Between Athens And Berlin: The Theological Education Debate by David Kelsey
David Kelsey is Luther A. Weigle Professor of Theology at Yale University Divinity School in New Haven, Connecticut. His article is based on his convocation address in 1996 inaugurating a new academic year in which YDS, under the leadership of its new dean, Richard Wood, set out to develop new curriculum and programs recommended by a review committee, which was chaired by Kelsey. This book was published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.,1993. It was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.
Chapter 2: "Athens" in the Mid-Nineteenth Century
The rise of the research university as the "Berlin" type of excellent education did not simply displace "Athens" as a type of excellent schooling in European and American higher education in the nineteenth century. Indeed, the English-speaking world by and large simply continued to assume that higher education at its best is defined by "Athens." Oxford and Cambridge, probably the most prestigious universities in the English-speaking world, long resisted the Continental research university model. In the United States, although some state universities and a few private universities explicitly adopted the "Berlin" type, the great majority of undergraduate education took place in liberal arts colleges that tacitly assumed "Athens" as the type of excellence to which they aspired. For historical reasons reviewed in the last chapter, Christian theological schools for the most part did the same.
Nonetheless, the fact that an alternative type now existed inevitably shaped the way in which the "Athens" type was understood. To the extent that educators, especially theological educators, self-consciously reflected on these matters, it was necessary to reflect on how their preferred "Athens" model differed from the Continental research university model of excellent education. "Athens" had to be understood in contradistinction to "Berlin." And that led to shifts in emphasis in and material modifications of the "Athens" type.
John Henry Newman’s The Idea of a University
These subtle but important modifications are particularly clear in what is probably the intellectually most powerful modern reformulation of the "Athens" type, John Henry Cardinal Newman’s The Idea of a University.1 This work, which consists of a series of lectures first published in 1852, almost half a century after the founding of the University of Berlin, is an enormously influential classic in the controversial literature about the nature and purposes of higher education. It has shaped the guiding vision of much education conducted under Roman Catholic and Anglican auspices, and it has set the terms on which advocates of the alternative "Berlin" type of educational excellence have often been required to argue their case. Its concern is undergraduate education, including undergraduate theological education, and it is explicitly not concerned with ministerial education.
Nonetheless, Newman’s lectures are worth examining as a reminder of the particularly modern, post-"Berlin" shape of the "Athens" type that continues, almost entirely tacitly and implicitly, to give form to much twentieth-century American theological education. The version of the "Athens" type of educational excellence that Newman develops does powerfully express the assumptions about excellence in theological education that continue to be implicit in much seminary schooling in the twentieth century. Furthermore, Newman’s modification of the "Athens" type has strong parallels with some proposals in the current conversations concerning what is "theological" about theological education.
At the same time, Newman’s lectures are instructive in a cautionary kind of way. Newman’s modifications of the "Athens" type are theologically problematic. His social assumptions, his view of human rationality, and his vision of the fulfilled human life are so alien to North American culture in the late twentieth century that they may help to distance us from our own assumptions about social values, human rationality, and the fulfilled life. At the same time, his historical and cultural distance from us may help to highlight features of the "Athens" type that are inherently worrisome when the type is adopted by specifically theological education. Examination of Newman’s essay, then, can both clarify one side of current American theological education’s legacy (the shape the "Athens" type tends to take following the creation of the research university) and draw out problems it creates for theological education that embraces it.
With papal backing, Newman was in the midst of a campaign in Ireland to found a Roman Catholic university there. There seemed to be local support for the project since, at the time, Roman Catholic students could not obtain a university-level education except at a Protestant institution. However, conservative elements in the hierarchy and clergy desired ecclesiastical control over teaching to guarantee that it would produce educated Catholics. Newman opposed such ecclesiastical control.
