Decree on the Reform of Ecclesiastical Studies in Philosophy (Part 1, Paragraph 15)

In A.D. 2011 the Congregation for Catholic Education, at the direction of Pope Benedict XVI, issued its Decree on the Reform of Ecclesiastical Studies of Philosophy.  The terms of this Decree apply to schools and departments of theology and philosophy residing in Roman Catholic Universities which are selected by dioceses for the theological formation of presbyteral candidates, diaconal candidates, and lay ministers.

The Decree consists of two parts.  The first part is made up of the sixteen paragraphs constituting its new material.  The second part consists of those parts of the Apostolic Constitution Sapientia Christiana (A.D. 1979, Pope John Paul II) addressing these same issues and which are, either, retained in whole or are modified in the current Decree.

The purpose of the articles which appear here is to present the parts of this document in sequential order and to offer additional commentary.  The articles here will begin with the presentation of the first paragraph of the first part of the Decree.  Subsequent articles will present/address the next part of the Decree.  Scrolling down through the articles will bring the reader, in reverse order, to all parts of the document already considered.

 

Decree, Part 1, Paragraph 15:

“The reform has three fields of implementation:

a) Ecclesiastical Faculties of Philosophy

In 1979, when restructuring the three cycles of the Faculty of Philosophy, [Footnote 37] the Apostolic Constitution Sapientia christiana confirmed a duration of two years for the first cycle. [Footnote 38]  The experience of over thirty years has gradually led to the realization that three years of formation are required to achieve more completely the objectives indicated for philosophy in the aforementioned Apostolic Constitution, and especially in order for the student to reach “a solid and coherent synthesis of doctrine.” [Footnote 39]  In fact, a certain number of Faculties and institutes have already taken the initiative to offer a formation that concludes with the Ecclesiastical Baccalaureate in philosophy after three years. In this context, all Ecclesiastical Faculties of Philosophy are now required to participate in this practice, including as regards the duration of academic degrees, so that the three-year course of philosophical studies may be the conditio sine qua non for acquiring an academically recognized first degree in philosophy.

The second cycle continues to consist of two years of specialization, after which the Licentiate is issued. The third cycle, the research Doctorate, lasting at least three years, is mainly aimed at those who are preparing to teach in higher education, where research forms an essential element, including with a view to developing one’s capacities as a teacher.

b) Philosophical formation in Faculties of Theology and Seminaries

One has already established the duration of philosophical formation, as an integral part of theological studies in Faculties of Theology or in seminaries. Without losing its autonomy, this philosophical formation, required for theological knowledge, [Footnote 40] allows the student, who has acquired the correct philosophical and theological methodology and hermeneutic, accurately to undertake strictly theological studies, and to arrive at his or her own point of synthesis at the end of the philosophical and theological studies.

An excessive mixing of philosophical and theological subjects – or , indeed, of subjects of another sort – ends up giving the students a defective formation in the respective intellectual “habitus”, and introduces confusion between the methodologies of the various subjects and their specific epistemological configurations. In order to avert the increased risk of fideism, and to avoid either a manipulation or fragmentation of philosophy, it is highly preferable that the philosophy courses be concentrated in the first two years of philosophical-theological formation. Within this two-year period, these philosophical studies, which are undertaken in view of theology studies, will be integrated with the introductory theology courses.

All that concerns the duration, number of credits and contents of the study of philosophy are also to be applied in those countries where the study of “philosophy” is integrated within a Baccalaureate programme in a Catholic Institute of Higher Education, outside the context of an Ecclesiastical Faculty.

c) Qualifications of the Teachers

The serious responsibility of ensuring a philosophical formation for students demands that the teachers have academic degrees obtained from Ecclesiastical institutions (Ecclesiastical Faculties of Philosophy and of Theology, as well as affiliated and aggregated Institutes) and with a suitable scholarly preparation, who are capable of an updated presentation of the rich heritage of the Christian tradition. [Footnote 41]

“ [Footnote 37] Cf. Art. 81; cf. Pius XI, Apostolic Constitution Deus scientiarum Dominus (24 May 1931), AAS 23 (1931), pp. 241-262, Art. 41-46.

