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. 59 [Aims of an Ecclesiastical Faculty of Philosophy]
“§ 1. The research and teaching of philosophy in an Ecclesiastical Faculty of Philosophy must be rooted in the “philosophical patrimony which is perennially valid”, [Footnote 42] which has developed throughout the history, with special attention being given to the work of Saint Thomas Aquinas. At the same time, the philosophy taught in an Ecclesiastical Faculty must be open to the contributions that more recent research has provided and continues to offer. One must emphasize the sapiential and metaphysical dimensions of philosophy.
“§ 2. In the first cycle, philosophy is to be taught in such a way that the students in the basic cycle will come to a solid and coherent synthesis of doctrine, will learn to examine and judge the different systems of philosophy, and will also gradually become accustomed to personal philosophical reflection. If students of the first cycle of theological studies attend first-cycle courses in the Faculty of Philosophy, care must be taken to safeguard the specific nature of the content and purpose of each educational track. At the end of the philosophical formation, an academic degree in philosophy is not awarded (q.v. Sap. Chr., Art. 72 a), but the students can ask for a certificate attesting to the courses they have attended and the credits they have obtained.
“§ 3. The formation acquired in the first cycle can be completed in the successive cycle, where one begins to specialize via greater concentration on one area of philosophy and greater dedication of the student to philosophical reflection.
“§ 4. It is appropriate to distinguish clearly between, on the one hand, studies in Ecclesiastical Faculties of Philosophy and, on the other hand, the philosophical courses that form an integral part of the studies in a Faculty of Theology or in a seminary. In an institution which has, at the same time, 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, 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.
“ [Footnote 42] Cf. CIC, can. 251 and Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decr. Optatam totius, n. 15.”
“§ 1. The…philosophy taught in an Ecclesiastical Faculty must be open to the contributions that more recent research has provided and continues to offer.”
Phenomenology is the name for a branch of philosophy which provides intellectual tools for disclosing and understanding the essence of a thing or event which one is attempting to understand. Names associated with this include its putative founder, Edmund Husserl (A.D. 1859 to 1938), Franz Brentano (A.D. 1838 to 1917), Max Scheler (A.D. 1874 to 1928), et alii. More recent adherents include Edith Stein (Saint Sister Teresa of the Cross) (A.D. 1891 to 1942) and Karol Woytla (Saint Pope John Paul II) (A.D. 1920 to 2005).
“§ 2. In the first cycle, philosophy is to be taught in such a way that the students…will also gradually become accustomed to personal philosophical reflection.”
Classical philosophy reaches its pinnacle with Socrates, his student Plato, and Plato’s student Aristotle. Socrates/Plato emphasized the necessary relationship between philosophy used as a tool of reasoning and philosophy as a necessary attitude and practice for self improvement; “the unexamined life is not worth living.”
“§ 2. In the first cycle, philosophy is to be taught in such a way that the students in the basic cycle will come to a solid and coherent synthesis of doctrine…”
Roman Catholic philosophy, and especially Roman Catholic metaphysics is essential for understanding basic Roman Catholic doctrines; as for example the hypostatic union of Jesus the Christ. So that this doctrine of the two natures, human and divine, of Jesus can be taught to students so that they understand and accept this doctrine, it is necessary for metaphysics to be used to explain and support the terms and principles upon which this doctrine is based. If metaphysics is not used to explain and support this doctrine, the teaching of this doctrine becomes little more than a nominalistic stamp collecting; that is, knowing the name but not the meaning. Students and catechumens tend to forget and rarely are motivated to belief by being taught to memorize doctrines without being given the rational support for those doctrines.
“§ 2. In the first cycle, philosophy is to be taught in such a way that the students in the basic cycle will…learn to examine and judge the different systems of philosophy…”
An important modern example of this discernment involves Christian morality and Kantian ethics (Immanuel Kant, A.D. 1724 to 1804). Christian morality focuses on love expressed in acts of charity and on the development of a virtuous character. Kantian ethics redefines virtue as accomplishment. This Kantian ethic is widespread throughout western culture and the Church. This Kantian ethic leads to an attitude of ceaseless frenetic activity; a type of workaholism. When appropriated by homilists and catechists and pastoral ministers, the form of Kantian ethics is often a redefinition of soteriology in a narrow sense that the means by which one attains salvation is through doing meritorious acts. Christian morality states unequivocally that the path to salvation lies through accepting the salvation obtained for us by Jesus’ paschal mystery. This acceptance then, in turn and secondarily, leads this believing person to the doing of good deeds as the means to express the joy s/he feels at knowing s/he is saved.