When Fr. Stanley Jaki [Jaki SL (1978). The road of science and the ways to God. Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press.] used the word "stillborn" to describe the science of every culture save what arose in the Christian West, that makes me think. If it's true, then that also implies that entire civilizations can persist for hundreds, for thousands, of years, not merely without science as we know it, but also without even missing science as we know it, without ever imagining it sufficiently even to long for it or value it. Shouldn't this give one pause? Or is one actually prepared to argue that Christians, as long as they are sufficiently orthodox, are simply immune from such drastic and long-term failures of imagination?
I half-remember a story about some Jesuits visiting the Chinese emperor's court. With them they brought along a clock, part of what they hoped would establish that the West, and therefore, the West's religion, deserved attention. The Jesuits already knew that this clock was more accurate than any in China. The emperor, the story goes, had his sages examine the clock. Their conclusion: the clock was indeed more accurate than Chinese clocks, but this fact was totally unimportant, since China was an agricultural society, and had no need for more accurate clocks than already existed in China. If the story is true as I remember it, what strikes me is the lack of curiosity behind the response. The clock, the fact, was in their hands, yet nobody in China longed to know how it worked. All that anybody appeared to long for was for the clock to be fitted into the pre-existent system in a way that was the least inconvenient to that system. That day, science was once again "stillborn" in China.
The modest proposal herein is nothing less than that the university was "stillborn" just in Fr. Jaki's profound sense, from its very inception; that is, the 'uni-versus' is a project 'turned toward' (versus) a 'one' (uni) from the beginning resolutely unconverted by the Eucharistic immanence of the Lord to Trinitarian unity-in-multiplicity, and as a result, a uni-versus can never really be born, and must always and everywhere be "stillborn." From the beginning, the 'uni-versus' was, and remains today, founded on pagan, not Catholic, presuppositions, and thus from the beginning the uni-versus set for itself, and continues to set for itself, the insoluble pagan problem of the one and the many. In a word:
There certainly have been universities that have studied Catholic things and have had Catholic students and professors; even today, the majority of students at explicitly-loyal institutions, such as the Franciscan University of Steubenville, attend daily Mass.
Yet Steubenville, or any other academic institution past or present, is not a Catholic university, any more than Boston College vs. Notre Dame is a Catholic football game. A football game may be played by Catholics, but football is not 'Catholic.' Not even an infinite number of Catholics who attend Mass daily, live Christian lives, are fully responsive to the teachings of the Magisterium, and recite the Our Father en masse between halves, will ever make even one football game more than marginally 'Catholic.'
The game that a university plays, what it does for a living, is engage in rational inquiry, and that too is a game that has never been seen as 'Catholic.' Rationality is not conceived of, within 'Catholic' universities or anywhere else, as inherently Catholic. Rationality, like football, is thought to be something 'purely natural' that Catholics, like anyone else, can engage in. Until this ancient, completely pagan, and absolutely fundamental intellectual error is, first of all, seen as an error, and then corrected, until rationality itself is reconceived as being in daily need of evangelization, until rationality itself is Catholic, a university is only a game that Catholics (too) can play, and until that changes, there can be Catholic universities only in the sense that there can be Catholic football games. 'Catholic' universities will remain as they are now: at best marginally 'Catholic,' utterly unable to participate in the evangelization of the modern world, and blind to their foundational intellectual weaknesses.
Surely no knowledgeable Catholic would these days argue that the mere study of 'Catholic' things makes a university Catholic. As is currently obvious, absolutely anyone may engage in a 'rational investigation' of 'Catholic' things.
But if the presence, even the active participation, of large numbers of devout, loyal Catholics makes a university no more 'Catholic' than a football game between Boston College and Notre Dame, and if the study of Catholic things does not make a university Catholic either, then what would make a university Catholic in more than a marginal sense?
