Ex Corde Ecclesiae and NDCatholic[1]


The Basilica of the Sacred Heart

The Basilica of the Sacred Heart serves as the mother church of the Congregation of Holy Cross in the United States

Part I: The Nature and Mission of the Catholic University

“It is the honour and responsibility of a Catholic University to consecrate itself without reserve to the cause of truth. This is its way of serving at one and the same time both the dignity of man and the good of the Church.” — Ex Corde Ecclesiae, [4].

“Born from the heart of the Church,” the Catholic university is by vocation called to bear institutional witness to the life of the Church.  It is called in a special way to illuminate the rich Catholic intellectual tradition — its knowledge and insights — accessible to the entire university community, “so as to act rightly and serve humanity better.”[2] The Catholic university, “under the action of the Spirit of truth and love,”[3] is tasked with communicating to students “that Wisdom without which the future of the world would be in danger”[4]; with harmonizing and underscoring the dynamic integration of faith and reason, technology and ethics, and the sciences and humanities within the “perspective of the totality of the human person”[5]; and with continually renewing, on behalf of both the Church and the culture that the Church not only upholds but makes possible and authenticates, “the very meaning of the human person.[6]

“[The] Catholic university is without any doubt one of the best instruments that the Church offers to our age which is searching for certainty and wisdom.”[7]  In receptivity to the Christian inspiration that the Spirit gifts and the Church safeguards, the Catholic university roots its mission firmly in the Christian mystery as present in and transmitted by the Church. “A Catholic university, as Catholic, informs and carries out its research, teaching, and all other activities with Catholic ideals, principles and attitudes.”[8]

The mission of the Catholic university, then, encompasses not only the research and teaching of its scholars, but also the sacramental and liturgical life of its members, the pastoral formation of the faithful in its midst, and service in accord with the vocational gifts possessed by the academic community. In a particular way the research and teaching of the faculty is crucial — indeed, essential — not only to the sound execution of the Catholic university’s mission and vision, but to that mission and vision themselves. Every teacher and administrator at the Catholic university, whatever his faith affiliation or creed, must promote or at least respect the Catholic mission and identity of the university,[9] and most importantly, Catholic teachers must constitute the majority within an institution in order for that institution to meaningfully inform all its endeavors with Catholic witness.[10]

The education of students, then, is of a holistic nature and orientation that involves affective maturity, participation in sacramental life, moral and ethical flourishing and growth, and professional specialization. But insofar as the apostolate of the Catholic university is to impart to its students an impartial love of truth, the fundamental orientation of the university community is an academic and intellectual one. As such, the intellectual formation of students in the classroom is a cardinal duty of the Catholic university, its administrators, and most importantly, its faculty. This must be given the most serious and sustained attention by those invested in the efficacy of the university, entrusted, as it is, with “assur[ing] in an institutional manner a Christian presence in the university world confronting the great problems of society and culture.”[11]

Part II: Faculty, Teaching, and Intellectual Formation

The essence of the Catholic university, then, consists in its willingness to educate students in the rich, integrative, and sacramental intellectual tradition of the Catholic Church. It follows that ensuring a robustly Catholic faculty is also a cardinal priority of administrators and all those in positions of authority to appoint and compose the university professoriate.

The presence of vibrant, faithful, and outstanding research, scholarship, and teaching in the theology and philosophy professoriates is central in an unparalleled manner in the Catholic university:

Aided by the specific contributions of philosophy and theology, university scholars will be engaged in a constant effort to determine the relative place and meaning of each of the various disciplines within the context of a vision of the human person and the world that is enlightened by the Gospel, and therefore by a faith in Christ, the Logos, as the centre of creation and of human history. While each discipline is taught systematically and according to its own methods, interdisciplinary studies, assisted by a careful and thorough study of philosophy and theology, enable students to acquire an organic vision of reality and to develop a continuing desire for intellectual progress.[12]

