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 II: NORMS OF APPLICATION [Ordinationes; Articles 51, 52, 52 bis, 59, 60, 61, 62, 62 bis, 65. 66]
“Art. 62 [Some Special Norms for Ecclesiastical Faculties of Philosophy and Affiliated Institutes]
“In general, so that a student can be admitted to the second cycle in philosophy, it is necessary that he or she has obtained the Ecclesiastical Baccalaureate in philosophy.
“If a student has studied philosophy in a non-Ecclesiastical Faculty of Philosophy at a Catholic University or in another Institute of Higher Studies, he or she can be admitted to the second cycle only after having demonstrated, by means of an appropriate examination, that his/her preparation is compatible with that which is set forth in an Ecclesiastical Faculty of Philosophy, and after having filled any gaps with respect to the years and curriculum foreseen for the first cycle as established in the present Ordinationes. The choice of courses must foster a synthesis of the subjects taught (q.v. Sap. Chr., Art. 81, a). At the end of these supplementary studies, the student will be admitted to the second cycle without receiving the Ecclesiastical Baccalaureate in philosophy.”
Article 62 refers to students, preparing for the diaconate or presbyterate and/or lay ministries, who received education in philosophy in secular university/college settings. This article states it must not be assumed this secular philosophical formation is qualitatively equivalent to the philosophical instruction received in Roman Catholic institutions. Before the student, who received a secular training in philosophy, is admitted to the path(s) leading to a degree in Roman Catholic philosophy or to formation in Roman Catholic theology as a preparation for official ministry; before his/her admittance to these paths s/he must prove the possession of qualitatively equivalent instruction or receive remedial formation in Roman Catholic philosophy.
Philosophy as it is taught in secular institutes of philosophy (schools, departments, universities, colleges) sometimes suffers from deficiencies in terms of what a person needs to progress on the path to diaconal, presbyteral, or professional lay ministry.
One deficiency is a lack of formation in those areas which are essential for understanding various teachings of the Church. An example used earlier is that a competent understanding of the hypostatic union requires a background in scholastic metaphysics. A broad, clear, concise understanding of scholastic metaphysics is sometimes absent from the formation in philosophy found in secular universities.
A second deficiency sometimes found in the philosophical training provided in secular settings is that the student does not receive a systematic presentation of philosophy constitutive to a full understanding of theology. Philosophical formation, to avoid this deficiency, must be systematic in terms of a presentation of the progressive historical development of philosophical ideas. Or to say it in another way, philosophy must be presented as that dialogue about ideas which leads to knowledge. Sometimes the philosophical formation found in secular settings engages in a specialization which does not allow a dialogue among the various branches of philosophy, nor with similar branches of philosophy which should be considered along with exposure to a specific single branch of philosophy. Without this concomitant consideration, the student might never be informed of important unresolved issues relevant to the branch of philosophy in which s/he is singularly invested. For example, the student focused only on the philosophy of David Hume (A.D. 1711-1776) might never consider that the nature/essence of things and the relationships of events can be adequately explained by means other than by an external causality. S/he might never know that an Aristotelian/scholastic presentation of essences/natures/events by means of an internal causation is superior to a merely external causal explanation of the same. David Hume presented a repudiation of such external causal explanations. Hume’s repudiation led many, who had little background in scholastic/Aristotelian philosophy, to assume that all forms of causal explanation (i.e external causality and internal causation) were disproven as effective means of explanation of essences/natures/events, whereas Hume’s thoughts were limited only to an analysis of external causation. A consequence of a lack of this critical awareness of internal causal explanation is an inability to competently and convincingly argue for the sanctity of human life at all stages of life. (Without a full understanding of Aristotelian/scholastic internal causation, life can only be explained as a material reduction. A material reductionistic understanding reduces life to nothing more than an arrangement of chemicals and physical energies. Human life as defined in this material reduced way is no longer sacred because human life is seen as being only material with no spiritual aspect; i.e., with no soul.)
A third deficiency of philosophical instruction in secular settings involves the impact upon the student’s understanding of important ideas, by the vague and incomplete presentation of many other slightly related ideas. An example of the later involves a broad vague introduction to themes in psychology, neurology, and anthropology. Sometimes assumptions are presented to students that the only thing(s) of which a person can be aware are the ideas/images within his/her own mind and that the relationship of these images and ideas with things in the world outside the mind cannot be determined. Coming to believe these vague ideas have merit, the student may begin to question his/her ability to serve other persons because we cannot possibly know persons other than ourselves well enough to know what their needs are.
Without a correct understanding of philosophical ideas relevant to later theological formation and without a dialogical awareness of the interplay of the history of philosophical ideas, the homilist or catechist or pastoral advisor will be limited in his/her ability to minister effectively. When addressing important issues such as “why do we believe Jesus is fully human and divine?” and “when does human life begin and when does it become sacred?” and “why should we act on the assumption we can truly help others?”, lacking adequate training in philosophy the spiritual advisor or catechist or homilist will find themselves talking in circles in order to find a conclusion.
When homilies and catechesis and pastoral direction are backed up by soundly understood and clearly stated philosophy, the members of the intended audience to whom these words are addressed will appear interested. The pastoral minister and the catechist and the homilist will hear frequently of members of the intended audience discussing at home and at work, the content of the homily or catechesis or direction. More will attend and will attend to with greater attention to the content of future homilies, catechesis, and direction.