“ [Footnote 38] Cf. Sapientia christiana, Art. 81a.

“ [Footnote 39] Congregation for Catholic Education, Norms of Application in the Apostolic Constitution Sapientia christiana, 29 April 1979, AAS 71 (1979), pp. 500-521, Art. 59, § 1.

“ [Footnote 40] Cf. Fides et ratio, n. 77.

“ [Footnote 41] Cf. Fides et ratio, n. 105.”

 

Commentary:

Fideism refers to an anti-intellectual attitude.  Fideism states that thinking, in general, and the use of academic reasoning, in particular, are unhelpful at best or necessarily detrimental at worst, for attaining and using a faith that works in practical everyday life.  More simply, fideism refers to the attitude that faith does not require thinking.

Regardless of the word one wishes to use to refer to the cognitive ability of human beings (thinking, reasoning, intellection, understanding, ratiocination), the act of faith requires thinking.  A person’s awareness of God’s activity in his or her life necessarily comes through the  ideas and images, percepts and concepts, formed within the brain by means of information gathered through sense organ input.

An uninformed fideist might assert that God can “put” faith realizations directly into the soul of the person, thus bypassing the human mind.  However, such an assertion is incorrect because, according to the Roman Catholic philosophy of moderate realism, the faculties (functions) of the soul include will and knowing awareness.  Knowing awareness and will constitute what is called “mind”.  This awareness is necessarily dependent for those persons called human beings, on the images and ideas, percepts and concepts, provided by the activity of the material senses and brain.  A human being is an incarnate spirit.  S/he is, as Blaise Pascal rightly observed, neither only spirit (angel) nor only body (beast).  S/he is an inseparable amalgam of both.  Though it is otherwise with those persons who are immaterial and purely spiritual (Father, Son, Spirit, Angels), human awareness can only occur by means of input through the senses which creates ideas and images, percepts and concepts within the brain.

……………………………………………….

An interesting aside relating to knowing and awareness, is that the way incarnate spirits (i.e. human beings) know and become aware of things, is different from the way pure spirits gain knowledge and awareness.

In the incarnate spirit called a human being, all knowledge necessarily begins in the material senses, proceeds to the material brain, and culminates in the knowing awareness of the soul.  In philosophical language, all human knowledge is a posteriori; a phrase which refers to knowledge beginning in the person’s (human’s) sensations of things in the world outside him/herself.

However, with pure spirits, the process of knowing-awareness is necessarily different, because pure spirits have no physicality through and by which they interact with the material world “outside” of themselves.  These have no material senses to gather information about the material things of the created universe.  These have no material brain to process sense inputs.  Nevertheless, pure spirits have a full knowing awareness of all of reality; material and immaterial.  How is this possible?  It is possible because the knowing awareness of pure spirits is a priori; a philosophical phrase referring to knowledge which happens solely in the mind, separate from all material sense input and material cognitive processing.  God’s knowing-awareness comes, not from sensation of material things, but by and through the fact that God is the creator.  Having made all created things, God is as fully knowingly aware of their essence as, say, the carpenter is fully knowingly aware of the intricacies of the chair s/he builds.  Other pure spirits, such as angels, also have a correct knowing awareness of all created reality, not because they participated in the making of all created things, but because they participate (share in) God’s awareness and knowing.

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Decree on the Reform of Ecclesiastical Studies in Philosophy (Part 1, Paragraph 14)

In A.D. 2011 the Congregation for Catholic Education, at the direction of Pope Benedict XVI, issued its Decree on the Reform of Ecclesiastical Studies of Philosophy.  The terms of this Decree apply to schools and departments of theology and philosophy residing in Roman Catholic Universities which are selected by dioceses for the theological formation of presbyteral candidates, diaconal candidates, and lay ministers.

The Decree consists of two parts.  The first part is made up of the sixteen paragraphs constituting its new material.  The second part consists of those parts of the Apostolic Constitution Sapientia Christiana (A.D. 1979, Pope John Paul II) addressing these same issues and which are, either, retained in whole or are modified in the current Decree.

