Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Stranger in a Foreign Land: A Baptist Studying in a Catholic University

This semester I am in a fantastic seminar on the Christian ethics of peace and war, led by Dr. Michael Baxter, a visiting professor from the University of Notre Dame. Of course, we're focusing on U.S. Catholic social teaching, particularly in the 20th Century, with readings from a few Protestants mixed in.

Even as I'm thoroughly enjoying this deep foray into an important ethical issue, I'm being constantly reminded that I am a stranger in a foreign land--a Baptist in a Catholic institution. I'm certainly not the only Baptist or the only Protestant in the program--there are, in fact, many non-Catholics in the M.A. and Ph.D. programs--but I do seem to be the one least acquainted with Catholic theology and moral teaching. So... this makes for fun (and humbling) times. I'd like to share one such humorous incident from this past week.

We've been covering the Cold War period in class and part of our reading on the debate over nuclear policy in the 1980s involved the 1983 pastoral letter from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, titled "The Challenge of Peace." In this work, the Bishops attempt to apply just war principles to the issue of nuclear deterrence. When this reading was assigned to us in class, Dr. Baxter also recommended verbally that we look at another work, which he called "Gaudy and Mitspez."

I assumed that this was a book on a similar issue, co-authored by guys with the last names "Gaudy" and "Mitspez," with which most people in the class were acquainted. So, like any insecure first-year Ph.D. student, I didn't ask what it was--I would find out for myself.

And so, I diligently searched for the volume so as to acquaint myself with the contents. Searching the UD library, however, turned up nothing. I tried a number of variations on the spelling: "Goudy" and "Mitzpez"; "Gaudi" and "Metspez"; "Gowdy" and "Mitspes." Still nothing. So, I took a crack at Amazon.com. (You can find lots of obscure books on there, for sale by used book sellers.) But, once again, my search turned up nothing.

And so, when all else fails, turn to Google! I googled all the various spellings of "Gaudy and Mitspez" I could think of and still came up with absolutely nothing. Seemingly defeated, I resigned myself to arriving at class without having acquainted myself with the work of "Gaudy and Mitspez," something I was now certain had to be a "Catholic thing," that an unschooled Baptist like me wouldn't be able to find without help.

In class tonight, however, I had a bit of a revelation--an unveiling of my ignorance, you might say. I was looking at one of the articles we were discussing, when I noticed a text referenced in the footnotes. It was called, in Latin, "Gaudium et Spes." That's when the clouds parted and the sun came out. I may have heard Dr. Baxter reference two English authors, "Gaudy and Mitspez," but what he really said was Latin: Gaudium et Spes. Doh!

With the help of Wikipedia, I now know that this phrase means "Joy and Hope," and it is the official title of the "Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World," which came out of the Second Vatican Council. This document is an overview of the Catholic Church's teachings about humanity's relationship to society. (You can read other documents from Vatican II here.)

Now that I've had a good laugh at myself, I've filed away this little experience in my mind for safe keeping. Next time a professor or student references a work that I can barely understand or cannot locate with the almighty Google, I can be 99.9% certain he or she was speaking Latin. First-year Baptist doctoral student, welcome to the Roman Catholic university!


Blake said...

Good to hear your are getting acclimated to your new surroundings. Michael Baxter's neat. He's given some talks at my seminary. I have a friend at University of Dayton that I sent your blog to. I hope you get to meet her sometime.

Christiane said...

I started laughing almost as soon as I read that first sentence with the 'Gaudy and Mitzpez' in it.
I have a feeling that your sense of humor will bring such 'gaudium' into the lives of the Catholics on campus that you will not be a 'stranger' there for long. Good wishes and prayers,

Pax Christi,