Saturday, September 24, 2005

Smarter Sems? Deus Placet

Peter Steinfels writes in today's NYTimes about the foci of the Visitation:

Of the 96 questions, just these two address the intellectual potential of future priests:

"Do the seminarians show an aptitude for and dedication to intellectual work?"

And "Are the seminarians capable of dialoguing, on the intellectual level, with contemporary society?"

This minimal attention to intellectual capacity is noteworthy in view of the opinions of faculty teams from 20 Catholic seminaries who met yearly from 1995 to 2001. They were searching for new ways to educate today's Catholic seminarians, who are typically older than their predecessors, less grounded in church teachings and much more diverse in ethnicity and in the religious journeys that have led them to the seminary.

Because solid statistics are not available - interesting in itself - these faculty teams could only pool their opinions on how qualified current seminarians were intellectually. Those estimates were reported in a book published this year, "Educating Leaders for Ministry" by Victor J. Klimoski, Kevin J. O'Neil and Katarina M. Schuth (Liturgical Press).

Only 10 percent of seminarians, it was estimated, were highly qualified for their educational work. Somewhat more than 50 percent were adequately qualified. One-third to 40 percent suffered from poor educational backgrounds, learning disabilities, lack of facility in English or unfamiliarity with American culture (among the growing number of seminarians from overseas) or atrophied study skills (among some older seminarians). Those deficiencies, it was reported, created "special challenges for faculty."

Don't worry -- they've created special challenges for intelligent laypeople, too.



Blogger Jimmy Mac said...

Read the Steinfels piece and weep.

The faithful of this Church deserve better. But, unless they demand it and exert enough pressure (financial is a good start), they will get what they deserve ....... second class pietistic functionaries willing to obey and not question.

24/9/05 17:00  
Blogger Un Séminariste said...

second class pietistic functionaries willing to obey and not question


24/9/05 18:03  
Blogger Jimmy Mac said...

Oh ... I must have touched on a sore spot, eh, seminole?

24/9/05 20:40  
Blogger Richard said...

Oh, it's a sore spot, all right.

Jimmy Mac's attitude is precisely at the heart of the mindset which has wrecked not only most American Catholic theology over the last 40 yars, but also (by and large) catechesis and liturgy as well.

Intelligence and intellectual ability, you see, are inevitably equated to "questioning." And "questioning" of the sort aimed at whittling down the deposit of the faith to a very tiny core. If for Augustine the axiom of his Christian intellectual life was "Credo ut intellegas," for Jimmy Mac's apaprent heroes it's just the other way around.

One inevitably gathers the idea of some tension between faith and reason, and *that* is contrary to two millenia of Church teaching. There are loads of scholars alive today who who somehow manager real fidelity to the magisterium - Cessario, Emery, Torrell, Levering, Rocca, Morerod, Mansini, Sherwin, Dulles, Hutter, Weinandy...I could go on and on. But apparently they don't cut the mustard like a Curran, Haight, Johnson or Cuenin does.

Certainly there is a cohort of the priesthood which is, shall we say, not as intellectually gifted as we might like. That's always been the case, and it is no easier now given the obstacles modern society can place to vocation for *all* young men, to say nothing of the smart ones. But I tell you this: I would rather have devout priests of middling intelligence than brilliant wanna-be Cuenins who are questioning not just disciplines but tenets of the faith. There's no quicker way to scandalize and wreck the faithful.

best regards

25/9/05 09:14  
Blogger Richard said...

After some more consideration of the Steinfels article itself - which is after all what this thread is about, I concede, not Jimmy Mac's comments - something popped out at me:

Canceling out that good news, however, is another finding. Even among the academically gifted, as well as among the academically deficient, the faculty teams reported seminarians who "regardless of native abilities and educational experiences" resist "the learning enterprise" because it threatens their "preconceived ideas about theology."

I have to wonder a little about this.

Specifically I have to wonder about the faculty teams - who was on them, what their theological predispositions were. Are young seminarians being knocked for being genuinely rigid and/or dimwitted, or for, say, not accepting at face value some of Raymond Brown's scholarship in regards to the authorship of the Fourt Gospel, or, say, Rahneresque transcendental thomist approaches to systematic theology? Or for being skeptical of women's ordination? Agendas come in all stripes and flavors. It's not just overly pious papalist sock puppets who have them.

For all that I am sure we have all met diocesan priests who are...not as intellectually gifted or learned as we might like. There are plenty out there, to be sure, and (unlike certain presumptions hold) run the theological spectrum. As I said above to Jimmy Mac, that's been the case since the first days of the Church. What has changed in recent years is that the Church can no longer depend on getting the lion's share of society's brilliant young minds; and that too many of the brilliant minds, inside and outside the church, seem to suffer from an excess of intellectual pride. Speculative theology becomes "questioning" becomes rejection or severe modification of core dogmas off the Church.

Steinfels' take seems to be less about intellectual gifts per se than intellectual curiousity. Both are assets in a priest. But what bothers me is what's being taken as a necessary quality of intellectual curiousity. The question is, how do you inculcate and attract that profile into the seminaries? The only choices on offer seem to be rote acceptance and regurgitation of dogma on the one hand or Curran-esque theological independence on the other.

Yet the Church has other models than this in her rich patrimony. Every once in a while you can even find a seminary or theology program which makes use of one. I pray that we may see more of them proliferate.

We need 'em.

25/9/05 11:42  

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