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Full Text Publications > My Fifty Years at Notre Dame by Leo R. Ward, C.S.C.

Chapter Fourteen: With One Voice

There was a fortunate though unnoticed happening in Catholic higher education during the years from roughly 1950 to 1970. We refer to the fact that several distinguished Catholic scholars made significant declarations on "Catholic higher learning," a "Catholic scholar" or savant, a "Catholic university," "the Christian idea of education." Each declaration is as if classic in its own right, and most surprising and convincing is not merely that each of those spokesmen was well qualified and positioned to speak on this question, but the additional fact that the spokesmen were from seven or eight nations, that each spoke seemingly unaware of the others' statements, and that their statements remarkably concur. The eight whom I will cite speak as if with one voice. My excuse for citing them in this book is that I have, almost by chance, noticed the power of the combined statements and that, seemingly, no one else, not even the authors of the prestigious Land O'Lakes statement, has bothered to collate so tremendous a find. There's gold in them there hills.

My benefactors in this connection are these great scholars:

  • John Courtney Murray, United States
  • Christopher Dawson, England
  • Josef Pieper, Germany
  • Jacques Maritain, France
  • Waldemar Gurian, Russia, Germany, United States
  • Edward Schillebeeckx, Holland
  • Pedro Lain Entralgo, Spain
  • Dietrich von Hildebrand, Germany, United States

(We would of course include Etienne Gilson's famous "The Intelligence in the Service of Christ the Kind," but it appeared much before 1950.)

John C. Murray noted that Origen and Clement of Alexandria had already said what he proposed to say. "Christianity was fundamentally a Word . . . something that one knows, and knows to be a law of life, normative in all the problems of thought and purpose. Christianity of its essence presumed to occupy intellectual ground," which to a great extent was already occupied. The question, Murray said with Clement, was whether there is "one river of Truth . . . whether the Logos, the Word, who had come as Christ to be the Light of the world, was not somehow also the light that had beckoned to the soul of Egypt, burst upon the prophets, and illumined the intelligence of Greece." [John Courtney Murray, "The Christian Idea of Education" in The Christian Idea of Education, edited by Edmund Fuller (Yale University Press, 3rd printing, 1957), pp. 152-162.]

The "one river of truth" idea, the Christian events, even the Word as enlightening and as completing all Knowledge these concepts run through Murray and Origen and Clement, and we will shortly see that, in one form or another, they are the bases of the "Christian idea of education" and the idea of a "Catholic university" expressed by the others whom we proceed to review.

Christopher Dawson was more persistent than any other in all history in saying and repeating what Christian education has in fact done for Western civilization. His idea of what education basically is, in and out of schools and among primitives and others, was simple and realistic. Here, he noted, he had sympathy for Dewey: both he and Dewey said that education is the initiation of the young into the culture of the community. Hence in theory and "in idea," Christian education is initiation into Christian culture, the term "culture" meaning a people's way of thought and life; and in fact, taken in this sense, Christian education, all levels and all centuries included, is in fact the greatest educational work yet done in Western civilization.

Education teaches children to do things, to plant and cook, to read and write. "But besides these things, education has always meant the initiation of the young into the social and spiritual inheritance of the community . . . the transmission of culture." "The essential task is to understand Christian culture as a whole," as the content of "education." And this can be done since no one can well be opposed in principle to this study as an objective historical phenomenon. It is a question of Western man getting introduced to himself. [Dawson said that his best statement on "Christian education" was an article from which we quoted: "The Study of Christian Culture as a Means of Education" Lumen Vitae, 5 (Jan., 1950). His volume Understanding Europe (New York, 1952) is good, and his The Crisis in Western Education (New York, 1962) is very good in this connection.]

