By Sally Vance-Trembath
Department of Religious Studies
Challenge of Authority
Every tradition requires narrators. Crafted wisdom depends upon equally crafted translation. After his conversion, Ignatius seems to have been on a relentless mission to better understand God’s intentions. He readily embraced the Christian tradition’s descriptions about God’s character and presence. However, he applied his genius to figuring out the most effective, flexible, enduring, and repeatable way of integrating God’s intentions into his own thinking and behavior. Because his own intense experience of God was through the doorway of his imagination, he inspected, explored, and analyzed that doorway so others might become more alert to this most robust connection with God. Indeed, Ignatius provides us with a most luminous explication of the claim from the Hebrew Bible that “God said: Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness” (Gen 1:26).
Ignatius went on to summarize his insights (at the request of his “companions”) in his Spiritual Exercises. Like the Catholic social teaching tradition, this spiritual guide has become a significant text in the Catholic tradition. Ignatius continues to be recognized as a virtuoso among the numerous other spiritual guides in our tradition. Not so with the primary authorities for Catholic social teaching. Papal teaching no longer enjoys the degree of trust that the Exercises retain. Our students stand ready to engage Ignatius’ method in classroom through his emphasis on the search for knowledge and excellence. They embrace his method in athletic training and competition as well as in retreat programs and service projects. I find that he remains trustworthy. At least once a year I hear a student or a parent remark that they might not trust the Catholic Church anymore but they are committed to Jesuit education. What is a theologian who studies the Church to make of this situation? In the manner of Ignatius, let’s turn to an image; this one from literature.
We find ourselves like Gandalf and his hobbit companions: living during a time of shadow. Institutions and authorities have failed us. We may even feel abandoned. At the very least we are reluctant to trust Catholic authority figures. And for many of our students, the Catholic tradition is suspect or even an outdated relic. And the Catholic social tradition is strongly tied to the “father” of all Catholic authority figures: the pope. Papal authority has been especially dented by the institutional failures and abuses of this shadow season.
Indeed, your favorite pope can be read as a code these days. There are some Catholics who are rather vocal in their disapproval of Pope Francis. Pope John Paul II developed and privileged the emphasis on solidarity. That said, many Catholic women left the Church during his pontificate, and his treatment and selection of bishops has had enduring negative consequences. If you go further back to Pope Paul VI who wrote the encyclical condemning “artificial” contraception while allowing “natural” contraception instead, you will remember another wave of practicing Catholics who left over that teaching. Go one more step back in time, to Pius XII, the pope of World War II up to 1958, and you will find the full flowering of the pope as monarchical ruler. Pius famously said, if you have any question about Catholic teaching, look to me. He understood himself as the primary teacher and interpreter of
Catholic thought. With such different styles, what are we to make of papal teaching? It is no wonder Catholic social teaching seems underappreciated as saturated with papal teaching as it is.
I am highlighting the role of the pope because that goes directly to engaging Catholic social teaching. Across the centuries there have been two primary papal styles. During the first millennium, the style was not monarchical, it was collegial (a bit like a player-coach). The pope was one of the bishops who sometimes exercised authority in order to provide unity and stability and focused on his own local community: the Church in Rome. But as the bishop of Rome became more and more powerful as did the Roman emperor, a second style emerged. The monarchical papacy was established in 1073 by Gregory VII. Prior to that, the exercise of power by the pope was occasional and episodic. During the first thousand years of the institutional Catholic Church, the emphasis was on unity in the diversity of local bishops. Unless there was a specific need, the local bishop stabilized and led the local church. With Gregory VII the Church became an excessively centralized institution. And the papal office followed the pattern of kings and emperors. The monarchical papacy is one wave of seeping shadow that hovers over the Catholic teaching tradition. There is a direct line between it and the current distrust of authority. When I introduce the papacy to students, I frame the material with a formative moment from my own experience with authority.
