When the president of “the largest Christian university in the world” in Lynchburg, Virginia urges every student to buy a gun and get a permit to carry a concealed weapon, for whatever reasons, it seems a little oxymoronic and moronic. It’s neither Christian nor smart. It’s not what people do in college. They buy books, not guns. It’s not consistent with the traditions and standards of higher learning. Real universities don’t talk like that.
At one of the world’s first universities, the University of Paris (the Sorbonne), way back in the 13th century, a young Thomas Aquinas was a student of philosophy and Christian theology. His professors introduced him to great critical thinkers like Aristotle, Plato, and Maimonides in their original Greek and Latin languages.
Lynchville, Virginia in the 21st Century is long way from Paris in the 13th Century, and that’s too bad for all of us in America where what Aquinas later called “willful ignorance” has become the order of the day.
It is clear that not every kind of ignorance is the cause of a sin, but that alone which removes the knowledge which would prevent the sinful act. …This may happen on the part of the ignorance itself, because, to wit, this ignorance is voluntary. … For such like negligence renders the ignorance itself voluntary and sinful, provided it be about matters one is *bound and able to know.” [Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I-II, q. 76, a. 1, a. 3.]
Today’s Catholic World, an online encyclopedia, adds these footnotes to Aquinas’s text:
*Catholics are bound (required) to learn and know their Faith. A sin against faith (often caused by willful ignorance) is the gravest of all sins according to St. Thomas Aquinas.
St. Augustine, cited by St. Thomas, characterizes sin against faith in these words: Hoc est peccatum quo tenentur cuncta peccata. “This is the sin which comprehends all other sins.”
Liberty University is not a Catholic university. It’s not big on Catholics. It’s fundamentalist protestant. It prides itself on its knowledge of the Bible.
But don’t we have to suppose that somewhere in that auditorium in Lynchburg, there was a professor who cringed? Someone there who resonated with the old student at the University of Paris? Someone who thought that telling young professing Christians to arm themselves was a deliberate act of willful ignorance, a sin against faith, the sin that comprehends all others?
“Put away your sword. Those who live by the sword will perish by the sword” – Jesus of Nazareth to Peter after Peter had cult off the High Priest’s servant’s ear at Jesus’s arrest, 1st Century, according to The Gospel of Matthew 26:52.
Gordon C. Stewart, public theologian, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock) host of Views from the Edge. Brooklyn Park, MN. Originally published 2015. Re-posted here June 13, 2022.