By Dr L Franchi, School of Education, University of Glasgow
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The need for Catholic teachers to have a sound theological education would seem to be self-evident. The reality, however, might be quite different: the avalanche of initiatives which covers contemporary educational practice has left little breathing space for study of areas which are not covered explicitly by such fraught and fluid terms like Professional Skills. With such a paucity of meaningful opportunities for ongoing study of perennial theological questions, we now need to re-emphasise why Catholic teachers should avail themselves of every opportunity to drink from the wells of theology.
Why is this important?
- As we know, authentic Catholic schools should aim to develop an educational culture which is holistic and, in the classic educational sense, liberal. This forward-thinking requires a host of people with sufficient knowledge of the rungs on the theological ladder as well as deep engagement with the Catholic intellectual tradition. The theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity are the bedrock of this endeavour. Their implementation requires both theological fluency and pedagogical nuance.
- Effective Catholic schools need a corps of teachers who have an appropriate standard of theological knowledge. They will thus be equipped to locate their professional vocation in the fertile field of the lay apostolate, opening new and exciting horizons for those who wish to develop the Church’s educational mission. While Catholic teachers are not normally called to scholarship in theological matters, the important work of teaching is informed by theological insights.
Such high ideals will remain ‘on paper’ unless Catholic educators plan collegially a suitable way ahead. I make two suggestions:
- There is a need to devise an INSET curriculum of theological topics which should be examined by schools over a set period. In this scenario, each INSET day will have time reserved for some study of a selected theological topic. Whether this is done on a national or diocesan level is another question: what matters is a firm commitment to move the agenda in this direction.
- While all Catholic teachers have an obligation to develop their theological knowledge as part of their professional identity, specialist teachers of Religious Education should be supported (by schools / dioceses) to gain Higher Degrees in the subject area. This, of course, requires Catholic Higher Education bodies to offer sufficiently flexible opportunities for further study.
Theological study can be easily caricatured as the solitary study of desiccated volumes from the hands of long dead men and women. We need to change the image: serious theological study, I suggest, is to immerse oneself in the Church’s living traditions. It is rooted first and foremost in love of the liturgy and in engagement with the wider life of the Church. As such, it is a major strand of the New Evangelisation project, with significant potential for the integral development of Catholic teachers as they seek to develop a culture of encounter in the world of education.
Onwards: Lex orandi, lex credendi.