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.”



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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