The Catholic University: An Overview
Where should Jonny/Jill go to college?
St. John Paul II on the Catholic University
Benedict XVI's Lecture at Regensberg on Faith, Reason and the University
John Henry Cardinal Newman on The University
On the Article: Christopher Dawson and the Renewal of Catholic Education
The Medieval University by Helene Wieruszowski: A Brief Summary
Looking at the Development of the University from Medieval Roots Until The Enlightenment with: A History of Western Educational Ideas by Denis Lawton and Peter Gordon
There were two goals for this project. The first was to come to a greater understanding of the roots and development of the university system within the context of Catholic Europe. The second was to explore the objective of a Catholic University according to popes and other significant figures in the recent tradition. The overarching end of this project was that I would be able to answer the question of what a good Catholic University is, and be able to help someone pick out a university for their children to attend.
The plan of attack was straightforward: historical overviews and primary sources painted the picture of the medieval university up until the Enlightenment era, and works of St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI gave us the main activities and aims we should hope to find in a Catholic University. The bibliography below gives the works read and referenced.
To find the roots of the university, we start with a value: the value of learning. When we go back to the beginnings we find that the seed of the university was a desire to learn things, and things that were not immediately practical (theology and philosophy spring to mind as wonderful examples). Students gathered around a master to learn. These early schools became increasingly popular in the Carolingian period, and started to be incorporated into monasteries. However, in the tenth and eleventh centuries the importance of these monastic schools began to wane as schools centered around cathedrals began to wax.
An important factor surrounding the rise of the cathedral schools, which would eventually become the university, was the desire for better educated clergy. This situation facilitated the rise in prominence of cathedral schools, and as the twelfth century came to a close, the size and capabilities of some of these schools had improved so much that they began to be recognizable as universities.
Through various power struggles between the masters and students and authorities (both secular and sacred), the structures we are familiar with were forged by the end of the thirteenth century. Guilds or departments for different fields of learning, a rector at the head of the university, and rights and rules of conduct for students and masters were all established. Thus as this early period drew to a close, and from the seventh century to the thirteenth we can see the conception, development, and birth of the university within the Western Catholic context.
Continuing on, we pick up the development again during the Renaissance. As we proceed, a new value enters the scene. That value of learning without immediate pragmatic benefit was still in play, but in this period we see the addition of the value of revolt and rebellion. This valuation is seeking things that are new and different: new methods, new ways of thinking, new things to think about. An offspring of this value was a revival of a classical value for learning: moral development. Education was to instill in the learner an upstanding moral character. This motivation continues through the Enlightenment. The value of revolt continues also as we move out of the Renaissance and into the period of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation.
This period wasn't really marked by any major developments, just an increasing level systematization. This is attributed to the Jesuits, who organized curriculums and implemented testing and examinations to promote competition in learning. And this brings us to the Enlightenment, where the value of revolt rapidly accelerates. Emphasis on the individual, the value of reason, and desire for scientific progress marked the educational motivations of this age.
We see these motivations up to today; and while it seems the moral motivation has dropped out of sight on the wider scale, we will see in the next section that this goal is forefront in the Catholic understanding of what the university should seek to provide.
My method of study was to begin and end with papal teaching and thought on the university, and in between to look at the thought of some prominent Catholic thinkers on the subject. However, for our purposes we will begin with what I learned from those thinkers first, and then conclude with the two popes.
The first was John Henry Newman. I read a selection of his essays that touched on the university and its aims. His main thought came down to this: there is a universal desire among human beings to learn, and the university is the place to satisfy this desire. It is to be a place that has the fevered excitement of the exchange of ideas, but also a place of discipline and sober study. And he points to its very title as indicative of what should be studied there: everything! The university is to be a universal place.
The next Catholic thinker is Glenn Olsen, and I studied an essay of his that critiqued the state of Catholic university education in the United States. His main theme continues from Newman, he wants universality in university education. His critique centers around how this is not what happens at Catholic universities in the United States: their curriculums are narrow and stifled. Yet Olsen ends by pondering if perhaps we will continually be unable to reach the ideal.
