THL-4500: Christian Spirituality

 Pierre Hadot, "Ancient Spiritual Exercises and Christian    Philosophy"

Pierre Hadot, "Philosophy as a Way of Life"

St. Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Ephesians** Recommended Reading with Ignatius: The Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicity

Excerpts from Sayings of the Desert Fathers

Evagrius Ponticus, Praktikos (excerpts)

Rule of St. Augustine

Francis of Assisi, Earlier Rule (Regula non bullata)

Thomas Merton, Contemplation in a World of Action (For Friday, March 26)

Willigis Jaeger, Way of Body and Breath

Thomas Keating, "Toward Intimacy with God"

Jonathan Z. Smith, "Birth Upside Down or Right Side Up?" in Map is Not Territory (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), 147-171.

Thomas W. Smith, "CST: An Orientation to a Life in Common"

Louis Dupré, Spiritual Life and the Survival of Christianity" (online)

THL 1050: Christian Theology: An Introduction

Louis Dupré, Spiritual Life and the Survival of Christianity" (online)

Easter Exultet

St. Irenaeus of Lyons, excerpts

Pelagius, Letter to Demetrias

St. Augustine, Exposition 2 on Ps. 31

Flannery O'Connor, "Revelation"

Olivier Clement, "God Hidden and Universal"

Richard of St. Victor, Book III of The Trinity

Augustine, City of God (excerpts)

Gilbert Meilaender, "To Throw Oneself Into the Wave"

Willigis Jaeger, Way of Body and Breath

Thomas Keating, "Toward Intimacy with God"


Course Archive:

(This page is not exhaustive... It only includes courses for which I have already posted some information on the web.)


Summer 2006 Intensive Course:

In Dialogue with Augustine (ii): The Medieval Augustine

Alfred North Whitehead famously suggested that all of Western philosophy is a series of footnotes to Plato. The eminent late historian of Christian doctrine Jaroslav Pelikan tweaks this quip to wonder whether all of Western theology is best understood as “a series of footnotes to Augustine.”  Pelikan continues: 'There has, quite literally, been no century of the sixteen centuries since the conversion of Augustine in which he has not been a major intellectual, spiritual, and cultural force. For more than a millennium and a half, continuity with the thought of Augustine has been one of the most persistent elements in the history of Christian thought.'

In short, this course will be a much-abridged exploration of this simple claim. Simple as it may be, there is another narrative about the history of Christian thought that often coexists with Pelikan’s claim without any notion of tension or contradiction.  On this account, Augustine’s dominance went unchallenged until the thirteenth century, when Thomas Aquinas synthesized Christian doctrine with the newly-rediscovered thought of Aristotle.  The Thomist synthesis, the story goes, provided a new, fresh engagement of the world, more “creation-centered” or “affirmative of the world.” The Thomist impulse, according to the classic account of H. R. Niebuhr, is “Christ above culture.”

The implication here is clearly that Augustine, mired down in his Platonism, is interested in “Fall/redemption theology,” hostile to the world, an example of Niebuhr’s “Christ versus culture.”   This narrative becomes the basis of an opposition of ideal types, one which has quite a bit of staying power in American Christian (especially Catholic) systematic theology, but one which, I think, is terribly misleading.   And it’s not simply among contemporary systematic theologians (whose thin knowledge of history one might anticipate), but even among some of the “classic” histories of philosophy and theology.

The net result of this second narrative’s silent integration into the American theological historical consciousness is that American theological culture is dualistic and triumphalist, ironically two of the consequences attributed to “Augustinianism.” In the effort not to fall into this too-prevalent binary opposition, our course will explore the more pervasive, subtle, and complex presence of St. Augustine among his medieval descendants. 

Click here for the more detailed syllabus.


Fall 2003 (Under Construction)


HUMANITIES 2000-001: birth, love, sex, and death


THEOLOGY 8500-001:women and the christian mystical tradition


Summer 2003:


Christian Classics: Medieval and Early Modern

Hon 1825: Christianity: Traditions and Transitions (Service Learning Community)

CHS 1000: Ancient, Medieval , Renaissance (Visions of Freedom Learning Community)

CHS 1001: Modern Thought (Visions of Freedom Learning Community)

THL-1050: Christianity: Traditions and Transitions: The Matrix of Christian Faith

THL-2590: Holy Wars: Islam and Christianity in Conflict from the Middle Ages to Today



THL 1050: Christian Theology, An Introduction

Course Description: The Reasonable Faith of Ordinary Radicals

 The problem with teaching Christian theology in an institution like Villanova is that most of us think we know pretty well what it’s all about.  If we were right about this, then the only reason to be in this course is because the powers that be want us to go through the motions so that we look like good citizens. Christianity teaches us to be nice, this line goes, and Villanova graduates are supposed to be both successful and nice, so this gives you your “nice” credentials. 

