Pluralism and the Catholic University

For those interested in Ex Corde Ecclesiae, this is a good article that was written by a non-Catholic.

I think it’s a thoughtful, well-written article. I agree that more effort needs to be made by Catholic universities to stress their identity. However, I think that should be done positively – by putting forth and emphasizing the distinctly Catholic intellectual heritage – rather than negatively, by excluding non-Catholic thought. I went to a Catholic university, and to be honest, the theology department was pretty weak. The campus ministry was great, and since this was a Jesuit school, there was a strong and vibrant social justice component pervading university life.

There was a group of students, though, that thought the university wasn’t Catholic enough. If they had been arguing for more classes on Church history, a greater focus on reconnecting students with the broad range of Catholic intellectual tradition, I could agree with them. The article author notes that “in seventeenth–century France one found scholasticism of various philosophical stripes, Thomist and Scotist revivals, an Augustinian revival, Cartesian, Aristotelian, and Malebranchist schools of Catholic natural philosophy, a flowering of mysticism as well as debates about the dangers of mysticism. There were deep disputes between Jansenists and Jesuits. Dominicans, Franciscans, and Jesuits debated each other over the nature of non–Christian cultures and the scope and limits of natural law and natural reason. Montaigne, Charron, Mersenne, Gassendi, and the singular Aristotelian Barbay; Pascal, Arnauld, Fenelon; devotees of Suarez, Salamanca, Louvain, the Sorbonne, and Port Royal—–all living and flourishing within the bosom of the Catholic Church.” I don’t know of any classes offered that really plumbed these depths. This wasn’t the tack these students took, though. Instead they complained about multiculturalism. They complained about feminism. They protested the vagina monologues. They were the party of the anti-. It seemed they wanted us to be not so much a university as a seminary.

Catholic universities are where faith meets the intellectual challenges of the world head on. Closing ourselves off to feminism, diversity, and all the other conservative bugaboos ensures nothing except an intellectually stunted education whose only response to the world is defensive hostility. I agree that our universities need revitalization. This should be done by re-emphasizing our strengths, though, rather than fleeing from our weaknesses.

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