The Place of Theology in a Jesuit University

In The Constitutions of the Society of Jesus, St. Ignatius states that, “since the purpose of the Society [of Jesus] and of its studies is to aid our fellow human beings to the knowledge and love of God and to the salvation of their souls, and since the subject of theology is the means most suited to this purpose, in the universities of the Society the principal emphasis ought to be placed on [theology]” (IV. 12.1). In turn, says Ignatius, the study of theology (scriptural, historical and systematic) requires knowledge of (1) the humanities (grammar, rhetoric, poetry, history, and classical languages), (2) the natural sciences, and (3) philosophy (logic, metaphysics, and ethics), “since they dispose the intellectual powers for theology, and are useful for the perfect understanding and use of it, and also by their own nature help toward the same ends.” The 1832 revision of the Jesuit Ratio Studiorum (“Course of Studies”) opened the way for including more recently developed disciplines, like the social sciences, into this curricular structure of Jesuit universities.

According to Christian faith, the full revelation of God is found in history: in the historical life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Therefore, by relying on the methods of literary and historical studies, the evidence from the natural and human sciences, and the insights and skills of philosophy, theology studies the Christian faith tradition for the ultimate meaning of human life in this world in light of the data yielded by all the other disciplines, thereby integrating and transcending their specific modes of inquiry.

Consequently, the curriculum of a Jesuit education must be discipline-inclusive, appropriately structured, and attentive to the contemporary human situation so that sufficient background knowledge is provided for students to reflect extensively and critically upon their origin and goal in life as spiritual/material beings within the framework of each discipline, and to integrate such reflection in the light of philosophical and theological principles. An appropriately ordered sequence of courses within the humanities, sciences, philosophy and theology are needed to enable students to attain the goal of a truly Jesuit education: the development of an integrated vision of humanity and of the world entrusted to it by a gracious God.

To be responsive to the contemporary situation of humanity in an interdependent, globalized culture, Jesuit education must also appropriate into its intellectual dynamics of inquiry and teaching the central themes that recent Jesuit legislation has articulated as central to the mission and work of the Society of Jesus: the service of faith and the promotion of justice, in dialogue with the multiplicity of humanity’s cultures and religions. Theology in a Jesuit university is thus directed also toward “a faith that does justice,” to educate “women and men for others,” persons open in dialogue to God’s self-manifestation in cultures, faith-traditions, and world-views other than their own – “ecumenical” in the fullest sense of the word.