Love and Knowledge: The Heart of the Catholic Intellectual Tradition
by Dale Launderville, OSB
Because the Catholic Church is a community centered upon and constituted by the living reality of Jesus Christ, the Catholic intellectual tradition seeks to know the reality of love that vivifies and holds all peoples and things together. The interplay between knowledge and love shapes the content (tradita) and mode of transmission (traditio) of the Catholic intellectual tradition. As thinkers within faith communities through the generations, the Church's magisterium, theologians, and faithful have reflected upon this mystery of Christ among them and have produced authoritative ideas, images, statements, and narratives vital for the Church's self-understanding. If Catholic believers's way of seeing themselves, the world, and God becomes unmindful of their primary goal of understanding the mystery of Christ among them, then their outlook becomes rigid, lifeless, and idolatrous: one ideology in competition with other ideologies. The focus on Christ is most clear in prayer in which a person converses directly with God. But the less direct encounter with Christ in reflection upon the created world is essential to creating and maintaining the Catholic mindset and Catholic culture, for the Catholic understanding of faith demands the engagement of the mind as well as the emotions. The love of Christ, like gravity, is an attractive force in the cosmos that cannot be reduced to a human emotion, for this love of Christ, analogous to love in human experience, draws together and vivifies the entire cosmos. The Catholic thinker cannot afford to divorce reflection upon creation from attention to the Creator, for it is the ongoing attention of the Creator that draws all people and things together into right relationship. The a priori of the Catholic intellectual tradition is the belief that Jesus Christ is the alpha and the omega, the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow (Rev 1:8), the beginning and the end of all striving.
I will address the issue of thinking within the Catholic tradition: (1) by sketching out the relational context within which thinking takes place by describing the thinker as embodied; (2) by examining the tension between love and skepticism as forces driving the search for truth; (3) by examining aspects of the relationship between the Catholic tradition and the tradition of the academy; and (4) by tracing out significant developments within the Catholic tradition of thinking through the Church's encounter, with classical, medieval, and modern cultures.
The Embodied Thinker
A thinker is a finite, embodied person whose horizons are influenced by the circumstances of the time and place in which he or she lives. This environment which shapes the constitution of a person can be referred to as a culture where human agents collectively interact with one another, nature, and God to create an inhabitable world.(1) Given elements that shape a person within a culture include the person's physical characteristics, the parents and family who nurtured the person, the values and gifts of a community. A person is born into a community and is shaped in conscious and unconscious ways by people and social circumstances.(2) Important dimensions of our thinking and knowing are communicated unconsciously or intuitively: e.g., the resonance of metaphors depends upon the capacity of words to connect aspects of human experience. This cognitive unconscious is shaped by the people, culture, and events which have been given to a person.(3) The engagement in the thought-experiment in which the individual thinking subject is separate from the body and the outside world is an abstraction that distorts the Catholic view of the human person as a creature called to embrace one's position and function within the hierarchy of being: i.e., a creature called to give glory to the Creator in gratitude for God's invitation to share in the divine life and love.(4)
If we are social beings called by God to shape the world of which we are a part and to be transformed by God's grace, then any thought experiment which brackets out God and the givenness of the social dimension of our being will only remove us from the truth and wonder of life and contribute to the disintegration of the world in which we live.
The Catholic mindset sees the thinking person as an embodied being already in relationship to the world and to God. Thinking is a creative activity aimed at staying in right relationship with God, the world, and oneself: i.e., an important activity of attentiveness to the complex, interrelated creation of which we are a part so as to discern how we can be in harmony with this larger whole. A traditional metaphor for describing this dynamic wholeness of creation is the human body. The body is distinctively shaped through head, torso, arms, hands, legs, and feet and is equipped with five senses to bring it into touch with its environment. The integration within this body as an organism and its communion with what lies outside it are marvelous, mysterious processes that are in motion and less than perfect. Attentiveness to this relationship between body, mind, and world is an important way in which the Catholic intellectual tradition brings the promise of Christ among us to bear on the struggles of human existence.(5)
The body can be seen as a metaphor for a force field in which the forces of life and death compete.(6) Fundamental to the Catholic view of this force field or battle field is that Jesus Christ became a human being and as a divine-human person affirmed the goodness of the body and provided the means by which the force of life could triumph over death. The struggle between the forces of life and death is a stage for a more profound spiritual transformation that integrates the body, mind, and spirit of the person through the person's coming into communion and right relationship with the Creator.(7)
Jesus Christ continues through the ages to become incarnate in his body, the Church. In this body, integration and wholeness are brought about through Christ's acting in the members of the body, particularly through the sacraments.(8) In the first three centuries A.D., Gnostics tried to find ways that the spirit could be released from the prison of the body and proposed that secret knowledge acquired by an elite could effect this liberation.(9) Countering the tendency to flee from the material world is an important aspect of Catholic doctrine that tries to hold together the spiritual and material, supernatural and natural.(10) The Chalcedonian doctrine of the inseparable but distinct divine and human natures in the person of Christ also applies to the Church.(11)
