The blog of the Dominican student brothers at Blackfriars, Oxford.

Built on the four pillars of our Dominican life – preaching, prayer, study, and community – Godzdogz offers many resources for exploring the Catholic Faith today.
Read more.

The Fruits of Study: Michaelmas Term 2019 (II)

Friday, December 20, 2019

Study is a fundamental aspect of Dominican life, not merely as an academic exercise but as a privileged means to deepen our contemplation and sharpen our preaching. One of the mottos of the Order of Preachers is Veritas, ‘truth,’ which reflects our conviction that the search for truth can lead us to God. With term now finished, the student brothers share particularly useful or striking insights gained in the course of their studies.

Br Thomas Thérèse Mannion: doctrine, development and communion

As I was studying Fundamental Theology this term, I was interested in what Newman had to say about the development of Christian doctrine. Although I had never been particularly drawn to his writings, I found his ideas on this point very pertinent to contemporary debates on how doctrine can or cannot develop. We should also remember that Newman, though an erudite thinker, and perhaps one day a Doctor of the Church, is not infallible. His principles are a good starting place, but his own idea of development can itself be developed, especially by taking account of factual developments happening in the Church in our time, as is the case, for instance, with the inadmissibility of the death penalty.

It was similarly stimulating to learn about the way dissent from Church teaching works. This is never simply a matter of propositional truth, but something relational. Although people often focus on which doctrines we have to assent to, how we dissent from those things we are free to disagree with is essential. If you are a theologian, it is important that this is done firstly in dialogue with the Magisterium and that great prudence is used if the disagreement becomes public so as not to cause scandal among the faithful.

It should be emphasised that, as Catholics, we do not believe that our personal judgment trumps the magisterial teaching of the Church. We must come to an intellectual understanding of the faith, but it is not our job to scrutinise all the minutiae of doctrine to determine whether it is true. We are not the ultimate arbiters of truth; the Church is, and for this reason the Magisterium plays a special role in articulating and passing on the truths of the Catholic faith. There are obviously degrees of authority: Scripture is the bedrock upon which Church teaching rests, but even the ordinary

Magisterium we must take very seriously and not be unnecessarily critical of it. Therefore there is a very narrow scope for what we can dissent from, and even then this should be done through the appropriate channels. This is why it can be damaging when people take to the social media to discuss their doctrinal difficulties.

Br Daniel Benedict Rowlands: responsibility, ignorance, and freedom

In the Thomistic-Aristotelian tradition, voluntariness is the characteristic feature of human action – it is what makes moral responsibility possible. Aquinas adopts the traditional definition of voluntary as not only "having a principle within the agent, but also implying knowledge": "principle within" articulates the intuitive idea that freedom from external compulsion is necessary, but it was the latter (epistemic) condition in particular that attracted my interest. For instance, the classical definition of mortal sin demands "deliberate consent and full knowledge", but what exactly does full knowledge mean?

The Catechism mentions "knowledge of the sinful character of the act", but also admits "no one is deemed to be ignorant of the principles of the moral law" (i.e. the natural law inscribed on the heart). Anscombe takes up this idea in a short talk ("On being in good faith"): if a man commits a sin X, then the fact he did X “in good faith” only excuses him if he thought he was actually doing Y (which isn't sinful) rather than X. That said, we can still ask whether one is culpable for the ignorance itself. What renders an act negligent? How does one ascertain what one "ought to have known" or "ought to have thought"? For instance, there is clearly a difference between a hunter who mistakenly shoots a human on account of poor eyesight, and one who does so because a passer-by happened to be disguised as a deer.

For Aquinas, the key to thinking about these issues is the interplay of intellect and will in human action. The will does not merely assent to the good apprehended by the intellect, but may also direct what the intellect considers or ignores. This lends human action a real freedom – culpability must be judged on the basis of the orientation of the will – whilst at the same time affirming that the freedom is by no means arbitrary, but exercised through the intellect.

Br Pablo Rodríguez Jordá: of languages and transcendentals

If you have ever tried to learn another language, you will have been in situations where you wanted to say something but there was no way (no straightforward way, at least) to express it. The language imposed its own idiosyncrasies on you, who in turn had to accept humbly the rules of the game into which you were being initiated. Something similar happens when any language tries to capture the world. The words we use to communicate are symbols with a particular shape and history, and so their meaning is often determined by such contingent factors as culture-dependent contexts, or the puns and resonances arising from the formal resemblance between words. Our concepts cannot be ‘pure’ representations of what is out there. The tidiness of the technical languages human beings create to describe reality often conceals a far greater complexity lying beyond what we can express, the unfathomable contours of the universe.

This is not due to a deficiency of human speech, but rather to the inexhaustible richness of what is real. Like light refracted in many hues when passed through a prism, God has created a world which can be told in many ways. This lies at the heart of what the medievals called the ‘trascendentals’: that everything that is, merely in virtue of being, participates in oneness, truth, goodness and beauty, bearing the traces of its Creator, just as the plurality of colours points back to the original unity of light. Thus, disciplines that we do not normally consider theological can also speak of God: art, music, dance, sport, a good film, a tasty meal, can become theophanies – reminders of that first moment when God created all things, and saw that they were good.

Photo from Flickr

You can read the first part of this post here.



Post has no comments.

Post a Comment

Captcha Image
Follow us
Meet the Student Brothers

Meet the Student Brothers



Featured Series

Featured Series

Recent posts


Liturgical index

All tags & authors


Upcoming events

View the full calendar