Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Theology, and Religion at Saint Leo University; Very occasional singer/songwriter/recording artist
I used to catch teenagers, instruct them, and then release them back into the wild. That was a good time.
I fear that my life is too easily summed up by the well-known variant of a line from Desiderius Erasmus: "When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes."
Or, from my first homepage: "It is said that when the gods conceive a particular hatred of a man, they make him a schoolteacher." – Seneca
This journal used to be under the username "NovakFreek". My account was originally supplied by a generous student of mine, and the username was a variation on the one I'd saddled myself with on my AOL account. The reference is old enough, though, to constantly require explanation, which gets tiresome. On top of that, it might sound unprofessional or scary! "Novak-Freek?! What's wrong with you?!!" Click the link in order to find out why being in the Freek circle at Notre Dame was not freakish at all....
In the midst of my doctoral studies (which, in retrospect, was totally insane), I conjured up the time to release a CD of original music:
"Religion, after all (as everyone knows), is a realm of purely personal conviction sustained by faith, which is (as everyone also knows) an entirely irrational movement of the will, an indistinct impulse of saccharine sentiment, pathetic longing, childish credulity, and vague intuition. And theology, being the special language of religion, is by definition a collection of vacuous assertions, zealous exhortations, and beguiling fables; it is the peculiar patois of a private fixation or tribal allegiance, of interest perhaps to the psychopathologist or anthropologist, but of no greater scientific value than that; surely it has no proper field of study of its own, no real object to investigate, and whatever rules it obeys must be essentially arbitrary.
Now, as it happens, theology is actually a pitilessly demanding discipline concerning an immense, profoundly sophisticated legacy of hermeneutics, dialectics, and logic; it deals in minute detail with a vast variety of concrete historical data; over the centuries, it has incubated speculative systems of extraordinary rigor and intricacy, many of whose questions and methods continue to inform contemporary philosophy; and it does, when all is said and done, constitute the single intellectual, moral, spiritual, and cultural tradition uniting the classical, medieval, and early modern worlds. Even if one entirely avoids considering what metaphysical content one should attach to the word “God,” one can still plausibly argue that theology is no more lacking in a substantial field of inquiry than are history, philosophy, the study of literature, or any of the other genuinely respectable university disciplines.
Moreover, theology requires far greater scholarly range. The properly trained Christian theologian should be a proficient linguist, with a mastery of several ancient and modern tongues, should have formation in the subtleties of the whole Christian dogmatic tradition, should possess a considerable knowledge of the liturgies, texts, and arguments produced in every period of the Church, should be a good historian, should have a thorough philosophical training, should possess considerable knowledge of the fine arts, should have an intelligent interest in such areas as law or economics, and so on. This is not to say that one cannot practice theology without all these attainments, but such an education remains the scholarly ideal of the guild. And, as Stoner rightly notes, the absence or near-absence of theology from the general curriculum has done incalculable harm to students’ ability to understand their own fields. This is perhaps especially—or at least most obviously—true in the case of literary studies; but, in fact, it would be hard to name a discipline outside the hard sciences or mathematics that can be mastered adequately without some degree of theological literacy."
Systematic theology aspires to deal in a consistent way with all significant questions pertaining to Christian faith and to develop answers to each of these questions in correlation with all the others. A theological system, as an original construal of the meaning of Christianity, is a major achievement of the creative imagination. Faithful to the data of Scripture and tradition, as well as to all that is known from other sources, the systematician integrates all these manifold elements by means of certain overarching principles into a complex and unified whole. Thomas Aquinas and the great medieval doctors were systematicians in this sense. So were Calvin and Suarez. In our own century the same may be said of a few authors such as Paul Tillich, Karl Rahner, and Wolfhart Pannenberg.
The greatest systematic theologians have always, in my estimation, been somewhat unsystematic. They have never been slaves to the logic of their system. Augustine never fully reconciled his Neoplatonic metaphysics with his commitment to the biblical vision of salvation through time and history. Thomas Aquinas, notwithstanding his preference for Aristotelian categories, never abandoned his attachment to Neoplatonism, even in the acute form represented by Pseudo-Dionysius. He interpreted Aristotle with extraordinary freedom and, when it suited him, shifted to biblical and juridical categories. Thus the method of models is helpful not only for mediating between different theological systems but for analyzing the inner tensions within a single theologian's work. No opposition exists between the approach through models and the practice of systematic theology.