The 'something' needed is not loyalty to the magisterium, for that is merely part of the minimum standard: after all, at a minimum, a 'Catholic' football game could not be a football game played by non-Catholics, heretics, or Catholic dissenters, but one in which Catholics loyal to the magisterium were at least the majority. Replace the word 'football' with the word 'university.' See the exact extent to which loyalty to the magisterium actually makes a university 'Catholic.'
Of course, this is not to say that loyalty to the magisterium is not a crucial minimum standard for the title 'Catholic,' but is only to stress that the fundamental intellectual foundations of Catholic thought force the university to a minimum standard of 'Catholicity' as the maximum possibility, a standard of 'Catholicity' no higher than that possible within a football game. That will never change until rational inquiry itself - what the university does for a living - is fundamentally reconceived by Catholic thought, as fundamentally capable of, and fundamentally in need of, evangelization.
Thus it is no surprise that within a hundred years of St. Thomas's death, his own University of Paris was the premiere intellectual center of support for the Avignonese popes in particular and the autonomous rationality of the clerics in general, and that many of its faculty, led by Pierre Cauchon, its former rector, saw Joan the Maid as the literal embodiment of a mindlessness, naivete, unsophistication, and anti-intellectualism whose sign was uncritical support of the inept and abusive tyranny of monarchic absolutism, whether royal or papal, and took direct charge of the mission to burn that body which embodied all they detested and scatter its ashes to the four winds.
Which is to say, it is unsurprising that a "device, routine since the reception of Aristotelianism in the thirteenth century," [Donald J. Keefe, S.J. "Rescuing History from Historicism: The Theology of History"] would provide more than sufficient and wholly 'traditional' intellectual underpinnings for the University of Paris of the fifteenth century.
What is that device, and what is the pagan problem it suppresses? The context is given by
"The empirical discovery of the fragmentation of whatever is historical" which set "the task of autonomous rationality: that is, of the mind governed by the immanently necessary laws of logic" ... "and which the mind, insofar as autonomous, cannot and does not transcend...." But this is a "normalization of fallen historicity" which "requires and always involves a rationalist salvation schema by which the dilemma or surd inherent in fallenness, the problem of the one and the many, is suppressed, ordinarily by the imposition of categorical unity upon the fragments." [Keefe, ibid.]One scarcely needs to invoke Voltaire to explain the birth of autonomous reason; to the contrary, invoking Voltaire rather than Pierre Cauchon is entirely too convenient to the presuppositions of all those faithful Catholics who continue to conflate the faith with the idea of the 'uni-versus.'
It is worthwhile to say this out loud: a Catholic 'uni-versus' is literally a contradiction in terms, and the failure to recognize this is the conceptual beginning of the failure of all universities and of all rationalities, pre-modern, modern, and post-modern. There can be no Catholic 'Idea of a University.' However many of the subordinate details they got right, in this fundamental idea, regarding the very possibility of a Catholic 'uni-versus,' Newman was wrong, Aquinas was wrong, they were all wrong.
Littera gesta docet, quid credas allegoriaAs soon as this wonderful couplet is tied methodologically (that is, rigorously, systematically, and completely transparently and consciously) directly to Anselm's
Moralis quid agas, quo tendas (quid speres) anagogia.
res tantum, res et sacramentum, sacramentum tantumthence begins the Catholic triniversity. When all epistemology, all hermeneutics, all philosophy, all science, all morality, is tied to the Eucharist, that is done for more than theology, but for the entire rational and moral and scientific project of mankind, and immediately, all rationality, all morality, all science, becomes at last in principle 'turned toward' the 'three in one' given in and through the Lord's Eucharistic immanence in history, and the Catholic triniversity becomes at last conceivable.
