When I was on the brink of becoming a theology major during my college years, I remember feeling a certain apprehension before I took the plunge: were these theology courses going to provide a further encounter with the God that I knew and loved, or were they only going to put me in touch with some abstract ‘God of the philosophers’ to whom I could hardly relate? Or were they simply going to bring me into contact with a God determined by particular professors’ preferences and predilections, distant from scripture and tradition? Either way, I think the root of my concern was rather straightforward: I was worried that these courses would divert me from the lived expression of my faith through an approach to God that was reductive instead of holistic.
Thanks be to God, those courses in college deepened my faith in ways I never thought possible. I would leave class, filled to the brim with awe at the majesty and goodness of God, eager to walk through the chapel doors for Holy Mass. Theology drove me to the chapel, and made me all the more eager to unite my own thanksgiving to that of the community in the Eucharist. After all, who could come to learn about the splendor of divine love and not fall down in wonder, joy, and thanksgiving?
Looking back, I have such tremendous gratitude for my undergraduate theology professors. Initially, they showed me that theology is not opposed to the lived expression of faith: the student of theology does not have to bracket their lived ‘faith commitments’ in order to come to theological conclusions. They also showed me that, when done properly, theology deepens faith, and faith drives the study of theology. Here knowledge and love come together in one movement of adoration and communion: I want to know God more precisely because I love him, and I love God more as I continue to grow in my knowledge of him.
In a wonderful passage of his Commentary on the Song of Songs, St. Bernard of Clairvaux – the patron of Saint Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry – writes the following: “he who understands truth without loving it, or loves without understanding, possesses neither one nor the other.” This compact statement contains such power and such truth! In light of St. Bernard’s statement, we might see our relationship with God like a path – for we are on the way (John 14:6; Acts 22:4) – with two ditches on each side. To remain in the center of the path is to understand and love the truth. We begin to drift to one side when we understand but our love flags; we begin to drift to the other when our love swells but our understanding lapses. After all, can one really love something that he or she doesn’t know? And further, doesn’t authentic love always seek greater knowledge of the beloved?
The learners, educators, and formators at St. Bernard’s form a community that continually strives to walk this path together. It is the great hope and mission of our School that our graduate degree programs will provide a theological education that is holistic and ordered towards love of God and the lived expression of our faith. We firmly hold that a master’s degree in theology is not meant to be simply an infusion of information: it should be an event of communion with God.
In paintings of the Annunciation throughout the centuries, there is a theme that recurs often: Mary is portrayed as reading the book of scripture when the angel Gabriel appears to her and she conceives Jesus by the Holy Spirit. May we conceive an ever-deepening faith in Jesus by the Holy Spirit, as we seek to know the Lord in the study of scripture and the teachings of the Church.
Dr. Matthew Kuhner is Academic Dean and Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology at St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry in Rochester, NY. Dr. Kuhner earned his Masters in Theological Studies at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family in Washington, DC and completed his Ph.D. in systematic theology at Ave Maria University in southwest Florida. Dr. Kuhner’s academic work has appeared in Harvard Theological Review, Nova et Vetera, Angelicum, the Journal of Theological Studies, Pro Ecclesia, and the Journal of Jesuit Studies, and his areas of research interest include Christology and the theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar. Dr. Kuhner deeply loves teaching at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, and his favorite classes are Theology of the Body: Sexuality and the Sacred, and Faith, Fiction, and Film: The Drama of Belief. Dr. Kuhner is married to his college sweetheart, Michelle, and they have the joy of sharing their lives with their four-year-old daughter, Catherine Grace, and newborn son, John Benedict.