Last fall I had the pleasure of teaching a course on Christianity and other religions at the invitation of Ryan Topping, Academic Dean and vice-President of Newman Theological College in Edmonton. In our initial conversation he told me of an initiative at Newman to establish a BA in Catholic Studies using the great books that have been foundational to the Christian culture of the West. In my four decades of teaching in various universities the withering of the humanities has been palpable. In this “late age and outlying province” I was hearing, almost for the first time, a counter-cultural vision.
Our conversation begins with a brief reflection on Augustine, Aquinas and Luther with Augustine highlighted as the one who opens the gate in a post-Christian world.
Ryan Topping’s early formation was within a Mennonite community he continues to treasure in his heart. A period of time followed in and shaping an intentional community with a common purse and common work and with the good fortune of studying with several professors, Orthodox, Catholic and Anabaptists, for whom the “great tradition was alive and shedding light on the spirit of our age.” During his doctoral studies at Oxford University, he and his wife sought the fulness of the Christian tradition and explored Orthodox and Roman Catholic soil, roots and spiritual and theological pathways. Our conversation touches on Nietzsche, Habermas, Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali and others along with his professor and mentor Aidan Nichols of Blackfriars, Oxford, who led him reluctantly at first and then joyously into the Roman Catholic Church. Our conversation concludes speaking about the new shape education of priests and laity alike is taking at Newman Theological College.