Blog Template Theology of the Body: Aquinas and the Mission of the Christian University

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Aquinas and the Mission of the Christian University

Sacred doctrine derives its principles not from any human knowledge, but from the divine knowledge, through which, as through the highest wisdom, all our knowledge is set in order. (Summa Theologiae 1)

My husband and I attended a panel discussion on the topic described above, last night at the University of Dallas.  The panelists struggled to do theological justice to their ideas, and ended up landing on what seemed to be the only cogent point of departure: the changing demographics in American parishes (read: a vocation crisis with regard to the priesthood and a wonderfully surging Catholic population from the Southern hemisphere, which sometimes awkwardly encounters we Northern Catholics who have to endure a modern identity crisis that is commensurate with our dearth of priests). Let's just say such treatment of such an important, and really lofty topic left a lot to be desired. The real question presented to the Christian university just does not seem to have to do ultimately with how to reconcile magisterial teaching with good social justice, as one dichotomized speaker proposed.

I would have vastly preferred if one of the panelists had democratically reached back beyond number crunching to the thought of one of the Church's canonized saints and doctors. Aquinas is unequivocal when he describes the vocation of Catholic learning: It all has to do with God, and what God knows, and what God has graciously deigned to teach us. Having clearly established how and why theology, as the study of God, can take its place among the other sciences and disciplines on campus, Aquinas rolls the whole enterprise into one coherent whole: "objects which are the subject matter of different philosophical sciences can yet be treated of by this one single sacred science, under one aspect precisely, in so far as they can be included in revelation. So that in this way sacred doctrine bears, as it were, the stamp of the divine science, which is one and simple, yet extends to everything." (Summa Theologiae I.3. ad 2) In other words, Aquinas assures us that in as much as we know anything- who and what we are, who and what the Church is, how to fix the world's problems- our knowledge merely a participation in God's own perfect knowing, of all things, of the ways in which they are ordered and connected, since He willed and made them all. And it is this recognition which provides for us the means by which we, in obedience, might "take every thought captive to the glory of Christ." (II Corinthians 10) 

In other words, the Church has the truth because God Himself has handed it on.  Furthermore, this truth is comprehensive.  The dichotomized questions have a point of reconciliation, not only in their resolution, but in the ultimate quandry which is common to every aspect of human enquiry: what must I do to be saved

(The solution, of course, is not so much that we will "do" anything, but that God in His mercy will show something of what He knows about Himself to us who consider Him, in all His gracious effects, in the university.)