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Faith has nothing to fear from reason

Letter to the Editor | Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Father Jenkins, thank you for reaffirming the spirit of the Land O’ Lakes statement on Catholic universities and academic freedom. It meant everything to me in my vocation to this place as a noble experiment to have a top-notch Catholic university in a non-Catholic culture, and I believe your statement is a foundational component. Indeed, I am one of those, to paraphrase a rather uncharitable statement from your critics, who rejoiced most in your statement and care most about the Catholic identity of Notre Dame.

There is one aspect of your reaffirmation that I haven’t seen receive emphasis, and I believe it lies at the heart of a University, the intellectual life of its professors, and the intellectual-religious lives of its students. If you allow me a biographical reference, I was in my mid-20s in the Society of Jesus when I finally, with the help of wonderful Jesuit mentors and teachers (George Klubertanz, Robert Henle and others in the Philosophate at St. Louis University) was able to dispel fear toward reason in the ratio-fides dialectic. Since then, I see the fides-ratio dialectic as vivifying, indeed salvific.

Now, I believe that your reaffirmation helps Notre Dame students assent to – and hopefully eventually live – the proposition that faith has nothing to fear from reason, and neither do they. Grace builds on nature. Thus, students can live the dialectic fearlessly, even joyfully, and powerfully. To reason is to share in creation.

My concern is that the critics of your reaffirmation are explicitly or implicitly telling Catholic students that they must fear reason and substitute obedience for it, that they as Catholic students are not to trust or be trusted with reason, and neither are the professors. I think the fides-obedientia axis is the concern of the Hierarchy; the fides-ratio axis is the concern of the University and of maturing intellects and consciences of students who then must think about the other axis.

Thank you for continuing the noble experiment that I discerned in former University President Father Theodore Hesburgh’s vision for Notre Dame way back in 1968.

Andy Weigertprofessor of sociologyMay 1