Thus, when one quite rightly condemns the rationalist restriction of historicity to the literal sense, nonetheless, within the 'uni-versus' of the likes of much faithful Catholic theology, including the most recent, that can easily be read and in fact is over and over read as the totally unsurprising reassertion of the Ptolemaic epicycles over against any fundamental challenge, such that the faith is not only protected from what is unfaithful, but also from what is regarded as potentially dangerous, and, even more to the point, from anything seen as unnecessary to the pre-existent scheme, pre-defined as orthodox precisely and only because all the questions it could ever put to itself have already been answered.
Faith that seeks understanding by standing within any uni-versus automatically necessitates a scholarship conceived of as proofs for the triumphant immortality of that uni-versus. Q.E.D., that which is to be proved, is placed not only at the end but also at the beginning of every inquiry within any uni-versus. That dictum may be fudged, but however it is fudged, the dictum is in fact dictated to all who would uphold the uni-versus, of whatever ilk. Real creativity is just as theoretically impossible within the pre-modern uni-versus as any modern one. Those who uphold not only the faith, but also the uni-versus, provide endless grist for all who implicitly or explicitly see the cowardice, the bland deadness, and the naked threat in that.
In short, however it has been misread, Divino afflante spiritu did in fact emphasize "the priority of the literal sense over the other senses." This offers no uni-versus comfort, not the modern variant, nor the pre-modern, nor the post-modern. The real can not be subsumed into, or fragmented by, whatever fallen rational construct. The literal is endlessly expressive of the allegorical, moral, and anagogic, but it is so as endlessly expressive, as a Good Surprise, not as a necessitated implication of whatever theory, however venerable. The necessitated freedom of the Schools is no less insane a place for Catholic rationality than the deliberately irresponsible freedom of a Nietzsche.
That is not meant as exaggeration. No uni-versus has any place, in itself, as a uni-versus, for Catholic optimism, Catholic freedom, Catholic rationality, or Catholic morality. The rationality and morality of the pre-modern Catholic university as a project, if that entire concept is not refuted by Joan of Arc's burning body, existed, when it did, outside of the uni-versus as a project, only in the holy bodies of those who inhabited it; but the uni-versus itself, as itself, as a project, remained always resolutely 'natural' as "sarkic" merely; that is, 'natural' as pagan, unfree, irresponsible, amoral.
No uni-versus can ever be 'ex corde ecclesiae,' but only a trini-versus. To say that is indeed to call the entire long project called 'uni-versus' always and everywhere and forever pagan and therefore inevitably "stillborn," and to imagine another project entirely that has not even begun except in principle. The Catholic triniversity is begun only in principle, and calls Catholics to turn toward a project in which rationality itself is Catholic, trinitarian, sacramental, bodied, covenantal, moral, free, of its essence. It is a project therefore fundamentally antagonistic to the uni-versus. The building of the Catholic trini-versus, and thus of a genuinely Catholic rationality, is the preeminent project of mankind for the next thousand years at least. This long span of years is meant principally allegorically, but of course it has its literal, moral, and anagogic side. It principally suggests not only a snail-like, befuddled, reluctant, yet gradually decisive Catholic abandonment of the uni-versus, but also calls to mind the vast number of generations of unimaginable creativity, breathtaking nerve, and immense determination that any trini-versus, any real Catholic intellectual turning toward the three-in-one, will require.
Could it be that, in every culture, including the Christian West up to now, the trini-versus has been "stillborn," because, whatever our accomplishments, Thought remains a "sarkic" category in this sweet world, fundamentally pagan, forever devoted to suppressing its awareness of the self-imposed hell given by its fundamental dilemma of the one and the many, unconverted to that Eucharist which is its source, and thus, for all of human history up to now mankind has failed to find the resources even to notice the absence of trini-versus, let alone long for or work for its appearance? We must all work, each in our way, for that springtime of evangelization the Holy Father both predicts for the next millenium and calls us to, but trini-versus, and not uni-versus, nor any who uphold uni-versus, will be its intellectual heart. We alive now live in truly revolutionary times, but only in the sense that we have suddenly become better able to long for what was there for us all along.
This is my Modest Proposal for today.
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