Towards understanding Ex corde

On August 15 we shall commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Apostolic Constitution, Ex Corde Ecclesiae. A year prior, 1989, Pope John Paul II delivered an Address to the Third International Meeting of Catholic Universities. In this address we can find a brief account of the important issues facing Catholic higher education today; it provides a more ready introduction to his vision than the more technical directives of the Apostolic Constitution, Ex Corde Ecclesiae. In Ex corde he says that a Catholic university’s privileged task is “to unite existentially by intellectual effort two orders of reality that too frequently tend to be placed in opposition as though they were antithetical: the search for truth, and the certainty of already knowing the fount of truth.” In this address he says that the two poles of the phrase “Catholic university”, although in tension, complete and enrich each other. In fact, he ends the address with the assertion that the Catholic character “assists in the more complete and effective accomplishment of the mission of a university in the world today.” And he boldly says that contemporary society has much to receive from Catholic universities – it needs us to be “a convincing model of an institution in which research is joined to the search for solutions to fundamental human questions.”  The crux of the matter involves the fact that modern society needs a “renewed moral commitment” to deal with the tremendous challenges posed by the ambivalence of technological progress and the inequities in the development of peoples and nations.  These are issues that engage us on the level of ethics and the foundation for ethics – an understanding of the dignity of the person and transcendent source of justice. It is precisely the work of the university to engage in “probing, going to the root of the problem.” We must engage the full truth about the human person, the world, and God. For with these existential and global issues, it is not enough to continue to train a “more efficient and productive work force.” The renewal of moral commitment must go the root of the problem. At a Catholic University we must be radical and relentless in our inquiry.

John Paul II says that multiplying departments, faculties and specialized institutes is not sufficient because the problems require a unified or organic view of God, man and the world. He notes that the university is in danger of being reduced to “a complex group of academic areas” and these areas become “inarticulate and unrelated.” How does a university keep its sense of common mission and common dialogue around this spirit of radical inquiry and dialogue? It needs a center for its many centers and institutes and programs. The center for the center is the faith, it is the wisdom of the Church.

[Aside: I first envisioned the Pope John Paul II Forum to be precisely a “center” for the Centers, not a competing Institute or Center. This is why I chose to name it a “FORUM” and not a center or an institute along side the others. We need centripetal force, a principle of congregation not dispersal. Most of our events are co-sponsored. But now that I am a faculty member and the Forum something of an extra-curricular activity, I have no grand plan for the university at all. I just want to see the thought of Pope John Paul II provide a common heritage for us all.]

Each faculty member can be at the “center” by acknowledging the newness and embracing the radicality of the Truth of the gospel; in Fides et ratio John Paul II said “Saint Thomas is an authentic model for all who seek the truth. In his thinking, the demands of reason and the power of faith found the most elevated synthesis ever attained by human thought, for he could defend the radical newness introduced by Revelation without ever demeaning the venture proper to reason.” Fides et ratio §78

I just spent an hour today with the Rector of the University of St Thomas of Mozambique, the Rev. Joseph Wamala. He said that ST Thomas is a model for the university because he brings together faith and reason. He said he wants to teach the students that faith should not and cannot be left behind as one enters into business or politics. The communists had nationalized the educational system and purged it of all religion and ethics. From this sad legacy the Catholic schools may be in a position to renew society. They need our support. It is my hope that he can send some of his faculty to a summer workshop on Pope John Paul II..

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