The Catholic University of America

Inaugural Theme

Intellect and Virtue: The Idea of a Catholic University

Faculty Roundtable Remarks

Below is the full text of remarks presented on Jan. 18, 2011, by six Catholic University faculty members at a roundtable discussion associated with the inaugural year theme. Each faculty member spoke for 10 minutes, after which they responded to questions from the audience.

> Monsignor Robert S. Sokolowski > Ann T. Cederna
> J. Steven Brown > Lucia A. Silecchia
> Joseph E. Capizzi > Ernest F. Suarez

Faith and the Intellectual Life

by Msgr. Robert Sokolowski

Msgr. SokolowskiWe are discussing the relation between faith and intellect, faith and the intellectual life. What is intellect? It is the ability to achieve understanding; intellect and understanding are virtually synonymous. In our day and age, we tend to think that understanding is achieved in the sciences, and this certainly is true; biology, chemistry, physics enable us to understand why certain things happen in the natural world and in ourselves. But understanding can also occur in other ways as well. Stories help us understand certain things: a historical narrative will explain why certain things are done, and a novel, if it is successful, will offer us an understanding of human beings and human interactions. A thoughtful painting or a piece of music can present an understanding that will be hard to put into words. And we should also not forget the practical intellect, where the issue is to understand what needs to be done and how to do it. Much of the activity of intellect, both in the university and in life, is in the practical order.

The point is that understanding can occur in many different ways; intellect can be activated in many different ways. Human beings are classically defined as rational animals, but they could also be defined in an even more privileged way as animals that can understand. Reason is the mind in motion, understanding is the mind at rest. Reason comes to rest in understanding. Intellect is the capacity for this sort of activity, this sort of living. As human beings we all share in it and it makes us human. It is not only the highest but also the deepest thing in us.

Understanding is a highly personal thing and it does not occur except in persons. If we walked around in the buildings on campus – Mullen Library, McMahon Hall, the Nursing Building – we would find many resources for understanding in the books and equipment located there, but there would not be any understanding unless we also found human beings there as well. Even the computers in Leahy Hall do not have understanding. Artificial intelligence is like writing; it is another externalized embodiment of human intellect. In contrast, consider a crowd of people, and specifically students and faculty, during a busy day on campus. Why are they here? Quite simply, they are here to acquire or to exercise understanding and even wisdom. Even if they are primarily interested in getting a job, they want the understanding that will qualify them for the job.

 What does faith have to do with intellect? What does faith have to do with understanding? We might be tempted to think of these two terms as a disjunction: we might have understanding, or we might have faith, but we can’t have both. We might think that they exclude one another. Faith comes in when understanding fails, and when understanding arises faith disappears. When we come to know we no longer need to believe.
But this disjunction between faith and intellect is not appropriate for Christian faith, the faith of the Church. Christian faith makes an appeal to human understanding. It enlarges and confirms understanding and does not extinguish it. For Christian faith, the more understanding the better. Pope Benedict XVI has said that it was providential and appropriate that St. Paul turned toward the Greek and Roman world in his missionary journeys, to the world where philosophy, the natural exercise of reason, had taken hold. The chief interlocutors for Christian faith in its first decades and centuries were the philosophers. In the Acts of the Apostles, St. Paul’s encounter with Greek culture in the Areopagus is more significant than his exchange with pagan religion at Lystra, where the pagan priests thought Barnabas and Paul were gods (Zeus and Hermes) and tried to offer animal sacrifices to them.

What then is Christian faith? It is the response to God’s intervention in the world, which occurs through words, and ultimately in the Incarnate Word. God’s word is not just a command that calls for servile obedience; it is accepted not blindly but with understanding. It makes an understanding possible. Through our faith in Christ we are not slaves but friends with him. In chapter 15 of St. John’s gospel Jesus says to his disciples, “I no longer call you slaves, because the slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.”

I would like to distinguish two ways in which faith enhances understanding. First, faith confirms and clarifies things that we can know by our own reason. It confirms the very existence of truth and human reason and the responsibility that follows from it, which we call freedom. It sharpens what we mean by virtue and friendship and also what is meant by vice and malice. It deals with the direct questions of life and death, and of course it clarifies what we dimly understand about God through our thoughtful experience of the natural order and of ourselves. Secondly, however, faith reveals things to us that go beyond human reason, such as the mysteries of the Holy Trinity, the Incarnation, grace, and the promise of life with God. It introduces a new sense of reconciliation and redemption. But even here, even in the domain of the mysteries of our creed, faith does not obliterate understanding. Rather, it promises a deeper understanding and enables us to glimpse it. Our reason, in both the theoretic and practical order, is strengthened and elevated through faith and is given hope for fulfillment in the presence of God.

The Church has developed this blend of faith and reason through the centuries. She has a treasury of theological and cultural truth, in writings, music, painting, and in Christian practice and liturgy. She has established her universities and other schools to hand on this endowment, to educate people in it, to cultivate it, and to represent it in her contemporary world. This is why it is so appropriate to reflect on what faith has to do with intellect on the inauguration of a new president of The Catholic University of America.

