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Interview

Deacon Douglas McManaman talks about theology and cites some books.

Deacon Douglas McManaman talks about studying theology, and how it ties in with philosophy...

READERSVOICE.COM: Does theology ever cloud over what you could get just reading the Bible, or raise more questions than it answers, or even start fights?

DOUGLAS MCMANAMAN: It hasn’t started any fights in my life, at least not with fellow believers. I’ve had some pretty brutal arguments with atheists over the years, but they were not theological arguments, but moral or philosophical, i.e., around the issues of euthanasia, abortion, marriage, sex, etc.

Theology certainly raises more questions than it answers, but that’s the beauty of any great science. A great physicist once said: “science is on the frontiers of ever expanding ignorance”. In other words, the more we learn about the universe, the more we discover how much we don’t know and how much more there is to know. This experience is especially the case with theology.

The more we learn about God, the more we realize that God is the unutterable mystery. At first we think we’re swimming in a pool, soon we discover that it is much larger than a pool, but eventually we discover we are swimming in an ocean that is inexhaustible and without limits.

As for theology clouding over what one could get just reading the bible, that all depends on the theology. The bible is not something that one can just pick up and read and expect to understand. There is a historical context to each of its books, and that historical context is so important. If we neglect it, we inevitably end up with interpretations that are unfounded. For example, some people have used the bible to justify the slavery of black people.

It is also important for people to realize that we always approach the bible within an already established intellectual framework, and that framework needs to be critically examined, because it can distort a reading of the scriptures, or it can open up the scriptures.

That is why the study of philosophy is very important also. It is important to learn how to reason well, to understand the first principles of speculative reason, the basics of logic, epistemology and the philosophy of being, etc.

We must read the Scriptures prayerfully every day, but we do need a teacher, and for Catholics, the official teacher is the Magisterium of the Church. We believe She is the final interpreter of the true meaning of scripture, so if I read scripture and interpret it in a way that conflicts with basic Catholic teaching, I know that my interpretation is off.

The reason for this is that Christ established a Church, not a bible, and he commissioned the Apostles to go out to all nations and proclaim the good news, teach, govern, and sanctify, and he promised to be with them until the end of time. He also said, “he who hears you hears me” (Lk 10, 16).

Moreover, the New Testament only came into existence through the Church, and the official canon of the New Testament was established in the late fourth and early fifth centuries. And so, the theology of the great Doctors and saints of the Church will open me up to the true meaning of the scriptures.

The only thing that will cloud my understanding of the true sense of the scriptures is the blindness caused by my own sins, my inclination to sin, that is, my imperfect charity. And so in order to really grow in my understanding of the truths of scripture, I must grow in holiness and charity, and a very important virtue of the intellect is docility, which is the ability to learn from others, in particular those who are greater than me, holier and wiser.

We are so fortunate, because we are surrounded by such great people who, although they might have lived among us centuries ago, they are alive in Christ and their wisdom has been preserved. I refer, of course, to the Fathers of the Church, the great Doctors and Saints.

RV: After a long time studying theology, did you find that your interests were distilled to a certain aspect of theology, or even simplified in some way?

DMc: I am mainly interested in theology that is going to help me in the classroom and in my ministry as a Deacon of the Church. Young people love to know about the happiness of heaven, as well as anything that helps to give them an overall perspective, to help them make sense out of life.

I tend to read a lot about the meaning of suffering, its redemptive value, and its relation to Christ and his Passion, since I deal with people who undergo the worst suffering, namely mental illness.

RV: Are most students of theology studying it with the intention of becoming priests or religious education teachers, or are there a lot of people just interested in learning more about theological matters?

DMc: I think most people are studying theology just because they are interested in learning more about it, that is, they want to come to a more profound understanding of their faith. I don’t think most are studying to be priests.

RV: I heard that Pope Benedict comes from an academic theological background. Did he have a specialty or special area of interest?

DMc: Pope Benedict is a brilliant theologian. He is extremely erudite. I’m not sure if he has a special area. He seems to focus on Fundamental Catholic theology, or Dogmatic theology.

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-copyright Simon Sandall.

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