Can Catholics, Roman or Otherwise, be Scholars?

C. Michael Patton over at the “Parchment and Pen” blog has written a post where he states that he doubts that Catholics are able to be scholars, or at least honest ones. He writes:

 I don’t believe one can be a true Roman Catholic and a scholar at the same time. Why? Because being a Roman Catholic militates against what makes someone a scholar in my opinion.

What is it about true scholarship that Patton finds is incongruent with Catholicism? Doubt. Because Catholics cannot doubt the Magisterium, says Patton, we cannot be true scholars. I think his post has been met with several good critiques in the comments that I do not think he has handled, specifically by Bryan Cross (of Called to Communion Fame) and Frank Beckwith. If I can quote Bryan here, I think he has hit the nail on the head with respect to Patton’s post:

Your position eliminates all *Christian* theological scholarship, insofar as anyone attempts to engage in theological research while taking as a given any theological proposition. In other words, it instantly eliminates from the canon of scholarship any piece of work (Protestant or Catholic) that takes any theological claim (e.g. Jesus is God, the Bible is true, etc.) as a given. In that respect, you’ve just destroyed the possibility of all *Christian* scholarship.

Patton, in looking to score points against Catholics, has used an argument that could just as easily be used by someone who is not a Christian against Christians who study Christianity.

Jeremy at “Unsettled Christianitywrote a post in response to this wherein he quotes Donum Veritatis (On the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian). The document handles just what it means for a theologian to doubt Magisterial teaching and what sorts of things go on in that situation.

Brian LePort responds on his blog “Near Emmaus” with a post entitled “Roman Catholics cannot be scholars?! If so, then neither can most evangelicals.” On top of listing a number of great Catholic scholars (and to his list I would add people like my adviser, Blake Leyerle, John Cavadini, Brian Daley, Robin Darling Young, Paul Griffiths, Reinhard Hütter, and a whole host of others), he makes a great point with two questions and answers:

Would the University of Notre Dame employ an accomplished evangelical scholar? Sure. Would Wheaton College employ a Roman Catholic scholar? No.

Not only would we here at ND employ Evangelical and other non-Catholic scholars, we do so! Even in the theology department! The kind of dialogue we have here at Notre Dame is fantastic. Some of the people with whom I have grown close in the last year, students and faculty, are Protestants. Did I get this sort of interaction while a student at Southeastern Baptist? Of course not. Would Southeastern Baptist ever think to hire a Catholic to teach Hebrew or Greek or Church history? Not in a million years.

Patton’s arguments are ridiculous, but they have been handled both in the comments on his own blog and on the websites of others. If I respond at all, it will be to one aspect of his post, the idea of Luther’s “doubt.” Luther undoubtedly doubted himself at some points, but we have claims to authority from his very hand that would be absolutely shocking if a Pope were to claim the same thing.


Filed under Catholicism

3 responses to “Can Catholics, Roman or Otherwise, be Scholars?

  1. Thanks for the link. I only hope people don’t start to take me for a dissenting Catholic theologian :). I was just trying to make a point.

  2. Pingback: The inconsistency of an evangelical apologist (or stop trying to insult our Roman Catholic friends). | Near Emmaus

  3. Pingback: Biblical Studies Carnival September 2011 Episode II: The Biblioblogs Strike Back « Exploring Our Matrix

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