Through signs, symbols, and actions, individuals become members of the Body of Christ and are sustained in this Body by freely accept the saving action of Christ in the depth of their being. This action of Christ is fundamental to the maintenance of boundaries, the creation of health and balance in the individual members and in the community, and the growth toward genuine life. The physical body of the individual Christian and the metaphorical body of the Church are organic entities that bring to light the challenges, the resistance, and the limitations of the physical body in relation to the mental and spiritual dimensions of these entities.(12) The Catholic tradition acknowledges the challenges posed by human finitude and yet affirms the goodness of creation, insisting that the harmony and wholeness of this creation is sustained by the ongoing intervention and care of the Creator.(13)
God's creating and continuing to turn toward creation manifests the divine love.(14) God reveals a profound dimension of the divine character through this love. This other-directed, going outside of oneself reaches its most exalted form in laying down one's life for another. In Jesus's dying and rising, we see God extending the divine love in such total self-giving. So this agape that is fundamental to the divine economy calls for imitation by humans. In the Catholic imagination of life under God's care, such love is possible because of the indwelling of God's Spirit within us so that God's love is poured out in our hearts (Rom 5:5). God's love is ubiquitous and so is also present and active in those upright, compassionate ones who do not explicitly confess that salvation comes through Jesus Christ (Rom 2:14-16).(15)
With agape as a foundation, two other types of love, eros (desire or attraction) and philia (friendship), are significant in human relationships due to their strong concern for life. Eros is a motive force that draws a person toward another or toward an object or activity. Both Augustine and Freud see eros, rather than agape, as the starting point for love in human experience. Augustine understands eros as a type of love that needs to be sublimated into charity; by contrast, Freud sees eros as a life force that needs to be freed from many idealistic inhibitions, even though some forms of repression are necessary for civilized life.(16) In friendship (philia), those who are equals share interests and activities and care for one another. But it seems that a substantial, enduring relationship of friends depends on agape: the outpouring of God's love that enables a person to be other-directed without the expectation of reward beyond that of the activity of love itself.(17) Timothy Jackson claims that erotic love and friendship falter unless agape is the origin and foundation of the relationship.(18)
The transcendence and freedom of the Creator are important for respecting human freedom.(19) God freely chooses to disclose God's Self through creation. God does not need the
world in order to come to fuller realization of divine reality. In this free divine disclosure, humans have implanted within them the natural drive to search for God, and so they can choose to carry out this search that moves them toward realizing their true nature of being made in the divine image. This image of God in humans was tarnished but not lost in the Fall; it stands in need of restoration. Such restoration begins with a natural response to revelation of the divine reality implanted there by the Creator, but then is sustained by God's ongoing care for creation.(20)
The visibility of the Church through its structures is an integral part of the incarnate Christ among us.(21) The Christocentric understanding of the Church indicates that the divine and human aspects are inseparable within the Church. The dynamic of the Church involves a necessary tension between the divine and human aspects as the Church comes to birth. The Church is not simply divine; it is also human. Attempts to divinize the Church result in distortions just as the claim that a Christian is divinized through baptism leads to distortions if the human person and human nature of the baptized are not acknowledged as the realities within which the baptismal grace is working.(22) Within the Body of Christ on earth, the magisterium plays an essential role in pointing out the impact that individual ideas or teachings have on the well-being of the whole.(23) If such individual teachings depart from central elements of the tradition or introduce rapid and potentially convulsive change, then the magisterium is obliged to resist these teachings or changes.(24)
Love and Skepticism in the Search for Understanding
Reason, as a capacity for discerning order within creation, begins with experience and proceeds by demonstration, whereas faith begins with revelation and deals with truths that exceed the grasp of reason.(25) The challenge of finding reality that can be counted upon or is verifiable has always plagued thinking humans. The issue within the Catholic tradition about the bridge between inner and outer reality has been contextualized within the recognition of the place of love within the human person. The one who loves to observe nature or who loves social gatherings or who loves to work - all of these examples of love indicate a dynamic engagement between the subject with an objective world. Where the reality of love is stronger than that of alienation, then the basis upon which engagement with the world can proceed is laid within the Catholic tradition.(26) Saint Anselm's statement of "faith seeking understanding" could be rephrased as "love seeking understanding."(27)
Methodical doubt as a universal practice is not practical and could not be carried out even by the most rigorous of skeptics. Even though questioning and seeking is integral to human life and to the Christian life, there is a difference between a questioner who regards himself as absolutely autonomous and a questioner who seeks truth.(28) As important as autonomy is for reducing or eliminating distorting influences in an investigation, autonomy is relative to the person's time and place as a finite human and is not absolute where the questioner pretends to ascend to the mountaintop and look down on the river of time as if he were the creator of all that is.(29)
The sense that order and structure in nature is malleable and can be reshaped by humans is part of the approach of experimental science. Within its own sphere, such engagement with and reshaping of nature seems to be a legitimate human activity. But if there is no corresponding effort to discern the order and beauty of the world as it is, then humans have taken over the role of creators who will try to reshape reality in their own image. The sense of wonder and awe at reality outside of them is ignored. In a world governed by technological values, instrumental reason is more important than reason that helps humans to find their place within a larger order given to them. Integration is shortchanged in favor of manipulation. The form of knowing that comes from contemplation is dismissed in favor of the kind of knowing that comes from making.(30) Mystery vanishes from a world where the primary motivating and guiding force for seeking reality is skepticism rather than love.
