What is Fundamental Theology?

After finishing first cycle, and more importantly, getting ordained a deacon, the next step for me in the past few weeks has been beginning my new degree program, an S.T.L. in Fundamental Theology. One of the many questions I’ve been asked lately has been, “What is Fundamental Theology?” Well, a part of the reason for that question is that you don’t see it appear as a discipline in the United States very often, usually, it is an introductory systematic course. However, at a few universities in Europe it is considered an entire discipline within theology.

This semester I am taking six courses plus a seminar, the seminar is titled, “The Specificity of Fundamental Theology,” in short it is a survey of the major themes found within the discipline. For the first weekly paper we were asked to answer among a few questions, “How do you define Fundamental Theology?” It was meant to be a personal response as we begin this two-year long journey of study. I thought I would share that part of my paper here too, since so many have been asking. Though a warning, given the scope of the paper (there was another question and it was max. 1 page), in my mind this is an understandably limited definition, but hopefully it’s a start for the person asking the initial question:

What is Fundamental Theology?

In one sentence I would define fundamental theology in the following manner. Fundamental theology is the study of the credible presentation of revelation and faith in the modern world. Such a definition can be unpacked in order to expose the principal elements of fundamental theology. One arm of fundamental theology is the apologetic arm which seeks to develop a “credible presentation” to the “modern world.” However, the other arm of fundamental theology, the dogmatic arm, serves as its core and is found at the center of this definition, the theology of revelation and faith. By the study of revelation, fundamental theology seeks to understand the means by which God, “chose to show forth and communicate himself,” (DV, 6). Therefore, fundamental theology does not seek to understand all the contents of revelation but rather the whole of revelation including the relationship between Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, which, “flowing form the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into a unity and tend toward the same end.” (DV, 9). By the study of faith fundamental theology seeks to study man’s response to God’s revelation. It is a response in which, “man commits his whole self freely to God, offering the full submission of the intellect and will.” (DV, 5). Therefore it is the responsibility of fundamental theology to analyze the relationship between faith and reason. This brings fundamental theology from its dogmatic aspect to apologetic aspect. This latter aspect of fundamental theology seeks to bring its dogmatic aspect into dialogue with the modern world. It seeks to analyze the signs of the times and then develop a credible presentation of revelation and faith, not necessarily to explain particular dogmatic truths of the faith, but why it even matters to believe in anything in today’s world, and more specifically to believe in Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church.

DV = VATICAN II, Dei Verbum.

Let me know if you have any follow up questions or if something is still not very clear in this brief description.

It is finished!

Today I finished my last final exam of the year, and with it, the entire S.T.B. It feels good to finally be done with this degree. I’ve learned and grown a lot, but now I’m looking forward to the S.T.L. Today I’m off to Boston to attend the Lonergan Workshop for the rest of the week. Next week I head to New Jersey and then Missouri to begin my summer assignment. Now that I’m done with exams and more importantly, studying for exams, I might be able to share a few more posts. The last two weeks there wasn’t too much to share as my time was spent studying and taking exams.

Last day of first cycle classes

Today was a big day for many of my classmates and I, we finished our classes for the so-called “first cycle” of theology which grants one a pontifical degree known as the S.T.B. Next year I will begin another degree for “second cycle,” which leads to an S.T.L.

Many of my classmates who came here from over 40 countries will not be returning. Many of them will be returning to their home countries or sent out on mission to begin new apostolates and ministries, sharing what they’ve learned here in Rome. Today was the day to say our goodbyes. We might run into each other during exams, but today was our last day all together after three years.

Of course, I have a theory, that for those who give their lives in service to the Church, there is no such thing as “goodbye,” only “see you later.” I don’t know when I’ll see some of my classmates again, but with all of the events that take place in the Church, you never know when you might just run into someone again. Even if it’s 30 years from now, it’s still, “later.”

That still didn’t make certain parts of today somewhat sad and difficult in saying “see you later,” to so many good friends whom I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know these past few years. When people ask me what I like most about studying in Rome, my first response is always my classmates at the university and the seminary.

Here’s a photo of the group of us after one of our classes this morning.

Many of my classmates gathered together for a photo on our last day of classes.
Many of my classmates gathered together for a photo on our last day of classes.

