3. Focus on Sophia’s professors: Declan O’Byrne

“How to speak of God, who is and remains mystery?”


Raised in the Irish capital, and following his degree in the University of Dublin, Declan O’Byrne achieved his teaching License in Systematic Theology at the Milltown Pontifical Athanaeum and his Doctorate at the Dublin City University. He currently teaches in the Department of Trinitarian Ontology at Sophia.


What do you teach in Sophia?


I currently teach part two of the course in “Fundamental Theology,” focusing on the figure of Jesus of Nazareth, firstly seen as a historical figure and then, through important texts of the New Testament, in the light of the Resurrection. The other course I teach, with Fabio Dipalma, is called “Contextual perspectives in Trinitarian Anthropology,” which in which we reflect on the present-day cultural situation as the place for a deeper understanding of the heart of the Christian vision. In spring I will teach a third course in Christology.


What made you specialise in Theology?


During the first years of my studies, I did not at all consider this possibility. I had studied Literature and Philosophy, and only a few years later I started studying Theology. The more I studied, the more I became aware of the richness of theological discourse, which  – in the end – attempts to say the unsayable. A great challenge indeed! How can we speak about God who is and remains mystery? What interested me most is the fact that Christian Theology bases itself on the life of a particular person, Jesus, who, precisely as human, lives God’s life in our conditions of time and space. The central narrative of Christianity says that the ineffable God became a specific person, and we – particular men and women – can take part in God’s life through him. This is why I was oriented towards the study of Christology in its Trinitarian dimensions.


What does teaching represent for you? And why did you choose to teach at Sophia?


Teaching is a fantastic challenge! I would say that for me it means placing myself in the shoes of the students who are starting out on their path, and trying to imagine what they would need to build their own learning pathway regarding a theme which cannot be expressed in simple formulas. Teaching Theology for me means helping the students to pose the ever better questions that open us to the mystery, rather than giving pre-packaged answers that risk closing us to it.

Before coming to Sophia I taught in Ireland and Kenya. The teaching experience in Sophia is rather particular, since we not only cater to those who have to specialise in a given subject, but also to those coming from other disciplines. Therefore, we do not have to delve into all the details, but help glimpse other modes and resources of thought. Sophia offers a very rich environment for this study because here intellectual research is joined with daily life and both of these together are the essence of its curriculum. Life and thought enrich one another. I believe that this is the reason Sophia is a really special place, and is stimulating for both students and teachers. 


Do you think that it is important for young students who will become architects, economists, engineers, to study your subjects?


In a culture that has roots in the Christian faith, both those who profess to be Christian or without a religious belief often have the impression to have already understood most of what they need to know about God or Christ.  In this context, it seems to me that the starting point is to rediscover the meaning of the mystery and the limits, not only of our knowledge, but also of our concepts regarding a God who is by definition, boundless. We cannot delimit God within the confines of our knowledge, since in doing so he would no longer be God. The vital task of theology is thus to keep our minds open to the ever greater dimensions not only of God but also of our life in contact with God.


In studying theology, a person who wants to become an economist or engineer, has the chance to open his/her heart and mind to greater horizons, not only to the mystery of God but also to the men and women of our time, to history and the future. I believe that this open mentality towards the “plus” factor of human life can offer incentives to develop new perspectives, taking care not to attempt  any direct deductions, since every discipline has its own focus and methods which need to be profoundly respected. But theological studies can give a valuable contribution.


Text and photo by: Luigi Butori

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