The Catholic thinker is an embodied human being. This person has been baptized into Christ and so is part of the Body of Christ: i.e., the transcendent glorified Christ and the visible Body of Christ in the Church.(31) The divine and human elements of this body form a force field upon which the drama of salvation is enacted.(32) The human subject - the Catholic thinker - tries to navigate these conflicting forces of self-centered and Christ-centered existence as the way to come to live in the truth (Rom 8:3-11). The life of the Catholic and the Catholic's search for truth disintegrates if self-centered existence is given full sway. The mystery of the human person, the mystery of the universe, and the mystery of God are focused for the Catholic Christian in the dynamic interplay of the divine and human natures in the person of Christ. Christ becoming incarnate is the center of reality for the Catholic Christian. This intuition about the meaning of Catholic life provides the context for reason to function creatively in response to the world given to us. The challenge of the Incarnation requires the cooperation of faith and reason.
Thinking is indispensable to the full development of the Catholic Christian.(33) The engagement of the thinking subject with the objects of creation brings a greater measure of fulfillment to each. Even the tiniest gnat contains within it the inexhaustible mystery of being.(34) The object reveals dimensions of its being, but the object offers no full disclosure of its being to the thinking subject. The subject is not sovereign in this engagement. The subject who is drawn in wonder and love to an object will allow that object to reveal aspects of its being in a way different than a subject that wishes to exploit the object and wring its secrets from it.(35) The embodied subject knows that even his or her own body is not completely at his or her own disposal and contains mysteries that elude analysis. The Catholic tradition, with its emphasis upon divine assistance and discipline, calls for paying attention to the body and for directing it.(36) The challenge of integration and balance of conflicting forces or elements is most immediate in one's own body. By analogy, this same challenge of balance and integration of diverse members presents itself to the Catholic Church which is understood as a body through the incorporation of its members into the transcendent, yet immanent body of Christ.
The Relationship of the Tradition of the Academy to the Catholic Tradition
The Catholic tradition shapes the vision of the church. This tradition includes both the content of what is handed on and the actual process of handing it on. Since the twelfth century universities in the Western world have come to play an important role in the unfolding of this tradition. To seize on what is partial or to freeze an aspect of what has been handed on and absolutize it as if it captured the entire mystery of God is what von Balthasar refers to as a "scandal" where the finite claims the place of the infinite.(37) The effort to develop a theology in which all the parts cohere and interrelate cannot afford to devolve into a wooden ideology in which the system becomes an end in itself. The Incarnation points to the manifestation of Christ throughout history into the present. The engagement with the living Christ lies at the heart of Catholic theology such that the poetry of this encounter challenges the logic of any dogmatic system.(38) Doxology or wonder before the mysteries in creation helps Catholic thinking remain true to its calling.
The first universities in Europe in the twelfth century were shaped in fundamental ways by the union of professors.(39) The teachers at the law school of Bologna organized as a guild that had criteria and a process for admitting teachers to their ranks. The professors were at the beck and call of the students, but gained a measure of stability in their occupation by their connection with the city government that tried to keep the professors from moving to other locations.(40) The university of Paris grew out of the cathedral school of Notre Dame.(41) The chancellor of the university had ties with the local bishop, but was not part of the guild of professors. When the chancellor made attempts to gain control over the guild of professors, the Holy See intervened and prevented him from doing so. From their inception, universities were independent corporate bodies that needed to communicate and cooperate with the ecclesiastical and political authorities of their time.(42)
Academic fields develop methodologies to search for the knowledge needed to understand a particular aspect of nature or society. As each field advances, the growth in data and in the steps of the method result in greater specialization. Such growth has brought great benefits to society, but the shadow side of these positive developments is the fragmentation of knowledge.(43) In many areas, the need to work across disciplines has been identified as an important way to advance knowledge and solve problems.(44)
The larger view of the connection between various disciplines admits of no easy solutions in the modern university. The slogans of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that "God is dead" and that "metaphysics has come to end" indicate that theology and metaphysics have been discredited in the academy as disciplines that offer a rational approach to the integration of knowledge. The scientific approach to history, when taken to its logical extreme, results in fragmentation of the type celebrated by postmodernism.(45) The articulation of a metaphysics that will engage diverse, wide-ranging contemporary audiences often appears to be almost impossible. Yet it is this effort to understand the level beyond the particular which is reason's contribution to integrating the rich, diverse world given to us. From the Catholic perspective, faith and love provide an important groundwork within which tradition and reason can operate so as to articulate a dynamic worldview that communicates the truth about the order within nature.(46)
Augustine and Aquinas both identified evil as a lack of due good.(47) Where evil appears, it should not be addressed as a force to be obliterated but rather as something to be ignored (cf. Matt 5:39-42).(48) Von Balthasar speaks of sin as that reality/event which impeded the overflow of divine glory into creation.(49) The metaphysical understanding of evil as a lack of due good stands in tension with the more existential understanding of Saint Paul who speaks of a battle raging within the heart of the Christian (Rom 8:3-11). But if one transfers an existential understanding of evil as an independent force to a metaphysical level, then one has moved into a dualistic view of the world which compromises the Christian belief that Christ has conquered evil through his death and resurrection. The Catholic disavowal of a metaphysical battle between good and evil has profound consequences on the shaping of one's imagination and self-understanding in the world. A dualistic worldview leads to distortions in the use of time and energy on both an individual and a collective level. The demythologization of evil aims to limit the amount of energy and attention to be devoted to combating evil.