Perhaps it was tactical considerations in that setting that dictated the structure of the lectures. They divide into two parts. In the first four lectures Newman takes up the question of the inner unity of the various subjects to be taught in the university. He argues that theology must play a central role in unifying the subjects taught. That ought to reassure the conservatives! However, on closer inspection it becomes clear that what makes university studies a single course of study and not simply a clutch of courses is the overall goal of teaching them, namely (for Newman) the cultivation of students’ intellectual capacities to the point of excellence, and cultivating these capacities for their own sake. That line of thought is not developed until the last four chapters. The order of exposition reverses the logical order of Newman’s ideas. That is, the grounds for the arguments in the first four lectures are developed only in the last four. It is in the pivotal fifth chapter that Newman makes clear that the series breaks down into these two halves. It is illuminating to examine Newman’s hunt for the Idea (or essence) of a university by considering the two halves of his lecture series in reverse.
Newman ties the unity of a university to its one overarching purpose. "The view taken of a University in these Discourses," Newman wrote in his preface to the published lectures, "is the following: -- That it is a place of teaching universal knowledge."2 Given this view, as he points out in the pivotal fifth discourse, "a University may be considered with reference either to its Students or to its Studies".
Note that it is Newman’s picture of the overarching goal of teaching students and not the prevailing self-definition of academic specialties that controls his picture of how diverse fields may be integrated in a single curriculum. What is cautionary is Newman’s unself-critically abstract way of linking "teaching studies" and "teaching students."
Newman explains the overarching goal of teaching by reference to those who are taught, not by reference to what is taught. By this move he embraces paideia as the model of excellence in schooling. However, it is a modified paideia because his view of human rationality is different from the view classically assumed by paideia. The goal of teaching "is simply the cultivation of the intellect, as such, and its object is nothing more or less than intellectual excellence". More exactly, what is cultivated is an array of capacities and powers. They are "intellectual" in that they are capacities we exercise in knowing.
We know, not by a direct and simple vision, not at a glance, but, as it were, by piecemeal and accumulation, by a mental process, by going round an object, by the comparison, the combination, the mutual correction, the continual adaptation, of many partial notions, by the employment, concentration, and joint action of many faculties and exercises of mind.
Newman stresses the role of these capacities in actively forming knowledge. Learning brings a sense of enlightenment or enlargement. However,
the enlargement consists, not merely in the passive reception into the mind of a number of ideas hitherto unknown to it, but in the mind’s energetic and simultaneous action upon and towards and among those new ideas, which are rushing in upon it. It is the action of a formative power, reducing to order and meaning the matter of our acquirements.
The overarching goal for which a university exists is to cultivate these capacities in its students to the point of excellence by skilled teaching. Newman’s notion of intellectual excellence is analogous to a traditional understanding of moral excellence as "virtue." But it is only analogous, not identical. Here he departs from the classical paideia model for which, as we said, cultivation of the mind’s excellence was identical with coming to an intuitive grasp of the Good. It involved a conversion of the person. Intellectual and moral excellence are one. For Newman they are only analogous.
A moral virtue is a habitus, a settled disposition of the will to act habitually in a morally excellent way -- courageously, faithfully, honestly, prudently, etc. By analogy, Newman suggests, intellectual excellence is a kind of "perfection or virtue of the intellect," which he elects to call by the name of "philosophy" or "a philosophical habit of mind". It is important not to be misled by his archaic use of these terms. For us "philosophy" commonly names either an array of questions and intellectual problems or a body of literature generated by discussing such questions and problems. For Newman philosophy is not only a habit of mind but the habit whose acquisition is the highest fulfillment of the mind. It is taught by exercising students’ intellectual capacities under discipline until they acquire the requisite habits. What are these habits? Breadth of mind; the capacity to set every topic and question in a larger relevant frame of reference; clarity of thought and expression; fair-minded evenhandedness in assessing conflicting arguments; rigorous criticism in assessing "the dense mass of facts and events";3 and, most important of all for Newman, "judgment," that "master-principle . . . which gives [a person] strength in any subject . . . to seize the strong point in it".
