“Yeah, so my truck driver told me there was a red-ball, so we comm’d over to the pointy-hats in order to get the DFLC changed. The Jet was good on EOR, but squawked no-go within minutes.”

Every field and discipline has its jargon, its special vocabulary and terminology.  To an outsider, jargon can be off-putting.  It can lead one to feel excluded from a conversation, as if the topic at hand is for “experts only.”  Prior to studying at Holy Apostles, I earned my undergraduate degree in philosophy and theology at Mount Angel Seminary in Oregon, where there were a number of seminarians who had prior military experience.  Two of my good friends, now both priests of the Diocese of Phoenix, used to sit and swap military stories.  One had been a fighter pilot in the Air Force for thirteen years while the other worked in Army intelligence in Berlin prior to the Wall coming down.  I loved listening to their stories, but there were times when I felt very much like an outsider.  They could, when they wanted, speak almost entirely in acronyms and military slang, leaving anyone without military experience to feel lost in translation. They would often say that studying philosophy and theology made them feel like they were back in the military what with all the special terminology, the jargon.

Studying philosophy and theology can sometimes feel like learning a new language.  Who, besides philosophers use terms like “ousia” and “epistemological”?  Who, besides a theologian, uses terms like “spiration” and “transubstantiation”?  I have no doubt that public explanations of what “consubstantial” means were common in parishes everywhere when the new missal was introduced last year.

If your studies at Holy Apostles were preceded by expertise outside of philosophy or theology, you may sometimes feel like an outsider when it comes to the jargon, the terminology.  If you work in the natural sciences, you may have had to realize quickly that your peers in the field use the term “substance” in almost an opposite sense than do your fellow HACS students.  Or that if one of your professors uses the term “formal,” they mean real and actual, not superficial and inconsequential.

The popular view of philosophy and theology is that these are vague fields, where everything is anyone’s guess.  As Lord Byron quipped, “Philosophy is a blind man in a dark room, searching for a black hat that isn’t there.”  The Holy Apostles student would never say something like this.  The reality, of course, is that philosophy and theology are concerned with precision.  Philosophy must be concerned with precision because, as both Aristotle and St. Thomas observed, a small mistake in the beginning can lead to serious error later on.  The philosopher looks for le mot juste (English, “the right word”) because he knows that words carry meaning–they hold reality.  Whenever anyone opens his mouth to speak, he becomes a metaphysician.  Carelessness with words is the first sign of a sophist.

Theology is concerned with precision because it is received.  Theologians are not the authors of the message, but the mail carriers, and accuracy in transmitting the message is the first task of the messenger.  Consider that at the Council of Nicaea, orthodox Christian belief concerning Christ came down to a single Greek letter.  What’s the difference between homoiousios and homoousios?  One is heresy, one is in the Nicene Creed.  Theology is concerned with precision because there is no greater subject to be clear about than the Creator of the cosmos.  The theologian loves precision because no lover ever said, “good enough” when speaking about their beloved.  The theologian remembers that “In the beginning was the Word.”  The theologian has reverence for words because “…the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.” (John 1:1,14)

As you continue to study philosophy and theology, you will, no doubt, find yourself becoming more clear, concise, and careful with your words in other areas of conversation.  As a student at Holy Apostles, it would be worth its weight in Amazon store credit to pick up a good dictionary of philosophy and theology to have at the ready.  Consecrated Phrases, 3rd ed., by James Bretzke, S.J. is a good theological reference, though as one Amazon reviewer commented, leave his other books to the garage sale.  For philosophy, I would recommend A Dictionary of Philosophy, Revised 2nd ed., by the infamous atheist-turned-theist Anthony Flew.

The opinions expressed by the DPS blog authors and those providing comments are theirs alone; they are not necessarily the expressions or beliefs of either the Dead Philosophers Society or Holy Apostles College & Seminary.