Earlier today, I posted a story over at my recently launched Pax Culturati blog at Patheos Catholic about the new CNN series “Finding Jesus,” which looks at the story of Christ through the lens of six artifacts. Click here for that.
The episodes are: “The Shroud of Turin” (March 1); “The Bones of John the Baptist” (March 8), “The Gospel of Judas” (March 15), “The Secret Brother of Jesus” (March 22); “The True Cross” (March 29) and “The Gospel of Mary Magdalene” (April 5, Easter Sunday).
The post features an interview with U.K.-born Dr. Candida Moss, a Notre Dame professor specializing in the New Testament and early Christianity and Judaism, who’s part of the university’s theology department. We talked about “Finding Jesus,” but we also talked about Moss’ background as a Yale-educated cradle Catholic (she did her undergrad and post-graduate work at Yale, and also graduated from Yale Divinity School).
You’re sometimes the subject of controversy for your views and writings. What’s your take on that?
I actually think it’s a really good week when I get hate mail from very conservative Catholics and very liberal atheists. I feel like I must be doing something right that day to annoy everyone. I think people, not everyone, thinks that history shouldn’t be done with a sense of humor, and not everyone thinks that we should ask too many questions. I’m a firm believer that seeking understanding and knowledge is something that’s good, and so I try to do what helps me sleep well at night.
Catholic William F. Buckley wrote “God and Man at Yale,” about the aggressive secularization at America’s universities. How did you manage to not lose God or the Faith along the way?
I actually think, in some ways, it’s easier to be Catholic in a context where you’re not surrounded by other Catholics. There are some wonderful churches at Yale, and there are other Catholics or other faith communities there. I really loved the Latin Mass at St. Mary’s Hillhouse, the sunrise Mass. The music is fantastic.
For me it wasn’t that challenging. I was TAing, and I was teaching Baptist ministers and Evangelicals. I think that their expectations for me were really low and so that I was constantly overachieving. They think this Papist woman isn’t that bad. It was fun.
We also discussed the current controversy over a proposal to alter the core curriculum requirements at Notre Dame. Currently all undergrads, regardless of their course of study, are required to take two theology courses. Some think that should be changed.
With so many Catholic institutions of higher learning happily shedding their roots in the Faith in favor of the liberal secularism that dominates higher ed, out of a misguided notion of relevance or just a desire to be considered among the cool kids, many fear that Notre Dame is well on its way to just becoming another secular school whose name and history have nothing to do with its day-to-day life.
(Not to mention, convincing Catholic parents, students and alumni to shell out money on what may be an increasingly empty promise that those dollars are going to promote a truly Catholic education.)
So, what is your understanding of the theology controversy?
Actually, my understanding of what’s happening with the theology requirement is that there is a conversation about potentially allowing one of the requirements to be taught by other departments. So, we won’t actually lower the requirement, we would just allow someone to take a sociology of religion course, some such thing.
The concern is, that’s all well and good, but shouldn’t there be some fundamental things that we want our students to learn? Do we want them to learn about Scripture and tradition and doctrine and ethics? I think that’s a really valid concern. At this juncture, it’s just a conversation. There’s a great deal of controversy about it, especially because people look to Notre Dame as a Catholic university and worry about its health.
How Catholic is Notre Dame?
We have chapels in every building. I know a lot of students that go to daily Mass. We’re definitely not Franciscan [University of Steubenville] or Ave Maria, and it’s a struggle. It’s one that Notre Dame really thinks about and worries about.
I teach in the theology department and have many colleagues who focus on trying to put Catholic ideals into practice and … try to protect Notre Dame’s Catholic identity.
I’m sure that it comes with a certain professional cost in that they’re not that invested in, they’re not able to do their research or they’re spending a lot of time on this. So, I feel really encouraged when I see my colleagues doing that. I think, at the university, we obviously, always, need to keep an eye on what percentage of our faculty is Catholic and what percentage of our student body is Catholic.
But it is a Catholic school, and it’s a place where the Catholic Church can do a lot of its thinking.
Image sources: (starting at top) Basilica of the Sacred Heart at Notre Dame University, from Wikimedia Commons; CNN; Notre Dame University.