A few weeks ago we were privileged to hear the French philosopher Remi Brague, who discussed faith and reason. One of the questions he addressed was, “Is it good that there are human beings?” To put his question in a slightly different way, “Is human life worth living, and is it worth passing on?” This is a question not only for individuals but also for families and nations. Brague said that we ourselves do not have the authority to decide this question. It is beyond our abilities. We need to appeal to a higher authority for it, and he referred to the book of Genesis, where we are told that God looked at what he had created and saw that it was good. This evaluation of things is confirmed in the New Testament by the new creation, the Resurrection of Jesus, which shows that God brings life not just out of nothing but out of the deeper nihilism of sin and death. This is the appreciation of things that Christian faith gives us, the reconciliation that it promises. It addresses our intellect as well as our desire and our need. It does not just tell us how we want things to be, but how they are. Faith engages, not our calculating reason, but our grateful understanding. 

 

What Does Faith Have to Do With the Intellectual Life?

by J. Steven Brown

J. Steven BrownSince I have only 10 minutes to speak, I’ll come straight to the point, and I will rephrase the original question as: “What Does Faith, Christian Faith, Have to do With the Intellectual Life?“ If Faith is the recognition of Christ as the meaning of everything, it seems to me there are no half-way answers here. Because if it is true that Christ is the center of the cosmos and of history, as John Paul II wrote at the beginning of his pontificate, then the meaning of all that I do, all of my affection, all of my relationships, all of my work, of all that is, is Christ. It is the radical method of the Incarnation. Because it is not that first I have my studies, my work, my relationships with my students, my colleagues, my wife, my children and then later I add Christ as an afterthought, but rather the Incarnation changes everything from within.

Thus, “work” is no longer simply “work” or students are no longer simply students, who perhaps sometimes annoy me or can even please me if they behave and are engaged with the class. Work, research, students, relationships with colleagues, inter alia, become concrete, sometimes banal, circumstances for dialog with Christ. And why is this so? Because Christ reveals himself as the meaning of what I have in front of me. I do not give the thing meaning. That is, whatever I have in front of me is pure gift, not mine to control, not mine to give its meaning, but rather it is for me to enter into relationship with and thus to discover its destiny and its truth, which is ultimately a Person. Christ Himself said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” So to engage the truth is ultimately to be in relation with the Truth behind all truths, that is, to engage in work is charity. Thus, each part of reality becomes the possibility for me to be in relation with reality’s ultimate Truth and thus gives me the possibility to truly possess the thing I have in front of me, that is, to discover its meaning.

So as not to be too abstract I will now tie this specifically to what I do on a daily basis here at the university, which is to engage in the practice of engineering. In my discipline, you are “nobody” without empirical data or without theoretical constructs based on empirical evidence. But my question is: is this all there is to engineering? That is, data, methodologies, engineering facts, and mathematical demonstration? I would argue no. Because can I not design machines and computers to “process” data, methodologies, facts, and mathematical manipulations? So what is the difference? It is that engineering is always a human endeavor, and to say this implies that it is tied to God, because without God, without Christ, I simply do not know who I am and, in fact, will be “less” of a person and thus “less” of an engineer (cf. Gaudium et Spes 22).

To make this even more concrete, I will now point to some examples from my teaching experience. In particular, when interacting with my students one of the most difficult tasks is to help them overcome their preconceptions that the only way to know something with certainty is through the method of empirical observation; everything else they “hold” is relative and remains at the level of opinion. For example, in the Introduction to Engineering class that I teach each fall, when I ask the freshmen how they can know if it is raining outside when we are sitting in Hannan 108—a room without windows—they respond they can go outside. When I then ask them if they could possess the same certainty if I were to tell them that it is raining outside, many, perhaps most, respond NO. Or a second example: many of the courses I teach deal with the topic of energy. In the course of the discussion, and here the discussion is at the level of facts, inevitably I am asked, “Do you believe in global warming and climate change?” To me these examples point to a separation of knowing from believing, faith from life, faith from reason.

So, how do I attempt to overcome the obstacles I note? That is, how do I try to help my students see that faith and reason are not “enemies” or that one of the methods can yield “certainty” while the other one can only give knowledge that remains at the level of opinion? I do this by challenging them to simply observe how they go about living their daily lives. In doing so, I am convinced they will discover that, in fact, we use the method of faith all the time. So the problem becomes not whether I engage things with faith or not but rather how to reach certainty about the thing I have learned through this method. So the problem becomes one of trust. That is, how, when and whom it is reasonable to trust. And this problem is in play both for faith with a small “f” and for faith with a capital “F”. It is simply that much more is at stake when faith with a capital “F” is in play since it touches my very person, and is bound up with the most interesting questions regarding justice, love, happiness, and so on.

What does all of this mean? To put it simply: Is it not the case that “our problem” is not “faith” but rather “reason”? Let me say what I mean with another question: do we not all hold, like our students, to some greater or lesser degree, that ultimately the only sure things in life are the ones we can touch and manipulate? That is, do we not adhere to and apply a form of reason that excludes faith as a way of knowing from the outset?
So what is the way out of this morass? What is the way forward? I believe it is to recover a position of wonder in front of things as they are, to recognize once again the giftedness of nature, and to discover once again that reality is good and knowable. In short, it is to recover reason as reason, or in the words of Pope Benedict XVI, “to broaden reason and its application”.

Finally, to conclude, I would like to quote from the Holy Father’s address at CUA in April 2008: “Catholic identity is not dependent upon statistics. Neither can it be equated simply with orthodoxy of course content. It demands and inspires much more: namely that each and every aspect of your learning communities reverberates within the ecclesial life of faith. Only in faith can truth become incarnate and reason truly human, capable of directing the will along the path of freedom.” 

