Role of study in Catholicism


I refer to this video on the importance of study in Catholic spirituality:

I also refer to the following articles:

On the relationship between reason and revelation

Why do priests need Philosophy - an article on Homiletic and Pastoral Review

Excerpt from ‘Why do priests need Philosophy’:


Here we are touching on what is the most important difference … between Christianity on the one hand, and Islam as well as Judaism on the other. For Christianity, the sacred doctrine is revealed theology; for the Jew and the Muslim, the sacred doctrine is, at least primarily, the legal interpretation of the Divine Law. The sacred doctrine in the latter sense has to say the least, much less to do with philosophy than the sacred doctrine in the former sense. It is ultimately for this reason that the status of philosophy was, as a matter of principle, much more precarious in Judaism and in Islam than in Christianity: in Christianity, philosophy became an integral part of the officially recognized and even required training of the student of the sacred doctrine. (Leo Strauss, Persecution and the Art of Writing.)

My thought:

Nowadays so many priests have degraded to be ‘church keepers’ or ‘social workers’ whose top priority is to finish a laundry list of tasks instead of ‘scholar-priests’ like those we had before Vatican II. Studying is denigrated as pedantry and the Church becomes sheer NGO or club of a few retired elderly/pious Catholic families.


The shortage of Priests - is tough. I’ve seen some Priest, that were somewhat dim with the light of knowledge. We’re they rushed through ? One read a homily direct from his cel phone…or they often simply skip giving a homily altogether.
After mass, some Priests often run off, because there’s just no time for yapping, quick joking and chatting and they sure must feel like an octopus, pulled in 8 different directions.
Love that last paragraph you wrote. Bullseye.


I find this as somewhat idealised.
Christianity has somewhat given in to the same temptations that the author alleges of both Judaism and Islam. That is, unlike our Orthodox brethren, the State Romanisation of Catholicism has significantly turned theology from heaven to earth re the needs of spiritual law and order, excessive concerns re infallibility, authority, heterodoxy, dogma, defending the faith, peeking into the bedroom and in recent centuries rigid application of canon law conflicting with pastoral common sense. It is no coincidence that Pope Francis is trying to turn priests and bishops back into Pastors not Judges.

Yes philosophy is officially a required component of priestly training but few are able to really understand how what they learn (medieval Aquinas) integrates into everyday pastoral ministry and end up in a sort of dualistic pastoral/philosophic schizophrenia if they try. Many do not pretend to really understand the philosophy other than mouth the usual formulae. They are often good pastors in spite of the unhelpful philosophy. Those who do become philosophically proficient tend to be dry academics or canon lawyers or manual based moralists not really suited for pastoral ministry and unable to speak the language of lay persons or significantly address their personal issues.


What do you think would be the remedy to the problems mentioned? How can a pastor effectively integrate Philosophy and Theology with his ministry? Why could Aquinas or his era of priests achieve both effective ministry and philosophical proficiency?


Aquinas was a man of his intellectual times! He was initially condemned for being too secular and modern (he dirtied Catholicism with pagan Greek thinking by means of deeply adapting and integrating hitherto unknown works of Aristotle into all Catholic philosophy which up until that time rested on the shoulders of Augustine and hence Plato - and imperfectly so). He relied on the translations of Muslim academics to do so.

And here we are, 800 years later training priests in that ancient Greek science and way of thinking which our modern world rejected 400-500 years ago with the like of Descartes, Hume, Kant, Newton (most were religious men). How can we lay people keep going forward with such a huge intellectual divide between our Post enlightenment scientists and thinkers vis a vis where our Church counterparts are at.

Prime examples of this intellectual schizophrenia is the ancient jargon and thinking behind the Eucharist and contraception which we educated Catholics all know by heart but which we also know doesn’t really jell with our own English language or post enlightenment culture.

Go through this debate as a perfect example of the dissonance. Even FrDavid96 doesn’t realise how coopted his intelligence is by his Aristotelian indoctrination in the Seminary, he simply cannot comprehend the modern dissonances I gently attempted to bring to the fore in that discussion.

But what person, with an honest foot in both worlds, can deny the dissonance. I myself have qualifications in both Thomism and Science. It is a schizophrenic existence intellectually.
There is a reckoning still to come, a tectonic jolt is well overdue because the pressure is not being relieved still despite Galileo. Authority and discipline can no longer hold these now very separate worlds together by sheer force of will alone. That is unnatural, the Holy Spirit must have her way.

