Sunday, January 11, 2015
One of the disappointments of stepping down from the vocation of teaching is the infrequency of engaging students and fellow teachers about the elements that make a Catholic and Jesuit institution different from other law schools and universities which pursue or claim to pursue academic and institutional excellence. I am certain that this kind of discussion, or at least the need for it, has not dissipated in the current climate of legal education. Thus, I was intrigued by what Autumn Jones presented in her recent The Atlantic article entitled “The New Brand of Jesuit Universities.” [The link to the article is HERE.] Although the article presented many facets of higher education that rely on the modifiers “Catholic” and “Jesuit” which provoke and merit thought and discussion, the published perspectives of many of those interviewed for the Jones article were profoundly marred; hence, the nature of the enterprise of Catholic and Jesuit education was acutely misrepresented. If the perspectives offered in this article are the prevailing views of what Jesuit universities are and are not about, they will likely have, in time, an impact on most institutions of higher education which employ the moniker “Catholic.” If this is the case, then it will only be a matter of time for these views to have an impact on our Mirror of Justice project of developing Catholic legal theory.
Ms. Jones points out several times in her article that the charge of Jesuit universities is the desire, indeed, the necessity to think critically about everything discussed within the walls of the academy. One could well argue that this is the mission of all universities. However, does this really happen? I, for one, think that it does not. First of all, universities today—including those claiming to be Catholic and/or Jesuit—sustain a climate in which certain issues (for example: abortion; sexual and gender identity; sexual morality) which need to be discussed and debated are off limits. To borrow from one prominent American politician, certain matters are “sacred ground” and cannot be questioned. They can only be championed in spite of their dubious nature which often begs but infrequently produces critical thought and debate. A second matter follows: what can be questioned in the cultural milieu today without restraint are the teachings of the Church. This questioning is promoted in such a way that hinders exposition, objective discussion, or a faithful presentation of what the Church teaches and why she teaches what she teaches. While The Atlantic article contends that Jesuit universities are “a testament to the…willingness to confront rather than avoid difficult topics,” I contend that this is often not the case. My contention is based on the fact that I have taught or lectured at half of the Jesuit universities which sponsor law schools. If one were to try and engage others in an informed and objective presentation and discussion of these “difficult topics” on a Jesuit campus, he or she would likely be marginalized in a variety of ways. Someone close to me once tried in a respectful way to invite discussion and deliberation about the suitability of a drag show and a coming-out ball on a Jesuit campus; he was pointedly reminded that such matters were, in fact, off limits when he was summarily removed from the rotation of priests scheduled to celebrate the Eucharist in the university chapel. Third, the present cultural climate on many of these “difficult topics” sustains an atmosphere in which the “right” to abortion, the legitimacy of same-sex marriage, and the “right” of all to define for themselves (and everyone else) the nature “of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life” can never be questioned, critically or otherwise. These subjects are off the table. If you choose to raise them, you do so at your own peril. While the much-celebrated virtue of critical thinking requires patience, objectivity, and respect for and understanding of opposing views, it also mandates the inclusion of pressing issues that requires careful and courageous examination if the truth of the matter is to be sought.
At one point The Atlantic article discusses critical thinking within the framework of exploring variations in “religious ideology”. The choice of the word “ideology” is an interesting one. I would think that if the nature of critical thinking within the realm of Catholic and Jesuit education is being explored, the far better word would be “belief” rather than “ideology”. The term “ideology” might seem to equate tenets of faith, especially those of Catholicism as the subject of Jesuit universities is on the table, with political or other non-religious dogmas. One interviewee pointed out the importance for the members of the university to ask the “meaning questions” regarding faith; in this person’s estimation, the framework for doing this is to take the approach of “invitation Catholicism versus command Catholicism.” I do not think it is really a question of attempting to distinguish “invitation” from “command” Catholicism. Rather, it is a question of whether the Catholic faith and the Church’s teachings are (to borrow from the supporters of the More than a Monologue conference several of us discussed at this site a few years ago [further information HERE]) “clearly stated and articulately defended… in a spirit of dialogue that is proper to an academic setting… [noting that] the strength of these teachings will be quite convincing, based as they are on revealed truth.”
For those of us who have ventured into discussing matters dealing with truth and falsehood in the academic arena, we know that there can be perils of doing so especially in the academic culture of today. But if we also claim to follow Christ, must we not be afraid about doing this? Christ acknowledged that he is the way, the truth, and life; yet, many well-intentioned folks, including a good number of members of Catholic and Jesuit university communities, deny His claim. Taking stock of legitimate academic freedom, this is an odd response especially for those engaged in a work that uses the name of the Society of Jesus. I base this contention on what the Society of Jesus is or what it is supposed to be. Many of the voices quoted in The Atlantic article appear to be ignorant of the nature and raison d’être of the Jesuit order, which its founder Saint Ignatius of Loyola presented in the following manner in the Formula of the Institute (the foundational document of the Society of Jesus):
Whoever desires to serve as a soldier of God beneath the banner of the cross in our Society, which we desire to be designated by the name of Jesus, and to serve the Lord alone and the Church, His spouse, under the Roman pontiff, the vicar of Christ on earth, should…keep what follows in mind. He is a member of a Society founded chiefly for this purpose: to strive especially for the defense and propagation of the faith and for the progress of souls in Christian life and doctrine.
