A long time ago, the Summa Momma had a blog.
I've preserved some of the most popular posts here.
I've preserved some of the most popular posts here.
I recently had a friend ask:
At what level of academia would it be correct/fitting/appropriate to call oneself a theologian?
Here was my first response:
I have a perhaps unpopular view on that, which is 1) education has almost no bearing on whether one is/isn't a theologian proper 2) it is only appropriate to refer to oneself as a theologian if someone else has used the term for first... And then only sparingly. I'd resort to "Catholic author/writer/apologist." But I think this betrays my view on theology in general, which is completely removed from academia and what elites like to call "theology" today.
The context for this question was an individual who was appealing to their "theologian" credentials in order to win a debate, yet it has prompted further reflection on a question that I frequently pondered during graduate school:
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A THEOLOGIAN?
When I first posted my blogger profile (it seems so long ago!) I wrote that I am a "wife, mother and theologian-in-training." I've had multiple discussions with my husband about how I feel uncomfortable claiming the title of 'theologian,' despite having two degrees in the subject. For starters, it seems that even a master's degree isn't sufficient to be considered a 'master' anymore-- and that's not unique to academic theology. One wouldn't claim the title "anthropologist" or "linguist" with just a master's degree, would they? As I see it these days, it's a doctorate or nothing; but, I have to admit that my overall hesitancy lies less in the academic realm and more in the religious.
In my heart, I understand 'theologian' to be something quite different from one who has studied theology. Rather, one has to practice theology in order to be a theologian. But again, this practice cannot be merely academic. It must be lived. What does this entail? I seem to remember a professor at some point saying Augustine defined the theologian as "the one who prays best." Forgive me for not perusing the entire Augustinian corpus to verify this, but admittedly I have incorporated it into my thoughts on theology.
This means that the theologian, properly speaking, is one who has a committed prayer life, pursues virtue, goodness and all that is holy and sees his/her life and work as a prayer to God.
My view also hinges on the fact that "theology" can be understood in many different ways. One can look at it as merely one academic discipline among many others. Or it can be The Science, which all other disciplines serve. Yet, theology can also simply refer to the beautifully complex reciprocal relationship of love between God and man. The word breaks down (simplistically) to "God-speak," which not only means our speech about God and to God, but it also encompasses God's speech to us through conversation in prayer, the sacraments and Sacred Scripture.
You can see why I might think that calling oneself a 'theologian' is not to be taken lightly.
But with this sort of definition, we can see becoming 'theologians' is a task given to all of us. Some may pursue it more academically than others, but we are all called to pray, to live our lives as holy as possible and to enter into a loving relationship with God. At its most basic level, being a "theologian" can simply mean: being a saint.
We are all called to be saints, but the saints would be the first to tell us that this is a process and we must use our time here to train to become holy. Paul uses the analogy of Christian life as the life of an athlete in training. He says:
"Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win. Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one." (1 Cor 9:24-25)
When I wrote my original profile, it read "theologian-in-training," but as time has passed, I've realized that I'm not just a theologian-in-training, but I am also a wife-in-training and a mother-in-training and quite literally I am still a Dominican-in-training. I am these things by virtue of having a husband and having children and having made promises within the Order, but I am also called to become more fully a wife, mother and Lay Dominican with each passing day. These are vocations-- they are paths to holiness-- and simply being a 'wife' doesn't mean that I know how to be a good one. It takes practice, patience, discipline, commitment to my vows, a willingness to let my husband help me become a better wife (and vice versa) and a firm trust in God to help me along this path.
If we understand every aspect of our lives to be wrapped up in this idea of training to truly become wives/husbands, mothers/fathers, theologians (add: teachers, writers, scientists, doctors, engineers, etc.) then we understand what this life is about.
I am: "myself-in-training." We are all "saints-in-training."
So to go back to the original question of when someone can call themselves a "theologian," I confess I remain a bit agnostic on the issue. Certainly someone with a doctorate in theology might want (or even feel the need) to claim the title on a CV or a journal article. In an academic sense, they have earned it. Yet many Doctors of the Church never earned degrees of any sort, let alone in theology. And someone with a doctorate can be very, very wrong about the Truths of God-- shall we still call them a theologian? I am happy to let my credentialed-colleagues duke it out on this one. I will remain comfortably on the sidelines and assert that Being a Theologian, in the sense of Being One Who Talks With and Listens to God, is something to which we must all aspire, regardless of academics. It is THE goal of all of our training in every aspect of life to Be With God. So while we are all called to be theologians, I think very few of us can ever properly be called Theologians. And that's humbling, especially for those of us who have studied theology, but it is right.
At the end of the day-- perhaps more importantly, at the end of our lives-- your academic credentials, the titles you've been given, the titles you've tried to live up to and the titles you've failed to achieve, they all count for nothing. So just keep training. Strive and push yourself to live every aspect of life as a humble, holy pursuit of God, so that you will be blessed to say with Paul and all the saints:
"I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith." (2 Tim 4:7)
So, what's on your training schedule for today?