Field trip and refugee presentation

On Wednesday we took another field trip for my class on Catholic social doctrine. The last time, we visited the Pontifical Council for Peace and Justice. This time we visited a center for helping refugees, known as, “Centro Astalli.” We received a tour of their facility and learned about their programs. They serve meals, teach Italian, and provide medical and legal assistance to refugees who find themselves in Rome. After visiting the facility that seeks to respond to the crisis of refugees on a local, pastoral level, we made our way to a classroom for a presentation. The presentation was on the work of the international organization, Jesuit Refugee Services. The organization seeks to respond to the crisis on an international level. They have facilities like the one we visited in Rome all over the world. They also help to get people out of dangerous situations and provide legal assistance. Lastly, they also seek to work against some of the root causes that have created the crisis. Given that the Jesuits were already over the world when Jesuit Refugee Services was founded, they were able to establish an international network. Different countries, including the USA, have other organizations associated with the nation’s episcopal conference. When I worked at CNS, in the USCCB building, I had the opportunity to meet many people who worked with Migration and Refugee Services at the USCCB.

This was not the first time I have attended a workshop/conference/presentation on refugees. However, this time there was a different feel to the experience. That difference was created by the crowd, my classmates. In the past when I attended presentations of this nature, in the USA, all or at least, the overwhelming majority, of those present came from America. This time it was very different, as I’ve mentioned before there are approximately 140 students in my class who come from around 40 different countries. The woman leading the presentation spoke of various situations in different countries around the world, whether they be countries dealing with conflict, or countries where refugees were arriving. All of these situations and conflicts touched all of us in very different ways. That is to say as she rattled off countries, there was often someone from those very places. It made conflicts and difficult situations that often seem so far away, much closer. Instead of several thousand miles away, they were just two rows in front or behind me. What a blessed learning experience indeed.

Appearance on “The Catholic Guy” with Lino Rulli

Last Tuesday I sat down for a half-hour interview with Lino Rulli of “The Catholic Guy” radio show on SiriusXM’s Catholic Channel 129. All week-long Rulli stayed at the NAC while interviewing seminarians about our lives. In the pre-interivew meeting he said he didn’t want to necessarily sit around and talk about theology and Church issues, but rather about us and our lives as seminarians and our lives before entering seminary to show that we are in many respects just regular guys trying to live out our vocation, which just might be the priesthood.

My interview touched on quite a few topics from my life. As in the past, it was a little different being the one being questioned as opposed to the one asking questions. My experience in journalism was one of the things we discussed, in addition to Albania, seminary life, and of course, BBQ!

Since SiriusXM is a subscription service it is hard to find the interview, if you’re already a subscriber you can go to the SiriusXM web site and go through the on-line player to find the show from May 8, 2014. It is also possible to sign up for a free trial in order to hear the piece as well, at least, that’s what I had to do.

For more on some of the topics discussed in the interview see the following posts. If you can’t listen, reading these posts will in some instances give much more detail than in the half-hour interview.

Perpetual profession in Assisi

A look at the inside of the famous Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli.
A look at the inside of the famous Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli.

Yesterday I had the great opportunity to attend the perpetual profession of four sisters from the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of the Infant Jesus (Suore Francescane Missionarie di Gesù Bambino). Two of the four are classmates of mine at the Pontifical Gregorian University.

In order to support them on the most important day of their lives, we organized a group of classmates to attend the  beautiful ceremony.

A bunch of us left early in the morning to make a full day trip out of the experience since some had never been to Assisi. Given that I spent a summer living in the small medieval town, and was not one of the Franciscans busy making vows, I became the default tour guide.

The morning group was composed of two Ecuadorians, a Brazilian, an Italian and myself. Later we met up with a Peruvian, a Portuguese and two other Italians.

We had a great time visiting many of the different Churches in the upper part of Assisi. We stopped in each to pray for the sisters who would be making their vows that afternoon.

Of course there was a necessary stop for pizza before heading down the hill to Basilica di Santa Maria deli Angeli, home to the famous Porziuncola. There is quite literally a small Chapel inside of the larger basilica.

There we joined hundreds of family and friends for a beautiful liturgy celebrated by the recently named Cardinal Bassetti from nearby Perugia. During the Mass, the sisters each professed perpetual vows of chastity, poverty and obedience to the mother general of their order.

Unfortunately we only had a few minutes at the reception as we had to catch the last train back to Rome so we weren’t able to get any photos with the sisters at the reception. They had many other guests waiting to congratulate them as well.

