The “older guys” in my department all went through seminary training, even if they are not priests – and they learned a particular kind of Thomism and a broad and deep swath of theology that I, even six years out from earning a PhD do not know. They read a lot. My doktorvater, Stanley Hauerwas, writes extensively of all the books he read as an undergraduate, and while in seminary and doctoral work at Yale University (in his book, Hannah’s Child).
If I were to come up with such a list it would not be quite so extensive, and I think with this current generation of students I teach, it would be even less so. I don’t remember most of what I read (which is probably telling – though I was a biochemistry major for much of my college career and the books were 50 pound tomes that would now be out of date). I do remember that I read Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish, not just once, but four times. And I find it interesting that as a medieval history major, I read a lot of saints’ lives and Jacques LeGoff’s work on purgatory but never once cracked open Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica, nor knew it was there. I credit my great advisor with the fact that I read Augustine’s Confessions, a book that my students now say is too hard – and trully, they don’t have the skills to read it in the way I think even my own generation could do.
In seminary, there was more engagement with primary texts: I read scripture, Calvin, Barth, Wesley. But those were far outweighed by reading critiques – feminist, post-modern and otherwise. In doctoral work, I did far more reading of “the tradition” but by then, I had already been formed by my Foucauldian upbringing to be suspicious and critical, not to read broadly and widely.
This is not to criticize the amazing and brilliant people I studied with, but is rather to point out that my education was almost the reverse of what other previous generations, including Fr. Weinandy, did: I began with the critiques, in an academic system that was peopled by those who had critiques – and added in the works people were critiquing only later. I didn’t see that this was what was happening till I was in doctoral work myself, and now I’m trying to catch up, as fast as I can. So when Weinandy discusses that theologians are not grounded in church teaching – I’d wonder if what it really is, is this loss of Catholic intellectual life that supported church teaching in ways that intellectual life no longer does.
I've taken all of two college level theology classes in my life, so I'm not in any position to say how well this describes that discipline, but it does ring true with my experiences in the humanities. However incisive critiques may be, it strikes me that an education based primarily on critiques and not on the works that are being critiqued will often become very narrow, and also so specialized as drift away from any contact with the wider intellectual life.