When I was in eighth grade, we read To Kill a Mockingbird. The brilliant Sisters of Humility who staffed my Catholic school used that text across the curriculum, before “across the curriculum” was a thing. We explored it during religion class, history, English, even math! I loved that book. I loved it so much that I requested a hard copy for my birthday, which fell at the end of the school year. When my mother went to the one bookstore in town to order it, the man behind the counter thought she was kidding. It took more than a month for the book to arrive. While my mother and four siblings were all readers, it was my older brother, Alex, who was, and still is, the most avid reader. When I opened the package, my older sister teased me: “You have read that book so many times; what will be different about this copy? There are copies all over the house!”
Later that day when I was tucked in on the couch reading it, Alex sat down next to me. He was in his first year of college. The walls of his room were covered with drawings and clippings from magazines. The Who, The Beatles, and Cream, along with Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, poured from his bedroom at all hours. I had written a book report for the Brotherhood Book Club competition and he had proofread it for me that spring. What he said to me on that couch is a tiny piece of tradition: “You love Scout. I know that.” I just looked at him. I still love my brother, but back then I flat out adored him.
I wanted to be like him. He went on, “I like her too; I like the way she describes her town and what happened there. She is what they call a ‘trustworthy narrator.’”
“What does that mean? There are narrators that I can’t trust? How would I know?” My 14-year-old mind was very disturbed and shaken by such an idea.
“To Kill a Mockingbird is a novel. Novels are a pretty recent invention, especially the narrator. When you go to college be sure to take a course on the novel. You will like it.” Then he handed me Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe.
“Here, you can keep this copy.”
What!!!??? I thought to myself. Novels are an invention? Scout isn’t just describing what happened? Harper Lee could have chosen a different narrator? Bob Ewell? Mr. Cunningham? What???
My brother introduced me to a new category of tradition that day: the novel as an invented art form. I think my brain actually vibrated. People could do such things? I knew Shakespeare had been developing and changing theater, because I went with my mother to the local park board summer productions. But the idea of invention was actually alarming.
Alex also validated my own participation in the tradition of reading. I had wanted that hard copy because I knew that in some way I would never be “done” reading that book. Alex knew how that felt. He gave me a way to think about why I loved that book so much. Now I wanted to learn about the people who invented the novel. Alex introduced me to the importance of the author; before Alex, the story was everything. By bringing in the author’s intentions, the author’s creativity, Alex welcomed me into the world of literature as a body of thought. And a body of thought, while it involves all kinds of details and data, requires a method—method is the oxygen for complex thinking and imagining. Ignatius saw this with brilliant clarity.
Method matters. The method that shapes papal teaching matters. Leo XIII who was pope from 1878 to 1903 inaugurated Catholic social teaching. He was a monarchical, imperial pope. By the time Leo came along Catholicism was very unified in its liturgy and spiritual practices. Catholic prayer forms and their capacity to transmit identity were global marketing campaigns long before Santa Clara had a business school.
Leo knew about power. But he also was the first pope to attempt engagement and reconciliation with the modern world. During a time of retrenchment, he decided that openness, with an embrace and respect for the intellectual life and for scholarship was the better approach. He transformed the rarely used “encyclical” form. With his Rerum Novarum, he initiated the now very regular practice of papal encyclicals regarding social matters.
Now, let me pull that method thread again. Pope Leo XIII did indeed usher in the important work of engaging wider society directly. But he was still a bit of an “unreliable narrator” in that his was a monarchical papacy. One of the methodological features of that style is the use of deductive reasoning to formulate teaching. So even though he does begin the process of looking at the actual human situation during the industrial revolution, his primary analysis still used previously formulated ideas about human identity. That analysis was structured around philosophical terms that presupposed “the natural law” theory of the person and society. Those “natural law” categories contain features that are not compatible with modern insights such as developmental psychology and recognition of the influence and power of social and cultural institutions.
So Rerum Novarum was a start and a very important one. To Kill a Mockingbird prepared me for the rich challenge of The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Ulysses, and eventually for the works of Toni Morrison. The method of the novel developed and expanded and engaged stories in more and more humane ways—ways that rejected predetermined ideas about human personhood. So did the method of Catholic social teaching.