 


What Faith Has to Do with Intellectual Life?

by Joseph E. Capizzi

Joseph CapizziSt. Augustine begins his little “handbook”, the Enchiridion, affirming a quotation from the book of Job: “For human beings, wisdom is the same as piety.” Wisdom here is “sapientia”, that is, the contemplation of eternal realities. It is the goal of the intellectual life and, indeed, the goal of life in general, because wisdom is knowledge of God, the source and end of all human endeavor. Augustine explains that the text from Job indicates that pietas or piety, is not simply faith, but worship of God. Thus, Augustine who is writing to a man named Laurence in response to his request that Augustine reflect on “great matters” rephrases what Laurence asks for: Augustine tells Laurence that he really wants to know how God is to be worshiped. Seeking to understand great matters is, for Augustine, wondering about how to worship God.

In some of his earliest reflections on faith, some of which were written more than a decade before the Enchiridion, Augustine had already shown his commitment to the view that faith involves the activity of seeking to understand, is acted out in community, and is not contrary to but engaged with reason. From Augustine’s Confessions we learn of the winding path that led him to the Catholic faith. As is well-known, Augustine was enticed by various philosophical movements and defended one of them, Manichaeism, against the claims of the Catholic Church. Augustine was so enthralled by the Manichean outlook he encouraged his friends to join him. One friend, Alypius, later followed Augustine out of the Manichean and into the Catholic faith. Another friend, Honoratus, remained behind in the Manicheans.

Augustine remained unsettled by his own role in convincing Honoratus to join the Manicheans. While Augustine had been able to shrug off beliefs he now held to be false, his friend remained in their thrall, captive to the Manichaean disregard for the Old Testament and the Manichaean view that Catholic Christianity eschewed reason, and in particular the classical education so esteemed by his circle of friends, in favor of the brute authority of the Catholic Church. Augustine’s commitment to his “dear friend” (uti cred 1.1) compelled him to devote a book to try to help his friend turn from false to true belief. Augustine states explicitly that this is his duty, arising from devotion to his friend and to God. Piety compelled Augustine to turn himself to the good of a friend left behind in the thrall of a false – if compelling - way of seeing the world.

In The Advantage of Believing, the book Augustine produces in this task, Augustine doesn’t attempt either to refute Manichaeism or to present the whole of Catholic teaching. He sets himself the small task, in his own words, of making Honoratus’s mind more receptive to true faith by weeding out false opinions about Catholic teaching. But Augustine bears a dual guilt throughout the work and it seeps through the surface of his writing. Not only is he responsible for his friend’s captivity to impiety, Augustine had once argued successfully (according to Augustine himself) for the Manicheans against Catholic Christians. The effects of Augustine’s own impiety reach far beyond the life of a dear friend. Surely, we’re not wrong to note a hint of self-criticism in his acknowledging that “eloquent, witty analogies and criticisms … can be poured out with elegant sarcasm by any opponent against anyone who teaches anything.” (uti cred 1.3) Teaching is hard: it is a moral exercise requiring commitment to a way of life one makes vulnerable simply by the act of offering it to the scrutiny of another. It was easy for someone as gifted rhetorically as was Augustine to attack the Christian teachers. He is thus responsible not only for his friend’s commitment to false belief, but probably for the very arguments his friend could adduce defending Manichaeism and attacking Catholic Christianity. The depth of his impiety was not reached merely by changing his beliefs to those of the Catholic Church: he had to address the damage done to his friends and to the wider community of believers.

But, beneath both the acknowledgment of his guilt and his attempt to rescue his friend is still another layer in the text, one concerning the relationship of faith and reason. In this text and others, Augustine emphasized different aspects of their relationship but never wavered from a few central commitments. First, faith and reason are not opposed to each other. There is no “faith versus reason”: no “faith versus intellect.” Though he gives priority to faith, and more specifically he gives priority to faith in the authority of Christ, Augustine does so because he judges it reasonable to do so. Indeed, Christ embodies the integration of faith and reason in Himself such that Augustine refers to him (Ep. 118.5.33) as “the whole summit of authority and the light of reason.” Christ is both the authority we must submit ourselves to in order to attain genuine understanding of God and the source of illumination of our reason. Second, it is unreasonable to eschew faith as a means of assisting reason in the pursuit of wisdom. Augustine eventually concluded it was a measure of Manichean irrationality that they could find no place for faith. For the pursuit of wisdom, the mind is too weak, too corrupted to proceed from reason alone. Reason is too fallible and we are too weak. One of Augustine’s insights that always connected with me was that it is not just that sin causes us to “now see through a glass darkly,” (1 Cor. 13.12) but that too often we simply do not want to know the truth, or that even when we know the truth, we resist conforming our lives to it. Like Augustine early in life and his friend Honoratus now, too often humans find themselves too captive to intellectual commitments or seductive desires to throw off the comforting blankets of falsehood. Augustine already knew the truth of chastity when he begged God not to heal him of his lust. In academics, usually we’re not interesting or young enough to have quite the specific problem young Augustine dealt with, but we may know well the temptations of clinging to an insight merely because it was our own, long after having been convinced it’s false. Invoking Isaiah 7.9, Augustine claims we must believe in order to attain wisdom: he draws our attention to the faith as trust needed by a child who believes his parents are his parents and thereby can learn from them. How unreasonable the skepticism that would require us to question all authority!

