“Any theory divorced from living examples, however admirably it may be dressed out, is like the unbreathing statue, with its show of a blooming complexion impressed in tints and colours; but the man who acts as well as teaches, as the Gospel tells us, he is the man who is truly living, and has the bloom of beauty, and is efficient and stirring.” St. Gregory of Nyssa
If you know the Cappadocian Fathers well, you may recognize this quote from de virginitates. Gregory is advising those who would choose the virtuous path of virginity to find a mentor who lives out whatever he teaches. Theory is easy to formulate; practice is a different story.
For seminarians, academic studies occupy a lot of time. Reading 50-100 pages a day is the norm. Memorizing Greek and Hebrew vocabulary and grammatical rules can take hours a day. Exploring church history and historical theology will keep one up far past bedtime – St. Augustine’s soteriology is certainly more exciting than sleep! Each day contains only 24 hours, and for most of us seminarians, that doesn’t seem like enough to finish assignments, write papers, and read every assigned page. One can always spend another hour studying.
Dr. Hartley recently gave a homily warning of the danger of our intellectual knowledge outweighing a life of obedient action. It is far too simple to fill our minds with theological knowledge, all the while neglecting theological practice. Without orthopraxy, orthodoxy does us little good. Our beliefs ought to inspire our work. Jesus himself has harsh words for those who know but do notdo.
Plugging into a local ministry is one way seminarians can take what they learn about Jesus Christ and his Church and put it into loving action. At Nashotah House, seminarians are involved in a number of local (and global) ministries. On Fridays, some lead a Bible study at a local prison. Some go to Lad Lake weekly to build relationships with and offer spiritual care to at-risk youth. Members of the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament attend a monthly homeless breakfast event and get to know those who attend. This January, a group will fly to Peru for an educational mission trip.
These experiences take theology to a new level through service. They give life to the “unbreathing statue” Gregory speaks of by living out theory in the real world.
It is far easier to open a book about Jesus than to leave the house (or The House) and find Jesus in the world. He is out there, everywhere, in the “least of these” waiting not for a head full of knowledge but hands and a heart full of self-sacrificial love. May we leave excuses behind and pray that God shows us where he desires us to put our academic formation to work, so the “bloom of beauty” – Christ-in-us – will radiate from our campus into the world.