On my orientation day for my Bachelor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame Australia, we had a little intro talk from the head of the School of Philosophy and Theology. I actually can’t remember exactly what he said, but I remember being generally impressed, and excited at the prospect of studying at such a fine institution. One line, however, has stuck with me:
“The School of Philosophy and Theology should be the heart of a Catholic University.”
|My beautiful university|
Now that sounds very nice. But what does it mean, practically? This is why it has stuck with me, I think. Because it sounds quite profound, and yet I haven’t quite been able to put my finger on what it should look like.
After months and months of reflection on this point, I think I finally have some coherent thoughts. They have become much clearer since I read Pope JPII’s Ex Corde Ecclesia– On Catholic Universities. The title comes from its first line, which says that Catholic Universities are born from the heart of the Church. How beautiful! Since JPII always expresses things wonderfully, I’ll be relying on this document quite a bit. So, to begin.
Firstly, what is a university?
“An academic community which, in a rigorous and critical fashion, assists in the protection and advancement of human dignity and of a cultural heritage through research, teaching and various services offered to the local, national and international communities.”
So a university is an institution of learning, in which the learned hand on the knowledge that previous generations have accumulated through teaching, and strive to add to that knowledge themselves through research.
What is unique about a Catholic university?
“It must have the following essential characteristics:
- a Christian inspiration not only of individuals but of the university community as such;
- a continuing reflection in the light of the Catholic faith upon the growing treasury of human knowledge, to which it seeks to contribute by its own research;
- fidelity to the Christian message as it comes to us through the Church;
- an institutional commitment to the service of the people of God and of the human family in their pilgrimage to the transcendent goal which gives meaning to life.”
“In the light of these four characteristics, it is evident that besides the teaching, research and services common to all Universities, a Catholic University, by institutional commitment, brings to its task the inspiration and light of the Christian message. In a Catholic University, therefore, Catholic ideals, attitudes and principles penetrate and inform university activities in accordance with the proper nature and autonomy of these activities. In a word, being both a University and Catholic, it must be both a community of scholars representing various branches of human knowledge, and an academic institution in which Catholicism is vitally present and operative“(18).
“A Catholic University, therefore, is a place of research, where scholars scrutinize reality with the methods proper to each academic discipline, and so contribute to the treasury of human knowledge. Each individual discipline is studied in a systematic manner; moreover, the various disciplines are brought into dialogue for their mutual enhancement.
In addition to assisting men and women in their continuing quest for the truth, this research provides an effective witness, especially necessary today, to the Church’s belief in the intrinsic value of knowledge and research.
In a Catholic University, research necessarily includes
- the search for an integration of knowledge,
- a dialogue between faith and reason,
- an ethical concern, and
- a theological perspective.”