Faith and Scholarship

Historical Development

Mission and Identity

Faith and Scholarship

Curriculum Issues

Knowledge and Service

Return to Main Page

The Mature Faith

Bernard Cooke expresses the hope that a Christian university would have for its role in the faith process of its students:

Somehow or other, during these years there should have occurred a change of that attitude which characterizes a child's acceptance of faith into that of the adult who knows why and what he believes. The faith possessed by our graduates should be a clear acceptance of Christianity with all its implications on the supernatural basis of the revelation given by God... a rather accurate understanding of the sources of revelation, and an objective appraisal of the contemporary reality of the Church itself...  Such a personal orientation toward God would be the product of our classroom instruction, as well as of the liturgical life which we would have encouraged, the special direction that they would have received through personal contact, and spiritual deepening in organizations...[1]

To be fruitful at the university level, the theological tradition must be presented in a spirit of free an open inquiry, and the more formal principles must be complemented with other approaches: "any understanding of God, man, or his world drawn from history, literature, art, science, any discipline of knowledge which man develops in his educated life."[2] In this process, exposure to other points of view is crucial. The student should come to realize that neither his or her faith tradition, nor the whole of Christianity have a monopoly on truth.[3]

Research and Authority

Probably all faith traditions have experienced conflicts when a teacher has expressed viewpoints that are either too innovative or in clear contradiction with traditional beliefs. It must be remembered that St. Thomas Aquinas was condemned at the University of Paris in 1277. There cannot be progress in theology unless there are courageous thinkers that "push the envelope," like St. Thomas did in his time. Father Theodore Hesburgh, who was president of the University of Notre Dame for many years comments on the difference between teaching basic theology to undergraduates and doing graduate research:

In the latter endeavor, there may at times be a real or apparent conflict between the magisterium of the bishops and the hypotheses of the pioneer university theologian working at the frontiers of theological inquiry. I see no problem in bishops saying on occasion that, in their judgment, the theologian is not being faithful to the accepted teaching or expression of revealed truth, but they can do this without seeming to jeopardize his honest efforts within the authentic realm of university research...[4]

If this is ever done, and it should be rare, it must be done in a tone of dialog, in order to maintain the proper open spirit and the encouragement of creativity. Ladislav Orsy highlights the value of this spirit: "The right measure of diversity and unity can be a blessing for a human society. The differences set up health tensions that lead to intellectual challenges and renewed evaluation of moral choices..."[5]  Most conflicts of this nature are best resolved by peer interaction: "The university is not the kind of place that one can or should try to rule by authority external to the university. The best and only traditional authority in the university is intellectual competence: this is the coin of the realm."[6]

[1] Bernard J. Cooke, "Jesuit Student Spirituality for Today" in Christian Wisdom and Christian Formation, J. Barry McGannon, S.J. et al, editors (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1964), 227-229

[2] Ibid., 228.

[3] Nicholas Wolterstorff, "Teaching for Justice" in  Making Higher Education Christian (St. Paul, MN: The Christian College Consortium, 1987), 206.

[4] Theodore Hesburgh, C.S.C., The Hesburgh Papers (Kansas City: Andrews and McMeel, 1979), 75.

[5] Ladislas Orsy, "The Role of a Christian College in a Pluralistic Society" in Catholic Mind, March 1977, 46.

[6] Theodore Hesburgh, C.S.C., The Hesburgh Papers, 41.