Catholic Intellectual Tradition

The Catholic intellectual tradition is a rich and multi-faceted story.  It is a 2000-year dialogue between faith and culture as early Christians tried to articulate what it meant to be a distinctive faith community.  The tradition includes the evolution of Church institutions that were centers of education and learning, from monasteries to cathedral schools for clergy (600-1000) and then to universities (1000-1300).  The tradition overall points to a vast repository of theological thought; philosophizing; devotional practices; works of literature, visual art, music, and drama; styles of architecture; legal reasoning; social and political theorizing; and other forms of cultural expression that have emerged in vastly different parts of the world in the course of 2,000 years of Christian religious experience.  What’s more, it is a living tradition which draws from the riches of the past to give life to the future. 

The Catholic intellectual tradition is based on two fundamental principles: first, that the search for truth in all aspects of life extends to the ultimate search for truth that animates faith; and, second, that faith is a catalyst for inquiry, as faith seeks to understand itself and its relationship to every dimension of life.

The Catholic tradition of inquiry includes:

  • A conviction that faith and reason are mutually illuminating, that they are united in the search for truth.
  • A sacramental vision of reality that holds that each discipline offers the potential to reveal something of the sacred.  Grace—God’s loving self-gift to the world in Christ—underlies all of reality.
  • A hopeful commitment to intellectual integration among disciplines, combined with an appreciation for the integrity and autonomy of individual academic disciplines.
  • A resistance to reductionism and an openness to analogical imagination—a disposition to see things in terms of “both/and” rather than “either/or.”
  • An understanding that confidence in reason’s ability to grasp the meaning and purpose of the universe must be tempered by an awareness of the mystery of God as radically Other than God’s creation.
  • An openness to the mystery inherent in an evolving, unfinished creation.
  • An awareness that confidence in reason must also be tempered by the recognition that sin can deform reason’s unbiased quest for truth.
  • A reverence for the dignity of each human being as one created in the image of God.  Hence, a commitment to justice, to the solidarity of the human family, and to the common good.

A university illuminated by the Catholic intellectual tradition is a place of shared, transformative, intellectual life—a place where the Church, always acknowledging that there is more to learn, is informed by ongoing scholarship, and where the wisdom developed over centuries within the Catholic tradition permeates a university’s core values, curriculum, and search for truth.  The true Catholic university, then, is a community of teachers, scholars, students, and administrators sharing an intellectual journey and conversation in the pursuit of truth.  (Excerpts from The Catholic Intellectual Tradition:  Boston College, 2010.)

Summary Statement on Catholic Social Teaching

The phrase “Catholic Social Teaching” refers to major themes addressed in church documents from the late 19th century on.  It is a rich treasure of wisdom about building a just society and living lives of holiness amidst the challenges of modern society.

  • Life and Dignity of the Human Person: The Catholic Church proclaims that human life is sacred and that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society.
  • Call to Family, Community, and Participation: People have a right and a duty to participate in society, seeking together the common good and well-being of all, especially the poor and vulnerable.
  • Rights and Responsibilities: Every person has a fundamental right to life and to those things required for human decency; with reciprocal duties to one another, to our families, and to the larger society.
  • Option for the Poor and Vulnerable: In a world marred by deepening divisions between rich and poor, the needs of the poor and vulnerable must come first.
  • The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers: The economy must serve people, not the other way around.  The basic rights of workers must be respected--the right to productive work, to decent and fair wages, to the organization and joining of unions, to private property, and to economic initiative.
  • Solidarity: We are one human family whatever our national, racial, ethnic, economic, and ideological differences.  At the core of the virtue of solidarity is the pursuit of justice and peace.
  • Care for God's Creation: We show our respect for the Creator by stewardship of creation.

(Excerpts from Publication No. 5-315 from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. Washington, D.C., Copyright 2005.) 

In his 2014 book on Mercy, Cardinal Walter Kasper highlights a document by Pope Benedict XVI, Caritatis in Veritate (Charity in Truth), which explains that love is the principle anchoring the above themes, because the human vocation lies in our active response to God’s calling us into being through relationships with others.  In that context, Catholic Social Teaching is simply a systematic expression of the faith ethics exemplified by the first Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word. Their encounter with God in ministering to the sick and the poor displays the heartfelt response to suffering people in our world today that UIW expects of its employees and graduates.

Statement on Liberal Learning

A truly liberal education is one that prepares us to live responsible, productive, and creative lives in a dramatically changing world. It is an education that fosters a well-grounded intellectual resilience, a disposition toward lifelong learning, and an acceptance of responsibility for the ethical consequences of our ideas and actions. Liberal education requires that we understand the foundations of knowledge and inquiry about nature, culture and society; that we master core skills of perception, analysis, and expression; that we cultivate a respect for truth; that we recognize the importance of historical and cultural context; and that we explore connections among formal learning, citizenship, and service to our communities.

We experience the benefits of liberal learning by pursuing intellectual work that is honest, challenging, and significant, and by preparing ourselves to use knowledge and power in responsible ways. Liberal learning is not confined to particular fields of study. What matters in liberal education is substantial content, rigorous methodology and an active engagement with the societal, ethical, and practical implications of our learning. The spirit and value of liberal learning are equally relevant to all forms of higher education and to all students.

Because liberal learning aims to free us from the constraints of ignorance, sectarianism, and myopia, it prizes curiosity and seeks to expand the boundaries of human knowledge. By its nature, therefore, liberal learning is global and pluralistic. It embraces the diversity of ideas and experiences that characterize the social, natural, and intellectual world. To acknowledge such diversity in all its forms is both an intellectual commitment and a social responsibility, for nothing less will equip us to understand our world and to pursue fruitful lives.

The ability to think, to learn, and to express oneself both rigorously and creatively, the capacity to understand ideas and issues in context, the commitment to live in society, and the yearning for truth are fundamental features of our humanity. In centering education upon these qualities, liberal learning is society’s best investment in our shared future. (Adopted by the Board of Directors of the Association of American Colleges & Universities, October 1998.)

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