Stephen Dolan is a final year Scottish PhD candidate studying the relationship between Christianity and Politics in contemporary Hungary, and is also an experienced Undergraduate tutor at the University of Edinburgh.
Modern Britain is not a very Catholic place, nor even a very religious place. Poll after poll shows the decline of Church attendance, the changes in demographics, the closing of parishes and the proclaimed ‘death of religion’. Yet, there is a quietly stirring curiosity in the ashes of religious Britain, a yearning, a curiosity, a growing appetite for the deep theological questions that should surely have passed with the religious nature of Britain itself.
Within its university divinity departments, I witness ever larger groups of young adults emerge from schools curious for a new type of theology, a new type of learning that is related more closely to the theological manuals of St. Thomas Aquinas than to the standardised textbooks of high school education. Rather than a desire to simply learn the ‘party line’, students are pushing the teachers to answer new questions, re-evaluate established theological assumptions, and open the field of theology to a more complex and nuanced world that young people interact with daily through technology.
These new questions are not a threat. Rather, the desire to continually engage with and better communicate the truth is a hallmark of the Catholic worldview. The Church’s history tells of the countless saints who travelled to meet the unknown, to evangelise and communicate the truths of the gospel to new peoples and communities. Answering new questions or engaging with new ways of thinking can be an opportunity to deepen our understanding of the truths of the Catholic Faith.
St Thomas’ Summa is the epitome of such a philosophy. An inquisitive question, or an earnest challenge provides an opportunity for a nuanced answer, and in the process, an opportunity for the truth to shine forth. This Catholic approach to learning is emerging in the enthusiastic young adults in divinity departments throughout the UK. Learning through enquiry, through asking difficult questions of yourself and of each other leads to a better answer. Even if Christian Britain’s time is up, the Catholic way of learning is blossoming once again.