My first love was literature – novels and poetry. As a child, I loved storybooks, mysteries and adventures.
In grade school, I was made to memorise poetry and loved the exercise. High school introduced me to more serious literature: Shakespeare, Kipling, Keats, Wordsworth, Browning. On the side, I still read storybooks, cowboy tales from the old West, taken from my Dad’s bookshelf.
During my undergraduate years, literature was a major part of the curriculum and I learned then that literature wasn’t just about stories, but also about social and religious commentary, as well as about form and beauty as ends in themselves.
In classes then we read classic novels: Nineteen Eighty-Four, Lord of the Flies, Heart of Darkness, The Heart of the Matter, East of Eden. The curriculum at that time in Canada heavily favoured British writers. Only later, on my own, would I discover the richness in Canadian, American, African, Indian, Russian and Swedish writers.
I had been solidly catechised in my youth and, while the catechism held my faith, literature held my theology. But after literature came philosophy. As part of preparation for ordination we were required to do a degree in philosophy. I was blessed with some fine teachers and fell into first fervour in terms of my love of the subject. The courses then heavily favoured scholasticism, but we were also given a sound history of philosophy and a basic grounding in existentialism and some of the contemporary philosophical movements. I was smitten: philosophy became my theology.
But after our philosophical studies, we were then required to take a four-year degree in theology. Again, I was blessed with good teachers and blessed to be studying theology just as Vatican II and a rich new theological scholarship was beginning to penetrate theological schools and seminaries. There was theological excitement aplenty, and I shared in it. In Catholic circles, we were reading Congar, Rahner, Schillebeeckx, Schnackenburg and Raymond Brown. Protestant circles were giving us Barth, Tillich, Niebuhr and a bevy of wonderful Scripture scholars.
How to continue reading…
This article appears in the Catholic Herald magazine - to read it in full subscribe to our digital edition from just 30p a week
The Catholic Herald is your essential weekly guide to the Catholic world; latest news, incisive opinion, expert analysis and spiritual reflection