In several attractive studies, Josef Pieper of Münster University has effectively tied together the philosophies of the Western world, and he claims that this can only be done with the help of ideas that are Christian. It would be difficult in Western civilization to eliminate Christian premisses so that a philosophy could be fairly described as "non- Christian." The nihilist Sartre calls his philosophy "atheist existentialism," and yet says Pieper the denial of the Christian idea of creation is so central in Sartre's thinking, that a pre-Christian nihilist could not have understood him: one must be a Christian to be able to read the atheist Sartre.

"The beginning and the end of human history are conceivable only on acceptance of a pre-philosophical interpretation of reality; they are either revealed, or they are inconceivable." With Claudel, Pieper says that the words, "In the end truth, perhaps, is sad" miss the underlying reality of the world: on the contrary, great divine joy is the only reality. Pieper says that to raise a truly philosophical question, for example about man or even about this scrap of paper, one is finally confronted with the problem of God and the world. [See, among his other works, End of Time (New York: Pantheon, 1954) and Happiness and Contemplation (New York: Pantheon, 1958) and his article "The Dilemma of a non-Christian Philosophy" published in Thought.]

In response to the disturbing ructions in French universities in 1968, and to what he considered their long-standing intellectual and moral negativism, Jacques Maritain wrote some pages outlining his view of a Christian university. Intent on meeting an inveterate and crucial national situation, he built his reply on his well known position that a Christian philosophy, in contrast, e.g., to a Christian chemistry as well as to a secular philosophy, is possible, and within universities. Small groups of deeply Christian inspiration could, he claimed, overcome for themselves and perhaps for others moral and intellectual skepticism and nihilism. By Christian faith, members of such groups would be alerted to great leading truths of both the theoretical and the practical order. [See the revised pages of Maritain's Pour une philosophie de l'education (Paris: Fayard, 1969), pp. 117-120. His concept of "Christian philosophy is reiterated and used Throughout his works.]

In that way, what may be called "mini Christian universities" could be formed and indeed are constantly being formed in Christian and also in presumptively secular universities. Students, professors and administrators in these centers, believing on God's word that such and such is the case -- for example, that there is final meaning in human life and the universe -- have a better Than ordinary chance to "see" that such is the case. It could not occur to Maritain to separate his idea and ideal of a Christian university from his concept of Christian philosophy; i.e., to repeat: that living in a Christian climate both the seasoned and the youthful philosophers would be better enabled to understand God and man, time, evil and suffering. Incidentally, Maritain's declaration for such small groups is, with "deeply Christian inspiration" attached, precisely what Abraham Flexner's Universities predicated in 1930 for all universities.

Waldemar Gurian who was a friend of Maritain's and who admired Dawson's devotion to empirical study integrated with principle, was concerned for Catholic universities and Catholic learning not only in theory and "in idea" -- to use Newman's word -- but in fact. He said that professors in Catholic universities should make themselves one with all seekers of knowledge and wisdom. The Catholic university concurrently has an approach to knowledge, and in some matters a knowledge, guided by supernatural faith. They should nevertheless be constantly discussing problems of the age and of the existential environment and conducting conversations with Christian and non-Christian scholars. [Waldemar Gurian and Leo R. Ward, "Catholic Universities in a Secular Society," American Benedictine Review, 19 (March, 1968). This article was roughly done in 1951 by Gurian who approved my revision and elaboration.]

The Dutch theologian, E. Schillebeeckx, has made an ambitious attempt to disengage the idea "Christian university." All science, he remarks, is preceded by a prescientific grasp of the world; the child becoming "aware of himself as living in the world . . . emerges with a critically justified Weltanschauung." But thanks to both its scientific role and its academic freedom, the university, given to truth alone, is able to achieve an understanding and a total over-view without which people would find it difficult to live a fully human life; as nothing else does, the university puts it all together. In this context, "science" means "the critical explicitation" of the lived experience wherein a person encounters the world of self, of things and other persons; science so conceived includes philosophy and theology as in the first place critically explicitated, and then as the "central inter-faculty" penetrating the foundations of reality and humanity. Theology must be made one with all knowledges, and itself be a total ecumenical theology, a Catholic or Protestant or Buddist theology having no self-evident a priori preference in the making of a university.