Finally, Augustine praises reason. How absurd it would be, he writes in Against the Academicians for God to hate that faculty he placed in us and by which we are superior to all other beings? Our reasoning faculty is a precious gift; reason is the means by which we discern which authorities merit our trust, merit our fidelity. Reason helps us to ponder the Scriptures, to wonder about the glory of Creation, to speculate about the mysteries of the Trinity. Augustine deployed the latest sciences of his day to help defend the truths of the Church. He advised Christians to respect the conclusions of science, lest they look ridiculous, yet counseled Christians never to wed Scriptural interpretation to prevailing scientific theories, lest those interpretations be undermined by their association with outdated science. Faith has priority, sure, but the goal of religious life is to see by reason what we hold by faith. The believer eventually will be able to understand by reason what he now holds by faith.

We must take care, however, not to assume that in praising reason in this way Augustine praises some kind of intellectualism: this may be a particular temptation for us intellectuals. The seeker of wisdom doesn’t seek to understand God cognitively, but seeks to love and worship God. We fail to understand not merely (or even primarily) because of errors in logic or rationality, but because of failures in love. After all his searching through different philosophical systems in the company of the best and brightest, the model of wisdom in The Confessions is Monica, his mother. Even at her deathbed, Monica’s wisdom could startle Augustine. Vexed by her indifference to her place of burial, he learns of her reply from friends who asked her if she feared being buried so far from home and husband: “Nothing is far from God,” she replied. “There is no danger that at the end of the world he will not know where to find me and raise me up.” (Conf. IX.11.28) As the great Anglo-Irish author William Trevor describes it in his “The Death of a Professor,” hers is the wisdom not of brains – for all we professors have brains – nor “of knowing everything, for [we] all know less than [we] imagine,” but “that indefinable wisdom a roadworker might have, a cinema usher or a clergyman, or a child.”

The wisdom we seek, the wisdom that draws upon and nourishes our faith and engages our reason, is the wisdom of knowing and loving and worshiping the truth even when incapable of describing it.

 

Faith and Creativity

by Ann Cederna

Ann CedernaHello everyone,

Thank you President John Garvey for inviting me to participate in your faculty roundtable “What Faith Has to Do with Intellectual Life”. I would also like to thank my colleagues and visitors for taking the time to listen to this humble talk.

My name is Ann Cederna. I am an architect and faculty CUA Architecture since 1988. During my tenure in the School of Architecture, I was fortunate to be able to organize and spend many months traveling with students through our foreign studies programs, with extended stays in Italy. Even prior to coming to CUA, my then fiancé and I lived and worked in Florence Italy. We had a wonderful experience which solidified our understanding of the dialogue between FAITH AND CREATIVITY.

While living in Florence, my now husband decided he wanted to become Catholic. He studied weekly and participated in Latin, and Italian masses of all types, while traveling around the Italian countryside visiting and lecturing to students on city plans defined by church vs. state, the development of design through church architecture, church typologies as identified by regions of power, the church plan form and the body, and a multitude of other topics. His mentor decided that he would be baptized on Easter Sunday, in the Duomo of Florence, in front of 7000 Florentine citizens, by Cardinal Silvano Piovanelli (Papal). A private meeting with the Cardinal was organized in the Piazza del Duomo, in the residence for the Cardinal, right in front of the Battistero. The meeting was very formal, we kissed the Cardinal’s ring, sat across from him in front of the window which framed the Duomo and the Battistero, which as you know is the centerpiece of the rebirth of aesthetic development in religious architecture i.e. the Renaissance.

Of course the Cardinal asked my husband why he wanted to be baptized into the Catholic church and they discussed the Catholic religion and what it meant to him. He then asked my husband if he had any questions for him. My husband said yes, I do have a very important question. For hundreds of years the church supported the growth of the arts and architecture, as seen through the work of Michelangelo, Leonardo DaVinci, and Alberti, here in Florence and Italy. What has happened to the church’s attitude towards the arts since the Renaissance? There have been few major works to the magnitude of what we are experiencing here in Florence. The church has not been on the forefront as a major builder. The Cardinal replied ‘But the church supports many on-going artists and architects today. Look around at the various projects for the Church around the world.’ He then proceeded to name some examples in Tuscany. My husband acknowledged that this was beneficial to all and important, however it was not on the scale of influence of the Duomo in Florence, or St. Peters in Rome. Those works turned the intellectual world around. Living in Florence we understood the potency of the Renaissance as a period which solidified intellectual thought, faith and aesthetic. Man was redefined as a Renaissance Man. Thus the gifted people of the Renaissance sought to develop skills in all areas of knowledge, in physical development, in social accomplishments, aligned with faith, and in the arts, bridging the Middle Ages and the Modern Era.”

In all fairness however, the church now is concerned with global presence and sub-centers, whereas then it had fewer and more significant centers. We read from the publication “Sustainability and Catholic Social Thought” where the Pope states that “The family needs a home, a fit environment in which to develop its proper relationships. For the human family, this home is the earth, the environment that God the Creator has given us to inhabit with creativity and responsibility. We need to care for the environment.” In an effort to help the United States Catholic Church develop the capacity to meet the environmental challenge, the United States Catholic Conference’s (USCC) Environmental Justice Program (EJP) has developed a threefold pastoral strategy that is rooted in the spiritual, sacramental, and social justice traditions of the Catholic Church. Developed in response to Pope John Paul II’s 1990 charge to Catholics to care for nature as God’s creation, this strategy entails integrating environmental concerns into the lives of Catholic people in the United States, connecting ecological and social justice issues, and addressing environmental matters at the local level. Environmental issues are addressed in relation to the Church’s scripture, theology, prayer, worship, and ministry, in order to facilitate the recognition of divine presence in creation and in order to enable United States Catholic people to commit to caring for nature as God’s gift to humanity. Once again we see a strong dialogue between the built and natural environment through the belief system of the Church.