There is a pope who approaches the trustworthy stature of St. Ignatius: John XXIII. Pope John was a very reliable narrator with regard to just about every nook and cranny of Catholic teaching, practice, and even governance. He changed the method for Catholic social teaching by both his own individual style and his own writings that are a part of the tradition. But his imprint is most significantly on display in the monumental Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, otherwise known as Gaudium et spes (Joy and hope). Gaudium et spes is monumental for several reasons, not the least of which is it is NOT an encyclical. It is a much “higher” level of teaching than an encyclical. A document of an ecumenical Council of the Church is the highest form of teaching in Catholicism. Teaching at that level supersedes all other teachings.
Beginning with Pope John XXIII, the Church shifted back to the previous style of the papacy. “In a period of less than five years he almost single- handedly transformed the Catholic Church from a clericalist, monarchical, unecumenical, and theologically rigid body to a community of radical equality in Christ—laity, religious, and clergy alike— open to dialogue and collaboration with other Christian and non-Christian communities, with nonbelievers, and with the world at large.”1
Pope John was the greatest pope of them all, full stop. He was pope from 1958 to 1963, and he called the Second Vatican Council. With the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Catholic social teaching fully engaged the modern world. Gaudium et spes grounds its analysis in human experience. Its method is solidly inductive. That is, it begins by exploring the actual, concrete human situation with attention to those persons most directly involved in the situation. It does not begin with previously formulated ideas and “deduce” solutions from those ideas. Instead, it searches many and varied sources of critical reflection and established wisdom, with particular attention to the values in the Hebrew Bible and in the gospel of Jesus Christ. The new method that emerges in 1965 begins to shape Catholic social teaching in ways that are much more compatible with the modern world. Its inductive method is much better suited for fielding the challenging issues of our time because we have come to see that by beginning with a clear-eyed look at the actual situation, we will see things we have not seen before; we will hear voices we have not heard before. Its inductive method is more trustworthy and much more friendly to contemporary ways of generating and evaluating knowledge. Our students’ education depends upon the inductive method. They are at home in it.
So as we rebuild our trust in the institutional structures of the Church, what is Pope Francis’ method? Pope Francis follows the model of John XXIII. It surely makes sense to assume his formation in Ignatian spirituality matters here. We can trust him; he is a reliable narrator in our Catholic social tradition.
SALLY VANCE-TREMBATH was born and raised in Iowa. She earned her M.A. and Ph.D. at the University of Notre Dame. She has worked in Catholic education all her professional life and has been particularly interested in the relationships among the Church, Catholic universities and the wider society. During the Archbishop Hunthausen investigation by the Vatican, she served on his Pastoral Council. That experience was seminal in the formation of her work on the ecclesiology of Vatican II. Her first publication was in Theological Studies entitled “John Paul II’s Ut Unum Sint and the Conversation with Women” in 1999. She has been teaching at SCU since 2006.
1 McBrien, Richard P., Lives of the Popes (New York: Harper San Francisco, 1997), p. 367.
By Brian Buckley
Department of Philosophy
Practice Confronting Theory
In the past year, our group read a series of articles about various aspects of Catholic social teaching (CST) and the Catholic intellectual tradition (CIT). The content of the many pieces ranged from issues of race, gender, and the environment to the role of a Catholic university in a modern context. Despite the differing topics, styles, and aims in the pieces, there were a few overarching themes that I could discern. Of these, the most important, I believe, was the tension between theory and practice.
My field is philosophy and I teach in the areas of ethics, politics, law, and ancient through medieval history of philosophy. The first three, since the time of Aristotle, have been known as practical philosophy, and they are set against theoretical philosophy. The practical are those disciplines and emphases that are put into action, that take their end in action. So, a legal theory or ethical theory or political theory that is never seriously enacted is not practical; it is only theoretical. The point of any theory in practical philosophy is clear—it is to effect change through legislation, personal choices, or governance.
