Thursday, August 30, 2012


What's DSPT stand for again?

The Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology.

Is it run by people from the Dominican Republic or something?

No, it's an apostolate of the Western province of the Order of Preachers, commonly known as the Dominicans.

Huh? what's an apostolate?

An "apostolate" is a term for an operation or place of ministry of a religious order, diocese, or other Church body. It comes from the Greek word meaning "to be sent out" that supplies the root for the word "apostle." This might help: the Latin equivalent word might be "missio," so think "mission" or "missionary" and you'll see.

OK. But why is this Order of Preachers called "Dominicans"?

After their founder, St. Dominic Guzman.

Wait, why are we talking about this guys? I thought we were talking about the school.

Well, since their name is in the school, and they founded it and run it, they're sort of important to the whole enterprise.

Do tell.

Well, way back in 1851, the Dominican Order founded a house of studies for their friars in Monterey, California.

(Wait, real quick: what's a friar?)

("Friar" is the term for their members used by orders like the Dominicans and Franciscans. It derives from the Latin word "frater" meaning "brother.")

(OK, thanks. Go on.)

That went along until 1932, when they moved the house to Oakland and incorporated it as the College of St. Albert the Great.

They moved the whole house!?

No, idiot, they moved their "house of studies." Think of the Earl of Grantham moving his "household" from the country to London for the season.

A. What are you, Bud Abbot? What are you calling me an idiot for? B. You've watched too much Downton Abbey.

A. You're right, I apologize. B. It is not possible to watch too much Downton Abbey. May I continue?


In 1962, the Graduate Theological Union formed, a consortium of small religious schools that combined in order to provide their students with more resources. The College of St. Albert joined the GTU in 1964, and received their accreditation from the state of California that same year.

What's all this College of St. Albert talk? Who's this St. Albert fellow when he's at home anyway?

The school officially changed its name in 1976 from the College of St. Albert the Great to the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology. St. Albert the Great was a Dominican priest and later a bishop who lived in the 13th century. He was a great thinker of his time: philosopher, theologian, natural scientist. He is probably most famous for having been the teacher of St. Thomas Aquinas. It was through Albert's encouragement and recognition of Thomas's gifts that Thomas began to excel in his studies and became perhaps the greatest theologian in the Church's history.

The DSPT takes as its model for teaching that relationship between Albert and Thomas: personal, involved, open to investigating any question fully and fairly, always seeking the truth through the lights of human reason and divine revelation--fides quaerens intellectum, "faith seeking understanding."

Now I'll open the floor. Questions?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Orientation Week

Orientation began this week. Through a series of meetings and sessions and workshops throughout the week we'll be acquainted with all the people and places and things we'll need to know during our time here... and most likely forget a large chunk of it, and have to ask someone again later, or search the school's website. Maybe that's just me.

It's a bit like starting a new job. You go into the office on your first day, and you're not sure where to park, or which way the bathroom is, or which refrigerator you're supposed to use. You meet several dozen new people, some of whom already know who you are, and you have trouble keeping straight which one was Jack Johnson and which one was John Jackson, and you think one gal's name was "Sally," but it might have been "Hallie," or possibly "Sandy," and the only way you're going to find out is to try one of them, or sort of slur them all together: "Oh, hi... Sa-hal-an-dy...." The expectations for your performance goals for the first year are laid out for you, and you feel like maybe if you'd started three months earlier you might be able to get it all done. But the people are nice, and your cubicle faces a window so you can see outside, and you figure if you take things one crisis at a time, you'll survive with most of your limbs intact.

Seriously though, it wasn't too bad of a time. All of the staff I've met up to this point have been extremely friendly and helpful. The faculty have all been genial and interesting and demonstrated themselves to be exceptionally sharp. My own incoming classmates are an interesting bunch, meant in the most positive way: the lay students range from kids who just finished their bachelor's degrees to a white-haired medical doctor who somehow got himself into operating oil rigs all over the world for the past several years; we have people who studied classics and religion and bioengineering; we have a retired Marine aviation technician; and several Dominican student brothers (i.e. seminarians) who seem like quite the cast of characters (also meant in the most positive way). Quite the motley crew.

