Theology

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Faithful to its mission as a Catholic academic community of higher learning, the University of Notre Dame requires all undergraduates to take two courses in theology. As the mission statement of the university indicates, it is vital that Notre Dame’s Catholic identity be nourished neither solely through the general pursuit for truth, nor solely by fostering the life of prayer, liturgy, and service, but in particular that Notre Dame foster in its students an appreciation for the science of theology. What is distinctive about theology, the “science of God,” is not simply that it is directed toward the study of God, but also that this study is ultimately made possible only through a prior, divinely-initiated relationship. It is this that theologians confess in affirming their enterprise as that of “faith seeking understanding.” Theologians thus grapple with ultimate questions concerning meaning and destiny, but do so in the context of a living tradition of faith.

The required courses in theology are not meant to be courses on religion or religions, but on God, ultimately, although one does not study God directly, but through the study of texts, the study of the historical background to texts, and study of all the various cultural manifestations of Catholicism and the Christian tradition in dialogue with others. The primary goal is to contribute to a student’s disciplined reflection on what it means to think about God, God’s revelation, and everything else in the light of God’s revelation. The study of theology is intended to raise students’ level of sophistication as thinkers and learners so that categories of inquiry not previously distinct may become distinct and invite further reflection. For example, the category of "creation" as a theological category not reducible to the scientific category of origin; or the category of "sin," not reducible to psychological or sociological categories of immaturity or ignorance (in fact mitigated by both). Such an increase in sophistication will have the result of contributing towards a student’s “understanding” of his or her own faith, or at least of his or her own quest for faith or understanding. As this implies, the discipline of theology is not reducible to any other discipline at the university, although it is in conversation with all of them.

The first required course, Foundations of Theology (Theology 10001/20001), introduces students to theology as a discipline through an introduction to the Bible and Christian literature of the post-biblical centuries. In all sections students are introduced to the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, the New Testament, and some post-biblical developments. While the organization of each section is left to the discretion of the instructor, and individual instructors will give added attention to one or the other of the three foci of the course—Hebrew Bible; New Testament; Early Church—there must be sufficient treatment of the Bible so that the course truly qualifies as an introduction to the Bible, both Hebrew Bible and New Testament. In like fashion, there should be sufficient treatment of post-biblical material so that students can be introduced to issues in the reception, interpretation, and/or development of biblical themes.

Through the first required course, undergraduates arrive at an understanding of a distinctive nature of the discipline of theology; encounter the authoritative texts that serve to constitute the self-understanding of Christian tradition as a response to God’s self-revelation; become aware of the constitution, transmission, and interpretation of these texts within the tradition; and, develop their own skills of textual interpretation in conversation with the tradition.

The second required course (Theology 20xxx) takes up a major theme or set of themes in the Christian theological tradition; subjects the theme(s) to systematic inquiry; develops the theme(s) historically, with attention to the full sweep of Christian history (i.e., the course should not be confined to a single historical period); and, in light of the systematic and historical understanding of the theme(s), explores experiential and pastoral implications. In keeping with the Mission statement of the Department, the perspective of the second required course is at once Catholic and ecumenical.

From the first institution of this two-course sequence, there has been considerable variety in the ways these criteria for the second course have been met. While most 20xxx courses (1) focus on a specific strand within the Christian theological traditions, interconnections among doctrines always become apparent, and in some cases (2) the interconnections have become the major focus of a course, which thus seeks to offer students a comprehensive overview of the Catholic faith. The variety among versions of Theology 20xxx testifies to the generative power of the criteria that unify these different courses.

Through the second required course, undergraduates are introduced to the riches of the Christian theological tradition; develop their theological skills, facilitating the critical retrieval of the Christian heritage; and, come to appreciate better their rootedness in the ongoing tradition of the believing community.

No Catholic university can give an account of itself as an intellectual endeavor apart from Theology. The overall intellectual paradigm for a Catholic university is theological, “faith seeking understanding,” because the Catholic intellectual life is a search for the integration of knowledge in a dialectic between faith and reason: “In a Catholic University, research necessarily includes (a) the search for an integration of knowledge, (b) a dialogue between faith and reason, (c) an ethical concern, and (d) a theological perspective” (John Paul II, Ex Corde Ecclesiae, 15). In particular, “theology plays a particularly important role in the search for a synthesis of knowledge as well as in the dialogue between faith and reason. It serves all other disciplines in their search for meaning, not only by helping them to investigate how their discoveries will affect individuals and society but also by bringing a perspective and an orientation not contained within their own methodologies” (ibid., 16). The core requirements in theology therefore lie at the heart of the education that Notre Dame strives to give to each of its undergraduate students.

Approved April 20, 2005, by Academic Council