On the other hand, the intensity and pervasiveness of evil lends credence to the existential understanding of evil as a demonic force or forces.(50) This use of the language of demons appears in the Gospels and seems to have been part of Jesus's way of understanding the dynamics of sin and brokenness. The ascetical struggles of early monks used the language about demons to describe the forces of disintegration within themselves and their communities.(51) Evil has a more sinister face when imagined as demons that try to undermine the good. A person needs to be more vigilant in a world where one can be attacked by demons in the form of temptations, diseases, and calamities.
Fragmentation and ideological battles may be lamented as unfortunate dimensions of communal life and, in serious cases, as sinful. Von Balthasar claims that "Love vanquishes its opponent less through acuteness than through fullness."(52) The Catholic approach which aims for unity and universality counsels the cultivation of love for nature, for others, and especially for God. It is such love or other-directedness that will allow the subject to respect one's own experience and the unique experiences of others but at the same time will not see this individuality as disruptive of unity. Heresy and schism have been regarded as major problems in the Catholic tradition, for Christ has united heaven and earth through his dying and rising and all creatures are called to recognize Jesus as "the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6).(53)
The place of disagreement, debate, and dissent in the Catholic community is best assessed within this larger commitment to the primacy of love. The concern for others and the readiness to stay with intractable problems over the long-run are fundamental to the Catholic tradition. Withdrawal and fission are not tactics that find legitimacy in the Catholic tradition -- except as part of specific, tactical maneuvers. The schisms that have split the universal church are a source of scandal and cannot be viewed as legitimate expressions of the particularity of peoples and circumstances.(54) The tightrope walk involved in expressing one's convictions about the truth over controversial issues should not be re-imagined as a level playing field in which withdrawal or secession is a legitimate or honorable option -- except in extreme circumstances when justice and truth require it.
Critical inquiry requires that one follow the data and the argument of the issue at hand and reach conclusions in accord with the evidence. Any positions in conflict with the data should be reexamined. This freedom to follow the argument in a disciplinary area may come into conflict with the Catholic tradition. From the perspective of the magisterium, the dissenting investigator is out of step with the more inclusive, fundamental truth of the Catholic tradition.(55) Sometimes the conflict between the magisterium and the investigator is one that can be resolved only through the passage of time and a shift in the complex circumstances that influence the discernment of the parties to the dispute. The Galileo affair is a well-known example.(56) The magisterium has a duty to assess the impact of theories and hypotheses on the well-being of the Catholic community and cannot simply allow innovative teachings to be broadcast throughout the Church and thereafter to deal with the negative, disruptive consequences.
Cardinal Ratzinger counsels that published findings should be understandable by the typical member of the congregation. He claims that truth, when properly articulated and rightly understood, is not esoteric but readily comprehensible.(57) Such a claim has more to do with the truths of the Catholic faith than with the hypotheses of specialized studies. So the question of how scholars and researchers can freely pursue their investigations within a Catholic institution of higher learning remains an important concern.(58)
Catholic institutions need scholars and researchers in all fields, including theology, to pursue their investigations so that they are attentive to the data and allow reason to guide them.(59) The attention to the needs of the church in order to promote the well-being of the body of believers sets limits to these investigations.(60) How are these limits articulated? Who is the voice of these limits? These points provoke much controversy, so much so that some will regard a Catholic university as an oxymoron. However, no institution gives a completely free slate to any individual to do as he or she wishes. Critical to this debate over the freedom within an academic institution is an understanding of what constitutes authentic freedom and how such freedom is safeguarded.(61) For in the Catholic tradition, the human person is not understood as an isolated will guided by intelligence but rather as a social being related to all of reality.(62) Catholic institutions need to encourage debate, even on the most controversial issues. Such debate will lead opposing sides to become more informed about one another's views and, in the long run, can promote a greater appreciation of the complexity of the created world. The mystery of Christ as revealed in creation and to creatures is a superabundant, all-encompassing reality that is continually unfolding. Careful research and free debate is essential for advance of knowledge. On some issues which have an immediate pastoral impact, the magisterium will intervene to direct the discussion.(63)
Reason is integral to the human person and has played an honorable role in the Catholic intellectual tradition. In our times, radical skeptics discount the possibility of reason's capacity to attain truth.(64) The Catholic tradition, grounded in love and faith, provides a platform upon which reason can make statements about objective reality that many philosophers and theoreticians are reluctant to make. The Catholic tradition, with strong voices such as that of Augustine, honors subjectivity as an arena for the disclosure of important truths, but the objective world is also an area in which truth can be made manifest and known. The methodical doubt or systematic skepticism of epistemologists and theorists who have severed the connection between the knower and the known are, from the vantage point of the Catholic tradition, alienated seekers of truth who are driven more by abstract questioning rather than drawn by wondering love in their search for truth.
