Department of Theology

Our Ignatian Approach

Father Graham presiding over an outdoor mass

Theology is the study both of the human experience of God and of the transmission of that experience through religious traditions, doctrines and rituals.

At Xavier, theology is an academic pursuit and more. By promoting a mutually critical dialogue between human experience and religious traditions, the study of theology can communicate a deeper knowledge of one's religious beliefs and ground a stable relationship with God. At the same time, it can foster understanding across religious boundaries so that the people of the world can live together in harmony and peace.

As a Catholic and Jesuit university, Xavier believes that a continuing synthesis of the Christian perspective with all other forms of human knowledge is conducive to wisdom, and that the truth discovered through human reason cannot ultimately conflict with the truth of faith.

More Than a Theology Major

Catholic Tradition

Crosses folded from palm leaves on top of sheet music

To understand the Roman Catholic approach to theological reflection one may begin appropriately with the church's understanding of its relation to the world. According to Gaudium et Spes, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (a document from Vatican II), the church exists in solidarity with the whole human family. "The joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the people of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted, are the joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well. Nothing that is genuinely human fails to find an echo in their hearts. For theirs is a community of people united in Christ and guided by the holy Spirit in their pilgrimage towards God's kingdom, bearers of a message of salvation for all of humanity. That is why they cherish a feeling of deep solidarity with the human race and its history." 

Because of the church's solidarity, respect, and love for the entire human family, the church is called to enter into dialogue with all humanity about the various problems it faces, "throwing the light of the Gospel on them and supplying humanity with the saving resources which the church has received from its founder under the promptings of the Holy Spirit." Thus the church has the responsibility to interpret the circumstances of modern life in the light of the Gospel and to answer questions about meaning raised by people today.

Theological reflection, as it is practiced by Xavier University's Department of Theology, resonates well with Gaudium et Spes' vision of the church in the world. When the art of theological reflection is taught or practiced in the classroom at Xavier, it is approached as a process of dialogue among the interpreter, Scripture, the church's traditions, and the circumstances of the world today. When the theological process is undertaken with care, it draws upon the rich wisdom of the church's tradition, studies with insight the dilemmas of human life, and engenders a theological product that has genuine meaning for those who seek to live their lives in accordance with God's will.

When the faculty in the Department of Theology pursue research interests and publish within the scholarly guild or for a broader audience, they strive to address questions that are relevant for the faithful in the world today. Often their work is informed by a sense of solidarity with all humanity, as the faculty seek to promote respect and dignity for all persons through their theological work.

Jesuit Tradition

Bronze statue of Ignatius of Loyola on Xavier's campus The Society of Jesus was founded by the Spaniard Inigo Lopez de Loyola (Ignatius of Loyola) in 1534.

The new religious order was formally approved in 1540 by Pope Paul III.

The Jesuits quickly made education one of their special ministries. During St. Ignatius' lifetime (1491-1556), colleges were opened in several countries, including Italy, Spain, and Portugal. Shortly after Ignatius' death, a number of additional schools were begun in Germany, Bohemia, and the Lowlands.

Since the beginning, theology has occupied a central place in the life of Jesuit colleges and universities. The Constitutions of the Society of Jesus from 1548 state:

"Since the end of the Society and its studies is to aid our fellowmen to the knowledge and love of God and to the salvation of their souls, and since the subject of theology is the means most suited to this end, in the universities of the Society the principal emphasis ought to be placed upon it. Accordingly, there should be diligent treatment by excellent professors of what pertains to scholastic doctrine and Sacred Scripture, as also to that part of positive theology which is conducive to the aforementioned end."

As Jesuit higher education has developed over the centuries, the Society has continued to maintain both the nature of their educational institutions as universities and the character of these universities as Jesuit.

Periodically, the worldwide Society of Jesus meets to discuss matters of importance, such as the election of a new superior general. These international meetings are called General Congregations. At the 34th General Congregation (1995) , the Jesuits said this about their university ministry in Decree Seventeen (Jesuits and University Life):

"As we look to the future, we need consciously to be on guard that both the noun 'university' and the adjective 'Jesuit' always remain fully honored.

