Decree on the Reform of Ecclesiastical Studies in Philosophy (Part II, Ordinationes; Article 65)

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. 65. With the enactment of this Decree, articles 72, 81 and 83 of the Apostolic Constitution Sapientia christiana and articles 51, 52, 59, 60, 61 and 62 of the Ordinationes are abrogated.”



John Cardinal Newman once wrote that though it may be different in regards to the hereafter, in our worldly created realm “to live is to change and to be perfect is the change often.”

The English word perfect is a translation of the Greek word τέλος (pronounced tay-los) which means end or purpose or goal.  Specifically, this word translated as perfect, means the end or purpose or goal most appropriate to and most central to the essence and nature and conditions of the given thing or entity being considered.

Different things and entities have different states of perfection.  Thus, for example, goals of being human are to become aware of the freedom and creativity of which humans are capable and to actualize that freedom and creativity.  The end goal or purpose of an insentient life form which is subject to instincts or which is not capable of cognitive thought, cannot be freedom or creativity.  Some lesser ends or purposes, such as existence or reproduction or coerced toil, are all that are possible for such non-sentient creatures.

Distinction of perfection applies to training or education.  An animal, subject to instincts, must be trained to do things through various forms of conditioning.  Humans; however, can learn by means of thinking about the information gathered through their sense organs.  Human knowledge is consequent to the gathering of information through the sense organs; that is, human knowledge is a posteriori.  Beings which are pure spirits, such as angels, cannot attain knowledge by cognition upon data gathered through sense organs, because immaterial entities have no sense organs.  The knowledge possessed by spiritual beings must be immediate, materially unmediated; that is, a priori.

And finally, even among entities of the same sentient category, perfections may differ.  Pope Pius XII intended this idea when, in an address to newlyweds he stated that the goal of their life was not that type of “state of perfection” associated with the religious life.  Rather, due to the capabilities presented by marriage in regard to procreation and mutual sanctification of the couple, it was necessary for the married couple to seek “the perfection of their own state”.


A singular reason different created entities have different perfections is because of contingency.  An essential aspect of all created things and of all the things produced by those created things is the condition of change.  We are subject to change; all aspects of our existence are subject to change.  This is due to the materiality of our form as creatures.  Our bodies age and change.  Similarly, the products of our efforts deteriorate over time.  The institutions we create, social and political and educational, also change because the conditions to which they arrive are often different from the conditions in which they were originally envisaged and formed.

This applies to education, in general, and to philosophical formation, in particular.  For example, when the philosophy perennis originated, it was the case that most students of Roman Catholic philosophy were fluent in Latin.  Thus, and for example, when the writings on metaphysics by Saint Thomas Aquinas were read and studied, students were provided the primary source texts of his writings in the language in which they were composed by Saint Thomas, i.e. Latin.  These students were expected to read and study these texts in their original Latin.  To a degree this habit continued even within the last generation among students of Roman Catholic philosophy and metaphysics when they were introduced to the writings of Saint Thomas Aquinas.  However; by this time, i.e. the mid twentieth century, a proficiency in Latin could no longer be assumed of students referred to philosophical studies.  As a result, vernacular translations of the thomistic texts often were placed along side of the original Latin texts.

Article 65 evidences this need to be aware of contingency and the need to modify expectations in light of the changing aptitudes and experience of students and in terms of the changing needs of society and culture and Church  in the modern worlds into which these students will be delivered and which they will serve.


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