Development Within the Catholic Intellectual Tradition
The fundamental reality of the incarnate Christ who is both Creator and Redeemer is grasped by the Christian community as a mystery alive in its experience. The depth and richness of this mystery unfolds within the Catholic tradition. This mystery will never be completely disclosed to humans for Christ engages humans in the dynamics of love and thinking that involve both disclosure and retreat.(65) The mystery of Christ is not a reality to be analyzed and mastered, just as personal relationships between friends are not realities to be controlled.
In the early Christian centuries, the challenge of understanding Christ as both God and man demanded the use of Greek terms, such as that of homoousios, to maintain that Jesus did not forfeit his divinity by becoming human. The view that God the Father was unchanging was axiomatic throughout the formative early Christian centuries.(66) Such an ontological claim originated in the Greek tradition and became an important means in the Christian tradition for expressing the transcendence of God. By contrast, the Hebrew tradition emphasized the constancy and fidelity of God's relationship with the Israelites and so readily referred to God as one who might change his stance in a given particular set of circumstances for the sake of the covenantal relationship. The practice of the Christian community's borrowing from classical culture illustrates that the Christian and Catholic tradition grows up and lives within the cultures of the world. These cultures express important truths about nature and socio-political life that help Christians and Catholics understand their own culture.(67) Taking its stance within the mystery of the incarnate Christ, the Catholic tradition values the truths of other cultures but recontextualizes them within the more fundamental mystery of Christ.
In the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the works of Aristotle were reintroduced into the European and western world from the Islamic schools where they had been preserved and studied since they were taken over from the Syriac schools of the eastern Roman Empire of the early Christian centuries.(68) The Catholic tradition in Europe until the eleventh century was shaped largely by the reflection upon the scriptures and supplemented in the early centuries by Neoplatonic and Stoic philosophies.(69) The bulk of Aristotle's works had not been not available to the cathedral and monastic schools of Europe. In 1277, the Church placed a ban on Aristotle's works, which only served to increase the study of them for it was necessary to know what one was condemning.(70)
As Aristotle's works gained attention, more credence was given to his theory of knowledge that humans must first sense a reality before they can know it.(71) The data of the senses became much more important. Through the senses, the human knower can perceive the form of the object. The form of the object is constitutive of knowledge; it is the form that individuals talk about, and it is this which takes shape in the imagination and memory of the individual and is true insofar as it corresponds to the form of the object in creation.(72) By contrast for Plato, the true reality was the form which existed in the transcendent, invisible realm and the material object was a mere shadow of that true reality of forms. For Aquinas (1226-74), the true form is in the material object and needs to be perceived by the knower. Furthermore, Aquinas claimed that the matter of an object individualized the object and so gave material reality an important place in his worldview, even though matter itself is unknowable.(73) Aquinas' epistemology promotes a more empirical approach to gaining knowledge.(74)
The claim that the form inheres in the object and that the human observer creates an image of that form in his/her mind locates the act of knowing in the exchange between the observer and the external world. The truth about the object is found in the correspondence between the image in the mind and the object external to the observer. Aquinas claims that the observer reaches some reality external to his imagination and can say that he knows something beyond than what he makes in his imagination. The imagination plays a key role in the act of knowing but the knowledge gained is not simply a fabrication of the imagination. Commonsense knowledge affirms such a principle. Scientific investigation demands that an experiment can be duplicated by other scientists in order to achieve similar results. There is an objective world there even though our capacity to know it is incomplete. As Aquinas makes the claim that the form of an object is given and is to be discovered, he is saying that creation is not simply moist clay to be shaped at will by a human knower. When the object of investigation is a human being, Aquinas would claim that the human being has a nature and is not simply shaped by the forces of history. This claim is in accord with his conviction that nature has an order inherent in it and aspects of this order can be perceived by a reasonable person without the assistance of faith.(75)
The recovery of Aristotle could not have taken place without the Islamic culture. Likewise, the capacity of Catholic scholars to carry out text criticism was greatly enhanced by the assistance of Jewish scholars who had worked closely with scriptural and talmudic texts and their transmission. The history of the high middle ages attests to substantial exchange between Catholic, Jewish, and Islamic scholars.(76) In the Islamic world, the religious establishment did not draw upon Aristotelian philosophy to complement the knowledge revealed in the Koran. The Islamic scholars devoted to Aristotelian works came from other professions such as medicine and law.(77) The textual and linguistic expertise of the Jewish scholars was a distinctive scholarly enterprise;(78) to an extent it was complemented by philosophical efforts of thinkers such as Maimonides.(79) The Jewish, Islamic, and Christian cultures are traditional: their basic values and vision have been shaped in the past and continuity is a higher value than change. Even though these cultures recognize the need to adapt and develop, their bias has been towards continuity rather than toward innovation. So the communication between thinkers of these cultures tends to be aimed at conserving their distinctive heritages and at times clarifying their positions or doctrines by contrasting them with those of other cultures (i.e., apologetics).(80)
The rise of universities in Italy, France, and England in the high middle ages marks the new value placed upon learning in the humanities and sciences. In monastic orders, the danger of classical rhetoric and learning to the monk in his search for God was frequently expressed.(81) With the formation of the universities, theology was still the queen of the sciences, but the other areas of inquiry grew in significance. Aquinas' efforts to demonstrate the existence of God from observation of order in nature exemplify the confidence of this era in the capacity of reason to gain truth.(82) Reason, as exercised by those outside of the Catholic tradition, could reach significant truths about nature and the world that would be valuable to the Catholic community.(83) Such truths could complement the truths of scripture and tradition whose validity was demonstrated by the grace-filled life of Christian communities.