Recently, as an architect, I was increasingly concerned with a project of local unknown authors. They were working in my backyard on what appeared to be a never ending project. The architects, an 8 and 9 year old. Architecture has simple origins, and children can remind the intellect that we often over-complicate. Faith has simple origins, and serves us best in the fundamentals. Children reminded architects that we build with the elements, including elements of faith. The creative process, and the results, are often the closest path to God there is, and all artists strive to be allowed the time to develop this. The emphasis is on process, and not end results.

The masters of intellect in the art world, including the Renaissance artists, knew best how to express the wealth and power of love. Look to the Pieta and Michelangelo. Faith fueled the vision, gave it form such that it touches our senses, and the resulting beauty is an inspiration that has fueled intellect for centuries. Faith drove the philosophical circles that defined the scientific and art worlds, reminding man that he can bring vision united with God, and monuments that attest to the beauty of the unity. 
 

Faith and the Intellectual Life

by Lucia Silecchia 

SilecchiaLet me begin my remarks with my thanks to the organizers of this Roundtable and to my colleagues on this panel for the opportunity to reflect on faith and the intellectual life in this forum. I am grateful for the way in which the question posed in the invitation to this Roundtable made me think anew about this connection. It reminded me, as well, of my gratitude to all my colleagues here, from both the Catholic faith and from other faiths who, through nearly 20 years, have inspired me by their thoughtful attention to this question.

When we were invited to participate in this event two months ago, the broad question posed to us was to explore “what faith means for us as teachers, researchers and scholars and how we are able to bring it to bear in the environment of a Catholic university.” And ... we were asked to answer this question in ten minutes or less.

Through the years, many have already explored what the connection between faith and intellect may mean theoretically or institutionally. Rather than contribute to that conversation, I thought that I would respond to this question in a way that out of character for me. … by answering this question more personally and sharing with you the ways in which I have come to see the connection between faith and intellect in my own work here.

In one sense, I suppose that my brief answer to the question of the relationship of my faith to the intellectual life is the same answer I would give if asked about the relationship of my faith to life generally. I would say that it is that which both answers my questions and questions my answers about those things that are the most important to me.

As people have asked since time began, I wonder about questions such as: What is good? What is evil? What defines a well-lived life? Why do inexplicably bad things happen? How do ordinary people find the courage to do extraordinary good? Is there a life beyond this one? Is there a God who is not only powerful and creative but loving and compassionate as well? Is that God both all-knowing and yet knowable? To these questions, my faith gives me answers or, at the very least, a comforting assurance that these questions do have answers whether or not I currently comprehend them.

And yet, my faith also questions my answers. At times when life seems too easy, my faith asks me whether I am turning away from a challenge I should face. When the fears or tragedies afflicting others seem too far removed from me, my faith asks me why I am not walking more closely with them. When the desire for security, simplicity, or success seems to drive my plans, my faith asks me if that is what I should truly value. And when the weight of the world’s troubles does not prompt me to ask what I can and should do to help, my faith asks whether I’ve chosen complacency over compassion.

When asked, however, to focus more precisely on what faith means to my work as a teacher and a scholar, the answer to this question should be a bit more specific. If, as some would say, faith has no place in the intellectual life (or conversely, if intellectual inquiry is perceived as incompatible with faith) my life in an academic community generally – and in this one, in particular – would be very difficult. Aside from the relationships I have with my family and loved ones, it is the life of teacher and scholar that consumes the bulk of my time and attention. To separate faith from that life, or to try to grow in faith without putting intellect at its service would be both extremely difficult and, thankfully, unnecessary. Thus, I would like to share with you very briefly five thoughts about the ways in which I have found a deep and important link between faith and the intellectual life ... and also raise three challenges with which I struggle.

First, I continue to be impressed by the depth of the intellectual tradition of my faith and the ways in which intelligent and faithful thinkers have grappled for more than two thousand years with the same issues I write about and think about today. Contrary to what may appear in the headlines, I don’t believe that the world has many new problems. Instead, it continually faces new manifestations of and symptoms of age-old problems. Prior to the time that this community engaged me in thought about how my Catholic faith has spoken to these issues, I hadn’t really given it much consideration. As a law student and in my early years as a teacher and researcher, the primary focus of my interest was finding that which was new, relevant, and timely -- all good things in and of themselves. However, in more recent years, I have been exposed here to the way in which great thinkers have explored these questions through the lens of ancient faiths. In this, I have found roots for much of the work I do, and a framework in which to examine important questions.

Exposure to this tradition and the encouragement to incorporate it in my research has been one of the greatest -- and unexpected -- benefits I have had as part of this community. Once I have been offered exposure to my faith’s rich teaching on social questions, it has become much more difficult to do my work without that backdrop.