Newman’s major polemical thrust in these lectures is the stress that, even though it does not have the widest possible public utility, this unifying goal is its own end pursued for its own sake. Pursuing it -- that is, actually doing university education -- cannot be justified by showing that it is necessary to the achievement of any further end. This is the basis of Newman’s opposition to ecclesiastical control of the university. Against the conservative elements in the hierarchy and clergy, Newman vigorously insisted that the purpose of cultivating the intellect of students lay in the cultivation itself and not in any further desirable end, neither in sanctity nor in moral goodness:
Liberal Education makes nor the Christian, not the Catholic, but the gentleman. It is well to be a gentleman, it is well to have a cultivated intellect, a delicate taste, a candid, equitable, dispassionate mind, a noble and courteous bearing in the conduct of life; -- these are the connatural qualities of a large knowledge; they are the objects of a University; I am advocating, I shall illustrate and insist upon them; but still, I repeat, they are no guarantee for sanctity or even for conscientiousness, they may attach to the man of the world, to the profligate, to the heartless, --pleasant, alas, and attractive as he shows when decked out in them.4
Here the differences between Newman’s view of human reason and that of paideia show themselves plainly. It was central to paideia that the cultivation of human reason would, contrary to Newman, inherently yield not merely the "gentleman" but the good person. What is questionable in Newman’s proposal is the view of human personhood that underlies the content of his theory of teaching.
Newman’s closeness to classical paideia surfaces again in his insistence that a university ought not to house research or professional education. The end of teaching is the cultivation of the intellect, not the accumulation of new knowledge. To discover and to teach are distinct functions. They are also distinct gifts and are not commonly found united in the same person. For these reasons, Newman argued, teaching constitutes a university; let research and discovery constitute "academies" as distinct institutions.
Teaching pertinent to the several professions, on the other hand, does lie within the purview of university teaching, but not as "professional" education. Newman understands "professional" education as education that has as its end the cultivation of capacities useful to improve "the health of the body, or of the commonwealth, or of the soul". Left at that, it tends toward the narrowing of the intellect rather than the enlargement that comes from teaching whose end is the cultivation of intellectual capacities as such without reference to their utility. But teaching pertinent to the professions need not be left at that.
In saying that Law or Medicine is not the end of a University course, I do not mean to imply that the University does not teach Law or Medicine. What indeed can it teach at all, if it does not teach something particular? It teaches all knowledge by teaching all branches of knowledge, and in no other way. I do but say that there will be this distinction as regards a Professor of Law, or of Medicine . . . in a University and out of it, that out of a University he is in danger of being absorbed and narrowed by his pursuit, and of giving Lectures which are the Lectures of nothing more than a lawyer, physician, [etc.]; whereas in a University he will know just where he and his science stand, he has come to it, as it were, from a height, he has taken a survey of all knowledge, he is kept from extravagance by the very rivalry of other studies, he has gained from them a special illumination and largeness of mind and freedom and self-possession, and he treats his own in consequence with a philosophy and a resource, which belongs nor to the study itself, but to his liberal education.
Here Newman seems to be trying to draw a sharp and clear line between teaching theology (or law or medicine) as part of "professional" education and teaching it as one among many subjects in "university" education. He appears to draw between them a difference in principle grounded in fundamentally different goals. The goal of teaching theology in professional education is to prepare people to fill certain professional roles that are narrowly defined because they are defined by reference to the well-being of some one aspect of human being (health of the soul or health of the body or health of the commonwealth). By contrast, the goal of teaching theology in university education is the same broad goal that teaching any other subject has: to cultivate human intellectual capacities without regard to their utility, simply because they are valuable in themselves.
Nothing could be more contrary to the nineteenth-century research university model of excellent schooling than Newman’s exclusion of research and professional schools from a university. His grounds for their exclusion are important: to include them is to compromise the defining goal of a university -- that is, the cultivation of intellectual excellence for its own sake.