Dialectic was an important art operative in medieval universities since the time of Peter Abelard (1079-1142).(84) The scholastic method of posing a question and then disputing the pros and cons on it became a standard pedagogical tool.(85) This same method is evident in Aquinas' work. Debate and argument is prized in this setting. Aquinas is celebrated as the highly intelligent synthesizer who was able to bring the thought of Aristotle into harmony with the scripture and tradition of Christianity. As a knowing subject, Aquinas not only had to be attentive to the data of nature and Aristotle's thinking about this, he also had to recognize that he was thinking out of and on behalf of the Christian community and so had to pay attention to its values and vision.(86) Debate and conflict played an important role in Aquinas' search for truth but were not ends-in-themselves. As with Augustine, it was important for the knower to gain at least a portion of the truth in order to guide and sustain the search.(87) Aquinas saw skepticism in the service of the love which drew the knower to want to find the truth. Aquinas seems to have had an intuitive vision of how the world fit together, for Brian Davies claims that Aquinas articulates all the major conclusions of his worldview in his first work.(88) It is as if the bulk of his work was devoted to unfolding the richness of that vision.
The Catholic tradition had from the very beginning drawn upon and distinguished itself from classical culture and Judaism. Integral to a tradition is a foundational event. To keep the memory of this event alive, the event must be re-presenced in each generation and sustained in an ongoing way. Anthropologists claim that such a memory does not aim to recapture the original event wie es eigentlich gewesen. Rather humans tend to remember previous tellings of events, even if they were present for the actual event. To remember and re-articulate a re-telling points out that the original event contains a richness that no observer could fully articulate in one telling. So in subsequent re-tellings individuals elaborate on aspects of the event that they have gained from subsequent reflection. All of these reflections and elaborations are legitimate dimensions of the rich, polyvalence of the original event.(89)
The Reformers initiated an important process of purification within the church. The fruits of their criticisms are still unfolding within the church. But the scandal of schism weighs heavily on the Body of Christ.(90) How can serious debates and disagreements within the church be sustained without fission or fragmentation? The Catholic tradition envisions the church as the Body of Christ in which the bishop of Rome exercises primacy among the bishops. The teaching, governing, and priestly authority of the bishops reaches back to the apostles. This apostolic tradition and the scriptures constitute the authoritative memory of the church. The Reformers's legitimate appeal to the primacy of the scriptures could not simply erase the developments of the intervening centuries.(91) The debates resulted in fission; the balance of competing forces within the Body of Christ is difficult to maintain. How to receive the divine grace which alone can sustain unity is an important question facing a divided Christianity.
The Council of Trent (1545-63) set the agenda for the Catholic Church for the succeeding centuries. On doctrinal points it responded to the following issues: (1) justification by grace and the place for human works within such a claim, (2) the institution of the seven sacraments rather than three or less acknowledged by various reforming groups, (3) the authority of Scripture and Tradition.(92) Trent also called for the reform of the Catholic clergy by stating the need for seminaries for the training of those to be ordained. It took about one hundred years for such seminaries to finally take shape (i.e., in the mid-seventeenth century).(93) But they have been an essential element in the life of the Catholic church since that time. Theological education has been shaped by the faculties of these seminaries who have pursued their theological research from the perspective of how their findings would be communicated to pastoral situations.(94)
When more scientific, skeptical approaches to scripture and traditional documents began to influence the research of seminary professors in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, tensions between the Catholic tradition and scientific research in theology began to intensify and reached crisis proportions in the events leading to the modernist crisis of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.(95) Professors in Catholic seminaries as well as pastoral leaders were required to take the anti-modernist oath. The concerns fueling such strong measures had substantial arguments in their favor (e.g., defense against anticlericalism and efforts aimed at undermining the doctrinal basis of Catholicism),(96) even though in retrospect many of the prohibited methods of research were subsequently approved.
For communities shaped by tradition in the way Catholic communities are, it is important that the rate of change in doctrine, values, and the vision of the community proceed at a measured pace. The vision articulated in documents is subsidiary to the living reality of Christ within the Church; too much change may take attention away from this reality and so harm the community. Authoritative teachings within the Catholic tradition are those that have proved themselves useful and beneficial in building up the community. Time sifts through those teachings which are superficial, distracting, and harmful to the life of the Catholic community.
The modernist crisis still looms large with the imaginations of Catholic scholars. Biblical scholars will recall how Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch was defended in the early twentieth century, in spite of substantial evidence of multiple authorship of these books over a number of generations. The battles in Catholic circles subsequent to Pius XII's encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu, generally regarded as the magna charta of Catholic biblical studies, showed that scientific, historical study of sacred texts was a complex task.(97) This issue of the appropriate methodological treatment of scriptural texts still plagues biblical scholars, as scholars from various Christian denominations bemoan the muting of the sacred texts by an overly positivistic use of the historical method.(98) The teaching of the Council of Trent that both scripture and tradition are necessary, rather than sola scriptura, has found new life at the beginning of the twenty-first century.
