Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology

Dominican Education

By Michael Sweeney, OP, Past DSPT President and Founder of The Lay Mission Project

The formal name of the Dominican Order is the Ordo Praedicatorum, or “Order of Preachers” and study at DSPT is founded upon the preaching mission of the Order – but in the very particular way in which St. Dominic understood preaching: to preach is to convert by means of the truth. It is preaching, thus understood, that determines our approach to the study of philosophy and theology.

Therefore, as our mission statement indicates, DSPT is “a community of scholars committed to the pursuit of truth as revealed in the Gospel and discovered by human reason.” We seek to place “classical philosophy and Catholic theology, especially as exemplified by St. Thomas Aquinas …in creative dialogue with contemporary scholarship and culture.” Both of these facets of our education are essential: to pursue the truth as a community and to dialog with our culture. 

One motto of the Dominican Order is contemplari et contemplata aliis tradere, “to contemplate and to hand on to others the fruits of contemplation.” Contemplative study must be pursued alone. At the same time, however, we are a community: our study is the consequence of having been taught and directed by our professors and the purpose of our contemplative study is to enter into a conversation together about truth – about reality, about what is. At DSPT, the whole community is dependent upon the study of each member for the sake of our common conversation.

Our conversation is particularly important at this time in history. Many people today have lost confidence in the pursuit of truth. Perhaps one reason lies in the fact that to engage in philosophy in the modern academy rarely means “to reflect on the totality of things we encounter, in view of their ultimate reasons,” so that “the philosopher must never formally exclude from his consideration any possible information on the realm of reality,” as Joseph Pieper insisted. Similarly, many people no longer regard revelation to be a source of truth about the human person and in the place of theology the academy has usually substituted “religious studies,” the study of religion as a human phenomenon. While such a study can bear fruit in anthropology or in the other social sciences it does not and cannot substitute for theology. We must engage the philosophical and theological tradition on its own terms: the great philosophers and theologians held that there is truth, that the truth can be known and, further, that the pursuit of truth is the highest human vocation –the vocation in which man and woman become fully themselves. 

To accomplish this at DSPT we invoke the whole of the tradition. Our conversation has its roots three millennia ago in Israel, with the first compilation of the Hebrew Scriptures, and in Greece, with the love of wisdom that the ancients termed “philosophy,” including the study of divine things that Plato was the first to call “theology.” It is a conversation that includes the great medieval philosophers and theologians and extends, through the period of the enlightenment, to embrace modern and contemporary thought. Guiding our conversation are a few fundamental principles:

  • We hold that philosophy and theology are two facets of a single conversation, taking into account both the insights that are discovered by human reason and those that are only accessible to us as they are revealed in Scripture and tradition;  
  • We insist that philosophy must be studied for its own sake, not merely accommodated to theological study; we must give full credit to all that reason discloses;
  • We are convinced that theological study, founded upon and informed by faith, also needs to be informed by philosophy so that our theological understanding may deepen by responding to the interests and challenges of our own time; in every age the truths of the faith must be proclaimed in a new way;
  • In this we share the confidence of St. Thomas: “Since faith rests upon infallible truth and since the contrary of a truth can never be demonstrated, it is clear that arguments brought against faith cannot be demonstrations, but are difficulties that can be answered.”

The manner of our conversation has also been shaped by the Dominican tradition, especially as exemplified in the work of St. Thomas Aquinas, for whom no contribution to the truth should be overlooked, but carefully, respectfully and systematically investigated. Our first task, if we are to live the tradition of St. Thomas, is to be instructed by his method:

  • Our students are regarded as our companions in a common work and we take their contributions seriously, like St. Thomas’ teacher, St. Albert the Great, who referred to his students as his socii;
  • We are a non-competitive environment; what is important is that our students develop their own insights and find their own place in the philosophical and theological conversation;
  • In our conversation at the School and in addressing ourselves to others we presume good will in such a way that we take the positions of others seriously and, in cases that they are not seriously proposed, then we receive them more seriously than they were intended;
  • Therefore we emulate the intellectual hospitality that was true of St. Thomas who was attentive to every argument so as to be able to respond to it thoroughly.

In this way the very means of our common search for truth within the community of the School manifests, at the same time, the means by which we can dialog with our culture. The task of engaging the academy, of engaging the culture will necessarily begin with the work – and it is, in the most proper sense, a work – of engaging each other.

Our graduates are formed in a study that is:

  • Comprehensive – taking into account the whole of the philosophical and theological tradition as it has come down to us;
  • Systematic – organizing coursework in such a way that the principles of each study are made apparent and the development of ideas over time is rendered coherent;
  • Integrative – in order that dialogue can be undertaken, not only between philosophy and theology, but with other disciplines and traditions.

Many of our graduates pursue doctoral studies in philosophy and theology. Others are engaged in such diverse fields as religious education, law, journalism, psychology, architecture, the fine arts and nonprofit management. We expect of all of our graduates that they will be lifelong learners, able to apply their studies creatively to whatever work they may undertake.

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