The means for accomplishing this purpose are subsequently outlined in the Formula of the Institute. One of the specific apostolates mentioned to achieve the purpose of the Society of Jesus is education which may well include the development of Catholic legal theory. This is the context in which Jesuit education is supposed to operate; however, it is not mentioned once by any of those interviewed by Ms. Jones. As one who dedicated a large portion of his life to assisting in furthering the purpose of the Society of Jesus, I am deeply saddened by most of the views expressed in her essay. The interviewees quoted in Ms. Jones’s article aver a variety of competing and contradictory alternatives to the authentic purpose of the Jesuit order and the apostolates sponsored by it for attaining the specified goal. A couple of these dubious alternatives argue that distinctive quality of Jesuit education is the mantra of “social justice”.
Without further definition (none is offered), this term that presumably characterizes Jesuit institutions is vacuous. Can you think of any institution of higher education that makes the claim that it is for social injustice? Probably not. If social justice is to mean anything for Catholic educational institutions, it must be presented within the framework of the justice of Christ. For the Jesuit institution more is required than the simple assertion that it is for “social justice”. Yet for many on Jesuit campuses the mere utterance of the mantra is sufficient to maintain its bona fides. At this stage, another question emerges from some of the views expressed in The Atlantic article: is there are substantive distinction between being Catholic and being Jesuit essential to explaining the Jesuit “brand”?
In 1994 David J. O’Brien touched upon the distinction between Catholic and Jesuit in his Conversations on Jesuit Higher Education essay entitled “Jesuit, Si, Catholic… Not So Sure.” The distinction O’Brien examined is evident in the opinions of several of those persons interviewed for The Atlantic article. As one employee of a “Jesuit” school asserted, “We hide the word ‘Catholic’ from prospective students… We focus on the Jesuit piece rather than the Catholic piece.” While such an attitude is antithetical to the definition of what it means to be “Jesuit” as defined by the Formula of the Institute, there it is nonetheless. This misapprehension about what is constitutive of Jesuit education is apparently held by some charged with the governance of these schools that rely upon the name “Jesuit”. As one member of a board of trustees was quoted, “We’re more concerned with the Jesuit way than with Catholicism.” Strangely this contradicts the Formula of the Institute; moreover, it disregards the valuable insight of Avery Cardinal Dulles who, in describing the nature of Jesuit higher education, stated that the Jesuit element must be “an intensification” of its Catholic element.
Another perspective found in The Atlantic article contends that “it’s ultimately out of the university’s hands as to whether it retains its Catholic identity… it’s up to the Catholic Church.” While it is true that competent ecclesiastical authorities have, under the law of the Church and the documents of the Second Vatican Council, the authority to determine who can and who cannot use the moniker “Catholic,” it is not the Church who really imposes the nexus; it is an exercise of the authentic freedom of the school itself to decide whether it wishes to be a Catholic institution or not. While it may seem to be Catholic insofar as it has religious symbols like crosses and crucifixes on the campus, it is finally the decision of the institution to live and express its Catholicism or not in everything that it does. If it asserts that it is Catholic, then it must affirmatively demonstrate that this is so by living and proclaiming the Good News and through adhering to two thousand years of authentic Catholicism. To borrow from the title of the article from The Atlantic, the brand name may be there; however, whether it is the genuine article or a counterfeit knock-off is up to the institution’s fidelity to the prescriptions set down by Saint Ignatius. Truth in advertising is vital to the authenticity of the claim that a school is Jesuit. If I may borrow from the Formula of the Institute, whosoever desires to serve as a Jesuit institution should keep what follows in mind: that the Jesuit order was founded for this purpose, which is “to strive especially for the defense and propagation of the faith and for the progress of souls in Christian life and doctrine.” I fear that in today’s climate many students, faculty, and administrators who believe they are a part of Jesuit education would find it difficult to endorse this essence of what it means to be Jesuit.
Let me conclude today’s posting with this thought. I think that Autumn Jones has done a great service by publishing her article upon which I have commented here. Her essay can serve as a catalyst for folks who are supportive of and concerned about the status of Jesuit and Catholic higher education to reflect critically upon what is at stake so that the enterprise of Catholic higher education may flourish. For those who believe that Christ is the Lord and Savior of the human person, let us not be afraid to follow Him rather than the sirens of the present age who think and claim that they are a part of the enterprise molded by Ignatius but, in fact, are not. Christ engaged the world for the particular objective of human salvation, and this purpose became that of Ignatius of Loyola. May this end be unambiguously reflected in the lives and work of those who follow the Son day after day on the campuses that claim to be Jesuit and Catholic. This work is not one of imposing but of proposing the objective for which the Jesuit order was established.