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C21 Resources A S E R V I C E O F B O S T O N spring 2007 C O L L E G E A “catholic” Intellectual Tradition T he desire which motivated medieval religious communities to found the first universities was rooted in a basic confidence about the knowableness of reality, a trust that all things to be known found a unifying principle in the belief that God created them. Some—Thomas Aquinas most notably—carried this confidence enough to engage even the intellectual work of Jewish and Muslim thinkers. It is this sense of confidence about reality that has animated Catholic intellectual life at its best. Today, however, some question the possibility and relevance of an intellectual tradition that calls itself Catholic. It was during the modern period that the Middle Ages were called “Dark,” precisely because moderns judged religious belief to be unscientific and therefore inconsistent with the methods of rational inquiry. If one cannot prove God or any of the doctrines about God, how could a Catholic intellectual tradition be anything more than a myopic premodern world view? There is an inherent paradox in the term “Catholic” when used to describe an intellectual tradition. On the one hand, it is a specific term used to make reference to a specific community of people. Ignatius of Antioch was the first to use the term around 110, to describe the nascent Christian community: “Wheresoever the bishop shall appear, there let the people be, even as where Jesus may be, there is the universal [katholike] Church.” On the other hand, Ignatius sought, as do Catholics today, to describe the Church in a way that reflects the universal theological import of Jesus’ commission to the disciples: “go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:18). The Catholic Church seeks to be a catholic community—that is, a community spread throughout the world, sharing what Jesus taught for the welfare of all people. and Stephen A. Pope focus more specifically on the college and university context which nurtures this tradition. Finally, the essays by Mary Ann Glendon, George Coyne, and Greg Kalscheur offer specific examples of how the Catholic intellectual tradition has informed our understand- ing today in the areas of human rights, the origins of the universe, and democratic political life. Interspersed throughout these essays are shorter reflections from a number of thinkers, including faculty members at Boston College. ––– Today it is common to use the term “Catholic” in the former, specific sense, as a reference to a particular community and its history. To be sure, in a world in which only one of every six people is Catholic, and in which another one of every six is a member of a Christian community which is not in communion with the Catholic Church, it seems presumptuous to suggest that the hallmark of the Catholic Church is universality. Yet the peculiarly theological import of catholicity is that it suggests a kind of reaching for universality. Using the image of yeast, Walter Ong suggests in his essay (beginning on p. 10) that the Church is “a limitless, growing reality, destined ultimately to be present everywhere and to affect everything, though by no means to convert everything into itself.” The catholicity of the thinking Church is not to be found in an attempt to colonize human reason, but rather in a desire to know what is true. It was this desire which animated the original university communities, and it is this desire which can re-animate intellectual life today. Stained glass of an Irish scribe in Bapst Library - Photo by Gary Wayne Gilbert timothy p. muldoon In this issue of C21 Resources, we have brought together essays which explore dimensions of the Catholic intellectual tradition as a resource for both the Church and the world. There are four essays (by Margaret Steinfels, Sidney Callahan, Robert Imbelli, and Walter Ong) that address the tradition as a whole. Further, the essays by John Haughey, Alan Wolfe, Michael Himes, Alasdair McIntyre, J. Michael Miller, BOSTON COLLEGE | C21 RESOURCES | SPRING 2007 1

2007 Spring, A "catholic" Intellectual Tradition

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