St. John Paul II does not think this is the case. The work I studied was Ex Corde Ecclesiae, and not only does he present the ideal, but also institutes canons to guide universities in pursuing it. This ideal begins with the Gospel: a university is to find its identity in its Catholicity. A natural product of this identity will be an evangelizing aspect. The university, as a place of dialogue between the Church and the culture, is in a prime location to engage in the work of evangelization.
Catholicity and evangelization are vital, but St. John Paul II also lays out the primary mission of the university, which is threefold. It consists of the search for truth through research, the preservation of knowledge, and the communication of knowledge. In doing this, the university will exist for the good of society.
The search for truth ends up being his central focus. St. John Paul II argues that it is in the search for truth that the Catholic university will shine. The reason is that it knows the source of truth, while seeking for the truth. In searching they follow the way marked out for them by one they know.
Pope Benedict XVI, in his Regensburg address, is also focused on the search for truth, but looks particularly at how this search is approached. For Benedict, the approach has to be one that takes into account faith and reason. His argument is that for reason to be fully accessed, faith is required, and for faith to be fully lived, reason is necessary. They are both needed, if only one or the other is used, any learning will turn in on itself and be self-destructive. Benedict then shows how both faith and reason are fully activated within the Christian worldview, and thus within a Catholic university, the integration of faith and reason is both possible and worthy of pursuit.
And now, we put it all together and get…
So you're sending your kid to college, what to do? Assuming you want to give your child the best start in this crazy world that you can give them, there is one question to consider: do you want to help them be a saint? If the answer is no, encourage them to pick a lucrative career path, get them into a school that will help them land the job, and your work is done. Hopefully they'll be grateful enough to care for you in your old age.
If you answered yes, then the journey will be long and arduous, but worthwhile. You obviously cannot force your child into sanctity, but like a good gardener you can tend the bed of their soul, encourage good growth, and cull the bad. Growth in sanctity is like the flowering of a rose, for though it grows from a thorny stem, its petals unfurl into a delicate blossom. Just so, though one's life is full of temptations and pain, the glory of God is made manifest amidst it all. This glory is accomplished by striving after perfection, by seeking to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. For the human person this happens by seeking perfection in every aspect of their life. All virtues are important, and among these lie the intellectual virtues and all connected with them. Discipline and wisdom, knowledge and persistence, among many others are as important as willing the good and avoiding the evil.
From this perspective, your child's education is not about getting them ready for a job, it's about aiding them in growth as a human being, which in turn aids their growth as a saint. God gave us intellectual capability so that we may glorify him by using and perfecting it, education is thus an act of worship and praise.
This education takes a certain form. As Catholics, we are privileged to be in a close relationship with the creator. We know the source of all truth, we have the perfect study partner in our educational endeavors. All avenues of knowledge are open to us: mathematics and psychology lead us to (and come from) God just as much as theology and philosophy. Everything is important, nothing is trivial.
And if your child engages in this great undertaking of perfecting the intellect, they can become saints who beget other saints. They may not be the next Aquinas or Edith Stein, but no intellectual endeavor is wasted. Even if they be just a Thérèse or Solanus Casey, everything they went through will have helped make them who they are.
I hope to have convinced you that what your child learns in higher education is not the concern. What's more important is where and how. The place must not be one that falls into the trap of thinking that one field of knowledge is more important than the rest. This will happen to a certain extent at all schools, but if it is a matter of pride for that school to be narrow, it's best avoided.
The place must also clearly have the goal of helping its students to become good human beings. What I mean is that their goal must be learning and development in the student, seeking academic and intellectual perfection. Our ultimate goal for your child is sainthood, and while it would be ideal if the school shared this goal, at the very least they should be aiming for perfection in the intellectual sphere.
