- written by seminary-college senior Tanner Martin
Usually, when I tell someone that I’m studying philosophy while in the seminary, he or she tries to ask in the nicest possible way, “Why philosophy?” when they probably want to ask, “What’s the point of a seminarian learning philosophy?” To be completely honest, I had a similar mentality towards the subject before I entered seminary.
Philosophers always seemed to me to be those people that questioned absolutely everything - too often to the point of frustration of those around them. (Take for example Socrates who was exiled from time to time and eventually put to death.) Philosophers question the existence of God, whether we actually know anything, or if we even exist all together. Now, most people in life don’t go as far as to question his or her own existence, but this questioning reflects a greater beauty in all humanity: the beauty of seeking truth.
In college seminary, there are two tracks of philosophy courses that we follow. The first track is a timeline of the progression of philosophical thought, i.e. starting with Ancient Philosophy, followed by Medieval Philosophy, then Modern Philosophy, and ending with Contemporary Philosophy. The other track is more of a topical layout of philosophy with courses such as Ethics, Philosophy of Human Nature, Metaphysics, Epistemology, Natural Theology, etc.
Philosophical answers on how the world works vary from one extreme to the other. You have empiricists, rationalists, materialists, immaterialists, realists, idealists, relativists, utilitarians, and on and on. (Take it from me, it can be quite a chore to keep all of these philosophical categories in order).
Now this sounds great and all, but why should college seminarians have to study philosophy? There are a few answers, but I attribute it to the wisdom of Holy Mother Church. The Church recognizes that the people of God are as varied as the different philosophical perspectives of the world. Some lean Descartes, some are like Aquinas, and some understand as Hume did. Yet, one day when I’m ministering to someone as a priest, I have to be able to try to understand the world through the various lenses of the minds of the people I’m serving. I’ll serve them in this way by not only leading them closer to knowledge, but ultimately to The Truth, namely, Jesus Christ.
So, while in Theology I’ll learn all about the Trinity, the Incarnation of Christ, Ecclesiology, the sacraments, etc., it’s with philosophy that I’ll learn the basics of human thought. It’s with knowledge of philosophy that I’ll be able to serve all of the people of God regardless of how they understand the world. It’s a service to all in the same manner as Jesus Christ.