Theology & Philosophy
The aim of the RE department is to assist Catholic parents in the formation of their Catholic children, redeemed by our Blessed Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, so that they may learn to know, love and serve God in this life and be happy with Him for ever in the next. Parents remain the primary visible teachers in this task of formation; the department serves them in this task by providing interesting and stimulating lessons on a whole host of topics useful for Catholic formation in the 21st century.
Key Stage Three
We use the Catholic Truth Society’s textbook series called: The Way, The Truth and The Life to help us offer stimulating lessons. Lessons are structured to meet the needs of high ability pupils, average-ability pupils and less able boys. Day retreats are conducted for all three year groups. The School itself also provides many opportunities for the boys to grow spiritually (Holy Mass, Assemblies, daily recitation of the Angelus, prayers at the start and end of each lesson, opportunities to gain indulgences, Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament and Confessions on Friday). Above all, the School wants to help its pupils to know, to practise and to love the Catholic Faith as best they possibly can. Boys begin to learn about other forms of monotheism and begin to think seriously about the problem of evil and free will in light of God’s love, omnipotence and other attributes ascribed to Him by classical theism.
Key Stage Four
St Mark’s Gospel is the shortest of all the Gospels and boys will study it closely in the Fifth Form. Mark was friends with St Paul and St Peter, and he produced one of the most important texts ever written. It was originally drafted in Rome as a secret text to embolden the persecuted Church to keep the faith despite the evils of the pagan Roman regime. Nero persecuted Christians in the most horrendous ways: feeding them to wild dogs; burning them; crucifixion. The urgency of Our Lord’s work comes across in the Gospel; and the fact that He suffers so much for us is a tremendous sign of the love He has for our fallen humanity. Boys will gain an understanding of this historical background and will then be able to link the good news of the text to their own lives – since the text was written for them and future members of the Holy Church, to embolden them to keep Faith with Christ. After a good grounding in this holy Gospel, boys will be in a better position to compare it to the three other pieces of good news later in their lives.
In the Fourth Form, Religion and Life from a Catholic perspective will be the focus; but Reformation traditions are also studied with respect and serious consideration.
Boys will develop a good understanding of the importance of Faith in an increasingly secular world. Pupils learn about atheism and agnosticism and their role in offering rival versions of living. The issues addressed are exciting and extremely relevant: the problem of evil; heaven; hell; purgatory; euthanasia; abortion; the role of religion and its relation to modern science, and how Christian theology influences current British Law. Paranormal religious experiences, miracles and the power of prayer will be studied to help boys understand these issues they will invariably confront. We will look at how our Catholic Faith helps society at large by encouraging justice and social harmony among the races and how moral issues and the role of the family are seen by the Church and why. The lessons provide a good opportunity for lively debate and will enable boys to think clearly about “meaning of life” issues – boys with a strong, well-formed faith, as well as boys who are struggling with difficulties surrounding belief – all find the course extremely interesting and provocative. Many parents comment on how challenging the course is for their sons and for themselves as it encourages dialogue at home on these issues – the main source of a boys’ Catholic education. Other religions, Christian and non-Christian are also studied and contrasted with Catholicism. The classes are taught with conviction but are open to other viewpoints: this enhances our ability to find the Truth and is part of the great Catholic tradition, best seen in the dialectical works of St Thomas Aquinas, whose motto was in fact: Veritas.
In light of new specifications, 25% of the course will focus on Judaism and its role in the modern world and especially modern London. This will help boys to learn something about the Old Testament, a text they will need to know well if they are to understand with any depth the wonder and joy of the New Testament.
At the end of the course pupils will sit two examinations of 2 hours each (four hours total). These are worth 100% of their final mark.
Sixth Form (Christian Theology)
NB: This specification is now under review by the board and will soon change but it is as of this publication not finalized. In light of this fact this is what we currently provide for A level:
Pupils study the moral philosophy of Immanuel Kant and contrast it to utilitarian ethics. Natural law is taught and developed. Issues relating to the ethics of creation and the environment are developed. There is scope to study specific moral questions such as abortion, suicide, and just war theory, to name a few. Pupils also will make a very close study of the Old Testament: a day trip is planned each year to visit the British Museum to see evidence of ancient cultures mentioned in the Old Testament, as well as Jewish history. This course is no light option: the Old Testament part is very demanding. However, the rewards are great and provide a wonderful foundation for the study of theology and sacred scripture later at university. The ethical parts of the course can provide for compelling debates. The main study is natural law, especially from a Catholic point of view (John Finnis and Thomas Aquinas, for example). But Kant is also crucial in seeing how natural law is viewed without an unblushing religious authority to complement it; an idea of modern intellectual thought is revealed to pupils who are able to contrast such a perspective with that of other sources of authority. This course may help those with an interest in law, as well as religious issues.
In the Upper Sixth, pupils focus on Ethics. There is a particular focus in this regard on the great and seminal work of Alasdair MacIntyre - After Virtue: perhaps the most important philosophical work written in the 20th Century. MacIntyre was a famous Marxist who, after reading Aquinas, converted to the Catholicism.
Pupils will also study Life, Death and Beyond. In depth they will come to grips with a major non-religious tradition rooted in the Greek philosophies of Democritus and Epicurus to see how this form of materialism has influenced modern secularism and atheistic ideologies; they will confront the major strands of Dualism and link it to philosophies as wide ranging as Plato to Descartes and religions as diverse as Gnosticism to Hinduism/Buddhism; finally they will learn about Catholicism; specifically by a study of Aquinas, Aristotle and the speculative theology of the poet Dante.
Sixth Form (Philosophy)
Pupils in the Lower Sixth will study two areas of philosophy: epistemology and the philosophy of religion. Epistemology is sometimes called theory of knowledge: how do I know what I know? What is in fact knowledge? Does scepticism help me to obtain knowledge? How is knowledge different from, say, true belief? Bertrand Russell’s The Problems of Philosophy, especially chapters 1 – 3 - give a good outline of the problems we think about on this part of the course.
The Philosophy of Religion is principally about studying what we mean when we use the term “God”. Can we come to know God through philosophy, or must God reveal His presence to us to be known? You will learn a whole host of philosophical arguments for the existence of God, especially some famous ones; for example, the ontological argument formulated by St. Anselm as a way to see if Faith was reasonable. The Design argument, also, plays an important role. Criticisms of these arguments is also vital. Aquinas, for example, did not believe Anselm’s argument worked (but believed in God for other reasons); Russell thought it did work (but did not believe in God for other reasons!)
In the Upper Sixth, pupils again study two specific areas: the Philosophy of Mind and Ethics.
The Philosophy of Mind starts with Descartes and has evolved over the last five hundred years. What is a mind? If one doubts the existence of the mind, how do we come to explain and justify our mental events? Can our ideas be explained in physical terms alone? Can we forego any physical explanation to come to the radical conclusion that the only thing we can possibly know are ideas and ideas alone? Is the material world really an illusion?
In Ethics we study utilitarianism, Kant and Aristotle. Ethical questions such as war, crime and punishment and the ethics of playing computer games can become a focus. The study of the breakdown of ethics in the 20th Century is taught and the re-emergence of Aristotle is understood in light of current issues and some of the problems encountered in our pluralistic culture. There is a lot of opportunity for debate and critical thinking, as well as understanding how and why these questions influence our political philosophies.
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