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Errantry: Novak's Journal
...Words to cast/My feelings into sculpted thoughts/To make some wisdom last
Theological Notebook: Students Lost to Mardi Gras 
3rd-Mar-2011 11:54 pm
PhD Grade Harder
The administration at Loyola went to a full week off for Mardi Gras celebrations (all of next week is the holiday, although of course the festivities end half-way through) rather than the half week that had apparently been the case before, along with the later full week off for the Easter holidays. This extra time didn't prevent two-thirds of my students from vanishing today for the parades (as well as at least a third of them from yesterday's Grace class). Give them the extra time they were taking off anyway, and they just go ahead and skip out a couple days earlier than the vacation block. I wish I could say I was surprised. :-)

So I made sure to reward those who came with very specific material looking toward the next exam. It was actually kind of an awesome set of discussions, as we finally got to Moral Theology today in Catholicism. Given that so many students share the postmodern misconception that "religion is really just about morality," I spent quite a bit of time letting them work out the logic of why ethics came so late in dealing with a comprehensive understanding of Catholicism or Christianity (and probably most serious religious or philosophical traditions), letting them work out the classic insight that there isn't a whole lot you can say about what one ought to do (ethics) until you have worked out what you believe to be true about the universe (metaphysics).

Then we went on to look at the sources of Catholic moral thinking (distinguishing it from the Protestant approach to ethics, which is naturally more scripturally-based), and getting them to see the significance of the priority of Natural Law thinking in the Catholic approach, with some attention to Aristotle's notion of the "Four Causes" of things, and the overture that the Natural Law approach effectively makes toward scientific methodologies in its observational approach to doing ethics.

Lastly, we discussed just how huge a contrast this is to Utilitarianism or PostModern Subjectivism in its approach to ethics, particularly as that is the ethics that most people have in their heads from our culture: that there is no reality to ethics, because ethics are just a matter of opinion or perspective. I wanted them to see how so much of what passes for ethical "debate" in our culture, particularly during election cycles and submitted to our "sound bite" media and attention spans, really amounts to people talking past one another, hearing only one another's "conclusions" without bothering to recognize and examine the various ways of "doing the math" of ethics that really go into making informed and serious ethical statements. In my first and larger section, my three cops hung out talking afterward: these are great guys who are picking up a degree in the midst of their careers, and having people who do this sort of "applied ethics" in their jobs really has added an exciting dimension to my class discussions this semester. I have another woman who is a police officer in my Grace course, too, and so I get some of that dimension there, too.

That kept me busy until about a quarter to eight, when I met Calvin for our weekly session for his independent study on the Second Vatican Council. He's reading Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, currently, and he kicked off our evening's conversation (which took us on a long walk through the Riverbend neighbourhood, ending back on the steps of Holy Name Church, watching the student Mardi Gras crowds drift back to Loyola and Tulane) with a great observation on the biblical imagery for the Church that used in the opening chapter. I tend, from being an historian, to automatically think of those in "historical" terms, as being the fruit of the great historical and biblical work that preceded the Council, and so they are. But they're more than that, and even though I would have in an academic sense noted the pastoral thrust of the Council, Calvin really drove home the pastoral effects of using this variety of images of the Church (particularly the marriage and spousal imagery) as having a pastoral accessibility for the laity who would take up the Council's texts, the numbers of which, I think he rightly supposed, would exceed the lay readers of all the documents of all the earlier councils of the Church combined. I loved how he made me see something fairly obvious like that, but which easily could get obscured for me by the habits of thinking in the categories of an academic reader.

We moved on from there to Pauline imagery of the Church used in the text, and some of the relevant insights from my dissertation about that, especially on the point of the charisms of the faithful, and from there onto a long discussion about the sensus fidelium and its relationship to the Magisterium, historically. As time was getting away from us, we ran through a number of smaller topics, but he had already really hit the ball out of the park with his earlier insights, and so I left campus close to 10pm with a huge glow of satisfaction at how well he had done with such a dense text. So I got home beat and bushed, after wading against the tide of the student current heading back up St. Charles Avenue from the night's parades, and ready to take a bit of a break, myself, and sneak a look at some of the upcoming festivities, myself. The rest of the night is for vegging, in the classic, post-academic-workweek way, making a mental note to try to get three of the same sorts of "throws" from the parades for each of the nieces, who I am sure will quite like shiny objects of that sort. (I'll assume Nate is too manly for such things....)
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