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. 66. All Ecclesiastical academic institutions of theology and philosophy must conform to this Decree, beginning with the opening of the academic year 2012-2013.
“Quæ hoc decreto statuuntur, Summus Pontifex Benedictus XVI, in Audientia infrascripto Cardinali Præfecto recenter concessa, rata habuit et confirmavit, innovatos autem articulos 72, 81 et 83 Constitutionis Apostolicæ Sapientia christiana in forma specifica approbavit, contrariis quibuslibet non obstantibus, atque publici iuris fieri iussit.
“Datum Romæ, ex ædibus eiusdem Congregationis, in memoria sancti Thomæ Aquinatis, die XXVIII mensis Ianuarii, A. D. MMXI.
“Zenon Card. Grocholewski
“Ioannes Ludovicus Brugues, O.P.
“…the Catechism [of the Catholic Church, paragraph 689]…the fascinating statement is made that the Word of God (Jesus) is carried to the hearer by the Breath of God (the Holy Spirit). It goes on to say that just as words need air to carry them to hearers’ ears, the Word needs the vehicle of the Breath to be heard. Similarly, doctrines and dogmas (words) need to be communicated in a way the hearer can understand. The hearer and not the content determines the method. In the words of St. Thomas Aquinas, “That which is perceived is perceived in the manner of the perceiver.” [Exploring the Catechism of the Catholic Church: A Guide for Facilitating Adult Discussion and Prayer, Otto R. Piechowski; A.D. 1997 — nihil obstat and imprimatur and publication].
It is illuminating that this document on the reform of ecclesiastical studies in philosophy was dated January 28; the feast day of Saint Thomas Aquinas. It was Saint Thomas who, in his Summa Theologiae[ca] stated that it was essential that the truths of faith be communicated to the intended audience in a manner in which they could receive it. In part, this suggestion means that homilists and catechists and pastoral advisors must use the words with which their intended audience is familiar, use the commonly used images and ideas of the era as these images and ideas are understood by the intended audience, understand clearly the insights and confusions of the intended audiences, build upon the strengths of those common understandings, and challenge the inadequacies of those common “understandings”.
Thus, for example, the very early Church (c. A.D. 50 to 500) found it necessary to translate into the common Greek language of that era, the many teachings of the faith which were formulated in the Hebrew language for a Hebrew speaking audience within a semitic culture. Because the world was becoming more Hellenistic and because the gospels were being carried into area in which the Hellenistic culture predominated, it was necessary for the powerful insights of the faith to be translated into the common Greek language of that Hellenistic world.
Later, at the end of the Medieval period (c. A.D. 1200), the writings of the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384 to 322 B.C.) were rediscovered. As these writings began to spread through western culture, Saint Thomas Aquinas found it useful to articulate the teachings of the faith by means of the ideas and images found in the writings of the moderate realism of Aristotle. The powerful benefit Aquinas found in the writings of Aristotle was that they provided Thomas the intellectual tools of expression to more clearly and convincingly express and explain the content of Christian teaching.
Between Saint Thomas and today, modernity (c. A.D. 1250 to 1900) confused our peoples’ confidence that they could understand anything at all about material and/or spiritual realties. Modernity created what is now called “the egocentric predicament” (An Introduction to Phenomenology, Robert Sokolowski). Simply most people now feel that their awarenesses are of only the images and ideas within their own minds. Many feel unsure about the connection between their mental ideas and images and the things of the world outside of their minds. They suspect and hope that their ideas and images capture correctly the realities outside the mind to which they hope those ideas and images refer. But they also feel, deeply, that there is no longer and that there can be no such certainty. The political and social problem which this disconnect creates is that people no longer believe there are common material, social, political, religious, and spiritual realities about which they can agree; because, again, everyone’s individual mind is divorced from everything except the ideas and images within the cocoon of their own individual minds.
Fortunately in the A.D. 1800s a philosophical discipline known now as phenomenology arose. This discipline analyzes human consciousness and awareness of the self and of the things/events exterior to the self and has, thereby, come to the insight that consciousness and awareness is always of things/events outside the human mind. Ideas and images within the mind of the individual always relate to things outside the mind. In other words, the connection between the individual and the outside world is real. All persons have a connection to this same real world. All of them are able to know the realities and essences and natures of things/events in that same outside world and to speak about them in meaningful and useful ways, with one another.
The Roman Catholic Church was quick to catch onto phenomenology and to begin to utilize its insights in terms of communicating the faith in homilies and catechesis and teachings and pastoral direction. Among the many Roman Catholic intellectuals and leaders who espoused and espouse the values of phenomenology are Edith Stein (Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, O.C.D., martyr and saint, A.D. 1891 to 1942 (Auschwitz), Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II, saint, whose doctorate in theology dealt with the pastoral uses of phenomenology), and Robert Sokolowski (Monsignor, professor of the School of Philosophy of The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C.).