Published: November 13, 2015
Matthew Briel, Ph.D., is a nomadic professor who has found his way to the theology department at The University.
He recently defended his thesis, “A Greek Thomist: Providence in the Thought of Gennadios Scholarios” at fellow Jesuit institution Fordham University.
“A Greek Thomist” examines similarities between Orthodox philosopher and theologian Gennadius Scholarius during the 15th century and Catholic priest Thomas Aquinas during the 13th century.
Scholarius lived in Constantinople while it was under Ottoman rule. The theologian “produced a wealth of philosophical and theological literature, including commentaries on the works of Thomas Aquinas” according to Britannica.com.
Briel argues in his more than 300 page thesis that eastern Orthodox and western Catholic and Protestant ideas are foundationally alike.
“People will say there is no role for Thomas Aquinas in the East and what I do is find a guy [Scholarius] [who] uses Thomas Aquinas… in a profitable way,” Briel said. “[My thesis] challenges what everyone says we know about east and west.”
Theology students are getting to know Briel.
A couple of students, including junior theology major Christa Howarth, watched him present his dissertation. She called it “inspiring.”
Howarth is also impressed by his enthusiasm despite not having one permanent job.
“I can imagine that it’s fairly tough moving from place to place, having to uproot his family and, you know, start a new job every year. Yet, he’s entered this job here in Scranton with so much enthusiasm… that’s an admirable quality worthy of respect,” Howarth said.
Briel was born in Dodge City, Kansas. His family moved to St. Paul Minnesota when he was nine months old.
Briel attended Totino- Grace High School. He knew even then that he wanted to be a teacher.
One can say that desire runs in the family since both of Briel’s parents and his grandmother were all teachers.
After high school, Briel studied at the University of Notre Dame.
His first job after graduation was a sacristan – a person who cleans a parish and is in charge of its sacramental contents – at Notre Dame.
Briel met assistant professor Michael Azar, Ph.D., in graduate school. The pair have been keeping in touch and Azar informed Briel of a possible job opening here.
After going through a lengthy application process, Briel earned a unique role in the theology department.
He is currently recognized as a visiting professor.
He teaches a few classes and occasionally substitutes if another professor is absent.
Theology Department Chair Brigid Frein, Ph.D., noticed while considering hiring him that he could potentially connect with students really well.
“We liked that he was familiar with Christian theology and he seemed like he would be a dynamic teacher,” Frein said.
From St. Paul, Minnesota to Scranton, Pennsylvania, sacristan to theology professor, Briel can be found in the theology department on the fourth floor of the Loyola Science Center.
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