|The Jesus Chancel of St Mary, Wellingborough|
was the first part of the church to be dedicated
after construction began in 1903. It is ideally
suited to the recitation of the daily Office.
Though this atmosphere of wasteful haste is not the only affliction of today's seminary, remedying it would go a long way toward promoting a priesthood that is considered, insightful, and patiently loving. If that character is, in fact, to be fostered, a second great ill, that of lack of perspective, must be remedied. Such lack of perspective has many roots, among them the belief that today's knowledge and theories of ministerial practice are superior to those of ages past. What some have rightly called chronological snobbery is rife in the very place where such attitudes should be least found. The Church, as a divine society, has her own language, customs, and philosophy of life, informed chiefly by the scriptures but also by a venerable philosophical tradition.
In order for the priesthood to convey the totality of what it means for one to become a member of the divine society, the family of God, an intimate understanding of the development of this family in time is imperative. One becomes a child of God in the purest sense through faith alone, but this is not the whole picture presented to us in the scriptures and it is to a family of faith, a family that is both earthly and celestial, that believers are called. For one to be a member of the Church in the fullest sense is to attain to a rich knowledge of her beauties and her faults, her doctrines and her actions. The need for theological education to embrace this family history is, second to the knowledge of God Himself, who is the only Truth worth knowing, its most essential aim.
The model of the college, posited on the small scale at Wellingborough, seems a thoroughly excellent way of remedying the defects of hyperactivity and lack of perspective detailed above. Were students of theology placed in an environment in which their lives were structured principally around prayer, study, and contemplation much of the negative effect of over-work might be rectified. But an ordered life alone, however well structured, is not sufficient to heal the rift that has appeared between learning about God and learning to love Him. The structure of learning must harmonise with what is learned. Here the problem of lack of perspective comes to the fore. Much of what passes for theological education is little more than regurgitating pre-processed bits of information with virtually no recourse to the original thoughts of the holy men and women who are the Fathers and Mothers of all the faithful. In seminaries today, the in-depth study of primary source material, though not actively discouraged, is not strongly enough encouraged. Neither is this material organised in a fashion which promotes thinking in an interdisciplinary way.
A superior pattern of study would involve approaching the thought of the Church in a manner both systematic and chronological. A course of theological education might thus address each year topics such as the Trinity, the Atonement, Ecclesiology, Sacraments, etc., each in a different period of the Church's development, and all of these predominately from primary sources. Thus, those to be ordained would, for example, examine the Fathers' understanding of the Trinity in their first year, the medieval and Reformation understandings in their second, and various post-Reformation and post-Enlightenment views in their third year. In addition to the organised study of theology would be forays into the world of poetry, art, and music in order that the tenor of the periods under study be fleshed out. Such an education would not be an easy one, but it would be far superior to the system which now predominates which is neither systematic nor concerned with the actual writings of real historical figures. If such a system, and it is important to think of education as fundamentally systematic in nature, were enacted two major defects in thinking that plague the Church today- chronological snobbery and cultural myopia- could be remedied.
|The Chapel of St Andrew at the Protestant Episcopal Divinity|
School in Philadelphia. Designed by Zantzinger, Borie
& Medary and dedicated in 1926, it is is one of the
finest examples of a seminary chapel in the United States.
Just as the structure of learning must harmonise with what is learned, so must the context. A well-organised curriculum must be accompanied by a devotional life that supports the content being absorbed. Thus, a pattern of prayer including, at the very least, daily prayer in morning and evening and daily eucharist would serve as a starting point for further development of personal piety. These liturgies would not serve as contexts for experimentation; such an approach promotes restlessness. Rather, these would follow set patterns with only occasional breaks in order to allow for experiencing reconstructions of historic liturgies in order that the theology and worshipping life of the Church in history be experienced, rather than remaining dry descriptions on the printed page. The content of such worship would be of the highest quality poetry and prose and supported by the best art of all periods. It is of no appreciable benefit to approach the Almighty Maker believing ourselves to be the first to have done so. The Church has been long before, and will be long after, all those now alive have ceased to pray and praise. To acknowledge this is to begin to ascend the path to true wisdom.
It must be said that much of what is proposed here rubs against the grain of contemporary society; it is neither inclusive nor non-judgmental, at least not as those much-abused terms are commonly understood. Yet it must be recognised that, just as to include all is to relativise, to lack judgment is to open oneself to sloth and arrogance. Each of us knows in our hearts that not all of mankind's efforts are equally representative of the best to which the race can attain, nor are those strivings after perfect truth, beauty, and goodness, weak though they be, all of the same attainment. If any human activity is to be a gain rather than a loss, it must discriminate; it must judge between the good and the bad, the inferior, the mediocre, and the best. In the realm of theological education, where the central aim is the moulding of the mind and heart to accord with the perfections of the Godhead, such right judgment is all the more necessary. To know the supreme Truth, Beauty, and Goodness that is the Holy Trinity one must possess a standard against which to measure achievement. The best of all that has gone before calls us children to hear and see and not to think ourselves better than our forebears, but humbly to submit ourselves to their judgment and, in so doing, take possession of our own wisdom from which the fount of knowledge may continue to flow to our children and their children after them, so that the whole family of God may be blessed and the Father of All may be glorified.