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Regensburg, Notre Dame and Catholic identity

Letter to the Editor | Tuesday, October 24, 2006

I came to Notre Dame for the crucifixes. When I visited, these ubiquitous wall fixtures said to me: here, the cross has something to do with the classroom. This is essentially what Pope Benedict XXVI’s Regensburg address has to say about our current worries over Notre Dame’s Catholic identity. Skim past the infelicitous paragraph about Islam to find the point: for Christianity, faith is rational because God is rational.

The Gospel of John says that in Jesus, the Logos was made flesh. In his address, the pope reminisced about the “lively exchange” between the theologians and other faculty at Regensburg. If faith had nothing to do with reason, it would rest content in its quarantine in the Basilica, happily ignoring the intellectual goings-on around it. Claire McGathey is wrong to suggest that religion outside the classroom is sufficient to sustain the Catholic identity of Notre Dame: if faith is reasonable, as the Catholic tradition insists, then it must have a place at the academic table. If it does not, something essential to Catholicism is lacking, no matter how many Masses are celebrated on campus. One way to keep Catholicism in the classroom is to hire Catholic professors. Someone who is personally committed to both their academic field and to their Catholic faith will inevitably be concerned with the ways in which both their commitments make a claim to reason. Such a struggle must be present and public at a Catholic university. Of course, non-Catholic faculty are important, at the very least, for keeping the Catholics intellectually honest. More importantly, however, truth is truth wherever – and by whomever – it is found. But the mission of a Catholic university to see the fullness of truth within the context of the fullness of faith requires that we strive for a deeper engagement of faith with reason than mere hiring practices.

This does not mean that all other departments should take their orders from the theology faculty. It does, however, mean that these different departments should be in “lively exchange” with each other. What that means concretely for each area of study must be determined by its own practitioners, but one thing is sure. The incarnate Logos hangs crucified in our economics, business, biology, archaeology, and history classes. The possibility of a truly Catholic university hinges on the fact that this makes a difference.

Spencer Daniel

grad student

Fischer Graduate Residences

Oct. 23