Diaconate Double Dose

 

Official programs from both of today's ordinations.
Official programs from both of today’s ordinations.

Today I had the pleasure and honor to attend not just one, but two diaconate ordinations. Both were for classmates from the Pontifical Gregorian University.

In the morning I attended the diaconate ordination of two men from the Pontifical Irish College, one of whom is a classmate. The ordination was held at my favorite Church in Rome, the Basilica of the Holy Cross of Jerusalem. After the beautiful ceremony we all made our way over to the Pontifical Irish College for lunch. Fortunately I was able to make the day even better with a quick pit stop at the generalate of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus as I made my way from the Church to the college. Unfortunately I had to skip the desert portion of a wonderful lunch so that I could make my way on to the next ordination.

The second diaconate ordination of the day was for eight young Jesuits, seven of whom are my classmates The eight men originally hail from many different countries, so there was quite an international element to the experience. For example, the official programs contained all of the texts for the liturgy in five different languages. Many of my other classmates from the university who come from all over the world were also able to attend the celebration in support of our Jesuit companions. Given that we are currently on break from classes for Holy Week and Easter, it was nice to be able to relax and spend time with my classmates in a more relaxed and social setting at the reception following the ordination.

A long, but spiritually enriching day.

And if you’re wondering…both ceremonies around 2 hours.

Audience with Pope Francis

This morning classes were cancelled at the Pontifical Gregorian University. However, the cause was most certainly just. Pope Francis had invited all of the faculty, students and staff of the university to an audience at the Vatican. I guess you could consider this another field trip.

So instead of heading across the city to the university, those of us from the NAC only had to go down the hill to the Vatican. We met up with our classmates, other students and professors. For the first hour or so there were a series of songs sung by representatives of the various countries and cultures represented at our university. The mixture was quite eclectic. As the time for the audience with the Holy Father approached, the event took a more prayerful disposition, as the rector led us all in prayer. Then Holy Father arrived and addressed all present. His address can be found here. After the address he greeted many of the professors present. Then, to our surprise he started to make his way up the aisle where all the students were present. We all lined up against the barriers and stuck our hands out shake hands with the Pope.

A blessed morning indeed. I took my simple point-and-shoot camera and didn’t get too many good shots. Here are three I can share.

Pope Francis addresses the university community.
Pope Francis addresses the university community.
Pope Francis approaches as he greets the students along the aisle.
Pope Francis approaches as he greets the students along the aisle.
After he passed by me, I had to put the camera down to shake his hand.
After he passed by me. There is no photo of him right in front of me as I had to put the camera down to shake his hand.

Thank you BBQ

This spring I will be finishing my three year course of study known as ‘First Cycle” which results in the ecclesiastical degree, S.T.B. I have been working towards this degree at the Pontifical Gregorian University. Seeing that we are at the end of the three years, my classmates and I decided to invite all of the professors from the core classes throughout the course of the three years to come for a dinner at the North American College.

Naturally, we decided to go for a somewhat American theme. Therefore, I was asked to take over the BBQ duties. I cooked pork shoulder for 11 hours and pork ribs for 6 hours. I also grilled some vegetable skewers. Other classmates provided great help in preparing potato salad and cheesecake for desert.

What made this evening so entertaining and memorable was the opportunity to interact with so many of our professors in a new context. Our professors come from so many different countries, cultures and backgrounds. They are both men and women, consecrated religious, diocesan priests, and laity. Normally we only get to see one professor at a time, and normally, they are lecturing while we sit, listen and take notes. In this context, there was more than one professor present, and it was a more social setting. Everyone seemed to have a very good time while enjoying both the food and the company.

One of the plates served for our dinner with the professors.
One of the plates served for our dinner with the professors.

Field Trips are still fun

Even at 25 years old, in my 19th year of formal education, I must admit, field trips are still fun. Today for my class on the Church’s social doctrine, we got to do just that, take a field trip. We visited the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. We were treated to a lecture by the secretary-archbishop of said council. He talked about important global economic themes in the recent documents, Caritas in Veritate and Evangelii Gaudium. A layman who works for the council also presented to us the council’s most recent text on the relationship between energy sources and justice. No it wasn’t the zoo, a museum or the science center, but it was still a fun morning. It provided a nice change of pace and a way to see how it is that the principles learned in the classroom are being applied in the life of the Church.