As a junior student in the program, I have to say I absolutely love Angelicum–something I really have to remind myself every Monday night as I struggle to finish that week’s reading. The reading list is incredible–you definitely get an idea of how western civilization developed, as you read all the books that influenced it. For instance, last week we were reading Hobbes, and he was defining the dignity of a person as something that depended on their rank and power in life, which got me off to wondering if it wasn’t that sort of attitude that had eventually lead to abortion and euthanasia.
However, if it wasn’t for the discussions, I’m not sure how well I would have understood the readings–if you didn’t understand the reading, you have a terrible time keeping up with the conversation. So I often find myself rereading passages, thinking about what on earth the author was talking about, etc. In the actual class, we frequently refer to the book to support our arguments, and if you can’t find a passage supporting your thought, woe is you. You’re not allowed to twist the book so that it supports your belief; you’re welcome to disagree with the author’s conclusions (and we often do), but it says what it says, and you have to accept that. Whether I think it’s stupid or not, Calvin honestly believed in predestination. In the Calvin class, we were really urged to explore why Calvin thought that, instead of just dismissing it. Did anyone come out of class a Calvinist? No, but we sure had a better understanding of where Calvinists are coming from–and ultimately, why they’re wrong. In having to come up with rational arguments against Calvinism, we developed a better understanding of why Catholicism’s position on free will is the correct one.
The teachers usually start out with a question, and at the end of the class, we’ve generally gone over several aspects of the book. Also, one or both of the teachers end class with a concluding statement which clears up any confusion in the class. But they do urge us to think it out for ourselves, and are careful during class to not give away their own conclusions too early. And it really does force one to think when you’re confronted with questions such as: “What is freedom?”, “What is the value of education?”, and (my favorite!), “What is the end of the state?” And you can’t ever answer, “Well, because I think it should be this way,”–oh, no. You’ve got to find reasonable arguments, preferably based on the text. One of the best classes we ever had was on freedom–we eventually concluded that true freedom was following God’s will, after two hours of wrangling over why freedom couldn’t be doing whatever you darn well please. A teacher could have told us this at the beginning of the class, but I never would have remembered it so well, or grasped so much more thoroughly why freedom is that and not getting our own way. There are so many people nowadays who are going around proclaiming notions that sound good (such as the peace and love movement of the sixties) on the surface, but really aren’t. In these classes, we’re really learning why what is true is true, and therefore, how to defend it. If you’ve already had an argument in class about what peace truly is and what its place in the world is, it’s a lot easier to discuss it with someone who think it means no war ever.
The class definitely improves from year to year. The students are maturing; and also the more we’ve read, the richer the experience is. When we were reading Galileo, and his ideas about motion and time, several of us recalled Aquinas’ definition of God as the First Mover, as well as some of St. Augustine’s theories about time in the Confessions. So you really start connecting everything. And I would say we’re a lot more used to the questions, and we’re delving a lot deeper than we did in the beginning. Some of the questions we keep returning to, and I’m always getting a better understanding.