And that's really it. There's lots of other things you could look for, but if you find a place that revels in the universality of knowledge, and that strives for human excellence, then at least their heart is set on the right goal. Look for these things, grill any faculty you can to see if they are truly overarching goals of the institution, and above all pray during the whole process. Ask God to show you the way and he will. Ultimately, even if you do everything right, it's all up to God anyway, and when you drop your kid off at their new dorm it will be a leap of faith.
This paper is a straightforward look at St. John Paul II's understanding and vision for the Catholic University. For a source, we look to his apostolic exhortation Ex Corde Ecclesiae, in which the saint laid out the objectives of Catholic Universities.
Before I read the exhortation, including the descriptive article “Catholic” before university seemed unnecessary. However, after reading Ex Corde I see it as neigh impossible to leave off. It is not enough to simply study about the university. Following the saint it seems best to explore the full thing, the institution in the noblest form, having the purpose of finding the whole truth. To study the university without the faith would be to study a small piece.
St. John Paul makes a big deal about Catholicity in this exhortation, no doubt as a clarion call to the institutions of his day to live up to their calling. I initially approached this exhortation looking for his understanding of universities as a whole, so for the most part I did not find any specifics worthy of record. As a whole St. John Paul was saying that the whole activity of a Catholic University is to be imbued with the spirit of the Gospel. The university is to express this within the community, in an internal way, as well as in an external way. It is to follow the Gospel in how it runs itself and in how it interacts with the world.
That's the gist of it, and at least a good third of the document is concerned with the thoroughly “Catholic” aspect of the Catholic University. That being said, there was one part of it that I found interesting and worthy of note. Towards the end of Part I, St. John Paul speak about the Evangelizing aspect of the Catholic University. As a “living institutional witness,” the university plays a powerful role in the evangelizing efforts of the Church as a whole. Because of its formative education of students, and its ability to dialogue with culture, the Catholic University can and should be a powerful evangelizing agent.
Besides the explicit Catholicity of the Catholic University, the rest of the document lays out what the university should look like as a whole. St. John Paul states that the fundamental mission of a university is threefold: the search for truth through research, the preservation of knowledge, and the communication of knowledge. The ultimate reason for this mission being the good of society. He ends up saying quite a bit about the search for truth in the rest of the letter, and a little bit about communication of knowledge, but doesn't say nearly anything about the preservation of knowledge. (I guess he thinks libraries are doing a great job and don't need any help)
In regards to the search for truth, St. John Paul makes clear in the introductory paragraph that the Catholic University's privilege and goal is the certainty of knowing the font of truth, and at the same time seeking the truth. This puts the unattainable position of the Catholic University into sharp relief against that of any other university or college. The Catholic University knows and is in relationship with the source of all truth. Thus, in it’s search for truth, it is not limited, it's looking for everything:
It does this without fear but rather with enthusiasm, dedicating itself to every path of knowledge, aware of being preceded by him who is "the Way, the Truth, and the Life"(8), the Logos, whose Spirit of intelligence and love enables the human person with his or her own intelligence to find the ultimate reality of which he is the source and end and who alone is capable of giving fully that Wisdom without which the future of the world would be in danger. (Paragraph 4)
In exaltation of the Catholic University, I think St. John Paul is saying that not only is the Catholic University in an unparalleled position to find the truth, but additionally it also has the burden of making use of this privileged position!
For if the Catholic University is to be fruitful, it is to search and communicate. Much has been given to this institution, and much is expected. Seeking the whole of truth allows the Catholic University to aid the Church in dialoguing with every culture. Seeking the whole of truth allows the Catholic University to guide and initiate new technological and scientific developments. Seeking the whole of truth allows the Catholic University to integrate all knowledge.
The exhortation ends with a list of general norms to be added to the Code of Canon Law. St. John Paul II laid out a vision, and put it into effect. He has called the Catholic University to a high standard, and in the final conclusion, he prays that they will live up to it through God's help.
