“You do not have to be thinking of joining the religious life (priest or nun) to study theology.” This view was articulated by Fr Arnold Francis, principal and dean of studies of the BA programme at the Theological Institute of St John Vianney and the Uganda Martyrs at Mount St Benedict as he tried to correct the several misconceptions which surround the study of theology, especially the myth that such a course of study was only useful if you are looking at the religious life. He defined theology as “the study of God” and added it was also the study of how God makes us a people or faithful seeking understanding or even a quest for the ultimate truth. Fr Francis spoke to Camsel as he made his plea for more students to look at theology as a serious part of their tertiary education. Fr Francis, identifying one misconception regarding the study of theology said, “Some people believe it is just reading the bible. The bible is only the basis for the study of theology.”
He added that many of the great minds of Western civilisation studied theology and he identified St Augustine of Hippo and St Thomas Aquinas, as well as St Theresa of Avila and Martin Luther, who was partly responsible for the reformation (Protestant). Even that great American civil rights activist and preacher Martin Luther King and physicist Isaac Newton studied theology. The Bourg Mulatresse parish priest pointed out that people studying theology in Trinidad and Tobago were lay people and they might have “contributed significantly to the shaping of our social landscape–health, politics, business, medicine, media and education.” Another misconception which has taken root in the population is that to study theology you have to be a church-goer or religious person, but Fr Francis added that all were welcome to participate in the study at the seminary, whether Christian or non-Christian, a believer or non-believer. Fr Francis said, “In so many different ways people who believe in God offer so much to life.” He saw the study of theology as “life giving to humanity”. But he warned that the study of theology was very demanding and requires a minimum of six hours a week outside of the classroom for each subject.
He explained that a full degree was not mandatory because students could choose various courses of study without aspiring to gain a full degree. The programme, while being conducted by Catholic Religious Education Institute (Credi), is really a degree of the University of the West Indies (UWI). One can also seek an associate degree in Pastoral Care and these evening classes are expected to begin in September. Saying that “religion has its romantic side,” Fr Francis explained that there was need for people who can romance the faith so it becomes attractive. He said there was a difference between romance and real theology in that it keeps us from becoming fanatics. Studying theology can also be corrective, he continued, “In the sense that it can keep us from going off into a dream world and misconstruing the gospel, going beyond opinions to as close as possible to the truth that is necessary for man’s salvation.” Fr Francis, in exhorting young people, and maybe some not-so-old ones, points out that a survey carried out in London revealed that of the 80 or so undergraduates who leave Oxford University with first degrees in theology, only about six eventually enter the church (women as well and men) and a similar number train as teachers or work in higher education. The remainder goes on to take up different careers.
Catholic Media Services Limited (Camsel) is the official communications arm of the Archdiocese of Port-of-Spain. Its offices are located at 31 Independence Square (South).