Thursday, January 3, 2008

Simul in Contemplatione Activus

simul in contemplatione activus = active and contemplative

Antony in respond to a comment on my blog has written in depth on his blog on the subject ‘active vs. contemplative?’ He argues that in the Malaysian seminaries, one of the reason for the students’ inability to grasp ‘deeper things’ stems from the Malaysian education system which is orientated towards role learning. The emphasis is to train students to pass examinations and score the maximum numbers of A. This together with inexperienced, incompetent and disinterested teachers (some of them, anyway. There are of course, good and excellent teachers) have a profound influence on the mind of our young people. However, the education system cannot bear the burden of blame alone for we have contributed to it too. The Asian culture dictate a role for the students in that they are to obey and not to question their elders (teachers), accept all that is taught to them, and learn that the ultimate virtue is to conform.

He further argues that while the Malaysian seminaries have time slots for contemplative activities, these are often used up by the students for their other course work. Anthony has identified that some students has problems because theological studies is an arts course which involves reasoning, critical analysis and precise rational writing. Most students have been trained in schools in the science pedagogy of fact regurgitation and multiple choice questions. This together with their lack of proficiency in English meant that they need more time to complete their course assignments and thus are forced to use up their time allocated to contemplative practices. He also comments on the quality of the students which I shall comment on in another posting.

While I agree with all his arguments, there is another point I wish to highlight, i.e. that of the curriculum of the seminaries. Since spiritual theology or contemplative practices had become acceptable as an academic discipline two decades ago, most seminaries have incorporated it into their curriculum. However as long as the more prestigious, measurable hard ‘active’ disciplines like theology, languages, hermeneutics, homiletics and Bible studies remain top priority in the seminary policy, soft intangible ‘contemplative’ disciplines like prayer, spiritual friendships, mentoring, solitude and meditation are often shunted into the background. This problem is often exacerbated by the perception of some of the lecturers that what the students need are the hard disciplines (which they themselves have spent years on) and they are not willing to spare time to teach the students the soft disciplines. They are the role models for their students and often their attitudes rub off onto them.

I believe there is a great need to review the curriculum of the seminaries; to reduce the workload of the students in the hard disciplines, and to train the students in the soft disciplines. The seminary is not a business school. Seminaries are to produce carers of souls, not managers of churches; fishers of men, not keepers of aquarium.


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