In any monarchy, whether of Church or State, the people have a right to ask whether the exercise of authority increases the well-being of the community or diminishes it by oppression, failing to use the gifts of the community for the common good, or any other tyrannical measures. In any case, the people's reception of authoritative decisions will have an impact on the implementation of authoritative decisions and so on the measure of vitality or power in the Church.(99) The way in which discernment occurs in a monarchy differs from that in a democracy, for the participants in the process are not all considered equal in the monarchical arena. Even though Americans grow up in families and work in corporations where many aspects of monarchical rule are operative, Americans are nevertheless often disappointed with ecclesiastical politics in that popular opinion seems to play a minor role in decision-making.
The Catholic intellectual tradition is a way of thinking about God, humans, and the world in which love rather than methodical questioning is the primary motive force in drawing the thinker to discover the truth that makes all things work together for good. Just as the individual thinker has both a mind and a body in a fruitful, yet tensive interplay, so also Catholic community is a body with diverse members that complement and challenge one another. The bias in the Catholic intellectual tradition is toward wholistic thinking where unity does not equal uniformity. Questioning and debate has been part of the Catholic tradition from the beginning and is an integral part of its dynamic of "love seeking understanding." The truths discovered by other cultures and by science, art, and other disciplines of the academy are prized by the Catholic tradition. Yet those within the Catholic intellectual tradition are convinced that faith, hope, and love in the mystery of Christ enhance our understanding of ourselves and the world rather than blind us to a deeper truth, which some would claim can only be discovered by agnostic critical methods. The history of the Church and of Western civilization amply testifies to the fruitful interchange between Catholic culture and those of other faith traditions.
The Catholic university has an important role to play in the modern world by its capacity to promote the pursuit of knowledge directed by love rather than by power. To pursue knowledge for the sake of power leads to fragmentation of society and exploitation of nature. The freedom to learn, to research, and to teach in an environment confident of God's care for humanity and the cosmos is a treasure perhaps undervalued by many Catholic institutions of higher education in America. The freedom of individual researchers to pay attention to the data and to allow the argument to lead them to conclusions based on the data rather than on a priori constraints is vital to the integrity of the intellectual enterprise. It is important to remember that no research project is free from constraints or presuppositions. Catholic values are not irrational and so can be factored into the assessment of those elements in one's social location that influence one's investigations. In those situations where conflict arises between the researcher and the magisterium, one would hope that a shared concern for the common good would lead to a constructive resolution of the conflict.
Dale Launderville, OSB
April 9, 2002
1. Timothy G. McCarthy (The Catholic Tradition: The Church in the Twentieth Century [2nd edition; Chicago: Loyola, 1998] 140) defines culture as "the set of customs, rules, institutions, and values inherent in the way of life of a community that express the aspirations of the society and the norms for the interactions of peoples and groups in that society."
2. On the thesis that agape, "other directed-love," is the fundamental shaping force of human life and of creation, see Timothy P. Jackson, Love Disconsoled: Meditations on Christian Charity (Cambridge: Cambridge U. Press, 1999) 21.
5. Karol Wojtyla, The Acting Person (Dordrecht, Holland: D. Reidel, 1979) 206, 211, 226; cf. Francis Watson, Agape, Eros, Gender: Towards a Pauline Sexual Ethic (Cambridge: Cambridge U. Press, 2000) 104
6. Cf. Bryan S. Turner, "The Body in Western Society: Social Theory and its Perspectives," Religion and the Body (Cambridge Studies in Religious Traditions, 8; ed. S. Coakley; Cambridge: Cambridge U., 1997) 19; Diane L. Prosser MacDonald, Transgressive Corporeality: The Body, Poststructuralism, and the Theological Imagination (Albany: SUNY, 1995) 33.
7. Cf. Peter Brown, Body and Society: Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity (New York: Columbia, 1988) 186-87; Kallistos Ware, "'My Helper and My Enemy: the Body in Greek Christianity," Religion and the Body (Cambridge Studies in Religious Traditions, 8; ed. S. Coakley; Cambridge: Cambridge U., 1997) 98-100.
12. Carlo Maria Martini, On the Body: A Contemporary Theology of the Human Person (New York: Crossroad, 2000) 34; Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology: Building Stones for a Fundamental Theology (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1987) 93; Brown, Body and Society, 218-19.
14. Hans Urs von Balthasar, Theo-Logic: Theological Theory. Volume I: Truth of the World (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1985) 262; Thomas Gilby, O.P., "Appendix 2: The Dialectic of Love in the Summa," in Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae. Volume 1: The Existence of God; Part One: Questions 1-13 (ed. T. Gilby; Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1969) 243; Barbour, Religion and Science, 295; Jackson, Love Disconsoled, 23.
22. Cf. Karol Wojtyla, "On the Metaphysical and Phenomenological Basis of the Moral Norm in the Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas and Max Scheler," Person and Community: Selected Essays (New York: Peter Lang, 1993) 89.
23. Francis A. Sullivan, Magisterium: Teaching Authority in the Catholic Church (New York: Paulist, 1983) 63, 70. Thomas P. Rausch, S.J. (Reconciling Faith and Reason: Apologists, Evangelists, and Theologians in a Divided Church [Collegeville: Liturgical, 2000] 17) states: "Studies on the ecclesial practice of reception have helped us to appreciate better that the magisterium speaks for the Church, rather than to it."
