When I was in graduate school, I had a professor whose classes I really enjoyed taking, despite the fact that he was staunchly Anglican. Part of what made his classes so enjoyable was that he took delight in my equally-staunch Catholicism; we regularly had friendly disputes during discussion and at least when it came to studying the Church Fathers, for the most part we spoke the same “language.”
But one day, he assigned an article by an Anglican woman who had decided that Scholastics were the Enemies of Theology. By her analysis, scholasticism was simply the exercise of nit-picking God. She pointed to the classic (and completely fabricated question) “how many angels could dance on the head of the pin?” as proof that all scholastics were far more fascinated by their own intellect than they were by God.
I believe I uttered the phrase, “My Thomistic heart is bleeding right now…” during our discussion section, which elicited a hearty laugh from the professor. But I continued: “Scholasticism isn’t about nit-picking God! She has it all wrong. Scholasticism is about harnessing all of our natural instincts to ask ‘Why?’ in the face of something we don’t understand.”
I don’t remember how the rest of that conversation went. The rest of the class (mostly Baptists, UCC and UU ministers-in-training) were not all that interested.
Yet this exchange has stayed with me. And it resonates with me every single day… because I have toddlers.
How many parents have experienced the endless, “Why? Why? Why? But Why?” The answer is: All of them. It’s not that children are being impertinent when they ask so many questions. It’s simple proof that the world is strange and new and exciting and they want to learn everything they can about how and why life works the way it does.
Scholasticism is simply that endless stream of “Why”s– for grown-ups. If you think about it, we’re all born to be tiny little scholastics. The challenge is simply to maintain that childlike curiosity that seems to dwindle throughout life. Far from indicating a lack of interest in God, scholasticism is about harnessing the God-given gift of our intellect to plunge deeper and deeper into the Mystery of Life Himself. It’s about standing before God and wanting to ask Him things about Himself. It’s about being like children: not only innocent in sin, but wide-eyed and curious about the glory of our Maker. As finite beings, there is no end to the questions we can ask– and answer– about God. Even in heaven, if we are so blessed as to partake in the Beatific Vision, there will never be an end to our questions, for there will always be more God for us to know.
Fortunately, God the Father is incredibly patient and unlike we sinful earthly parents, He will never tire of our constant “Why?” and He will never cease to take delight in the efforts of all of His children as they come to know and love Him in the way He made them to do.
“Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” — Mt 19:14, NASB