Fr. Richard Schenk, OP
June 15, 2006
Why should philosophy be taught at all at the Graduate THEOLOGICAL Union?
While Christian theology seeks new beginnings and new convictions especially from the revealed sources of the Christian faith and faith community, philosophy seeks to reflect upon the shared experience of humankind. But there is no one who comes to religious faith who does not first come from (and continue to draw upon) that broader experience, with its own set of hopes and doubts, with unspoken assumptions and thematized questions –too often fragmented into specialized sciences, with isolated academic disciplines, and appeals to political pragmatism that are burdened with barely examined biases and seemingly unanswerable antinomies. The religious faith reflected upon by theology is meant to be brought back in service to the world beyond the faith community itself. Those who believe with a particular faith remain very much a part of this wider community; they share its “joys and its hopes, its tears and its fears” (Gaudium et spes, 1). Not only does non-theological discourse have a profound impact upon the faith communities, but the members of those communities served by those trained in theology are never only members of their faith communities; they are at the same time members of the wider interreligious and secular community as well. Philosophy not only helps theologians to speak more articulately among themselves, philosophy is also a privileged place and medium of conversation between the Church and the concerns of that wider human community, past, present and future: something of a common language across centuries, continents, and constituencies.
The Dominican General Chapter of 2001, meeting at Providence, R.I., stressed the importance “...of philosophy in the intellectual life of the Order” and the academic institutions associated with it. This meeting of friars from around the world warned against viewing philosophy merely “...as a rather tiresome passage toward theology, as a place to acquire a vocabulary we will later use in theology.” What is learned in philosophy remains intrinsic and vital to the enterprise of theology: “By situating truth in the fact and possibility of human experience, philosophy helps to uncover the root of a truth and to let us know how what has been claimed is true (“rationibus…investigantibus veritatis radicem et facientibus scire quomodo sit verum quod dicitur”: Thomas Aquinas, Quaestiones quodlibetales IV, art. XVIII; On the purpose of studies in both philosophy and theology as articulated by the Chaper of Providence cf. R. Schenk, “The Life of Study and the Common Good”).
The General Chapter went on to recall that the abiding importance of establishing a conversation between philosophy and theology had been stressed by thinkers from Thomas Aquinas to the late Pope John Paul II: “Philosophy must be understood in the context of its neighboring social, natural, and human disciplines that give us insight into the human condition and our place in the cosmos. As Dominicans we have a special responsibility to the heritage of St. Thomas that we have received, but if we take seriously the radicality of the Gospel, our preaching must likewise be attentive to new knowledge and new ways of understanding the world around us. Because God reveals his plan to us in a multitude of ways, we must maintain the delicate unity-in-tension between faith and reason: ‘Deprived of what revelation offers, reason has taken side-tracks which expose it to the danger of losing sight of its final goal. Deprived of reason, faith has stressed feeling and experience, and so runs the risk of no longer being a universal proposition. It is an illusion to think that faith, tied to weak reasoning, might be more penetrating; on the contrary, faith then runs the risk of withering into myth or superstition. By the same token, reason which is unrelated to an adult faith is not prompted to turn its gaze to the newness and radicality of being.’ (John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, 48).”
The Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology shares this sense of the necessary complementarity of philosophy and theology. It has placed this necessary interdisciplinary approach into the name of the school. It maintains alongside its department of theology a distinct department of philosophy. The theological methods it seeks to develop require philosophical skills and reflection. While the wider Graduate Theological Union has developed an area of “Systematic and Philosophical Theology”, the D.S.P.T. is pleased to support this field of study by making a wide range of classes and resources in philosophy available to the consortium while also offering the only programs at the G.T.U. for the M.A. in philosophy and the B.A. in philosophy. It is a contribution that hopes to utilize the best of the Dominican charism for the wider interdisciplinary mission of the G.T.U. and for its conversations with the neighboring University of California at Berkeley, as well as the broader academy, society, and Church.