This goal of the contextualization of all knowledge in light of the Logos Incarnate is the special province of the Catholic university’s theology faculty. This faculty sustains the integrative character of all knowledge through its exploration of the very mysteries of the Christian faith out of and into which the lifeblood of the Catholic university flows:

Theology plays a particularly important role in the search for a synthesis of knowledge as well as in the dialogue between faith and reason. It serves all other disciplines in their search for meaning, not only by helping them to investigate how their discoveries will affect individuals and society but also by bringing a perspective and an orientation not contained within their own methodologies. In turn, interaction with these other disciplines and their discoveries enriches theology, offering it a better understanding of the world today, and making theological research more relevant to current needs.[13]

The centrality of theology within the Catholic university’s curriculum cannot be overstated. The presence of theology imparts to the Catholic university the distinctive element of its character as integrative and interdisciplinary; one could say that theology should be the common currency in which all university disciplines and specializations trade. “Catholic theology, taught in a manner faithful to Scripture, Tradition, and the Church’s Magisterium, provides an awareness of the Gospel principles which will enrich the meaning of human life and give it a new dignity.”[14] The Church also notes that “courses in Catholic doctrine are to be made available to all students.”[15]

Every discipline offered at the Catholic university, permitted academic freedom and granted its full integrity according to its own methods and principles as long as it services the truth and the common good, contributes to the upbuilding of knowledge and wisdom, and therefore culture. As such, each discipline, and the faculty and scholars who foster its insights and contributions to the collective treasury of human knowledge, “are to be inspired by academic ideals and by the principles of an authentically human life.”[16]

The robust educative vision entrusted to Catholic universities by the Church depends for its execution and sustenance upon a deeply engaged and committed Catholic faculty. Indeed, the Catholicity of any university is a function first and foremost of the Catholicity of its faculty. Catholic university students have a right by virtue of their institutions’ missions to the faithful witness, scholarship, and mentorship of a Catholic professoriate as described and mandated in Ex Corde. Correspondingly, administrators have a duty, vis-à-vis the students whom their institutions exist to serve and teach, to ensure this professorial Catholicity.

Anchored in theological and philosophical faculties capable of synthesizing and integrating the whole field of knowledge and disciplines to which university students are exposed, and sustaining excellent scholarship and research output as well as authentic Catholic faith and witness, the faculty of the Catholic university is the essential component of its ability to execute its institutional purpose as outlined by the Catholic Church.

Part III: Catholic Coursework at the University of Notre Dame

In light of the vision of Catholic university education promulgated by the Church, the concrete situation of the University of Notre Dame can be considered more precisely. In what ways does the professoriate at Notre Dame embody the vision for Catholic faculty as laid out in Ex Corde Ecclesiae? To what extent does the university endorse Ex Corde’s vision for Catholic education? Are students at Notre Dame accorded their right to courses in Catholic doctrine, and to philosophy and theology courses that integrate knowledge and orient the findings of all disciplines toward the horizon and destiny of the human person, fully revealed in the person of Jesus Christ? Is the harmony between faith and reason, technology and ethics, and science and the humanities inculcated in the classrooms of Notre Dame?

The purpose of the NDCatholic project is to explore these questions in light of Ex Corde Ecclesiae. While these questions and their answers comprise only one, albeit an essential, component of the mission of the Catholic university, they concern the university’s central duty and calling, its intellectual apostolate. As such, the purpose of this project is to provide current and prospective students, parents, and all concerned parties with a knowledgeable and Faith-centered appraisal of how to seek out and receive — to the extent possible, given both curricular and personnel limitations — an authentic, viable Catholic education at Notre Dame.

[1] All citations throughout this document reference John Paul II’s 1990 apostolic constitution on Catholic Universities, Ex Corde Ecclesiae.
[2] # 2
[3] Ibid.
[4] # 4
[5] # 7
[6] Ibid.
[7] # 10
[8] General Norms, Article II, § 2
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid, § 4
[11] # 13
[12] # 16, 20, emphasis added
[13] # 19
[14] # 20
[15] Ibid., § 5
[16] # 22