Finishing the exhortation, it is clear that in scope it is abstract. It gives goals to achieve, vices to avoid, and general paths to follow. Specifics remain to be put into place. The adventure of reaching these goals in differing cultural and political climates is left to administrators, teachers, and students. The community of the university will have an exciting and harrowing time configuring their identity within these norms and goals. But as with all things in the Christian life, that is as it should be [-:
Like a planet locked in orbit around the sun, Benedict's thinking in this lecture is locked in orbit around one theme: the interplay of faith and reason. From the beginning he hints at it, by the middle he is showing its importance, and at the end he argues why it must happen. Faith and reason is the sun.
Benedict's argument stemming from this theme is that for reason to be fully accessed, faith is required, and for faith to be fully lived, reason is necessary. Reason on its own is the impulse to give credence only to science, which of course leaves out the majority of human questions and understanding. By faith on its own he means a kind of fundamentalism that draws from a source without questioning or seeking to go beyond an initial understanding of the source.
The addition of faith to reason allows room for reason to breath. Questions become accessible, even if they are not ultimately answerable. The same thing happens with the introduction of reason into faith: it is able to look at itself, analyze its source and understand its intricacies. He sets this out as the ideal, and shows how it can be found within the Christian tradition.
Starting with St. Paul's turning away from Asia and towards Macedonia in his evangelical journey, Benedict argues that the integration of the biblical faith with Hellenistic reasoning entered into the Christian tradition. For example the very term and understanding of logos has had a huge impact on Christianity.
To sum up thus far: Benedict has a theme, faith and reason; he has an argument, that both are needed for the full development of either; and finally he shows how both are present within Christianity. He has a reason for laying all of this out. The splintering of faith and reason that has happened, especially in more recent times, has led to an inability of cultures and religions to dialogue with each other.
Benedict states, really without need of argument, that the situation of miscommunication between cultures and religions is dire. He closes with a sense of urgency: faith and reason are needed to salve the situation. And this is exactly what the university is set up for.
This is the part that really affects this project. He's saying the same thing as St. John Paul, but he has added a sense of urgency. And though he does not say this reintegration of faith and reason can only happen at a university, he does seem to say that it is the appropriate place.
In this essay, Newman comes to the conclusion that the University is the place where everything happens! All the schools, all the areas of inquiry, all the arts, all the sciences: in a word, everything. At the risk of being sacrilegious, Newman seems to be saying the University is to be the source and summit of humanity. Where everything comes from, and where it all returns to.
He briefly distinguishes what the atmosphere of the University should be like. He paints the picture of a symposium or colloquium, excitement and ideas bubbling and boiling. But that's not all. That excitement and feverish activity is a part, but not the whole. There is also serious and sober study, disciplined and sustained.
Part of this essay attempts to indicate the necessity of the University as a place where student-teacher interaction can take place. To back this up, Newman argues that for someone to seriously advance in a subject they will seek out, and indeed need, interaction with a master. And while I couldn't agree more for practical and concrete subjects, I wonder if the advances of our age has made this obsolete for certain pursuits.
For example, I wanted to learn how to paint way back when. I didn't have access to classes or anything like that. I read books, articles, watched videos online, and I slowly learned. I am not at complete mastery, but I could be if I continued my study. Now in this case it seems that an instructor would have certainly sped up the process. But I think all that would be saved is time, the goal could be reached by either road.
The above was not a major point, but the Internet and readily available tutorials and other resources has made his point a little more convoluted and clouded. That being said, on the whole this essay serves to impart an ideal, and that ideal is the University as everything. It is to be “The School of Universal Learning.” Learners and teachers from every pursuit.
This chapter/essay was not what I expected. It was basically a long defense against the naysayers of founding the University in Ireland. His defense is simple: build it and they will come. Knowledge and wisdom are things that everyone wants. He brings up examples of ancient schools in Athens and Rome, how people would come just to learn, not for money or power or wealth, just to learn from a master.
