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Dr. Goyette: Five Distinct Features of the Thomas Aquinas College Curriculum

Posted: July 7, 2017

By Dr. John J. Goyette
Dean, Thomas Aquinas College
Address at New England Reception
July 1, 2017


Thank you all for coming and welcome to what we hope is the future home of Thomas Aquinas College, New England. By God’s grace, and with the approval of the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education, we will welcome students here in the fall of 2018, offering them the same Catholic liberal arts education that we have been offering for nearly 50 years at our campus in California. Many of you are alumni and old friends of the College, but for those of you who are new friends, and future neighbors, I thought it would be helpful to give a brief summary of our unique program of education before we start the campus tour. I want to highlight five distinctive features of our program of studies: the core curriculum, the “great books,” the seminar method, the importance of math and science, and our program’s orientation toward theology as the highest science.

Core Curriculum

Thomas Aquinas College offers a rigorous and carefully designed four-year program of studies. Every student goes through the same integrated program that includes four years of philosophy, four years of theology, four years of mathematics, four years of natural science, four years of seminar — literature, history, and political science — two years of Latin, and one year of music. This hearkens back to a tradition of learning that has been abandoned by the modern universities, of an integrated curriculum designed to provide a well-rounded education. It aims at Aristotle’s exemplar of the liberally educated person who has “the ability to judge almost all the branches of learning” and is thus able to live a truly free and fully human life.

Great Books

At the heart of the Thomas Aquinas College curriculum are what we fondly call the great books, the original works of the greatest minds in our tradition, both ancient and modern. The great books explore the workings of the natural world, consider the most profound truths about the human person, and culminate in a contemplation of the greatest mysteries of God Himself. Members of the teaching faculty — who are called “tutors” — guide small groups of students in discussions of these seminal works. They are called “tutors” because the ultimate teachers are the authors of the great books: Homer and Shakespeare, Plato and Aristotle, Galileo and Newton, St. Augustine and, above all, our patron, St. Thomas Aquinas.

Seminar Method

The seminar method (what some call the “Socratic method”) is the animating principle of the program of studies. In the classroom, a group of 17 or 18 students sits around a table and — with a tutor as a guide — wrestle with the great books. Tutors do not lecture. They ask questions and the students carry the conversation. Ideas are proposed, and defended, until, through discussion and argument, the class works its way toward an understanding of a given text and, more importantly, its truth or error. The seminar method is not only a path toward understanding the truth, it also perfects students’ powers of reason. It helps them develop the ability to read carefully, think critically, articulate a thesis, and learn from their peers. It provides them with the skills necessary for success in any discipline or profession.

Math and Science

Another feature of our program that distinguishes Thomas Aquinas College from other colleges is its emphasis on math and science. Every student studies math and science for all four years. This is important, first of all, because these disciplines are part of a well-rounded education, a liberal education. But it is also important because of an implicit assumption of modernity, that faith and science are incompatible. To have a more informed judgment of this question, one must study natural science in some detail, and that in turn presupposes an understanding of mathematics. In our view, the heavy emphasis on math and science in our curriculum helps our students see that science and faith harmonize.

Theology as the Highest Science

Theology is not one science among many, but is the highest science, that toward which the program as a whole is ordered. It is the highest science because all of the other disciplines lead eventually to the study of God. The study of mathematics, natural science, and literature, naturally lead to philosophy, and philosophy itself culminates in the study of being itself and of the supreme being. Thus, by reason alone one can prove that God exists, that He is a first mover, and that He governs the world by His providence. The philosophic study of God leads, in turn, to the science of sacred theology which proceeds from divinely revealed principles and seeks to understand and illuminate the truths of faith — the Holy Trinity, the Incarnation, and the sacramental life of the Church. Thus, the entire curriculum at Thomas Aquinas College is ordered toward theology, and in a special way to the writings of the Church’s “Universal Doctor,” St. Thomas Aquinas.

Governance of the New England Campus

As I mentioned, we hope that this will become the future New England campus of Thomas Aquinas College. Contingent upon the approval of the Massachusetts Board of Education, this beautiful property will become a branch campus of Thomas Aquinas College in California. It will be accredited through the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, and the California campus will oversee operations on the New England campus, including the recruitment of both students and faculty for Northfield. This property is an ideal setting for a possible second campus of Thomas Aquinas College and we are deeply grateful for the trust and generosity of Emmitt Mitchell and the National Christian Foundation. We also look forward with great hope to working with our new neighbors at The Moody Center, the C.S. Lewis Center, and the town of Northfield.

Dr. John J. Goyette at New England Reception 07-01-2017
Isabella McNiff (’18) -- quote 2

“Real diversity of opinion is welcomed here. The tutors appreciate it when you have a well thought-out objection — but you always have to be prepared to back your opinion with a sound argument.” 

– Isabella McNiff (’18)

Broad Run, Virginia

“Thomas Aquinas College is doing on the undergraduate level exactly what should be done. The College's alumni and alumnae prove that with this kind of education you can go on and do anything.”

– Dr. Ralph McInerny (†)

Scholar and Writer