What the Dutch author has so far outlined is a university and not a Catholic university. It is the way, he says, of any university to seek a rounded totality of explicitated knowledges and to look to their base. But the Catholic university, apparently staffed with at least some Catholic scholars, has an advantage in doing this work, and for the following reason. The Catholic who is a scholar has a vision. "His Catholic vision of the world, set in practice first of all by action inspired by faith and then throwing light on the ultimate meaning of his human existence" is "a liberating perspective leading to the ultimate truth which is finally revealed to us by grace. In the Catholic universitas scientiarum Catholic thought and scientific knowledge are scientifically integrated. [Edward Schillebeeckx, "Problems and Promises" in Recherche et Culture, ed. by N. A. Luyten (Fribourg: Editions Universitaires, 1965). We use the chapter's translation in The Catholic University, a Modern Appraisal, edited by Neil G. McCluskey (University of Notre Dame Press, 1970).]

Lain Pedros Entralgo of Madrid University sees the Catholic intellectual as working in "impatient hope" while things, instead of being truly and fully realities, are -- like man himself -- being realized and becoming eligible, as St. Paul claimed (Romans, VIII), to share in the freedom of God's sons. The demands on the Catholic intellectual are not less or different from those of his neighbor; working with the latter, he hopes he can assist in the "humanization" of the universe. At the same time, the Catholic intellectual knows that his efforts are helping to restore all things in Christ. [Lain Pedros Entralgo, "Towards a Theory of the Catholic Intellectual," tr. by Joseph L. Caulfield,Cross Currents, 5 (1952-55), pp. 150-161.]

D. von Hildebrand's "Conception of a Catholic University" was published in 1952 and was rewritten to appear in 1953 as "Catholicism and Unprejudiced Knowledge." Its central and crucial point, well taken indeed, is that Catholic universities are needed for adequacy of knowledge. This "adequacy" does not automatically accrue to a scholar who is Catholic, but to the Catholic scholar who "never artificially divests himself even in his use of natural reason of the attitude that the lumen supranaturale imparts to him." [Dietrich von Hildebrand's earlier essay, "Conception of a Catholic University," was published in The University in a Changing World, ed. by W. Kotschnig (London: Oxford University Press, 1932; the later one is in his own The New Tower of Babel (New York: Kenedy, 1955).]

The key word is "adequacy," the best one-word answer to the question of "why Catholic universities?" At least in theory and "in idea," the Catholic university -- the Jewish-Christian-Buddist university -- has a better shot at adequacy of knowledge than has, let us say, the secular university.

In conclusion, we remark that all teachers and also all theorists on education are pre-committed not only to a something, a plasma that can be developed, but that is to be developed. Going on, growing -- that is the name of the game. It seems to us that among our prize entries on Christian education, Christian culture, Christian philosophy and Catholic university, E. Schillebeeckx and Pedro Lain Entralgo most clearly suppose that it is in the teleological cards that man would grow up in the knowledge and understanding of self, of things and persons, of the community and humanity and God, and achieve a complete "humanization" and that this cannot be done without universities and Catholic universities. Entralgo explicitly and powerfully puts this "drive to be" in the thought and words of St. Paul: all creation, including ourselves, struggling from the beginning up to now: laboring as if in childbirth, to their full and proper stature. What, then, are Catholic universities about? In this picture, they are "about" a great deal, at least so far as man is concerned. One of John Dewey's summaries says that education is for growth. To which our set of spokesmen -- and many others -- would utter a grand "Amen." Disagreement would arise on some of the means available for growth, and on Dewey's catchy line that ends are endless and that there are no ends.


Copyright ©2000 by the Indiana Province of the Priests of Holy Cross. All rights reserved.

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