In teaching this material, I also emphasize the essential nature of procedure in philosophy—that it is just as important how we proceed in our reading, discussion, and engagement of ideas as the content of the ideas themselves. When approaching a certain course, I ask myself what I would like students to remember from that course—one, five, or even 10 years in the future. And while I would love for them to know Aristotle’s examples of the ethical mean or Aquinas’ bases for natural law or Cicero’s reasons for supporting virtue and the common good in a republic, I do not have illusions that students will remember them. What I do think is always reasonable, however, is for students to have learned a way of reasoning and reflecting. I often quote the Japanese poet Basho in this regard: “We seek not to follow in the footsteps of the old masters; we seek what they sought.” So, if years in the future, a student can be as careful as Kant in her reasoning or as common sensical as Aristotle or as synthetic and open as Aquinas, then I believe my class will be worth a small portion of her undergraduate time and effort. Michael Buckley, a Jesuit philosopher and theologian, gives this open procedure an essential role in the Catholic university. In his chapter “The Catholic University as Pluralistic Forum,” he asserts, “Discussion is the formalizing activity of the university, and the refusal to discuss is the destruction of its life. Each time a professor will not discuss with students, or students with one another, or professor with professor—something of the university dies.”
It is with these professional emphases on theory informing practice and philosophical procedure that I read the CIT readings this year. Notably, from them I gained a great deal of knowledge and inspiration about practice challenging theory. What I mean by that is that in fields where practice is expected, and certainly CST numbers among them, under-applied theory will not be acceptable. It will be questioned openly. In such cases where theory argues or preaches in one direction and current practice on race, poverty, hierarchy, or moral theology in general does not match it, then theory must be directly challenged so that it truly informs practice. In a way, it must be reanimated to be meaningful. It must be confronted with a practice out of conformity with it. Since ancient times, there has been a particular distaste for those people who present one face to the world, then act differently. Such persons or institutions are “duplicitous” or “double” rather than whole, “integrated,” and acting with “integrity.” A person or institution with integrity is the same in public and private, in today’s dealings and tomorrow’s. They do not argue for or support one thing but then do another. They do not preach that others must perform in accord with important standards while then excusing themselves from those same principles. I believe this is what Pope Benedict meant in his social encyclical Caritas in Veritate (Love in Truth) when he said pointedly: “While the poor of the world continue knocking on the doors of the rich, the world of affluence runs the risk of no longer hearing those knocks, on account of a conscience that can no longer distinguish what is human. God reveals man to himself; reason and faith work hand in hand to demonstrate to us what is good, provided we want to see it; the natural law, in which creative Reason shines forth, reveals our greatness, but also our wretchedness insofar as we fail to recognize the call to moral truth” (emphases mine).
CIT is quite clear in its emphasis on practice in Church institutions and persons. To be Catholic in name means also to be Catholic in practice. The two are inseparable and whole. Theory means practice. Truth means action. In “Catholicity: Its Scope and Contents”—a chapter in John Haughey’s Where is Knowledge Going?—he reminds us of the Church’s history with wholeness. “The word catholicity etymologically promises a worldview that is universal ... The word connotes movement toward a universality or wholeness.” There is a broad perspective celebrated in catholicity that argues against a confining and defining particularism. In its universality, the Church is meant to embrace a wholeness that does not exclude. While “universal” and “whole” have different meanings and connotations, taken together, they point toward a complete human integration. The Church is not for some. It is not for a certain time. Its universal breadth is meant to capture its inclusivity and its equality and therefore its justice.
Since the time of Aristotle, equality and justice have been joined. When two persons are considered morally and politically equal, then treating them differently is unjust. It is to deprive them of their due as equals. Because of this, a Church that is meant to be universal and whole should reasonably be seen as one intimately connected with the equal treatment through justice. This justice links with the dignity mentioned in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. “A just society can become a reality only when it is based on the respect of the transcendent dignity of the human person. The person represents the ultimate end of society, by which it is ordered to the person ...” Equal dignity invokes justice and justice is about action. So, the Church that has a moral theology or intellectual tradition that does not comport with its practice then undermines the ideal of being whole and universal. Without justice for all, some are treated differently, rather than in accord with a universal wholeness where none are treated differently. Justice therefore challenges the Church in terms of those on the margins who often are ignored—as not having a place at the table meant for all.
