Wednesday, May 26, 2021
Here, in the (indispensable) Church Life Journal, is an essay by (the indispensable) John Cavadini, called "Is the Secular University a Contradiction in Terms?". A bit:
Ex Corde does conceive of the university as having utility, but its main usefulness is precisely in its institutional witness to the pursuit of truth as good in itself, and to the vision of the human being whose dignity is reflected in his or her capacity for joy in the truth. It is only useful secondarily, in the practical utility of knowledge acquired or imparted along the way.
That this could be a viable, intellectually coherent enterprise, as noted, implies an institutional commitment to a view of reality where reality is characterized by an intelligibility that is not simply imposed and thus a mere construction and therefore not truth. This means a commitment not simply to truths in the plural, but to truth as transcending all individual truths, namely, to quote Ex Corde again, “the supreme Truth, who is God.” Although Ex Corde is here speaking specifically of Catholic universities, the claim is that this is how the Catholic university fulfills its identity not so much as Catholic, but as a university.
It is a claim about what is essential for a university to provide the cultural service which most makes it useful. It is the precisely institutional dedication to truth as transcendent of particular truths and of their utility, and its concomitant explicit commitment to the idea of God as the Supreme Truth, that permits a Catholic university—or any university—to fulfill and preserve the broadly based humanistic vision that is properly at the heart of a school dedicated to educating in the tradition of the liberal arts. It is this commitment that permits a Catholic university to resist a purely utilitarian view of education and its tag-along reductionist view of human being. In other words, the pursuit of truth for its own sake is in itself a witness to human dignity. One cannot “improve the world” and at the same time violate human dignity, or, as Notre Dame’s mission statement puts it, “a sense of human solidarity and . . . the common good,” explicitly employing language drawn from Catholic Social Teaching and Ex Corde both.