This does not mean that Newman denies any public significance to the university. To the contrary, he stresses its public role and importance. But the way in which he argues for the university’s public role is very distinctive. University teaching is "training good members of society. Its art is the art of social life, and its end is fitness for the world’’. This is not simply to claim that university education trains conscientious and informed citizen-voters. Rather, Newman is making the more ambitious claim that people educated in the university are prepared for responsible leadership in public affairs. University education prepares one "to fill any post with credit, and to master any subject with facility.... [One] is at home in any society [and] has common ground with every class." However, the university accomplishes this only indirectly. It prepares people for "any post" because of the sorts of capacities that university teaching directly cultivates for their own sakes: "a clear conscious view of [one’s] own opinions and judgments, a truth in developing them, an eloquence in expressing them, a force in urging them"; a capacity to place issues in the broadest framework rather than being confined to the "views [of] particular professions"; critical capacities "to detect what is sophistical, and to discard what is irrelevant"; and above all, judgment, the capacity to "see things as they are, to go right to the point". Although it trains excellent bureaucrats and government ministers, Newman’s university plays this public role only indirectly. The public significance of university teaching arises precisely from its apparent inutility. Indeed, only if university teaching is done only for its own sake can it have its public significance as a by-product.
Thus far, then, Newman’s view of university education is a version of paideia as the model of excellent schooling. Like paideia, it is schooling focused on shaping individual students’ capacities simply for the sake of doing so and not for the sake of any utilitarian end. It is important to note that the way Newman develops these points rests on the notion that the capacities in question are specifically capacities of "reason" and that there is an "essence" to reason. Reason is one selfsame thing in all otherwise apparently diverse persons. Indeed, reason is understood to have nothing directly to do with "will"; cultivating the capacities of reason will not in itself develop moral virtue. This is a major part of Newman’s revision of classical paideia, in which the connection between reason and will was so direct and immediate that to be capacitated to know the truth was identical with being capacitated to do the Good. Despite this important reformulation, Newman’s model of excellent schooling is nonetheless recognizable as a version of paideia based on his discovery of the essence of reason. We shall see that the other half of his argument rests on this view and that it opens the door to some exceedingly dubious notions.
Newman’s essay is also instructive in a cautionary way when we shift attention from his last four lectures on "teaching students" to his first four on "teaching subjects." Precisely because in the last four lectures he is going to argue to a Roman Catholic audience that a Catholic university is rightly conceived only when it is not designed to nurture either sanctity or morality, he finds it useful to spend the first four lectures vigorously affirming that no university studies are adequately comprehensive or unified unless they include the study of theology. That, at any rate, is the explicit thesis of the first four lectures. By "theology" he means "the science of God," or what today might be called "foundational theology," and not Christian dogma or Christian practical theology. However, Newman is not arguing for either the material or the formal hegemony of theology. That is, he is not arguing that truth claims in all other subjects are answerable to or must be translated into theological claims. Nor is he arguing that the distinctive methods of theology as a "science" ought to be employed in other sciences.
Instead, Newman argues for the inclusion of theology on what we might call the "principle of comprehensiveness." If a university is a "place of teaching universal knowledge", it must include knowledge of God among the subjects taught or it is no longer truly comprehensive. In Newman’s view, "all that exists, as contemplated by the human mind, forms one large system or complex fact, and this of course resolves itself into an indefinite number of particular facts." Human intellectual capacities cannot grasp the one large and complex fact as such. However, we can grasp subsets, as it were, of the indefinite "particular facts" into which the "complex fact" resolves itself, taken "in their mutual positions and bearings". Thus the several subjects taught in a university are aspects of the one "complex fact" that have been abstracted from it for convenience in teaching and learning. Each subject employs methods appropriate to the distinctive features of the subset of "facts" that comprises the aspect of the "complex fact" with which it deals. Indeed, it is a subject’s peculiar methods of inquiry that constitute that subject as a science.
To be sure, Newman believes that all facts depend on their relation to God both for their coherence with one another and for their concrete actuality. God is the principle of unity in the universe. But the science of theology is not the principle of unity in the university. If any science fills that role, it is philosophy, whose task it is to comprehend "the bearings of one science upon another" and, within the one large system or complex fact, "the location and limitation and adjustment and due appreciation of them all, one with another".