The purpose of the articles which appear here is to present the parts of this document in sequential order and to offer additional commentary.  The articles here will begin with the presentation of the first paragraph of the first part of the Decree.  Subsequent articles will present/address the next part of the Decree.  Scrolling down through the articles will bring the reader, in reverse order, to all parts of the document already considered.

 

Decree, Part 1, Paragraph 14:

“A clear distinction should be made between, on the one hand, studies in Ecclesiastical Faculties of Philosophy and, on the other hand, the course of philosophy that forms an integral part of the studies in a Theology Faculty or in a seminary. In an institution which simultaneously has both an Ecclesiastical Faculty of Philosophy and a Faculty of Theology, when the philosophy courses that are part of the five-year first-cycle of theology are taken at the Faculty of Philosophy (according to their specific nature and the existing norms), the authority who makes decisions regarding the programme is the dean of the Faculty of Theology, who will make those decisions in conformity with the law in force, and while favouring close collaboration with the Faculty of Philosophy.

This course in philosophy, being directed towards theological formation and structured according to that need, does not allow the student to obtain a academic degree in philosophy that is canonically valid. Instead, the course concludes with a certificate of the philosophical studies completed, which is devoid of value as an academic degree. The certificate merely attests, in keeping with the new norms, what courses have been attended and what credits have been obtained in the area of philosophical studies.

“ [No Footnotes cited]”

 

Commentary:

A distinction is made in paragraph 14 between philosophical studies which occur in Ecclesiastical Faculties of Philosophy and programs of philosophy which form part of studies in Theology and/or as part of the seminary formation for priesthood and diaconal preparation.  Ecclesiastical Faculties of Philosophy refers to programs of instruction and to the teaching faculties one finds in dedicated Schools (or Departments) of Philosophy at Catholic universities.  The course of studies found in these Ecclesiastical Faculties of Philosophy aim at helping the student acquire academic degrees in philosophy.

Programs of philosophy which form a part of the preparation for university instruction in theology and/or as a part of seminary preparation may or may not be degree resulting programs.  The focus of this philosophical formation is dedicated to providing the student that philosophical knowledge which helps a student understand theology and helps a student theologize in a competent manner.  In previous eras, this philosophical formation was spoken of as “the handmaid of theology” and as philosophia perennis.  The word perennis is interesting in this regard because it has two meanings; perennial and unfailing.  Such philosophical formation was perennial; that is, the way it (use to) always be done; and which was unfailing in accomplishing its goal of preparing good theologians.

A fuller description of these two philosophical preparation paths will be undertaken in the next paragraph of the Decree.

Decree on the Reform of Ecclesiastical Studies in Philosophy (Part 1, Paragraph 13)

In A.D. 2011 the Congregation for Catholic Education, at the direction of Pope Benedict XVI, issued its Decree on the Reform of Ecclesiastical Studies of Philosophy.  The terms of this Decree apply to schools and departments of theology and philosophy residing in Roman Catholic Universities which are selected by dioceses for the theological formation of presbyteral candidates, diaconal candidates, and lay ministers.

The Decree consists of two parts.  The first part is made up of the sixteen paragraphs constituting its new material.  The second part consists of those parts of the Apostolic Constitution Sapientia Christiana (A.D. 1979, Pope John Paul II) addressing these same issues and which are, either, retained in whole or are modified in the current Decree.

The purpose of the articles which appear here is to present the parts of this document in sequential order and to offer additional commentary.  The articles here will begin with the presentation of the first paragraph of the first part of the Decree.  Subsequent articles will present/address the next part of the Decree.  Scrolling down through the articles will bring the reader, in reverse order, to all parts of the document already considered.

 

Decree, Part 1, Paragraph 13:

“The Current Reform of Philosophical Studies[:]  In its commitment to rendering the Church’s guidelines ever more productive, in view of a greater efficacy in evangelization, the Congregation for Catholic Education now feels the need to update some points of the Apostolic Constitution Sapientia christiana and of the Ordinationes of this Dicastery. [Footnote 36]  This reform of Ecclesiastical studies of philosophy aims to help Ecclesiastical Institutions of Higher Learning offer a suitable contribution to the ecclesial and cultural life of our time.

