ROME—Full in the panting heart of Rome lies the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, the Dominican university popularly known as the Angelicum.
There, on the afternoon of Oct. 27, Father Richard B. Tomlinson, parochial vicar of Stella Maris Church on Sullivan’s Island and chaplain at Bishop England High School, underwent the defense of his doctoral dissertation in the very same room where Pope John Paul II, as a young priest, defended his doctorate in 1949.
After 60 minutes of intensive examination, Father Tomlinson was awarded the degree of Doctor of Sacred Theology by his examination board. The announcement was greeted with enthusiastic applause from those present and a relieved smile from Father Tomlinson.
The title of his dissertation was “The Aqedah (Gn 22:1-19) and the Prose Tale of the Book of Job (Job 1-2, 42:7-17): A Comparison of Two Biblical Narratives of Testing and Restoration.”
The Aqedah is the name given in the Jewish tradition to the story of the near sacrifice of Isaac by his father, Abraham.
The word means “binding” and is used in only one place in the Old Testament, Genesis, when Abraham binds Isaac in preparation for the sacrifice.
In his 240-page dissertation, Father Tomlinson discussed the Aqedah in conjunction with the prose sections of the Book of Job — the prologue and the epilogue. The priest explained why these two stories are among the most important theological narratives in the Old Testament.
He expanded on the work of previous scholars and gave new insight into the literary and theological similarities between Abraham and Job.
For his doctoral defense, Father Tomlinson summarized the results of his research for 20 minutes before an examining board, which consisted of his supervisor, Father Stipe Juric; the dean of theology at the Angelicum, Father Joseph Agius; and Father James Downey.
Father Tomlinson’s summary was followed by two 20-minute sessions of questions from Fathers Juric and Downey. The questions ranged from gentle to critical, and Father Tomlinson answered all with authority and, at times, with humor. He sometimes respectfully but firmly disagreed with the questioners’ points of view.
Father Christopher Smith from Greenville, who is presently studying for his doctorate at the University of Navarre in Pamplona, Spain, and Deacon David D. Nerbun from Columbia, a seminarian at the Pontifical North American College in Rome attended the defense in support.
The rector of the Pontifical Beda College, Msgr. Roderick Strange, staff and students also attended.
While he was pursuing doctoral studies at the Angelicum, Father Tomlinson also underwent formation for the priesthood at the Beda from 2007-2009. The presence of members of the Angelicum community, including the eminent moral theologian and former dean of theology, Father Bruce Williams, showed their encouragement.
Immediately after the defense, a reception was held in the Angelicum. Father Tomlinson blessed the refreshments and posed for photographs.
Afterward, the group sampled the delights of Italian vineyards and dined at La Campana, reputedly the oldest restaurant in Rome.
Father Tomlinson returned to Sullivan’s Island the following day.Alan Burgess is a third-year seminarian at the Pontifical Beda College and is from the Archdiocese of Southwark, United Kingdom.