Theology must be included among the subjects taught in a university simply because it is dangerous to exclude it:
I observe, then, that, if you drop any science out of the circle of knowledge, you cannot keep its place vacant for it; that science is forgotten; the other sciences close up, or, in other words, they exceed their proper bounds, and intrude where they have no right.
If the principle of comprehensiveness is violated in a university and some subject -- say, theology -- is not taught, not only is some important abstractable aspect of the "one large system or complex fact" of truth absent, but each of the subjects that is included will inevitably be distorted.
Once again we observe Newman making his case for his version of paideia as excellent schooling by basing it on the results of a hunt for an essence. In this case the "essence" in question is the grandest essence of all, the underlying structure of reality that unifies the vast multitude of kinds of things into one universe. For Plato the Good filled this role. Newman prefers to call it "Truth." It is because Truth grounds the multiplex universe as one "complex fact" that no single aspect of it, not even God, may be left out of the study of the universe.
Given Newman’s conception of the unity of truth, this conclusion may follow cogently enough. But why does it matter? Why could not the unifying goal of university teaching be accomplished as well by cultivating students’ intellectual capacities through teaching partially distorted subjects as through teaching properly located and defined subjects? Couldn’t one achieve the same goal teaching anything? No, because of the specific character of the goal that teaching seeks for its own sake: intellectual excellence. As we have seen, intellectual excellence centers on capacities to locate critically and clearly each subject matter in the broadest possible frame of reference. It is impossible to cultivate such capacities by teaching students when the principle of comprehensiveness is violated in the selection of subjects taught.
As we have seen, Newman has derived the unity of a university’s curriculum from the goal of its teaching. Granted, coherence among the several sciences that constitute the subjects taught in a university corresponds to the coherence of reality or, as Newman prefers to put it, Truth. That is, the unity of the sciences is warranted by Newman’s metaphysical vision. However, their place and unity precisely as a university’s course of study are warranted only by reference to the goal of university teaching -- that is, the cultivation for its own sake of intellectual excellence. Neither place nor unity is grounded in considerations of method of inquiry. No one science’s method is granted hegemony such that a subject matter can demonstrate its right to be part of the university curriculum merely by displaying its use of a privileged "scientific method." Nor may the unity of the curriculum be achieved by negotiations among subjects that autonomously define their own methods and agendas. Rather, sciences are licensed to a place in the curriculum by the demonstrable connection between teaching them as subjects, on the one hand, and the cultivation of students’ intellectual capacities and the enlargement or breadth of their frames of reference, on the other. Diverse subjects are unified into a single course of studies precisely by the end to which they are taught: the cultivation of intellectual excellence. We may find Newman’s metaphysical vision and his view of the unity of truth problematical, but his way of relativizing methods of inquiry and the pretensions of subject matter to central importance while finding a source of unity for a school’s intellectual work is instructive.
The material difficulties with Newman’s entire project, however, are urgent. They are generated by the distinct type of abstractness that affects Newman’s thinking -- namely, a theorizing about university teaching that is entirely abstracted from the concrete cultural setting of the "values" judged to characterize intellectual excellence and deemed worthy of cultivating for their own sake. These values are celebrated in total abstraction from any consideration of the concrete social setting of the actual lives of those who are to be educated, and also in abstraction from any consideration of the concrete setting of Newman himself. We have learned from the hermeneutics of suspicion to suspect such abstractions of being "innocent theorizing" -- innocent, that is, of any self-suspicion that they might be ideologically skewed.
This abstractness is signaled by a passage we have already quoted:
Liberal Education makes not the Christian, not the Catholic, but the gentleman. It is well to be a gentleman, it is well to have a cultivated intellect, a delicate taste, a candid, equitable, dispassionate mind, a noble and courteous bearing in the conduct of life....
