The Catholic intellectual tradition is a 2,000 year-old conversation about the deepest questions that haunt the human spirit. What is of ultimate value? What is the nature and character of God? What are the ingredients for a happy and fulfilling life? What does a just and peaceful society look like? Catholic colleges like Siena are places where this long-running conversation about life’s meaning and purpose continues to unfold.
A Conversation with Recurring Themes
Common threads run through the rich and varied Catholic intellectual tradition, and shared assumptions bind together the participants in the conversation:
A sacramental view of the world
From a Catholic perspective, all of reality is holy. God’s light, life and love shine through the fabric of God’s creation. Catholic tradition teaches that God is encountered not only in sacred writings and houses of worship, not only in quiet prayer and the inner recesses of one’s conscience, but in active engagement with the world where God dwells among us and communicates with us.
An optimistic view of the human person
What is unique about Catholicism isn’t so much its understanding of God—an understanding shared by other Christian churches, but rather its understanding of the human person. The Catholic view of the human person is basically optimistic. It is built on the conviction that men and women are fundamentally good. We are made in God’s image, and although that “family resemblance” may be obscured by sin, it is never erased by sin.
An emphasis on community
The Catholic tradition maintains that life, both human and divine, is profoundly communal. It teaches that God is not an isolated individual, but a trinity of persons, a communion of love. It teaches that men and women, made in the divine image, are by their very nature communal creatures who only become fully alive when they love and are loved, and when they enjoy all the rights, privileges, duties and responsibilities of membership in the human community.
A balance between faith and reason
In the Catholic intellectual tradition, faith and reason are not enemies, but allies. Both are gifts from God guiding men and women to the riches of God’s wisdom. Texts, even religious texts, need to be critically examined and intelligently interpreted. Insight ripens with time, and understanding grows and develops as different points of view begin speaking to one another. As limited creatures, we do not so much possess the truth as pursue the truth, and we must do so with humility and intellectual honesty, with courage and perseverance, and in respectful dialogue with all people of good will.
A concern for social justice
The Catholic intellectual tradition, particularly over the past hundred years, has emphasized the fundamental dignity of the human person and the fundamental sanctity of human life. It has stressed the right and duty of all people, especially the poorest and most vulnerable, to participate in society, to share in its blessings and to contribute to the common good. It has promoted the dignity of work and defended the rights of workers, including their right to organize. It has underlined the need for human solidarity and environmental stewardship in a profoundly interdependent world.
A conversation that is open and on-going
Obviously, in a pluralistic society not all the participants in the conversation at Catholic colleges and universities are Catholic Christians, nor need they be. The Catholic intellectual tradition has long benefited from the insights of non-Christians like Plato, Aristotle, Averroes and Avicenna, and continues to be enriched by the perspectives of those from other faith traditions as well as those of no faith tradition. May this respectful and mutually enlightening conversation continue at Siena for many years to come!