“ [Footnote 36] John Paul II, Apostolic Constitution Sapientia christiana, Art. 93, AAS 71 (1979), pp. 469-499.”

 

Commentary:

A knowledge of philosophy can improve a person’s contribution to church and cultural life.  However, the contribution which a knowledge of Roman Catholic philosophy allows, is both helpful and constrained.  The limiting constraint has to do with the fact that philosophy is not interested in contingency.  Rather, the competency of philosophy has to do with its focus on identifying the categories to which things and events belong.  From this knowledge, philosophy then pursues the identification of universally true principles.  These principles, correctly identified and understood, can then provide guidance as to parameters within which human action within the church and culture can be performed in a useful and helpful manner.

“Philosophy, even in its practical functions, does not deal with contingency.  To say that practical philosophy rules human action from a distance is to use a well-grounded metaphor, and to insist that the distance is great between the last word of practical philosophy and the judgment that we need in order to know what we ought to do—we, a community shaped by the contingencies of a unique history and confronted with circumstances unprecedented in some way—is the least that a philosopher can say if he wants his listeners to know the truth about the limitations of philosophy.  In issues such as the present one, long, complex, and difficult inquiries have yet to be started after philosophy has said its last word.  It is too bad that the readers of the moral philosopher and his listeners often press him to decide issues that admit of no philosophic treatment for the simple reason that these issues involved contingency.” (A General Theory of Authority, page 128, Yves R. Simon)

There are two aspects to the message communicated by the homilist, the pastoral minister, and the catechist.  The first is the central truth, a knowledge of which is necessary for human freedom and joy, that God loves us and that our access to that love is assured.  The second aspect of the content of the homily, pastoral direction, and catechesis is moral guidance.  Moral guidance includes each and every statement which directly communicates or implies a should, a must, or an ought in regard to the behaviors and chosen actions of the intended audience.  Moral guidance within a faith community includes pastoral, homiletic, or catechetical statements including, but not limited to, the best way to pray, the need to participate in the Eucharistic Liturgy, availing oneself of service opportunities, the purpose of sexual activity, decision making regarding matters of health, parenting styles, parish programming, financial development, and facility construction.

All of these practical matters deal with contingencies; conditions and circumstances and situations which cause each issue to be different in different communities.  To address these practical matters, homilists, pastoral ministers, and catechist necessarily draw upon their skill sets and life experiences.  The homilist, the pastoral minister, the catechist must draw on various areas of practical expertise, a knowledge of the local situations, and on spiritual inspiration to effectively undertake the handling of these practical matters.  It is at this point of the effective treatment of such practical affairs that philosophy no longer has a voice; no longer should have a place at the table of effective discourse, should remain absent and silent.

However, if the person and groups responsible for practical action does/do not have an adequate knowledge of Roman Catholic philosophy, their insights into and choices about the best ways to act effectively, will be severely limited; important options will go unrecognized, mistakes will be made.  What follows is one important example of the dependence of effective pastoral ministry, homiletics, and catechesis on a knowledge of Roman Catholic philosophy.

Modern parishes are beehives of activity.  Much of the reason for this is a realization that faith requires service; that imitating the love expressed by Jesus is not a sentiment, not a feeling, but a choice to seek and accomplish each person’s well being.  Such services are often encouraged in a variety of ways.  One catechist might speak of the pleasure found in service.  The pastoral minister might encourage service by focusing on the joy derived from the knowledge that one has served.  The homilist might use a more forceful approach by stating an argument for service based on the authority of Jesus.  Citing the soteriology (salvation theology) of Matthew 25, the homilist or catechist might highlight that salvation is dependent on engagement in service to the needs of others.