The virtues that constitute intellectual excellence turn out be identical with the excellence that makes one a "gentleman." It is a remarkable coincidence, and a troubling one. "Gentleman," after all, is a social status defined by very particular socioeconomic conditions. In Newman’s mid-nineteenth-century British setting, it was a status limited to (a) males, who (b) were enfranchised to vote, and whose material resources were large enough both (c) to free them from the necessity of investing time and energy to support themselves so that they might invest time and energy providing leadership in public affairs, and (d) to free them from narrow use of their intellectual capacities in commercial and professional work so that instead they might enlarge their intellectual capacities for their own sake. One requires considerable material resources to be sufficiently free from the practical demands of the workaday world to be able to devote oneself to cultivating intellect, a "delicate taste," a "candid, equitable, dispassionate mind," and a "noble and courteous bearing." Only young men with access to such resources could afford Newman’s university teaching. It is not surprising that members of such a class, including Newman himself, would select just those values as the marks of an excellence worth cultivating for its own sake, the excellence of a gentleman.
It is troubling that these values that mark the excellence of a gentleman turn out also to be the virtues marking intellectual excellence. The identification of the virtues that mark intellectual excellence ought to be warranted, not by the accidents of socio-economic status that privilege a few, but by a picture of human rationality that applies to all persons. That is exactly what Newman claims to do. He thinks of human rationality as "the power of viewing many things at once as one whole, of referring them severally to their true place in the universal system, of understanding their respective values, and determining their mutual dependence". As we have seen, he holds that our capacities do not empower us to view things as a whole all at once intuitively. Rather, we build up this view of things "piecemeal" by a process of "going round an object" and comparing, correcting, and combining "many partial notions". Human rationality, then, is a set of capacities for a process of ascent from a multitude of particular and partial notions to more general and fundamental principles that order those notions into a picture of things "as one whole." "We must generalize, we must reduce to method, we must have a grasp of principles, and group and shape our acquisitions by means of them," Newman argues. Given this picture of rationality, it follows that the virtues characterizing intellectual excellence include clarity in generalization, even-handedness and fairness in assessing conflicting arguments, breadth of frame of reference in locating and interrelating facts, and sound critical judgment in identifying fundamental principles. But why the remarkable coincidence that makes this way of identifying intellectual virtue so troublingly like ideological justification of the values of a cultural elite established by prevailing socioeconomic power arrangements?
The answer, I suggest, lies in a largely assumed view of the essence of human nature that embraces Newman’s more explicit view of human rationality. There are two notable features of this view of human personhood. First, the defining feature of specifically human being is the capacity to know by contemplation. Newman cites Cicero to the effect that knowledge is "the very first object to which we are attracted, after the supply of our physical wants." The desire to supply physical wants, after all, is common to all types of living beings. What is distinctive to human beings is "the pursuit of Knowledge for its own sake". "Knowing," in turn, is consistently construed by Newman as a contemplative act, an act more like intellectual seeing than like bodily "doing" to accomplish a further end:
for I suppose Science and Philosophy, in their elementary idea, are nothing else but this habit of viewing, as it may be called, the objects which sense conveys to the mind, of throwing them into system, and uniting and stamping them with one form.
Furthermore, to say that we do this for its own sake is to say that "contemplative" seeing is enjoyable rather than fruitful for other ends. For this distinction Newman quotes Aristotle: "By fruitful, I mean, which yield revenue; by enjoyable, where nothing accrues of consequence beyond the using."5 Accordingly, an education suited precisely to the defining characteristic of our humanity will be a cultivation of contemplative capacities for knowing for its own sake and not for any practical utility. The overlap with paideia as a model for excellent schooling is obvious.
The second salient feature of this view of human personhood is the way in which it understands human sociality. According to this view, we are constituted by an intersubjectivity to which institutional structures are accidental and extraneous. It is not that Newman denies the reality of economic and political power arrangements, either in society as a whole or in a particular community like a school. Rather, such institutional realities have no intrinsic bearing on what it is to be a human person -- nor, more particularly, on what it is to be rational. Such seems to be the assumption behind a curious passage in which Newman says that if he had to choose between a "so-called University" that dispensed with a residential community and a university "which had no professors or examinations at all, but merely brought a number of young men together for three or four years, and then sent them away", he would unhesitatingly choose the latter. Why? Because, entirely in the absence of any institutional structures, human intersubjectivity is such that the "youthful community will constitute a whole.... It will give birth to a living teaching, which in course of time will take the shape of a selfperpetuating tradition, or a genius loci . . . which imbues and forms, more or less, and one by one, every individual who is successively brought under its shadow". That human persons are social animals is manifested in the creation of traditions; but, Newman seems to assume, traditions can be understood independently of concrete structuring of social power.
