• November 13, 2008
{mosimage}TORONTO - Theology students have an important role to play in a society that continues to advocate relativism, Professor Edward J. Monahan told graduating students from the University of St. Michael’s College at its Nov. 8 convocation.

Monahan  and two other professors — William J. Smyth and Janine Langan — were awarded with honorary doctorates, the Doctor of Sacred Letters.
Monahan, formerly president of Laurentian University in Sudbury and former executive director/president of the Council of Ontario Universities, was recognized for his career of service to higher education in Ontario. Smyth was recognized for his accomplishments as the first president of the National University of Ireland, Maynooth, for his accomplishments as a scholar and administrator, but also to highlight the 30th anniversary of St. Mike’s Celtic Studies Program, since he is a long time supporter of that program. Langan received the honour for her contributions to St. Michael’s as a founder and co-ordinator of the Christianity and Culture Program and as a teacher with a profound commitment to the college’ mission.

In his address, Monahan stressed that the advent of relativism, or “double truth,”  posed the greatest problem for those studying theology because it caused church leaders as early as 1274 to condemn certain propositions as heretical and forbid them from the classroom, including several propositions by Thomas Aquinas. Before Vatican II, Monahan said, many Catholic colleges and universities taught philosophy and theology using textbooks that “proved” the falsity of certain propositions, but at St. Mike’s, that wasn’t the case.

“Here I was privileged to receive an academic formation that included both philosophy and theology. We read primary sources and sought to understand them,” he said. “Today, this is what most students of theology do and with better research tools.”

Monahan acknowledged the need for ecclesiastical authority to defend orthodoxy, especially when Catholic doctrine confronts new cultural environments. But, he added, that should not prevent theology students from conducting their own examinations.

“As one whose career has been spent in the university community, with a copy of Newman’s Idea of a University as a constant companion, I urge that theologians and other Catholic scholars be granted wide discretion in the pursuit of their work with no subject ruled out of bounds,” he said. “This is very important today when we know so much and are constantly learning more yet continue to understand so little.”

He emphasized that culture often plays a role in determining how the church will act, peppering history with events that sometimes pose obstacles in dialogue today, such as the Crusades.

“I cite this history not to judge whether the church authorities acted rightly or wrongly, only to observe the very real difficulties of correctly understanding the meaning of the Catholic faith when dealing with new ideas arriving from different cultures,” he said.

He said that for “more than a millennium,” the church held a narrow understanding of human rights. An example of how it has overcome this point, he said, is that the study of theology is no longer exclusive to men preparing to become priests, a development St. Michael’s has in turn “played a significant role in.”

“Believers who address these issues face a major task, one that involves distinguishing essential faith elements from the cultural envelope in which they are wrapped,” he said.

The convocation ceremony conferred about 94 doctors of philosophy and theology, MAs in theology, divinity, religious education and Catholic leadership diplomas in religious education and Eastern Christian studies, and certificates for specialization in theology and ecology, corporate social responsibility, youth ministry studies, Ontario Catholic school chaplaincy studies and Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.

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