Second, while many say that higher education is hostile to faith, this has been changing in some positive ways. Thus, in another professional surprise, I have found that my interest in exploring the connections between faith and academic life has been the single most important way in which I have been able to get to know colleagues at other institutions. Certainly, there is much unfortunate skepticism about the role of faith in the pursuit of what are perceived of as “secular” disciplines such as law. In spite of this, there have been many recent attempts among legal scholars to consider what the relationship is between faith and intellect that did not exist twenty years ago. Certainly, scholars have always wondered privately about these questions, and explored them within their own religious institutions. But, the past decade has witnessed the rise of opportunities for ecumenical and interreligious legal discussions among scholars at many different institutions. This gives witness to the increased interest that scholars have in the links between faith and intellect. There are diverse professional communities to which a law professor belongs -- based on field of specialization, geographic location of a law school, or the state of admission to the bar. But, an unexpected community to which a growing number of law professors may belong -- a community that refreshingly blurs the artificial line between professional and personal friendship -- is the community of scholars committed to exploring legal questions through the lens of their faith. What has this meant to me as a teacher and scholar? It has been one of the most important way in which I have been able to meet and establish friendships with my colleagues at other law schools. It has also demonstrated to me the timelessness and universality of many questions that are tempting to explore in a more narrow way.

Third, my faith -- and others -- speaks eloquently to the value of human work and its importance as the way in which each of us makes our unique contribution to the world. The vocation of each of us is to use the gifts, talents, and opportunities that we have at the service of the world in which we find ourselves. I see students preparing to grapple with the difficult choices that they will have to make in achieving a balance between the work for which they will be paid and the other aspects of their lives -- beginning with responsibilities to their families, but expanding to include obligations to community, church, service, and friends as well. I struggle with the same questions as I try to navigate that balance, and I have found much to assist me in exploring what my faith has to say about the value of work.

On one end of the spectrum, there are aspects of academic life that can be, quite honestly, unfulfilling and unexciting in and of themselves. Putting the final touches on a long footnote that may go largely unread, answering a simple question multiple times, grading dozens of answers to the same exam question, preparing a report for a faculty committee, or returning the emails that seem to multiply unchecked in my in-box can, at times, seem to lack their reward. And yet when these activities consume a good deal of my time, I take great comfort from all that my faith says about the dignity of the work with which each of us is entrusted and the importance of doing even the smallest parts of our work with care and respect. At the other end of the spectrum, there are times when the academic life is extraordinarily exciting and opportunities to undertake interesting projects, teach new courses, or write about fascinating issues present themselves in abundance. On those occasions, the teachings about my faith on the value of work are equally important. When deciding what to say “yes” to and what to say “no” to, there are certainly prudential questions that enter that decision. But, when reflecting on how to spend time, my faith demands that I ask whether a tempting project is, in the bigger scheme, worthwhile. -- Whether it advances thinking on an important issue, whether it serves someone’s needs, or whether it will be helpful in some way to someone other than me. This has left me with fewer regrets about projects undone, and more confidence that while none of us can do all that we might want to do, we may be able to do at least some of that which we need to do.

Fourth, my faith has taught me some important lessons about how to be a member of a community. Faith certainly is many things. At its core, it is a relationship with God himself and an invitation to know him better and more deeply in this life -- in anticipation of the joy of the next. It is also, however, a source of guidance on how to love neighbor as self. In an academic community, one has many, many neighbors. There are, certainly, colleagues from the staff and faculty, alumni, administrators, visitors, benefactors, our literal neighbors in the local community, and many others. But, our reason for existing as a university is for a particular type of neighbor -- the students who chose to spend part of their lives with us. Some are neighbors for only a short time while they are here; others remain friends and neighbors far longer than that. Thus, while faith can add an intellectual foundation to research and scholarship, foster bonds in a broader community, and help give dignity to the work of researcher and scholar, it has much that is valuable to offer as guidance for teachers. A number of years ago, I did some research into the spiritual life of law students. Much has been written about the ways in which the law school years can be a difficult time in students’ lives personally and professionally. At times, the competitive nature of the law school enterprise and worries about debt and employment can be overwhelming. Important and difficult decisions have to be made about what professional path to pursue. Some have accused the steady emphasis on methodically examining all sides of an issue of stealing from law students the convictions they had about what was right or true or just. Added to this is the reality that the years during which most students go to law school can also be years of increasing familial and personal obligations. Thus, in the three or four years that my students are my “neighbors,” my faith has much to say about the ways in which I am to care for them and for their needs. Time does not permit a full discussion of what this means in particular situations, but suffice it to say that theoretical discussion of what love of neighbor means is no substitute for taking that obligation seriously in dealings with all, but most especially with respect to the students entrusted to us. This obligation is certainly not exclusive to universities with a religious identity. But, if we were to fail at meeting this obligation here, it would particularly sad.

Finally, while I have spoken of four ways in which faith has been of great help in informing my life as teacher and scholar, the opposite is also true? My faith has been deepened by being part of an intellectual community with such a strong connection to its spiritual roots. It has been here where I have been able to explore my faith as an adult, and for that I am very grateful. It has always struck me as odd, that for most purposes, someone who is 12 or 13 years old is considered to be at the start of his or her intellectual development. In most subjects of life, someone of this age is seen as merely beginning to embark on the further training and study needed to grow into an adult standing of these fields. Yet, when it comes to faith, for most Catholic adolescents, formal religious training usually ends with Confirmation, before many of life’s weightiest questions have confronted them. While one at that age is considered a child for nearly all other purposes, for many that is somehow considered to be the age at which one knows all that there is to be taught formally about faith. It has been here that I have been exposed to exploring my faith in an academic way as an adult. I do not want to undervalue simplicity or child-like wonder as part of faith. But I also know the value of re-examining a childhood faith through adult eyes. The work of my colleagues here and the speakers, discussions, and programs that they have presented have helped prevent me from retaining a faith that is, intellectually, that of an adolescent while I’ve grown in my field of secular study. Thus, while much attention is paid to considering how faith might influence intellectual life, that is a two way street in which an intellectual presentation of ideas, values, and truths can help deepen and reinforce faith.

