Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School

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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 

All pupils follow the GCSE course in Religious Education (AQA)

Mark’s Gospel is the shortest of all the Gospels. Mark was good friends with St Paul and St Peter and he wrote one of the most important texts ever written. It was originally written in Rome as a secret text to embolden Catholics to keep their faith around the time the Emperor Nero persecuted Christians in the most horrendous ways. This part of the course involves the teaching of sacred scripture; specifically, Mark’s Gospel. This is by far the most challenging aspect of the course since Our Lord’s suffering ministry is proclaimed as “good news” and will require boys to – as the name “Israel” means – wrestle with God! We look at the early ministry of Our Blessed Lord leading up to his final Passion in Jerusalem. We develop the significance of his life for our own in the 21st century. We learn about his Kingdom, who is called to it? Why is it “Catholic” in the sense of a universal calling to the world?  What is the nature of being a disciple of Jesus then and today? Why did Our Lord treat those disregarded by first century Palestine with such mercy?  What does this ask of Christians today in London? Are we meant to live like the disciples? Or has this doctrine developed over time? How? Why? Yesterday’s newspapers are already old news; this Gospel is alive. 

Judaism. As a primer to Mark we shall study certain aspects of modern Judaism with the aim of understanding Judaism today and the Judaism of 2000 years ago. This will enable pupils to better understand the teaching of Our Lord and to recognise in our Jewish neighbours that they are, as St. John Paul II said, our spiritual ‘older brothers’. Such important stories such as the Covenant with Abraham, the 613 laws Jews to this day follow, the Synagogue and the Shabbat, along with the strict kosher laws – all pupils will have a good grounding and understanding as to why these laws were and remain important and why the Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ and his grace have transformed them. This will be done in the most respectful way possible.

Catholicism. The focus in understanding a Catholic boy’s formation will begin with his Catholic Faith. To this end, there are six main themes we will consider: Creation; Incarnation; The Blessed Trinity and prayer; Redemption; The role of Holy Mother Church and the Kingdom of God; and finally, Eschatology (or, for more ordinary way of putting it: the afterlife).  A wide variety of ways of teaching will be incorporated into this formation including, of course, liturgy. A great new aspect of this specification is that we can teach about the rich tradition of Catholic music and Catholic painting. 

At the end of the course pupils will sit two terminal examinations of 1hr 45 minutes, each counting for 50% of the final mark. There is no coursework.

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.