Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Married to the Church: Round 1

I've been working my way through Raymond Hedin's Married to the Church (and really frustrated that Amazon hasn't shipped John Farrell's latest and the SAS programming manuals that I desperately need at work). It's in some ways an aggravating book, because Hedin so clearly doesn't get the Church. (Poor MrsDarwin is at times in danger of gnawing her arm off in frustration while reading over my shoulder.)

The first sections could alternatively have been titled "How Not to Educate a Seminarian" and focuses on the time that the author and his classmates spent in minor and major seminar in Milwaukee from 1957 to 1966. Clearly, Milwaukee has been ground zero for a lot of problems since the 60s, so it wouldn't surprise me if the seminary there was in some ways worse than most in the 50s and 60s, but in that sense it makes the book all the more interesting, in that it focuses on an extreme example.

A couple things that struck me:

-Minor seminaries just don't sound like the greatest idea. It's not so much that I doubt that a 14-year-old might well have a real vocation, as that it sounds like being on the road to being a priest for that long (14-27) in a closed environment.

-There's little worse than a mediocrity in education. The seminarians were taught in the scholastic tradition, which is good. But it sounds like their textbooks (2nd and 3rd degree removed texts written by American priests in Latin as basic trainers) weren't the best and they had very little familiarity with original texts. Everything I've ready by enthusiastic modern Thomists suggests that the Thomism of the 40s and 50s was generally ossified and seriously in need of a return to original sources. However, it sounds like as then seminary began to change in '65 and beyond, they simply dumped Thomism and the scholastic mindset as dead and outmoded, leaving the seminarians to believe (as the author seems to) that there simply wasn't anything to it in the first place. Huge loss.

-Dead monasticism. Maybe this was a function of having one long, closed seminary education from 14 till ordination, but the seminarians don't seem to have understood the semi-monastic discipline they were put under in major seminary as they prepared for the priesthood. Reading about the strictures as a 27-year-old adult in the working world (with kids and all) the idea of locking down to a routine of prayer, study, silence, mass, etc. sounds like it would be a wonderful way to get some spiritual discipline -- at least for a while. But for these college-age men, it sounds like it was mostly just an overly strict set of rules. It sounds like a lot of it stemmed from not having consciously chosen to live a life of discipline and asceticism for a while. According to the author, the feeling among the seminarians was very much that they were destined to be priests because they were simply the best that their parishes had put out. They were a cut above it all, and so they were intended to be priests. You don't get much of a feel (though I'm sure this is partly a result of the author being a lapsed Catholic) that this was seen as a genuinely religious calling which required a genuinely religious lifestyle including prayer and self-denial.

The good side:

On the positive side, although the feeling of being 'chosen' and above it all seems to have been bad for many of the seminarians, it sounds like their parishes did give a lot of positive reinforcement and encouragement to the seminarians they sent up to the diocese. Now admittedly, parishes these days are shorter on community feeling just generally, but even taking that into account, I know our parish as a whole (beyond his immediate friends and family) doesn't seem to pay much of any attention to the seminarian we currently have up at the diocesan seminary.

More to come...

1 comment:

Jen Ambrose said...

Minor seminaries give us Tom Cruise. That alone should be argument enough against them.