In a society that has been historically unjust, arguably no group in the United States has been further marginalized than our fellow Black citizens. The Church in America has recognized this problem, with the bishops issuing the pastoral letters “Brothers and Sisters to Us” in 1979 and “Open Wide Our Hearts” in 2018. In the former, the bishops proclaimed, with great clarity, “[L]et the Church proclaim to all that the sin of racism defiles the image of God and degrades the sacred dignity of humankind which has been revealed by the mystery of the Incarnation.” And in the latter, “All of us are in need of personal, ongoing conversion. Our churches and our civic and social institutions are in need of ongoing reform.” This moral theology, however, does not always comport with practice in Catholic institutions. M. Shawn Copeland notes that this is particularly true with regard to white privilege and the constant refusal by so many to reconsider their easy positions concerning such issues as color blindness. In “The Intersection of Race, Class, and Gender in Jesuit and Feminist Education,” she reminds us that too often race is purposefully deemphasized and subtle aspects of racism “pass unnoticed. Thus racism as power, as structuring hierarchy, is erased and reduced to the actions of a few unsavory bigots whom some people of color are forced to endure.” The liberation of Catholic institutions from racist and other marginalizing effects must then be sought by centering race and considering openly how institutional practices normalize white advantages. To do anything else means that practice fails to conform with the moral principles the bishops stated so clearly in both pastor letters. It would be to fail Black Americans in ways articulated clearly by Bryan Massingale in Racial Justice and the Catholic Church: “The abstract and ‘hypothetical’ speculation all too characteristic of standard Western accounts of justice is simply inadequate to the task of sustaining—or even giving an adequate account of—this community’s historic and passionate account of its realization.”
As Fr. Buckley reminded us, the university is the perfect place for embracing the openness Copeland and Massingale articulate. It is the role of a Catholic institution to provoke students to discover biases and otherwise reflect on given presuppositions that may prevent practice from matching with theory. Done well, this procedure is what a philosophy
class achieves as it turns its students toward wonder. Bertrand Russell holds that this is a particular benefit from studying philosophy. He tells us in The Value of Philosophy that philosophy is liberating and anti-dogmatic because of its ties to open wonder. “Philosophy, though unable to tell us with certainty what is the true answer to the doubts which it raises, is able to suggest many possibilities which enlarge our thoughts and free us from the tyranny of custom. Thus, while diminishing our feeling of certainty as to what things are, it greatly increases our knowledge as to what they may be; it removes the somewhat arrogant dogmatism of those who have never travelled into the region of liberating doubt, and it keeps alive our sense of wonder by showing familiar things in an unfamiliar aspect.”
A Catholic social tradition that prides itself on the connections between faith and reason must allow the latter to mean practical reason. When the individual working in a Church institution makes decisions on behalf of students, employees, and the wider community, she must be open not only to hearing new ideas, but to allowing those ideas to provoke her into addressing potential disharmonies between what is said and what his done, what is preached and what is practiced, what is advertised and what in fact occurs, and what is held to be valued and what actually is rewarded. In a way then, if CIT is to be a living tradition that allows for growth, it must be open so that practice may confront theory. Procedurally, it must endeavor to make people non-complaisant and ever ready to revisit lack of conformity between beneficial goals and ideals and everyday practice.
Over the years, I often reflect on one of the best, most discomfiting writings of the recent Church. In 2005, Pope Benedict XVI decided to write his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, on love. In it, he said that it was not enough to go through the motions to love one’s neighbor. More fundamentally, it meant seeing them as a person. In his words, I see not only the overall emphasis in CST concerning equal human dignity, but a reminder to reflect openly, whether our practice is always in conformity with the theories of love the Church preaches throughout its social teachings. “Then I learn to look on this other person not simply with my eyes and my feelings, but from the perspective of Jesus Christ. His friend is my friend. Going beyond exterior appearances, I perceive in others an interior desire for a sign of love, of concern. This I can offer them not only through the organizations intended for such purposes, accepting it perhaps as a political necessity. Seeing with the eyes of Christ, I can give to others much more than their outward necessities; I can give them the look of love which they crave.”
Brian Buckley earned three academic degrees from Jesuit universities (Seattle U., Gonzaga, and Loyola Chicago) and has taught at Santa Clara University in the philosophy department since 2007. In his time at SCU, he has also been the director of Prelaw Advising and coordinator of the College of Arts and Sciences 2016 Salon. His teaching and research focus on respect for persons, the common good, politics, the rule of law, and law.