One of the privileges of studying theology within the clerical formation programs of the Catholic Church is that you get to study philosophy first. For at least three years. This can seem interesting and exciting when you’re immersed in it—it certainly hones the intellect for debate. At other times it can seem soul-crushing and destroying—what has this nitpicking linguistic analysis got to do with preparing me to preach the gospel?
In retrospect, the true extent of the privilege becomes clearer: when it comes time to study theology, the pupil has been primed to interpret, to be able to remove words and concepts from the meaning foisted on them by the gut, to separate them from their inherited baggage and to begin to detect where contemporary religious ideology and real thought might begin to diverge, and how to follow the latter.
James Alison is the author of Broken Hearts and New Creations: Intimations of a Great Reversal (Continuum) and a forthcoming adult introduction to the Christian faith, The Forgiving Victim: An Induction into Christian Vulnerability.