I still remember my Eureka moment at the tender age of 22, sitting alone on the carpet one night trying to read Aristotle’s Physics in the library of the Dominican House of Studies in the 1980s.
I had been a top academic student at my school with a deep love of the Sciences, especially maths and physics.
I simply couldn’t understand why Aristotle’s Physics was unreadable and had nothing to do with the Physics I learnt at school.

It was at that moment I realised, without having any knowledge of history at that stage, that somehow modern science and the Church (Aristotle) had intellectually divorced on the matter and were no longer on speaking terms. That is still the case today. They may as well be speaking to each other in different languages. Actually it is worse than that. The words are materially the same but the meanings are wholly otherwise and neither side seems to realise this.


That’s a false dichotomy. Philosophical proficiency does not indicate a lack of compassion.
I’ve met many philosophically-astute friars who are extremely pastoral (in the true sense of the word). I’ve also known less intellectual priests who are no better able to address the needs of their flock.


Unlike yourself I do not read or speak in absolutes.
You seem to have missed the words “tend to be”.

There are always exceptions even amidst undeniable trends at the macro social level.

The question is, why are we speaking exceptions in the first place, and why are they becoming fewer and fewer.

And by the way I have more than “met” a few friars, I have lived with 100s over many years.



It was a great delight to some years later discover that Francis Bacon (the equivalent of a modern experimental scientist in the 1600s) wrote his “New Organon” contra Aristotle’s ancient Organon precisely to indicate the science/reasoning of his day was monumentally disagreeing with the ancients and going off on an allegedly surer path.


Absolutely agree with the intellectual schizophrenia you mentioned. I also struggled with it (and still do) …

I myself was once a fanatic lover of science, but as I grew older I found something ‘missing’ in it which I discovered in the ‘Humanities’ - a touch with ‘humanity’. Sadly, over the last 500 years even ‘Humanities’ are trying to fit themselves into the ‘hegemony’ of modern science and as such lose their original flavour.


Agreed. I am not saying science has all the answers either.
The two poles need to come together and inform each other.
That dialogue has not even started really.
Perhaps glimmers in Teilhard, Rickaby SJ, even von Balthasur.
I have lost touch with modern authors - hard to find anyone with a heart big enough not to scoff at the other side.

But as you suggest, there are too few who have the intellect or the dual education or the deep love of the two divorced parents to even attempt to bridge that vast divide. Most understandably seek refuge in humanism, existentialism much as traumatised children might find relief in fragmented solaces away from their birth home.

Me, like yourself, I hold these divorced worlds together by apophatic mysticism (the way of intellectual darkness and incompleteness) more than humanism.
Each to his own!


John Paul II and the Crisis of Modern Times - a lecture of Lumen Christi Institute, University of Chicago:

Nowadays we know what we are not, but not what we are. This is indeed the greatest anthropological crisis which degrades human nature to materialism and nihilism. Complicated with this is the rise of populism, which has become the hallmark of global politics over the last 5 years and was exacerbated by the refugee crisis in Europe and catalyzed by Trump’s policies in the US. Veiled behind the salient trend is massive discontent of the people towards the impotent political ‘elites’, who have been perceived as sheer defendants of their vested interests and failed to build consensus in the community, let alone proposing sound solutions to the many social problems arising from the triumph of liberalism and globalization in the post-War era. Hence, politics should resume its role of representing common interests not through irrationality or empty promises during election campaigns, but by engaging the People in serious debates on public administration rooted in rationality and virtues. This is the only way to provide youngsters with a healthy environment in which they can make the best possible use of their talents to strive for a better future.

Unfortunately, even teenagers do not often regard themselves as the generative force of improvement - they simply don’t see any hope ahead - why be optimistic and look forward when there is not such thing as ‘meaning’? Why intellectual pursuit or rational thinking if our world is simply beyond comprehension? This is at least what I observe on my peers.

In the past we had the problem of seeking meaning aka. study. Nowadays the great intellectual tradition withers and we don’t even want to know where to begin with.


That was an excellent talk!
The major insight I got out of it was that natural law emphasis is actually a relatively new direction. I always thought it was mainstream from the time of Aquinas.

Of course it makes perfect sense that with the loss of the Papal States and temporal power, even over Catholics, the only ground the Church has is moral appeal based on creation not revelation.
As it should have been long ago - the greed for the trappings of State power and authority since Constantine has run deep in Catholicism and still catches at our shirt tails. It is all vanity of course as Pope Francis knows well re careerist priests at the Vatican. And still we have Cardinal Burke with his pomp and ceremony liturgies and the controlling dubia.


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