Newman brings up something I forgot to mention in the first section: that the university is like a metropolis: it is a place people go to for the sake of itself. They go to become better. I think the point he is trying to make is that no matter what they do it will be enough, for people will come to learn, and they can grow over time. A final point that was little more than an aside: Newman argues that this was a good time to start a university. He looked at the universities founded in the middle ages and pointed out how they needed protectors at times, royalty that provided security in the face of adversity. Newman points out that the place of the university is so much better understood and respected that this isn't the case anymore. There has never been a better time to erect a university.
I read this chapter/essay for obvious reasons [-:
This essay contains a simple argument: the very strength of a university, which Newman already outlined (that it is the universal desire of humanity to grow in knowledge and wisdom) can also be its downfall. While he doesn't state so explicitly, I believe the downfall of Abelard that Newman is highlighting stems from a lack of community. Abelard saw himself in an unattainable position, and nobody ever succeeded in breaking him out of it. He had many faults, but because of people desiring knowledge, he always had a flock of students. Basically, the University will be a place where this type of sin can easily spread, and so it must be watched for and fought.
This article by Glenn Olsen looks at Christopher Dawson and his thoughts on Catholic education as a means to reach a conclusion on the question of choosing a curriculum for Catholic institutions. Dawson held the Chair of Roman Catholic Studies at Harvard, and apparently commented much on the state of Catholic education, and what it could become.
He was a critic of many trends, particularly single-mindedness, especially in regards to: focusing on certain classics to the exclusion of other classics, thinking older is better, and focusing on Thomism to the exclusion of most everything else in philosophy. But he also had a goal: “...the central insight of all Dawson's work was that religion is at the heart of culture—that culture is embodied religion—and that the most obvious subject for historical study is the origin, growth, maturity, and perhaps death of cultures.”
His criticism can be seen as a critique of narrowness, his goal as being one of breadth and depth. Instead of looking at threads of the tapestry, he wanted to take in the whole of the tapestry, and the weavers that put it together. He wanted education to include the whole picture.
Historical context was a big part of this. The importance of history being that it gives necessary context to everything else. Without it education is self-centered and un-illuminative. Looking back at the history of Christianity as being the heart of a developing culture through the ages: what this was and how it happened would be the prime subject of study for Dawson. He saw the study of the Christian culture as more important than studying antiquity, or any other individual thing. History as a series of cultures was how he saw the history of the world, and he wanted this model to replace the status quo.
It seems like he had ideas similar to those of JPII: Catholic education should be something different. It should be asking bigger questions, seeking deeper wisdom, not content with the way things are.
In summation, Dawson saw the present state of affairs as a watered-down curriculum from ages past. Lost was everything that had made it great, and it remained a mediocre and decaying corpse. But the main point for Olsen is that perhaps the ideal is out of reach. Reaching for one thing precludes reaching for another, and in the end we need to go for what is best and live with the consequences.
A prefatory note: this summary is of the first 50 pages, and is looking for a general understanding of the beginnings of the university as an institution. The author begins with an obvious fact. This period we are looking into didn't keep meticulous records of every event, thus we will not be able to easily see the development of the university. What she does intend to show is the events and developments that we do know, and what picture this paints of the early days of the university.
Helene states that the university grew out of an age, it was an expression of an era where learning was valued beyond its immediate practical application. It started simply, with students gathering around a master. Charlemagne provided an impetus at the first, and monasteries had a promising start in opening schools. But in the post-Carolingian era things shifted away from the monasteries. The schools centered around the cathedral became the focus.
With the reforms in the background, the schools set up at the cathedrals were there for the benefit of training and educating clergy. Around this time we also see a surge in the amount of wandering scholars. The ease of travel and the model of education of students gathered around a teacher made it easy for scholars to wander from place to place.
Towards the end of the twelfth century though, things started to solidify. The heyday of the wandering scholar was drawing to a close. The three significant universities rose to prominence during this time. The numbers of students and masters increased, everything was booming. But we are not yet at the point where they can be fully considered universities, they were still in the embryonic stage. It was towards the end of the twelfth and the beginning of the thirteenth centuries that the university would come to birth.