Our day yesterday ended with a very eloquent address from the school's president, Fr. Michael Sweeney, OP, on the importance of using philosophy and theology to engage the important social questions of the day, followed by a wine & cheese social that allowed us to cap off the day with some mingling and conviviality. There I ran into several of the current students I'd met when I visited the school (and my brother) back in April. A pleasant reunion it was.

Today featured a very important workshop on navigating the master's program. This session was designed to give students the necessary tools and tips to complete the program in a timely manner, and to get the most out of it. Helpful hints included things like: "The foreign language requirement is intended to help you develop a research tool, i.e. being able to read competently in another language--it's not just a hoop to jump through!" "Students don't come to talk with their professors nearly often enough"; "Plan on revising your thesis several times"; and "Use your electives to pursue and develop your interests." Sensible policies for a happier student body.

A note about the DSPT campus: it's a really small school. Like, really small. I think the plot of land my parents' house sits on is of a comparable size, not counting the wheat field. There are a grand total of 103 students at DSPT. Hmm... I think some basic facts about DSPT might warrant its own post. That will be forthcoming.

Nothing required on Wednesday, but Thursday I'll take a tour of the GTU library, and attend the first of two sessions of a workshop called "Gifted and Called to Study." Should be good. And, of course, Notre Dame kicks off its football seasons this Saturday against Navy, IN IRELAND! I'm going to have to find somewhere to watch it...

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The First Few Days

This last weekend seemed an opportune time to make The Big Move for a number of reasons. It would give me a week before the beginning of orientation to get myself settled in and adjusted to and familiar with my new surroundings. It so happened, too, that my family was planning to go to North Bend, OR that weekend to celebrate my grandparents' 60th wedding anniversary; I figured as long as I was heading south anyway, I might as well keep going. So, I packed up the car with the bare essentials (e.g. a tub of licorice, my laptop, and my five-volume copy of the Summa Theologiae... maybe a few other things, too), and headed out. After a pleasant pit stop in Manzanita, a scenic drive down the foggy Coast Highway, an enjoyable weekend topped off by eating grilled steaks and shooting out old Christmas lights with a BB gun (what better way to celebrate an anniversary?), and a pleasant pit stop in Eugene that also served to get me onto the main vein through Oregon, I hit I-5 and set my sights on Cali-for-nigh-ay.

I don't believe I'd seen southern Oregon past Roseburg before, and I must say it was quite nice in its own earth tone, rolling hill-y sort of way. It actually reminded me quite a bit of parts of Colorado, especially as I passed through the Siskiyou Mountains. Very pretty area. Mt. Shasta was breath-taking. I crossed the border, and continued through the peaks and valleys and slopes until I passed through Redding, when the terrain suddenly changed to flat, barren, sandy-colored nothingness. Again, much like Colorado: descending from the majesty of the mountains to the dullness of the desert. That went on for far too long, like driving across the state of Nebraska. I eventually made my way over the Carquinez Strait and coasted in to the idyllic-sounding town of Pleasant Hill, California.

The rest of Sunday evening was spent unpacking just enough to be able to sleep and get myself properly attired for my morning meeting with my academic adviser, Fr. Augustine Thompson, OP. (That "OP" stands for "Order of Preachers," the official name of the Dominicans.) The meeting went well, full of good tips for a graduate student ("Challenge out of any courses you can," "German is very hard, don't take it in a summer session," "In this program, take most of your philosophy before your theology"), and we settled on my course schedule for this first semester:

Aristotelian Logic: This would certainly be Spock's favorite class. From the syllabus: "The goal [is] for the students to become familiar with forms of argument, be able to analyze them for validity, and detect fallacies. And once they have mastered this, to be able to use this knowledge in their own argumentation and writing." An important first step in thinking clearly.
Philosophy of Nature: How should we think about the world around us? Do things really change? What is the true nature of things? From atomists to Zeno's paradoxes to substance and accident and more, we'll look at different people's ideas of just what stuff is.
History of Ancient Philosophy: I imagine we'll tackle that group of philosophers who so distinguished themselves that they're named after someone else (i.e. the Pre-Socratics), as well as Ancient Greece's Big Three--Socrates, Plato, Aristotle. (Don't believe Mr. Vizzini--they were not morons.) This is especially useful for someone learning theology, especially someone studying the early church, because any halfway educated person would have been reading these guys, and it shows in the writings of the Church Fathers: you can see the fingerprints of Plato and Aristotle all over the place.
Introduction to the New Testament: The New Testament and I have been introduced before on a number of occasions, but not formally. From the syllabus: "The course is intended to introduce the student to a critical reading and study of the New Testament. It is divided into three parts. The first part deals with general issues related to the study of the Bible. The second deals with methodological concerns. The third with the texts and theology of the New Testament." So, yeah.

Should be fun!

I spent the rest of that day running all over creation (or at least the Pleasant Hill/Walnut Creek bit of it) buying this and that to get myself situated: desk chair, toothpaste, groceries, etc. That evening I did something which will either bring me great joy or ruin my life: I signed up for Netflix. I promptly, within the space of a few days, watched the first seasons of both Downton Abbey and Mad Men. (Greatly enjoyed both: great acting, great characters, good plots--pun intended.) Hey, I'd had a busy few days, and was going to be very busy soon enough: I deserved to relax a little, didn't I? Right? Maybe? I did also take a nice stroll down one of the main roads of town here, to see the sights, get some fresh air and some sun, stretch my legs, and alleviate my guilt for watching twenty 45-minute TV episodes in the space of two and a half days... well, twenty-three if you count those couple of Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes, too. Hey, my roommates are never around and I don't know anyone yet. Don't judge me!


I have also been accomplishing little tasks here and there, as well, so don't worry. I'll be ready to hit the ground running on Monday when new student orientation starts. Should be fun.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Welcome to my blog! It may be best to begin with answers to what are almost certain to be frequently asked questions.

Just who are you?

My name is Nick Senz. I'm a graduate student at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley, CA.

Oh really? What are you studying?

You may not be able to guess it from the name of the institution, but I'm studying... philosophy and theology. It's a dual-degree program: three years, two degrees.

Why are you starting a blog?

A few years back when I was in the seminary, I kept a blog, primarily as a tool to help keep folks back home informed about my life while I was away; it was much simpler than having to repeat myself 50-odd times about what I'd been up to. Many people suggested they'd like to see me keep a blog again while I was away at DSPT, and I don't want to disappoint the masses.

Oh, you're not a Californian, then?

Nope. I'm a native Oregonian, specifically from a tiny little town called Verboort, about 25 miles west of Portland, known throughout many parts for its annual sausage & sauerkraut dinner. Perhaps you've heard of it?

What's with the blog title?

It's not a spelling mistake. I just love puns. If the pun doesn't come out clearly enough to enough people, I'll try to come up with something else?

Why are you studying philosophy and theology?

Plan A is to teach theology at the university level, and the study of theology has long been aided and supported by the study of philosophy, traditionally known as "the handmaiden of theology." Plans B-D would all benefit from having done graduate-level study of these subjects.

Why do you want to teach these subjects?

Not only are these subjects which I enjoy studying and engaging, but these are subjects that I believe to be very important for the health of human minds and souls. Philosophy helps us to think clearly, to make distinctions, which is good for our minds. Theology helps us to know God better, which is good for our souls (indeed, to know and love God is the greatest good, the summum bonum).

What can I expect to find in this blog?

Generally, descriptions of what I've been up to, spiced up with a bit of humor. I may also occasionally post thoughts or reflections on things I've learned in class (don't worry, I'll try to boil down the thicker things into concepts or formulations which are easier to swallow). I'll also consider requests (e.g. "More pictures," "Write about X or Y," "Floss more often"), but I don't take commands.

If you have any other questions, feel free to ask. Do pass along this website to anyone you think might be interested in seeing it. Enjoy!