A few years ago, I was part of a (very (very)) small preschool co-op. The kids were three and four years old and we met twice a week for handwriting/reading, math, religion, story-time and craft. My main duties were religion and craft, which for the sake of convenience and consistency we decided would usually go together. In the former area I happen to have a bachelor's and master's degree. The latter: not so much.
I haven't done any extensive study of Maria Montessori and her method, nor am I trained in the related "Catechesis of the Good Shepherd" program, but I've been blessed to know enough people who are so I can parrot back some simple phrases like "whole-child education" and "learning through manipulatives." It was this tactile, playful approach that I really wanted to explore when I incorporated craft time into our religion sessions. I wanted to give the kids foundational things like saints' stories, sacraments, memorizing prayers and understanding the liturgical year, but let's face it: a lot of those things are abstract even for adults! So as the weeks went by, I kept finding myself more and more challenged to find crafts that would engage the children's minds, hearts and senses.
One of my best classes was when we "baptized" a baby doll, some time around the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Both of the kids in the co-op had baby siblings at the time and both displayed incredible parenting instincts even as toddlers, so they relished the occasion of being able to name the baby, profess the faith and yes-- thrice pour water over that baby doll's head. They talked about it for weeks afterward and kept asking if we could do it again (no, sorry. Baptism is a sacrament that can never be repeated), so when we got to Lent and everything turned purple again at church, I wanted a concrete way to get them excited about the changes we were going through at Mass.
So I did what any Catholic home-preschooling mom would do: I went to Catholic Icing. If you haven't discovered Lacy yet: you're welcome. I found this great post up about "Fr. Pine" and thought it was perfect! The supply list wasn't too complicated: fabric, ribbon, a cross, (turns out I needed to buy a base and glue them together), paint, glitter glue, hot glue.
...But the vestments in a lot of these pictures looked... sewn.
WHO HAS TIME FOR THAT?!?!
So of course I grabbed FELT and decided to limit myself to just the colorful chasubles and stoles (no albs or amices!). That way I didn't have to sew anything and here's how they turned out:
Not bad, if I may say so myself! It was actually rather fun to put them together and I think it probably took me about two hours of active work time to complete the project. As you can see, the chasubles were made simply by cutting rectangles (I rounded my edges, but not necessary!), folding in half and cutting the diamond shape for his "neck" to go through. Gold ribbon was hot-glued on for some, and the rest of the design was simply done with glitter glue and a relatively steady hand.
The lesson itself was very well-received by both children. During our class time we talked about the color names and some of the different symbols. Then, in order to fulfill the "manipulative" requirement I had set for myself, we played games of "dressing up" our priest for different days/seasons in the Church Year. Of course, my daughter's favourites were Gaudete/Laetare Sundays. The little boy in our group like red because it stood for blood.
But the reason I'm writing about all of this is not to give you a lesson plan (although you can certainly use it that way either in the classroom or just at home!), but to tell you how great it continues to be, having our little "priest" set up at home!
For reasons completely unfathomable to me, my daughters have yet to name this priest. They simply call him "Priest" or "Father," which I'm totally fine with. "Father" has a place of honour on top of our children's book shelf and the kids love changing his vestments, however frequently we get around to doing that. Some times I tell them what day it is and ask them to guess the color our priest should wear. Some times I tell them the color and have them tell me what the color and symbols stand for. Other times, we just have fun dressing him for the day and as they put the garments on they say: "S-s-scarf is like a S-s-stole!"or "Chasuble is a little house!" And it always helps to prime squirmy kids before mass by getting our priest ready at home-- then, when the real live priest enters, they get excited about his vestments! They pick out the colors hanging on banners or in candles or whatever else I can do to distract them. Of course, there's always the occasional curve ball: WHY ISN'T HE WEARING ROSE?!?!?!?! I'VE BEEN WAITING EIGHT MONTHS FOR THIS!!!!! -or- "This is an optional feast, so he could have picked a few different colors. Oops." But these, too, are great opportunities for teaching. I try to take them as they come... though we've already decided that we are giving our parish a set of rose vestments next year. We can't have a repeat.
But this priest doll hasn't just had an impact for the kids' experience at mass. From learning about the liturgical colors, our kids have also been able to identify certain threads in religious art. They know that saints draped in red are most often martyrs. They know that people clothed in white represent holiness, purity and grace. Purple goes with kings and people who are sorry. They've made a leap into the building-blocks for artistic literacy, which is something I believe many young people are sorely lacking in this day and age.
I highly encourage you to make your own, and as a supplement I offer you this little guide sheet which teaches about the colors, but also the decorative symbols that I've settled on in subsequent gift sets. Feel free to print and put it to good personal use!
All Askesis Avoiding Distraction Bible Catholic Kid Crafts Charisms Christian Spouses Crafts Date Night In Faith Free Download Holy Spirit Liturgical Colors Liturgical Vestments Marriage Prayer Preschool Activities Retreat Sacred Scripture Saints Spiritual Direction St. Paul Talking About God Talking To God Theology Training Vestment Symbolism