What a knowledge of the philosophy taught in Roman Catholic programs of philosophical instruction might provide is a caution to all of the above encouragements.  Philosophy might inform the pastoral minister of Aristotle’s teaching that doing good deeds habitually is not the same as virtue, but is only a part of the path of obtaining the excellently virtuous character.  A knowledge of the history of philosophy might inform the homilist of the modern trend to redefine virtue as accomplishment; as the very continence against which Aristotle warned.  A background in scriptural theology might provide the catechist the cautioning information that the New Testament contains many different soteriologies.  The catechist might then see that a prescriptive accomplishment/continence interpretation of  Matthew 25 is one take on one soteriology found in the New Testament.  S/he might then become aware, and his/her catechesis might then become conditioned by the knowledge, that there is a counter-balancing pauline descriptive soteriology which emphasizes that salvation is already obtained for us by Christ, that our only required response is to accept this gift in the knowledge that it is unearned.  From this knowledge and acceptance, acts of service and other good deeds flows easily out of the joy one feels in knowing s/he is loved and saved.

A lack of such philosophical knowledge and perspective might cause the homilist, catechist, pastoral minister to adopt and encourage a workaholic activity which accomplishes a great deal of, what seems to be, good at the expense of sucking the spiritual life and joy and freedom from the hearts and minds of those who are being shepherded by such ministers unaware of the philosophical principles behind moral action.  In such a situation, to quote Jeremiah, the shepherds themselves will be shepherded by wind.  A zephyr of frenetic activity, doing more and doing more, leads to a death of the spirit, a stiffness of the heart, a closure of the mind.

Knowledge of the relationship of continence and virtue and knowledge of pauline soteriology might lead the pastoral minster, the homilist, the catechist to seek first and often, a communication of the reality of God’s existing love, the reality of salvation already obtained, and the need to accept that salvation and that love as gift unearned.  Adopting these insights as the core from which the homily, the pastoral guidance, and catechesis proceed, joy and freedom then are the first result from which acts of loving service flow easily.

Decree on the Reform of Ecclesiastical Studies in Philosophy (Part 1, Paragraph 12)

In A.D. 2011 the Congregation for Catholic Education, at the direction of Pope Benedict XVI, issued its Decree on the Reform of Ecclesiastical Studies of Philosophy.  The terms of this Decree apply to schools and departments of theology and philosophy residing in Roman Catholic Universities which are selected by dioceses for the theological formation of presbyteral candidates, diaconal candidates, and lay ministers.

The Decree consists of two parts.  The first part is made up of the sixteen paragraphs constituting its new material.  The second part consists of those parts of the Apostolic Constitution Sapientia Christiana (A.D. 1979, Pope John Paul II) addressing these same issues and which are, either, retained in whole or are modified in the current Decree.

The purpose of the articles which appear here is to present the parts of this document in sequential order and to offer additional commentary.  The articles here will begin with the presentation of the first paragraph of the first part of the Decree.  Subsequent articles will present/address the next part of the Decree.  Scrolling down through the articles will bring the reader, in reverse order, to all parts of the document already considered.

 

Decree, Part 1, Paragraph 12:

“The philosophy of Saint Thomas Aquinas is important both for the acquisition of intellectual “habitus” and for the mature assimilation of the philosophical heritage. He knew how to place “faith in a positive relation with the dominant form of reason of his time.” [Footnote 32] For this reason, he is stilled called the “apostle of truth.” [Footnote 33] “Looking unreservedly to truth, Thomas’ realism was able to recognize the objectivity of truth and produce not merely a philosophy of ‘what seems to be’ but a philosophy of ‘what is’.” [Footnote 34] The Church’s preference for his method and his doctrine is not exclusive, but “exemplary”. [Footnote 35]

“ [Footnote 32] Benedict XVI, Christmas Address to the Roman Curia, 22 December 2005, OR (23 December 2005), pp. 4-6.

“ [Footnote 33] Paul VI, Apostolic Letter Lumen Ecclesiae (20 November 1974), 10, AAS 66 (1974), pp. 673-702.

“ [Footnote 34] Fides et ratio, n. 44; cf. John Paul II, Speech at the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas (17 November 1979), OR (19-20 November 1979) pp. 2-3, n. 6.

