Rebranding: Welcome to Theology and Thistles!
St. Andrews harbor and cathedral, from the pier
In March 2020, I received a scholarship from the St. Andrews Society of Philadelphia to spend a year abroad at the University of St. Andrews. Two days later, my classmates and I were kicked off campus indefinitely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the midst of lockdowns, Zoom classes, and toilet paper shortages (ah, nostalgia), I found out that I would not be able to go to Scotland until fall 2021.
In order to graduate with my bachelor's degree on time, I petitioned the St. Andrews Society to award me half the scholarship for one semester abroad, and they were kind enough to agree. I spent the fall semester of my senior year at St. Andrews and absolutely fell in love with the place (read more about that here). When my plane took off from Edinburgh at the end of December, I knew I wanted to return, so I applied for a master's degree and funding during my spring semester. St. Mary's College accepted me into their program, and the St. Andrews Society was generous enough to award me the unused half of my scholarship, so I'll be returning in the fall for an M.Litt. in Systematic and Historical Theology!
I am beyond excited to return to Scotland--this time for a full year--start studying, reconnect with friends and make new ones, and resurrect the blog! This new course calls for a bit of rebranding: Thoughts and Thistles shall henceforth be known as Theology and Thistles. The website domain name will stay the same. At this point, there are still a lot of unknowns about the fall and about the blog. Will I resume the Weekend Recap? Will I write about my coursework? Will I review another beverage at every coffee shop in St. Andrews? I don't know the answers to these questions yet, and there's a good chance I'll make it up as I go along. However, I do have an answer to a question some of you may be asking now.
Why Theology? Why not Classics?
My undergraduate degree is not in theology or biblical studies; I majored in classics and double-minored in history and philosophy. I'm still very interested in classics: I translate Latin for fun and could see myself teaching Latin one day. So why am I changing course and going for a master's degree in theology instead of classics? There are 3 main reasons:
First, I studied classics at St. Andrews last fall, and I didn't enjoy it as much as I thought I would. Overall, my semester was incredible, and my classes were enriching, fun, and challenging. However, I noticed differences between my professors at Eastern and the classics department at St. Andrews in pedagogy and educational philosophy. I chose to study classics because I love Latin and because I think classical civilizations can teach us something valuable about... let's call them "big questions." What is truth? What is justice? What is beauty? How should we live? What should we honor? How can we be truly happy? My professors and classmates at Eastern cared about these questions, and we discussed how ancient sources might help us begin to answer them.
At St. Andrews (and probably most large research universities these days), there was little emphasis on these questions and far more concern about historiography, material culture, and other more empirical aspects of the discipline. These things are valuable, and I'm glad that intelligent and dedicated classicists are studying them, but they aren't my interest. I prefer to focus on ancient philosophy and languages, and I don't want to be slapped on the wrist by a tutor for "moralizing history," failing to mention that Catiline died at Pistoria, or failing to interact with an abundance of secondary sources (all things for which I was docked points on essays last semester).
Even at large research universities like St. Andrews, theology departments still care about the big questions. There is less discouragement from "moralizing theology"--that's called Christian ethics! Those I've spoken to at St. Andrews say that the school of divinity is interested in theological questions that affect people's lives (How should we live? What should we love? How are we saved?), not esoteric quibbles for which theologians are often caricatured and criticized (How many angels can dance on the head of pin? Could God make a stone so heavy He couldn't lift it?).
Second, my senior project sparked an interest in studying theology more deeply. I worked on a translation of Recta Fides de Coena Domini ("True Faith Concerning the Lord's Supper"), a treatise published by Joachim Westphal in 1553. This treatise was part of a polemic exchange between Westphal and John Calvin called the Second Eucharistic Controversy, in which the two debated the real presence of Christ's body and blood in Holy Communion. For this translation, I researched quite a bit of Reformation history and theology. I was familiar with Westphal's Lutheran sacramentology, but not with the reformed arguments he was addressing. Westphal also includes many excerpts from the Church Fathers, which required research on patristic sacramentology and Reformation hermeneutics of patristic sources.
I knew I would enjoy translating Westphal's Latin, but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed researching the theology behind the treatise. Furthermore, there are tens of thousands of Latin documents from the Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Reformation that have never been translated, many of which are theological writings. I want to continue translating such documents, and studying theology will help me do so skillfully.
Entrance to St. Mary's Quad
"In the Beginning was the Word"
Finally, and most importantly, I want to study theology as a distinctly Christian form of scholarship. I am convinced that all scholarship can be an act of worship when it affirms the order and goodness of creation and points to the Creator. However, theology is a unique kind of Christian scholarship, as it emphasizes God's special revelation in Holy Scripture, the person of Christ, and the witness of the Church, not general revelation in the created order.
I have always felt called to set my academic pursuits under Christian doctrine, but now I feel particularly called to study Christian doctrine itself. My academic advisor at Eastern encouraged me that the Church needs theologians, especially theologians who know Latin. Another professor and mentor has a lot to say about the necessity and duties of Christian scholarship, which I encourage you to read here and here. I want to use whatever intellect God has given me to glorify Him, to understand what I believe and articulate it winsomely to others, and to bear witness to the gospel in service of the Church. What better way to reach those goals than to study theology?
If you'd like to offer financial support for my time in Scotland, I have set up a GoFundMe. The St. Andrews Society of Philadelphia has offered generous support, but my family and I will still have to raise funds to make up the difference. Any contribution you could make would be greatly appreciated (seriously, I'm a thank-you note person) and will enable me to study in St. Andrews, pay for housing, books, and other necessities, and possibly rate another hot beverage on the blog.
And since every good trip needs a good playlist, I've made one here.
"Credo quidquid dixit Dei Filius. Verbo veritatis nihil verius."
-St. Thomas Aquinas, Adoro te Devote
"What God’s Son has told me, take for truth I do;
Truth Himself speaks truly or there’s nothing true."
-Gerard Manley Hopkins