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Academic Overview

In collaboration with St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry, the Aquinas Institute offers two online programs: a Liberal Arts Core for undergraduates and a Theology Certificate Program for graduate students. Both programs are hosted by St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry, while the Aquinas Institute provides curriculum and faculty for the programs.

The Liberal Arts Core initiates college-ready students into the great intellectual tradition of the Western world. Drawing from some of the greatest writings in Humanities, Philosophy, and Theology, this program provides an integrated experience of the Liberal Arts. The Liberal Arts Core also serves as a Pre-Theology program, preparing students for the Theology Curriculum classes.

The Theology Certificate Program is an accredited program immersing graduate-level students in Scripture, dogma, and morals through the writings of the Popes, Fathers, and Doctors of the Church, with a special emphasis on the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas.

All of our programs are rooted in the reality that defined the Western world, namely the Catholic Church: her inspired Scripture, her sacred tradition, and her doctrinal teachings. An international faculty of faithful Catholics guides students through live discussions of the greatest books ever written so that students can communicate Catholic principles and integrate them into their lives. The Aquinas Institute designed its programs around two simple ideas: Great Books and Real-Time Conversations.

Great Books

Anyone who has experienced the joy of learning can remember those few remarkable teachers who made all the difference. It was not just the information they conveyed to students. Even if someone watched these gifted teachers and told everyone what they said, that would not be the same as being in their classroom.

This is why it is important to read the Great Books. Certain remarkable people wrote in a way that touched the whole Western world, and students need to learn directly from these great authors. One could read a textbook that summarizes what Plato or Shakespeare, Augustine or Aquinas said, but that would not be the same as reading the actual texts of the greatest teachers of all time. Sometimes the great authors teach by how they phrase an idea, or by the way they organize their thought. Other times, they expose the true strength or weakness of their argument by letting us walk with them through the birth of their idea. But at all times, what a student misses when reading a textbook about Augustine rather than reading Augustine is Augustine himself. A textbook can teach about the great authors, but it can’t give us the authors themselves. If our first and last introduction to the great conversation of the centuries were a textbook, it would be like hiring someone to attend our family reunion and summarize everything said. It isn’t the same; it isn’t even similar.

Plus, reading the greatest books of all time gives students a confidence they could never gain elsewhere. Once you have wrestled with the mind of Aristotle or the theology of Aquinas, you will never be intimidated by anyone else. And the great secret behind classical education is that you can read these difficult books. Everyone can. You can’t do it alone—but that is why we read together.

Real-Time Conversations

The intellectual tradition of the Western world could be described as a great conversation unfolding over the centuries. Within the Church, this conversation becomes, in addition, a conversation among saints. The Aquinas Institute believes that the best way to join this great conversation is precisely through conversation: real-time back-and-forth with teachers and fellow students. Many minds working on a great text together place that text back in its element as part of an exchange between real people.

In addition, live discussion contributes to a traditional liberal arts formation and, as it is acquired, allows it to be exercised with pleasure. The effort to put thought into words exposes fallacies, sparks new insights, and hones rhetorical skill. Hasty generalizations that seemed convincing in the abstract suddenly founder when forced into the framework of verbal expression. Constant practice persuading and being persuaded soon teaches students to frame their ideas convincingly.

Meanwhile, the need to respond helpfully and convincingly to others fosters the habit of attentive listening. Reading opinions in print, written by distant people of this or that political party, is not at all like a vigorous discussion between friends. One learns really to hear what was said rather than simply noticing who said it.

Real-time discussion about the most important things prepares students to articulate and model Catholic principles in any setting, career, or state in life. It instills in them that most civilized and yet rarest of arts, the art of substantive conversation.