The place of theology in liberal education

A friend and former classmate from my grad-school days recently wrote to me about the role of theology in a liberal education. He explained that he has been turning over in his mind an old, familiar argument for why theology should be the heart of a liberal education, but he has begun to wonder whether this argument is after all the best one. The argument goes like this:

A genuinely liberal education will principally consist in the study of sacred theology. For liberal education aims at the knowledge proper to the free man. Now the free man, in contradistinction from the slave, is one who lives not for the sake of another, but for his own sake; hence his life consists in activities choice-worthy in themselves. The kind of knowledge that he will pursue, therefore, will be knowledge worth exercising for its own sake, and this will be theoretical knowledge rather than practical knowledge. But theoretical knowledge is desirable because it perfects the knower as a knower; to engage in it is to exercise one’s intellect in the most perfect way. But knowledge, considered in itself, is defined by its object; hence the most perfect knowledge will be knowledge of the most perfect object. And this is God. Hence liberal education will principally consist in the acquisition of the knowledge of God. But the science whose proper object is God is sacred theology. Hence liberal education will principally consist in the study of sacred theology.

My friend’s unease with this seemingly ironclad reasoning is that the motive for studying theology ends up being so that I can perfect myself—while the real motive for theology seems to come from the supernatural virtue of charity, of love for God. As it happens, in our efforts to define the role of theology at Wyoming Catholic College my friends and I have wrestled with the above argument for a long time. Continue reading “The place of theology in liberal education”

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