27. John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, #42; Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, The Nature and Mission of Theology: Approaches to Understanding Its Role in the Light of Current Controversy (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1995) 27; cf. von Balthasar, Theo-Logic, 264.
28. John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, #16. Cf. Prosser MacDonald (Transgressive Corporeality, 22) notes that Nietzsche criticizes the will to truth of metaphysics as an effort that does violence to the particular and changing.
29. Mary Midgley, "The soul's successors: philosophy and the 'body'," Religion and the Body (Cambridge Studies in Religious Traditions, 8; ed. S. Coakley; Cambridge: Cambridge U., 1997) 62; Frank Ankersmit, "Historicism, Post-Modernism and Epistemology," Post-modernism and Anthropology: Theory and Practice (Assen: Van Gorcum, 1995) 30; Terry Eagleton, The Illusions of Postmodernism (Oxford: Blackwell, 1996) 41.
41. Ferruolo, The Origins of the University, 27, 295-98. John Henry Newman (The Idea of a University [New Haven: Yale, 1996; orig. publication, London, New York: Longman, Green, 1899] 24) claims that Alcuin of York was summoned by Charlemagne to found the School of Paris.
45. Eagleton, The Illusions of Postmodernism, 39; Barbour, Religion and Science, 81-82; Ratzinger, The Nature and Mission of Theology, 21. Barbour (Religion and Science, 325) argues that Christianity should not adopt any metaphysical system but should be concerned with metaphysical questions and draw upon various metaphysical concepts.
46. John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, #5, 16; Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics. Volume IV: The Realm of Metaphysics in Antiquity (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1989) 25, 50-51; Michael Scanlon, "The Humiliated Self as the Rhetorical Self," Questioning God (ed. J. Caputo, M. Dooley, M. Scanlon; Bloomington, IN: Indiana U. Press, 2001) 264-69. Cardinal Ratzinger (The Nature and Mission of Theology, 56) claims that the finite human mind knows the truth about God by analogy, which is not the same as knowing it by metaphor; he emphasizes that the magisterium must keep this distinction clear for Catholic theology.
47. F. C. Copleston, Aquinas (Baltimore: Penguin, 1955) 191; William E. Mann, "Augustine on Evil and Original Sin," The Cambridge Companion to Augustine (ed. E. Stump and N. Kretzmann; Cambridge: Cambridge U. Press, 2001) 45.
55. John Rist ("Faith and Reason," The Cambridge Companion to Augustine [ed. E. Stump and N. Kretzmann; Cambridge: Cambridge U. Press, 2001] 30) notes that for Augustine discernment by authorities was necessary in Christian communities and differed from the authority of a reasoned argument where its persuasiveness rested on strict demonstration.
60. Rausch (Reconciling Faith and Reason, 4, 15-16) notes the increasing academic treatment of theology in undergraduate departments resulted in teachers paying less attention to the developmental needs of the students. See also Ratzinger, The Nature and Mission of Theology, 115-16.
61. Cf. Bruce Douglas, "Centered Pluralism: A Report of a Faculty Seminar on the Jesuit and Catholic Identity of Georgetown University," Enhancing Religious Identity: Best Practices from Catholic Campuses (ed. J. Wilcox and I. King; Washington: Georgetown U. Press, 2000) 76.
62. John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, #31. Midgley ("The soul's successors: philosophy and the 'body'," 56) states that the Enlightenment understood "the essential self as consisting in reason. That meant an isolated will, guided by an intelligence, arbitrarily connected to a rather unsatisfactory array of feelings, and lodged, by chance, in an equally unsatisfactory human body. Externally, this being stood alone. Each individual's relation to all others was optional, to be arranged at will by contract. It depended on the calculations of the intellect about self-interest and on views of that interest freely chosen by the will."
63. Cardinal Ratzinger (The Nature and Mission of Theology, 66) argues for the essential role of the magisterium in promoting constructive theology, but also notes that "the narrow-minded and petty surveillance" of the magisterium during the Modernist crisis is "no figment of the imagination." Cf. Rausch, Reconciling Faith and Reason, 13, 123.
86. Knowles (The Evolution of Medieval Thought, 267) notes that it was not until the Counter-Reformation and more so with the nineteenth century that Aquinas' philosophy became in some respects a synonym for Catholic philosophy.
87. Gerard O'Daly, "The Response to Skepticism and the Mechanisms of Cognition," The Cambridge Companion to Augustine (ed. E. Stump and N. Kretzmann; Cambridge: Cambridge U. Press, 2001) 161; Copleston, Aquinas, 131-34.
90. Himes (Ongoing Incarnation, 148-49) notes that Möhler thought that the Church is an organism that needs to adapt to the circumstances of its time, but he thought the Reformers made the mistake of stripping away structures that developed over time without sufficient attention to the need to adapt these structures and so pretended to be able to re-establish some original structure.
94. David Schultenover, S.J. (A View from Rome: On the Eve of the Modernist Crisis [New York: Fordham U. Press, 1993] 17) notes that one of Pius X's strategies for countering Modernism was the improvement of seminaries and a renewed emphasis on priestly holiness.