Christian Curriculum

“Paradise Lost” and fruitful learning in contradiction

Using critical thinking skills to find the truth is a key aspect of DU education. Photo by Emma Powers.

I have a lot of disagreements with “Paradise Lost, despite my pleasure. As a woman, I found him demeaning in his treatment of Eve. As a Catholic, I believe Milton’s beliefs are incorrect.

Still, “Lost paradise” is part of the core curriculum at the University of Dallas. I wondered why a deeply Catholic university would read someone like Milton – a person whose beliefs are incorrect according to the Catholic faith?

I went to Dr. Scott Crider’s office hours to ask him this question. He first read me this part of UD’s mission statement: “The university is dedicated to the recovery of the Christian intellectual tradition and the renewal of Catholic theology in fidelity to the Church and in a constructive dialogue with the modern world”.

Crider stressed the importance of “constructive dialogue” which is a crucial part of UD’s mission. “We study non-Catholic texts because they are an important part of the dialogue of the West,” he said. “We learn by what is contrary and therefore we don’t really know what we believe until we encounter other beliefs.”

“It is absolutely impossible to know only what you believe by only learning what is contrary,” said Kate Vicknair, major in theology.

“I hope that goes without saying. For example, if we only studied heresies, we still wouldn’t know what [truth] is… You’ve got to start with what’s right and what’s good and know that’s vitally important.

Clarify what she meant by talking about “Paradise Lost,Vicknair continued, “Don’t read Milton, to paraphrase Chesterton, with a ‘mind so open your brain breaks down.’ But for things that may vary according to opinion. . . Maybe I should learn from that’ [because reading] the things that are against us is a way to better understand what we believe in by understanding what is opposite.

“One of the things I admire about the Catholic intellectual tradition is its fearlessness,” Crider said. “It is an educational tradition that is not only concerned with apologetics, but with a real dialectical exploration and which asks to read, to reflect, to write, to engage texts out of faith and to quote [John Paul II]”Truth cannot contradict truth”, so whatever is true that is found on the outside will turn out to be the truth.

“Catholic confidence and intelligence are truly extraordinary. As a non-Catholic, I find that really quite admirable. May he last long at the University of Dallas.

As a Catholic university, UD is immersed in what is the “Catholic intellectual tradition”: the search for truth. The Core at UD covers many different types of texts – some of which are Catholic and some of which are not.

Before reading Dante, I read Homer and Virgil; before Thomas Aquinas, I read Aristotle and Plato. Milton in particular challenged me to find the answer on my own because I disagreed with him on several points. Dante, in his conformity to my beliefs, did not inspire me with these questions.

“It’s not Sunday school,” Dr. Crider told me.

It’s so much more than that.