In this view, human persons are not understood as agents sharing a public space defined by the structure and dynamics of political, economic, and social power but as contemplators sharing a space defined by an intellectual tradition that is independent of the realities of social power. If human agency is subordinated to contemplation in the essential structure of human being, it is not surprising that Newman should separate cultivation of capacities for contemplation from active research, nor that he should separate education of the intellect from moral formation. If contemplative capacities are more basic to our humanity than are competencies for intentional action, it is not surprising that Newman’s idea of teaching should privilege intellectual values that correlate with political, economic, and social privilege. Nor is it surprising that his idea of teaching, while focusing on critical capacities, does not call for self-critical capacities. It is a picture of human being that comports all too comfortably with the socially privileged, whose lives can be ordered by values that apparently (but only apparently) transcend the pressures generated by society’s arrangement of power; and these are values that do not tend to excite critical analysis of those very arrangements.
From our historical distance the pathos of this "innocent theorizing" is easy to spot. It would be anachronistically unfair to belabor Newman for it. But such "innocent theorizing" does caution us regarding current reflections on the idea of theological education. Proposals about what makes theological education theological dare not pretend to independence of persons’ social location and institutions’ interest. If, following Newman, it is suggested (1) that the unity of a theological school’s education lies in the end to which it is ordered, (2) that this end is pursued for its own sake and not for any further practical consequences, (3) that precisely for that reason it gives the theological school a public calling and mission, and (4) that this view does justice to the pluralism characterizing theological schools, how shall we avoid the abstractness and ideological bias illustrated by Newman’s lectures? Our analysis of these difficulties with Newman’s arguments suggests that the answer lies in large part in careful attention to assumptions about human nature. A commitment to keep the discussion of theological schools as concrete as possible, passing through their concrete pluralism rather than transcendentally flying over them by way of abstractions, must be accompanied by a view of human nature that honors the social concreteness of human persons.
Paideia and Excellence in Theological Schooling
Paideia is an unavoidable model of excellence for theological schools today in North America. We have seen that this is true for historical reasons. Christianity has been pictured as a kind of paideia for so long that the picture is firmly grounded in the deepest level that an archaeological dig can reach. Simply to characterize a school as a "Christian" theological school is to invoke this picture. This is true despite the fact, as we shall see in the next chapter, that paideia has until recently never been explicitly lifted up as the model of excellent schooling in North American studies that explore what theological schools are and should be.
Granted that, it will be well to keep in mind these major cautionary lessons to be learned from our review of the lineaments of the "Athens" type in its modern form:
• that it is a particularly powerful model by which to analyze theological education basically, not in terms of its curriculum nor in terms of the dynamics of its educational processes, but in terms of its overarching goal or purpose;
• that it is particularly illuminating to analyze specifically Christian theological education, not in terms of the overarching purpose of conveying information or well-warranted truths to students, but in terms of helping them become formed (or in-formed) by certain dispositions to act in certain ways (including actions associated with thought and speech);
• that this makes it particularly important to be attentive to the view of human personhood whose validity is assumed by various proposals about how to understand theological education;
• and, finally, that it is especially important to employ views of human personhood and of institutions such as schools that do not inappropriately abstract them from the factors that help make them the concretely particular realities they are, including such factors as their historical, cultural, social, and economic locations.
1. Newman, The Idea of a University (New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1899).
2. Newman, subsequent citations will be made parenthetically in the text.
3. Newman, "Athens": Unity and Pluralism in the Current Discussion
4. Newman, "Athens": Unity and Pluralism in the Current Discussion
5. Newman, quoting Aristotle, Rhetoric 1.5.
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