As I promised I would like to end with three challenges that I face - in part with the hope that perhaps others share them and may offer some help and guidance, and also because I do not want to leave the impression that the connection between faith and intellectual life is always simplistic and smooth.

The first of these struggles is one perhaps ironic to explore in a public forum such as this one. It is the challenge of establishing, in a principled way, which elements of my faith are appropriately public and which are and ought to be private. My faith teaches

You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

This would suggest that a scholar with deep faith convictions has an obligation to manifest these publically in writing, teaching and other aspects of professional academic life. Yet, my faith also cautions:

Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them. ... When you give alms ... do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing so that your almsgiving may be secret. ... [W]hen you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your father in secret. ... When you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then no one will notice that you are fasting ...

The challenge this presents to me is to carefully consider when and how to incorporate matters of faith into teaching and scholarship in such a way that I can be sure that my motives for both silence and speech are pure. I have generally spoken more clearly on matters of faith in what I write and in conversations with individuals than I have chosen to be in the classroom. But, whether this is a balance that is correct or complete is something I still wonder about.

The second challenge is my experience of the fundamental difference between the intellectual life and the life of faith. In most respects, the intellectual life is one that moves steadily forward. Certainly, there are periods of academic life that are more rich and productive than others and there are semesters when other priorities may push rigorous research to the background for a time. However, one rarely moves backwards intellectually, or unlearns those things that are discovered. Instead, it has been my experience so far – and my students may disagree – that each year I teach a subject, my understanding of the materials is at least a little bit deeper, and the connections I see between different rules and theories are at least a little richer, and the subtle distinctions I can detect are, at least a little more numerous. Each time I turn to a new writing project, I hope that it builds on earlier thought I have done on that issue so that it at least a little bit more thoughtful, creative, or original than that which preceded it.

In contrast, and perhaps unfortunately, I can’t say that the life of faith works the same way. Rather than a calm, steady line that leads always to a deeper understanding, the life of faith is, of necessity, a relationship rather than a purely intellectual pursuit. So, it has highs, it has lows, it has periods of excitement and also periods of the proverbial “dark night.” Given this, it is sometimes hard to keep both as closely linked as they otherwise might be. At times of life where there is a challenge to faith, I have found it hard to be as creative, productive, or filled with intellectual enthusiasm as I might be during a period of great peace in my life of faith.

The third challenge to the integration of faith and intellect is one that is common to all of us, but may be particularly problematic for those whose field of study is law. Simply put, law is messy. My faith teaches me that there are important truths about the human person that are known, knowable, and unchanging, and these must be brought to bear on the legal questions of our day. It isn’t necessary to think too long or too hard about the consequences that arise when legal issues are addressed without regard for the truths proposed about human dignity, human life, and pursuit of the common good.

And yet, my faith does not assume for itself the task of offering finely tuned solutions to legal problems. Instead, my faith -- as expressed in the moral and social teaching of the Church -- articulates important, unchanging principles and then leaves to lay expertise the challenge of translating these values into specific legal proposals. This respectful attitude toward the vocation of the legal scholar is a challenge. Sometimes it can be tempting to disregard expressed truths because they are inconvenient, unpopular or, as is often the case, not neatly aligned with the prevailing political rubric that organize issues in our current political order. For me, that is not the great challenge. The greater challenge is to avoid the temptation to short circuit the messy analytical work involved in proposing a legal framework for advancing the basic truths proposed by my faith

Because I’d rather not end with “challenges” let me end where I began -- with gratitude for the chance to reflect with you. I think I thank you in advance for the questions you may have for us, and I know that I thank you in advance for the many ways in which you will keep this conversation going after today.

 

Literature, Aesthetics and Possibility

by Ernest Suarez

Ernest SuarezI’m an English professor and a writer. I connect the spiritual and the metaphysical with my intellectual life through aesthetics, studying the nature of art. In one way or another it’s informed almost all of my scholarship and teaching, but in my ten minutes today I’d like to address how it’s shaped my vision of the English department during my fourteen years as chair.

In the mid-1990s I was promoted to associate professor, tenured and made chair of the English department, all within a year. I was six years removed from graduate school. The study of literature—at least within universities—had been dominated by literary theory for about fifteen years, a trend that’s still prominent today. What the then-new theories—deconstruction, various psychoanalytic, Marxist and post-structuralist approaches—have in common is a base in materialism. They’re radically materialistic. Everything is culturally “constructed.” Anything that has to do with the imaginative, the metaphysical or the aesthetic is explained away in terms of materially oriented power politics. If a person takes creativity, metaphysics or aesthetics seriously he or she is often considered naïve, a dupe of pernicious forces that have infected western civilization. Literature and other works of arts are thought to manipulate aesthetic forms in order to lure in the unsuspecting, and make them complicit in various covert ideological programs. This tendency towards explaining literature in terms of materialism has led many English departments to believe that there’s isn’t much difference between studying Shakespeare or pulp fiction: both are “cultural products” or “artifacts” that serve as catalysts to discuss contemporary politics. At a recent meeting, the director of graduate studies for English at a cross-town university told our graduate director that he believes literary study should no longer be a focal point of their curriculum. Our graduate director, Tobias Gregory, politely disagrees.