But most of us are pretty sure that this is either an exercise in the obvious (“Jesus is nice, so it’s nice to be nice”) or a sham cover for institutional power (Religion is about someone else (the pope, my parents, God) telling me what to do).  So, from this perspective, this is a hard course for me to teach, and I’m sure it’s not too fun for many of you to have to take.  But let me lay my cards on the table: Most of us know almost nothing about Christianity, even if we’ve been in Catholic or Christian schools for most of our lives.  That’s not our fault, but, in terms of the great majority of us, it’s a fact. And, ironically, that makes this course a little more interesting for all of us. This course begins with the hypothesis that we still have many of the pieces of Christian faith (we've heard of Jesus, the Trinity, the Church, etc.), and so we live with the feeling that we know what it is. But we mistakenly think it’s mostly about ‘being good’ or something, and so we've lost a deep sense of what it's all about or why it matters.  We confuse faith with some kind of therapeutic moralism. 

Let me be more precise:  We may find that we have quite a large Christian vocabulary, and quite a lot of us love God and try to love our neighbor, but very few of us have ever learned how to think in a Christian way, to view the world and reason our way through problems in light of Christian claims about the world, God, and ourselves.  From the classically Christian perspective, faith is a way of seeing, and therefore a way of thinking.  Faith expands the horizons of what is reasonable to think about or think through.  Faith is not provable, but it is eminently reasonable. 

This course is an introduction to the “reasons of faith.”  What can we reasonably say about God? What does it mean to say that Jesus of Nazareth is “fully human and fully divine”?  What does it mean to think reasonably about everything that exists as “creation”?  Questions like these shed light on a multitude of other questions, and if we begin to see the world in this light, then we may find that loving God and loving our neighbor is just a little bit easier, because it makes sense organically as part of a whole life, and not simply as a moralistic obligation.  We may find that some of our “cultural default setting” answers about how we ought to live might not be adequate to the depth of our questions and our reasoning.  We might even see how we might live differently – how our ordinary lives could be radical, not in a terrorist fanatical way, but, following the etymology of the word in the Latin radix, or “root,” in their deep “rootedness” in the source of life, to which Christians (and others) give the name “God.”

THL-2590/HUM-2900: Heresy and Orthodoxy

Heresy and Orthodoxy: The History and Theology of Christian Religious Distinctions

 In the wake of Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code, one might have questions about the Christian tradition’s decisions about what to keep in and what to keep out.  Following hot on the heels of Dan Brown, the “new atheists” (Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, et al) have argued that belief in God is inherently persecutorial and violent, and many of them readily point to the burning of heretics as proof of their case.  Granting of course that the burning of persons in the name of Christian faith is morally problematic, this seems to leave us with three possibilities. Either (a) Religious belief is inherently persecutorial and violent, and therefore should be abandoned, (the ‘new atheist’ option) or (b) orthodox Christianity in particular is problematic in its insistence on distinguishing orthodox faith from heterodox (DaVinci Code here, but also see Elaine Pagels, Karen King, et al); or finally (c) that Christian faith rightfully discerns true from false worship – orthodoxy from heresy – and thus these categories are not inherently problematic but prone to abuse. 

 This course will examine the Christian tradition historically and theologicially, focusing primarily upon the Western Catholic Church’s efforts to distinguish right belief (“orthodoxy”) from error, or heresy, with these three options in mind.  What is the source of this distinction? How does it play out, change, and become transformed in the history of its usage?  For some, it may seem that this notion seems hopelessly authoritarian and divisive. In an era plagued by religious violence, the line between religious condemnation and sanctioned violence may appear impossible to maintain.  For others, however, orthodoxy may present itself as a rock of stability in the midst of the flood. Does any notion of orthodoxy make theological sense in a postmodern world?  Or have we moved beyond orthodoxy and heresy? If so, what next?