Thursday, April 17, 2008
Pope Benedict XVI's visit has been generating more good stuff and goodness than many of us can keep up with. The Holy Father's talk to Catholic educators this afternoon will be studied and parsed, and -- one hopes -- absorbed, for a long time to come. Here, for now, is the nugget on "academic freedom:"
"In regard to faculty members at Catholic colleges universities, I wish to reaffirm the great value of academic freedom. In virtue of this freedom you are called to search for the truth wherever careful analysis of evidence leads you. Yet it is also the case that any appeal to the principle of academic freedom in order to justify positions that contradict the faith and the teaching of the Church would obstruct or even betray the university's identity and mission; a mission at the heart of the Church's munus docendi and not somehow autonomous or independent of it."
The Pope understands and expresses this work of Catholic colleges and universities within the following context, which he expresses with characteristic beauty and acuity:
"The Church's primary mission of evangelization, in which educational institutions play a crucial role, is consonant with a nation's fundamental aspiration to develop a society truly worthy of the human person's dignity. At times, however, the value of the Church's contribution to the public forum is questioned. It is important therefore to recall that the truths of faith and of reason never contradict one another (cf. First Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith Dei Filius, IV: DS 3017; St. Augustine, Contra Academicos, III, 20, 43). The Church's mission, in fact, involves her in humanity's struggle to arrive at truth. In articulating revealed truth she serves all members of society by purifying reason, ensuring that it remains open to the consideration of ultimate truths. Drawing upon divine wisdom, she sheds light on the foundation of human morality and ethics, and reminds all groups in society that it is not praxis that creates truth but truth that should serve as the basis of praxis. Far from undermining the tolerance of legitimate diversity, such a contribution illuminates the very truth which makes consensus attainable, and helps to keep public debate rational, honest and accountable. Similarly the Church never tires of upholding the essential moral categories of right and wrong, without which hope could only wither, giving way to cold pragmatic calculations of utility which render the person little more than a pawn on some ideological chess-board."
As I see it, at least on one early reading, the primary message the Pope spoke to those who care -- or should care -- about the work of Catholic colleges and universities, in the US today, is that the work of these institutions is ecclesial: The Church's educational institutions serve -- indeed, participate in -- the Chuch's foundational mission to all peoples. The Church's educational institutions do this by inviting people to come together in -- and for -- the common pursuit of, and sharing of, the truth.