The Archivist’s Nook: CUA’s Patriarch of Patristics

Photo courtesy of The Catholic University of America School of Theology and Religious Studies

As indispensable and central to Catholic University as Caldwell Hall, the School of Theology and Religious Studies has been an inseparable part of the identity of the University from its first days. But what makes up a good Theology School? The only way to ensure the proper cultivation of our future scholars and clergy is to provide them with the most distinguished professors.

The Johannes Quasten Medal for Excellence in Scholarship and Leadership in Religious Studies is awarded to those who dedicate their lives to the study of religion and who demonstrate unparalleled leadership within their respective fields, both within Catholic University and in the wider theological world, It is only fitting to explore the life of the man behind the award to fully understand the impact that he has had both on the School and the study of Christianity. 

Johannes Quasten was born on May 3rd, 1900 in Homberg-Niederrhein, Germany. After his years in primary school, Monsignor Quasten attended the University of Muenster where he earned his Doctorate in Christian Archaeology in 1927. Only the year before, in 1926, Msgr. Quasten was ordained a priest, thus beginning his scholarly and priestly journey all at once. Ever the jet-setter, in 1929 Father Quasten trekked to Rome to study at the Pontifical Institute of Christian Archeology. It was this further specialization that allowed him to go on research digs and participate in projects in Italy, North Africa, France, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Holland, and Croatia.

Msgr. Quasten at his desk, enjoying some conversation! ACHA Records, Special Collections, Catholic University.

It was during an archaeological dig in North Africa that Msgr. Quasten was approached about joining the faculty of The Catholic University of America. In 1938, our intrepid globe-trotting priest joined the Catholic Cardinal family! A tough but fair professor, Msgr. Quasten wrote prolifically about his specialty — early Christian history, liturgy, and patristics. He churned out book reviews, articles, and papers, but none compared to his magnum opus Patrology. Showcasing his expert knowledge and years spent in the field, this three-volume mammoth outlines the writings and contributions of the Early Church Fathers.

The first courses that Msgr. Quasten taught at CUA in 1938. ACHA Records, Special Collections, Catholic University.

Msgr. Quasten served as the Dean of the School of Sacred Theology from November 1945 until 1949. He was also awarded a Cardinal Spellman Medal in 1960 and was granted a Doctor of Humane Letters in 1976 from The Catholic University of America. It was this same year, 1976, that he was promoted to “Monsignor” with approval from Pope Paul VI. He later returned to his native Germany where he died on March 18th, 1987. 

Msgr. Quasten’s adventures took him all around the world, but his legacy is very much alive here at The Catholic University of America. He has made his mark by teaching countless academics and clergy, but the most tangible result of that legacy is the Johannes Quasten Medal which is given out each year. First established in 1985, the Medal is “the only academic award given by The Catholic University of America’s School of Theology and Religious Studies” (trs.cua.edu). On January 27th of this year, the School held the annual ceremony, granting the Medal to Dr. Mark Smith of the Princeton Theological Seminary. 

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