Helene ties this development with the rise in importance of the masters. By flexing their muscles by suspending lectures, threatening to leave Paris, closing the school, etc…, the masters were able to gain more and more privilege from both royalty and the Church. This lead to the formation of familiar structures: guilds or departments for different fields, a rector at the head of the university, and so on. By the time we reach the end of the thirteenth century, the great universities would appear much more familiar to us than their twelfth century origins.
Some other significant facts that I failed to include within the chronological order are regional differences, importance of dialectics, and heretical themes and their end. Helene goes over regional differences briefly, showing how Italy was a little ahead of the game in having schools set up before the Carolingians. Germany was the next significant player, taking the lead in scholastic development until the middle of the eleventh century, after which France rose to the task and carried the torch.
The importance of dialectics is not to be underestimated in the nascent universities. It played a part in the wandering of scholars, and a greater part in the milieu that found value in education and reasoning. And finally, we have heretical tendencies. Various heretical threats raised their ugly heads in the twelfth century with the universities. What followed was a back-and-forth fight of bans being made, masters ignoring them, new bans, more ignoring, and it goes on. What came out of this fight was the movement of making philosophy (the usual culprit in the heretical themes) into the handmaid of theology. At the heart of this movement we see the likes of Bonaventure and Aquinas.
Beginning with the chapter on the Renaissance, we find our author painting a picture of this time period as one of rebellion against the recent past in favor of the more distant past. The trivium and quadrivium were being looked at closely and critically. Additions were made to the traditional approach in the forms of literature and physical education. We also see a change in the motivation of education, morality enters the stage as a reason for learning. An example of all these developments would be St. Thomas More, who for the sake of literature studies insisted on the study of Greek, advocated a strict rule of life (part of which was manual labor), and urged learning as a lifelong endeavor. Overall, the Renaissance is marked by an emphasis on critical thought and a wide field of learning.
The next period of time would be the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. A pertinent piece of information for this period is the arrival of the printing press. Books became cheaper, and ideas were able to spread faster. On the Reformation side of the continent, these ideas were a movement towards mass literacy, because the Bible needed to be able to be read by all. On the Counter-Reformation side of the equation we see some developments particularly spurred on by the Jesuits. The first is a systematic organization of curriculum, and the second the implementation of testing and examinations which were used to promote competition in learning. It's good to know who I have to thank for that [-:
This brings us to the enlightenment. The themes of this age are an increased emphasis on the individual, valuing of reason, and desire for scientific progress. Looking at the picture up to this point, this age seems to be the institutionalization of rebellion as a method of learning. Nothing was to be safe from criticism, everything was up for grabs. Something of interest for this project would be the phenomena of salons and societies. These groupings of like-minded individuals happened outside of any formal learning structure, and yet much learning happened within their confines.
In conclusion, this whole period of time is where we can find the emphasis on moral formation within education that I was searching for. It happens early on with the Humanists of theRenaissance, and was seemingly cemented firmly into the Catholic model under the influence of the Jesuits.
Benedict XVI. “Lecture of the Holy Father at Regensburg: Faith, Reason and the University Memories and Reflections.” 2006. Accessed April 24, 2016. http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/speeches/2006/september/documents/hf_be n-xvi_spe_20060912_university-regensburg.html.
John Paul II. “Ex Corde Ecclesiae: Apostolic Constitution of the Supreme Pontiff John Paul Ii On Catholic Universities.” 1990. Accessed April 24, 2016. http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/apost_constitutions/documents/hf_jp-ii_apc_ 15081990_ex-corde-ecclesiae.html.
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Riedl, John O. University in Process, Aquinas Lecture 30. Milwaukee: Marquette Univ Press, 1965.
Ridder-Symoens, Hilde ed., A History of the Universityin Europe. Vol. 1 and 2, Universities in the Middle Ages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.
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