principally baptism and matrimony, and then holy orders as well. Everyone seemed to agree that this was a great part of the program, thanks to Fr. Thomas's excellent insights and inimitable good humour. Perhaps we can still try to expand upon it next year as well, though, depending, of course, on the availability of lecturers, monastic or otherwise.

Disputatio - intended as the culmination of the program in a sense, the scholastic disputation did not disappoint! For us, and for many if not all of the participants, I think this really was the highlight of the academic portion of the program. We argued the pros and cons of various questions pertaining to baptism and matrimony that had arisen in the course of our daily readings and discussions - had a chance to argue against our opponents' positions and objections - and then listened to Fr. Thomas give the respondeo ('I answer that') of the Master. He did a tremendous job, taking notes furiously and then, after giving his own answer, responding individually to each objection pro and con.

Commentaria - the backbone of the program consisted in daily readings and discussions of the texts of the great masters of our tradition: not so much the scholastics themselves, but those whom the scholastics studied, i.e. the Fathers and Doctors of the Church. Our commentary on the texts was verbal rather than written, of course, and thus carried out in a group setting rather than privately, but other than that corresponds closely to filling out the academic routine practiced by the scholastics themselves.

St. Thomas Aquinas, for example, as a young student at the university would have listened to preaching and to lectures, taken part in disputations, read the writings of the Church Fathers, and worked on his commentary on the Sentences, the standard textbook of theology written by 'the Master' Peter Lombard. Substituting St. Thomas's own Summa Theologiae for Lombard's Sentences, we adopted the same general approach: reading St. Augustine and St. Chrysostom, two of the Fathers whom Aquinas read and cites most frequently, and then commenting on them (verbally, in a seminar style / round-table setting); Aquinas's own texts constituted the main part (about 50%) of our reading and commentary. In the end, we couldn't help deviating somewhat from our scholastic program in order to include texts of Popes Pius XI and John Paul II on the subject of matrimony - it simply seemed worthwhile on account of the outstanding quality of these texts, and because they fill out in some important respects the Church's total understanding of the sacrament of matrimony.

Overall, I think that the scholastic approach was quite successful, but of course such things can always be improved, and we are very happy to hear any concrete suggestions as to how we can improve our implementation of the scholastic way of studying theology. Whether you participated this year or not, if you have further information on how the scholastics themselves practiced the study of theology, or if you have ideas about how their method can best be implemented today, please chime in with your comment!


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