I’m not always quite so polite. I’ve devoted a good deal of my scholarship to refuting the assumptions and claims behind literary theory. I remember one event in the mid-90s where John Hollander and I---John was in his sixties and had an endowed chair at Yale; I was in my early thirties and could barely afford a chair to sit in---spent our time arguing against the notion that writing in traditional poetic forms was complicit with right-wing politics. It was absurd, a time spoofed in David Lodge’s wonderful novels Small World: An Academic Romance and Changing Places: A Tale of Two Campuses.

Becoming chair of the English department at CUA provided me with an opportunity, one that I wouldn’t have had if I had become chair at the vast majority of public or private universities in the country. Whenever possible, I try to make things work on as many levels as possible. I wanted---and it wasn’t just me, of course; the department was behind it and many of the pieces were in place---to put together a department that gave our English department a distinct identity; that would directly engage the profession at large; and--last but not least--that contributed to CUA’s mission.

We became a department that stressed literary history and aesthetics instead of theory. A firm basis in history, rather than theory, grounds our faculty and students in literature’s relationship to the time and place in which it was written, something that I believe is absolutely necessary. You can’t discuss a complex work written centuries—or even decades—ago accurately without understanding the world in which it was created.

An emphasis on the aesthetic is particularly relevant to today’s topic. At CUA we have relatively small departments for a research university. Our departments need to be distinctive, to be known for having a special strength, and but that focus needs to be inclusive enough that it can make a valuable contribution to the profession at large. For instance, it would be too limiting for us to try to solely emphasize a Catholic version of literature by, say, primarily focusing on Catholic writers in the context of Balthasar’s explorations of theology and aesthetics. Such an approach would be too restrictive. Our students would have an incredibly difficult time getting jobs, and we would have very little impact on literary studies. Our goal is to engage the profession, and not to just have a dialogue among like-minded people.

An emphasis on literary aesthetics provides a focus that’s true to our subject matter---we believe literature is first and foremost an art form---and it’s a challenge to the strict materialism that informs literary theory. The aesthetic implies possibility. Materially oriented theories explain literature in terms of power relationships, market forces, and cultural pressures. The aesthetic acknowledges the imaginative and humans’ capacity for creativity, emphases that can move us beyond materialism. The aesthetic invokes a response that’s intellectual but also emotive, one that closes the distance between the ME and the NOT Me; one that can make us feel connected to something larger than our selves and our material environment. It can suggest the metaphysical, particularly if we stop and reflect upon humans’ capacity to respond to aesthetic experience. Where does it come from? Why does it exist? Materially oriented thinkers can explain love in terms of propagation of the species. But how do you explain humans’ response to a poem or any moving work of art? Our focus doesn’t mean that in every class we teach, every assignment we give, or every bit of scholarship we produce we directly address these questions. But an awareness of literature’s aesthetic dimensions and its value creates an atmosphere that opens up possibilities for discussion that extend beyond materially oriented interpretations.

Our emphasis has made us a stronger and more cohesive department in many different ways. It enables people from a variety of backgrounds—Catholics and non-Catholics—to contribute to the university’s mission. Our most important factor for hiring is the person’s ability to contribute to our focus. By creating a focus that directly relates to the university mission, and hiring individuals who strengthen that focus, we strengthen the department and the university. When we hire, discuss curriculum, put together comprehensive exams (on the undergraduate and graduate level), devise reading lists, or review applicants to the graduate program, we do so with an emphasis on literary history and aesthetics. We announce it on our department’s webpage, and scholars at other universities send us students who are interested in our approach. When I became chair, we began advertising our emphasis. We put out ads that read “Literary Study at CUA: Where Reason is more than a Social Construct.”

Our standards for tenure and promotion are equivalent to those at most major research universities---not Harvard, Yale, or Berkeley---but just as demanding as, say, the University of North Carolina, Notre Dame, or UCLA. In other words, we haven’t had to lower our standards in order to create the type of department we believe most valuable and that contributes to CUA’s mission. I think that’s incredibly important. We have to be first-rate; otherwise we’re damaging the university, even if inadvertently.

I’m also very happy to report that the quality of applicants to our graduate program has soared. The median scores for graduate students who enter our program are a GPA over 3.8 and GRE verbal scores well over 700. In their statements of purpose students cite our emphasis on literary history and aesthetics, and many students are attracted to our program because it’s a place where one can study religion and literature, for instance, without the subject being reduced to materialist explanations. I’m very proud to say that the overwhelming majority of our graduates get tenure-track jobs.

My mom—God bless her, she passed away last year—used to tell me that she thought that my dad in Heaven and God had gotten me the job at CUA. I would chuckle, and tell her that I didn’t think the Lord Almighty was that interested in my scholarship. But I do know that I’m blessed to have come to CUA, and to have been able to pursue the study of literature in the way that most interested me--and with wonderful colleagues who understand how engagement with the aesthetic is rich and rewarding. I could have ended up at another university, doing my work and having a polite relationship with my colleagues. But CUA gave me what a genuine appreciation of the aesthetic can provide: a richer life, possibilities that extend beyond immediate material or practical circumstances.