Catholic universities strive to unite faith and reason

Blessed John Paul II

Blessed John Paul II

September 30, 2013
DR. TERRENCE DOWNEY
SPECIAL TO THE WCR

"The world is content with setting right the surface of things" (John Henry Newman, The Idea of a University).

"I invite all Catholic universities to pursue their irreplaceable task, . . . to fulfill their indispensable mission" (Blessed John Paul II, Ex Corde Ecclesiae).

As the 21 members of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities in Canada (ACCUC) commence a new academic year, it is appropriate to ponder and draw inspiration from the distinguished scholarship of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman and Blessed Pope John Paul II.

Newman's renowned The Idea of a University and John Paul II's comprehensive Apostolic Constitution on Catholic Universities, Ex Corde Ecclesiae, together offer profound insights into the nature and mission of Catholic higher education.

Newman focused on the "incarnational vision" of Catholic higher education, an intense interrelationship of faith and reason. The Catholic university "reunites . . . things which were in the beginning joined together by God, and have been put asunder by man."

UNDER ONE ROOF

The consideration of faith should not be confined to one sphere and the examination of science to another: "the same roof [must] contain both the intellectual and the moral discipline."

Newman speaks of a learning environment that is at once welcoming of ideas, dynamic and stimulating, "a place where inquiry is pushed forward, and discoveries verified and perfected, . . . error exposed by the collision of mind with mind, and knowledge with knowledge" (The Idea of a University).

In Ex Corde Ecclesiae, John Paul II writes passionately of a dialogue with "the cultures of our times" and of the Catholic university as "an incomparable centre of creativity and knowledge," characterized by "an ardent search for truth and its unselfish transmission to youth and to all those learning to think rigorously, so as to act rightly and to serve humanity better."

It is through a rigorous and "impartial search for truth that the relationship between faith and reason is brought to light and meaning."

The intersection of faith and reason is the soul of Catholic higher education for both Newman and John Paul II and each speaks forcefully to the early 21st century.

FINANCES AND ETHICS

Newman's dialogue between faith and reason is clearly relevant in an era defined by Pope Benedict XVI in his July 2009 encyclical, Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth), as demanding a new world financial order guided by ethics, the overall well-being of humanity and careful attention to justice.

Blessed John Henry Newman

Blessed John Henry Newman

The Catholic university in which Newman's "intellectual and the moral discipline" reside in a dynamic, symbiotic relationship is uniquely positioned to confront the challenge of a volatile, inequitable and unjust global economy and to defy narrowly focused, conventional economic wisdom.

John Paul II writes that "a Catholic university is distinguished by its free search for the whole truth about nature, man and God" and directs particular attention to the inescapable necessity of a dialogue between faith and reason with reference to rapid, revolutionary advances in science and technology that characterize the contemporary period.

These developments present a staggering array of social, political, economic and ethical challenges that demand not just specialized knowledge in science or engineering or politics or business, but also a correspondingly far-reaching search for meaning and purpose to ensure that such advances are directed to good and not for ill.

CHRISTIAN INSPIRATION

For John Paul II, Catholic higher education is particularly well placed to address this urgent need: "Its Christian inspiration enables it to include moral, spiritual and religious dimensions in its research, and to evaluate the attainments of science and technology in the perspective of the totality of the whole human person" thereby attending "to the authentic good of individuals and of human society as a whole."

The belief that people are not merely consumers or producers, that we are spiritual beings, and there are ethical and moral dimensions to all that we do is a common element in the writings of Newman and John Paul II and is reflected in the nature, mission and programs of the Catholic university.

This, and the commitment to a learning ethos that inspires students to pursue vigorously responsible intellectual inquiry, prepares graduates for the obligation to strive for an ethical, socially just world based on sound moral principles.

SAINTLY EXAMPLES

The Church's formal recognition of their sanctity provides a distinct perspective for those of us engaged in Canada's Catholic colleges and universities to contemplate and give thanks for the inspiration of Blessed John Henry Newman and Blessed John Paul II.

We honour them by studying their scholarship and by living their example and that of all who have gone before us whose vision, scholarship, commitment to learning and unwavering faith have made possible the dynamic Catholic colleges and universities in Canada that have been entrusted to our generation.

(Dr. Terrence Downey is president of St. Thomas More College, University of Saskatchewan, and president emeritus of St. Mary's University College, Calgary. He also serves as vice-chair, Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities in Canada.)