“ [Footnote 5] John Paul II, Address to Participants at the International Thomistic Congress (13 September 1980), OR (14 September 1980), pp. 1-2, n. 2.”

 

Commentary:

Saint Thomas Aquinas (A.D. 1225 to 1274) appropriated the philosophical idea of realism from the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384 to 322 B.C.).  Aristotle, in turn, learned of realism from his teacher Plato (428 to 347 B.C.) who likewise was influenced by the realism of his teacher Socrates (470 to 399 B.C.).  These philosophers believed that things exist, that these things can be known and understood as they really are in themselves, and that these understandings and this knowledge can be spoken of meaningfully and accurately.

A primary reason we can know things as they are and speak of them meaningfully  is because truth is a property of all the things we seek to know and understand.  In knowing things correctly, we do not simply have a correct understanding of the thing, we experience the essence of that thing; we know its truth.

All things which exist have certain properties or qualities or attributes.  These attributes are found wherever existence is found.  Wherever there is an actual real thing, these attributes are part of the character of that thing.  Aristotle was the first to identify one of these attributes; unity (oneness).  Other philosophers after Aristotle would add truth and goodness.  These attributes, which exist in everything which exists, are called the transcendental properties of Being.  Sometimes truth, goodness, and unity  are referred to, more simply, as the transcendentals.  Beauty is considered by many metaphysicians (philosophers of Being) to be a transcendental.  Other(ness) and thing(ness) are suspected by some to also be transcendentals.

The word “truth” as it is commonly used in the modern world is different from this Aristotelian/Thomistic understanding of truth as a transcendental property of existence.  The word “truth” today, is equivalent to the concept of facticity.  By facticity is meant an exact correspondence between a thing (or event) and the words used to describe that thing (or event).  For example, the statement “you are reading words at this moment” is an example of facticity; an exact correspondence between some thing/event (e.g. you reading these words) and the words used to describe this thing/event (e.g. “you are reading words at this moment”).  What is important to notice about truth as facticity, is that truth is reduced to a description of reality; truth is reduced to an opinion.  Truth, for the philosophical realists such as Saint Thomas and Aristotle, is an actual reality which is discovered.  The truth of facticity is an opined judgment only.  The truth of the realists is discovered and experienced and savored and known.  The truth of facticity is chosen.  The truth of realism exists whether or not anyone is around to see and realize that truth; truth exists independent of its being known.  The truth of facticity; however, is in the eye of the beholder, it is a matter of opinion and choice, it exists only in the sense that a person says its exists.  The truth of facticity is relativistic; dependent on the knower.

The transcendental property of truth exists independently and awaits discovery.  The truth of facticity is an expression.  The truth of the realists, once discovered, is displayed.  The difference between truth as facticity and transcendental truth is somewhat like the difference between talking about a bowl of nachos and actually having a bowl of nachos.

The difference between an actual truth which is discovered and an opined truth is clearly pointed out in The Gospel of John (14:6) where Jesus says “I am the truth”.  It is illuminating that the evangelist does not record Jesus saying “I speak the truth”.  Jesus is identifying with some real thing which He calls truth.  He is not just commenting about the accuracy of his statements.  In the way of an analogy, the difference between “I am the truth” and “I speak the truth” is somewhat equivalent to the difference between the statements “I am English” and “I speak English” or “I am Spanish” and “I speak Spanish”.  One can speak these languages without being a member of the nationality with which these languages are identified.  Similarly, one could speak true statements without being truthful; one thinks of Satan quoting the Sacred Scriptures to Jesus at His temptation in the desert.  In sharp contrast to a world which often uses truthful statements to deceive, Jesus statements are accurate because He is the truth which his words display.

When the believer is in Jesus’ presence, when s/he hears Jesus’ speak to her/him, s/he does not just understand Jesus; s/he experiences Jesus.  When Jesus speaks, s/he does not just understand the truth; one experiences truth.  This truth does not, metaphorically speaking, touch only the intellect; it touches the heart, and mind, and body.