FAITH MATTERS: What is Catholic Intellectual Tradition?

Having recently started studying through the Australian Catholic University I have had the opportunity to contemplate their mission statement:

Within the Catholic intellectual tradition and acting in Truth and Love, Australian Catholic University is committed to the pursuit of knowledge, the dignity of the human person and the common good.

While the key principles of truth and love are important to deeply understand how the university is committed to pursuing knowledge and social justice, it is the concept of Catholic intellectual tradition that I wish to assist readers understand today and over the weeks, as this for many is a relatively new way of making meaning of the Catholic faith.

Catholic Intellectual Tradition is the 2000-year conversation between faith and culture which has led the human person to ask questions of inquiry. Catholic intellectual tradition is based on two fundamental principles: first, that the search for truth in all aspects of life extends to the ultimate search for truth that animates faith; and second, that faith is a catalyst for inquiry, as faith seeks to understand itself in its relationship with every dimension of life.

The theological foundation for the Catholic intellectual tradition is revealed through the wisdom of God and Jesus Christ, the one God placed on the earth who is both human and divine. Catholic intellectual tradition is to seek the truth about God, the world, people and develop insights on how they may relate, to see life with fresh eyes and be transformed by this. The tradition develops as the accumulated wisdom is handed on from person to another throughout time. It is criticised, reworked, reappropriated in response to new questions prompted by new experiences. It gives life to tradition which embodies wisdom which continuously seeks the truth. This is a wonderful gift which everyone can learn from.

There is an expanding complex plentiful body of Catholic thinking and scholarship stretching back two millennia. Many sidedness is a great strength of Catholic intellectual tradition; this has provided a rich source for human reflection which is open ended and flexible, it is great source for the possibilities of understanding.

This incarnational worldview and the intellectual energy that stimulates a tradition of inquiry involves several characteristics; faith and reason are mutually illuminating and are united in the search for truth. A sacramental vision which sees all disciplines as sacred thus the pursuit of truth in any discipline is a holy activity. A drive towards intellectual integration with the appreciation for the integrity and legitimate autonomy of individual disciplines. An openness to analogical imagination, a tendency to see things in terms of both/and rather than in terms of either/or. A reverence for the dignity of the human person created in the image of God and called to the fullness of life in Christ that includes a commitment to justice and the common good.

The Catholic intellectual tradition has produced a body of wisdom that has from the beginning developed in dialogue with a full range of human cultures and intellectual traditions. This body of wisdom will continue to develop as a dialogue of inquiry teaching and learning goes forward in the future.



The Catholic Intellectual Tradition: A Conversation at Boston College, The Church in the 21st Century Center (July 2010)

Gregory Kalscheur, Conversation in Aid of Conspiracy for Truth: A Candid Discussion about Jesuit Law Schools, Justice, and Engaging the Catholic Intellectual Tradition, Gonzaga Law Review 43, no.1 (2007):566

James Turner, Catholic Intellectual Traditions in Contemporary Scholarship, Catholic Education: A Journal of Inquiry and Practice Vol 2: 1 (2013): 38

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