I had really meant to conclude my considerations on the Sacrament of Holy Orders in the last ti morceau, but this past week someone asked me a good question about priestly formation. Since it “fits,” I thought I’d deal with it here:
A pre-requisite to a seminarian’s study of theology is, first, the study of philosophy. This usually takes place within the context of a college seminary, but can also be part of a special “pre-theology” course.
Why philosophy? Well, to start, remember what philosophy is. While the term itself comes originally from Greek words meaning “love of wisdom,” a good basic definition of philosophy is “an orderly, in-depth examination of reality.”
Philosophy first of all deals with the most basic concepts: of being itself, of goodness, of the meaning of life, of knowledge itself. It tries to be brutally logical – in fact, one of the first required courses in the curriculum is a class on “Logic.” Next, the student usually studies “Speculative Philosophy,” the study of reality and its causes, and eventually moves on to “Practical Philosophy,” which tries to determine the right way to act based on what we know to be true. A philosopher is constantly challenging others with the question, “How can you be sure that what you believe is true?”
Naturally, philosophical studies in seminaries emphasize how believers have answered this question. The greatest philosopher in the Church’s history is generally regarded as St. Thomas Aquinas (A.D. 1225-1274). He was especially good at breaking down an object of study into its constituent parts, distinguishing its really essential “substance”from the less important aspects, which he called “accidents” but I think are better described as “incidentals.” Much of his analysis of the world and of religion still remains fundamental today.
A priest needs to be someone utterly convinced of the truth, and rational in his understanding and teaching the truth. He needs to be someone who is “in touch with reality,” and who knows it well. In sum, he needs to start out by being a good philosopher!