409 6. "The noun guarantees a commitment to the fundamental autonomy, integrity, and honesty of a university precisely as a university: a place of serene and open search for and discussion of the truth. It also points to the mission proper to every university: its dedication to research, teaching, and the various forms of service that correspond to its cultural mission as the indispensable horizon and context for a genuine preservation, renewal, and communication of knowledge and human values. As Jesuits, we seek knowledge for its own sake and at the same time must regularly ask, 'Knowledge for what?'"

The department of theology is committed to this Jesuit vision of the University. This vision is reflected in Xavier University's Vision and Mission Statement

410 7. "We affirm the adjective 'Jesuit' no less strongly. This presupposes the authentic participation in our basic Jesuit identity and mission of any university calling itself Jesuit, or any university which operates ultimately under our responsibility. While we want to avoid any distortion of the nature of a university or any reduction of its mission to only one legitimate goal, the adjective 'Jesuit' nevertheless requires that the University act in harmony with the demands of the service of faith and promotion of justice found in Decree 4 of GC 32." A Jesuit university can and must discover in its own proper institutional forms and authentic purposes a specific and appropriate arena for the encounter with the faith which does justice.

Father Bischoff shaking the hands of two students on Xavier's campus

411 8. "We applaud the many ways in which Jesuit universities have tried to apply this decree, both in the lives of students through outreach programs of mutual contact and service with the poor, and in the central teaching, research, and publication aims of the university. If it remains true that most Jesuit universities must, in various ways, strive to do even more in order to embody this mission of service to the faith and its concomitant promotion of justice, this only reflects the challenge all Jesuits face to find concrete and effective ways in which large and complex institutions can be guided by and to that justice which God himself so insistently calls for and enables. The task is possible; it has produced martyrs who have testified that 'an institution of higher learning and research can become an instrument of justice in the name of the Gospel.'"

** Xavier's department of theology is committed to this understanding of the Jesuit character of our educational ministry. This commitment is evident especially in the many theology courses that focus on the relationship between faith and justice, such as Faith and Justice, Contemporary Ethical Issues, Liberation Issues and Theology, Christian Health Care Ethics, and others.

Additional links of interest:

Ecumenical, Interreligious, Global Context

The Decrees of General Congregation Thirty-Four of the Society of Jesus stress the importance of theological dialogue from an ecumenical, interreligious, global context. Decree Five encourages all Jesuits to move beyond prejudice and bias, be it historical, cultural, social, or theological, in order to cooperate wholeheartedly with all men and women of goodwill in promoting peace, justice, harmony, human rights, and respect for all of God's creation. This is to be done especially through dialogue with those who are inspired by religious commitment, or who share a sense of transcendence that opens them to universal values.

Tala Ali, muslim chaplain on Xavier's campus

Pope John Paul II repeatedly urged the Jesuits to make interreligious dialogue an apostolic priority for the third millennium. In a world characterized by religious pluralism, a positive relationship with faithful persons from all the world religions is a requirement in order to achieve global peace and the goal of full dignity and justice for all human beings.

Similarly, Decree Twelve of the General Congregation Thirty-Four recognizes that the signs of the times give stark proof of the fact that a faith doing justice must necessarily lead to ecumenical and interreligious dialogue and cooperation. In many parts of the world, it is precisely religious divisions that are a force contributing to injustice, violence, and even warfare. In situations of conflict, often fueled by historic confessional hostilities, ecumenism calls us to pardon and to love as essential components of a Gospel-inspired struggle for justice and reconciliation.

Members of the department of theology at Xavier University embrace the Jesuit vision for theology in an ecumenical, interreligious, global context and seek to exemplify this broadly compassionate perspective in the classroom and in their scholarly pursuits. This commitment to global, interreligious dialogue is reflected in the department of theology's close affiliation with the Edward B. Brueggeman Center for Dialogue.