VATICAN CITY — On Monday Pope Francis released a new apostolic constitution calling for a “radical” reform to the nature and curriculum of ecclesiastical universities and institutions.
“The primary need today is for the whole People of God to be ready to embark upon a new stage of Spirit-filled evangelization,” the Pope said in the document, Veritatis Gaudium.
This new stage of evangelization, he said, “calls for a resolute process of discernment, purification and reform. In this process, a fitting renewal of the system of ecclesiastical studies plays a strategic role.”
Signed Dec. 8, 2017, and published Jan. 29, 2018, the 87-page document’s title means “The Joy of Truth.”
The document deals specifically with ecclesiastical universities and faculties, which, differing from regular Catholic universities, offer Vatican-approved degrees required to teach in seminaries or at pontifical universities.
It consists of two parts dedicated to general norms and specific norms and also contains an appendix and norms of application. The document is meant to “update” previous norms and abrogates any prior rules that contradict the new ones laid out by Pope Francis in Veritatis Gaudium.
The document abrogates any contrary norms established by John Paul II’s 1979 apostolic constitution Sapientia Christiana, issued after a careful study of the Second Vatican Council’s decree Optatam Totius on ecclesiastical studies. However, John Paul II’s 1990 apostolic constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae is not impacted, as it deals specifically with Catholic colleges and universities, rather than ecclesiastical academic entities.
In the foreword for his new constitution, Pope Francis, who has often spoken of the importance of education, said that while offering a great contribution to the Church’s life and mission, Sapientia Christiana “urgently needs to be brought up to date.”
“While remaining fully valid in its prophetic vision and its clarity of expression, the constitution ought to include the norms and dispositions issued since its promulgation and to take into account developments in the area of academic studies in these past decades,” he said.
“There is also a need to acknowledge the changed social-cultural context worldwide and to implement initiatives on the international level to which the Holy See has adhered.”
Francis noted that the world is currently living not only a time of change, but it is also experiencing “a true epochal shift, marked by a wide-ranging anthropological and environmental crisis,” such as natural, social and financial disasters that are swiftly reaching “a breaking point.”
This reality, he said, requires “changing the models of global development and redefining our notion of progress.” However, a great problem in doing this is the fact that “we still lack the culture necessary to confront this crisis. We lack leadership capable of striking out on new paths.”
Because of this, he said that, on the cultural level, as well as that of academic training and scientific study, “a radical paradigm shift” and “a bold cultural revolution” are needed that involve a worldwide network of ecclesiastical universities and faculties that are capable of promoting the Gospel and Church Tradition, but which are also “ever open to new situations and ideas.”
“Philosophy and theology permit one to acquire the convictions that structure and strengthen the intelligence and illuminate the will,” he said, but he cautioned that this “is fruitful only if it is done with an open mind and on one’s knees.”
“The theologian who is satisfied with his complete and conclusive thought is mediocre,” Francis said. However, “the good theologian and philosopher has an open, that is, an incomplete, thought, always open to the maius of God and of the truth, always in development.”
Pope Francis then listed four criteria for ecclesiastical studies that he said are rooted in the Second Vatican Council’s teaching and inspired by the changes that have taken place in the decades since.
The first of the criteria, he said, is the “contemplation and the presentation of a spiritual, intellectual and existential introduction to the heart of the kerygma, namely the ever fresh and attractive good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Secondly, he said there is a need for a “wide-ranging dialogue” that is not merely a “tactical approach,” but which is “an intrinsic requirement for experiencing in community the joy of the truth and appreciating more fully its meaning and practical implications.”
He then pointed to the need for an “interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary” approach that is carried out “with wisdom and creativity in the light of Revelation.”
“What distinguishes the academic, formative and research approach of the system of ecclesiastical studies, on the level of both content and method,” he said, “is the vital intellectual principle of the unity in difference of knowledge and respect for its multiple, correlated and convergent expressions.”
The fourth and final criteria the Pope gave was “the urgent need for networking” between worldwide institutions that “cultivate and promote ecclesiastical studies, in order to set up suitable channels of cooperation also with academic institutions in the different countries and with those inspired by different cultural and religious traditions.”
In this regard, he said there is a need to establish more specialized centers of research dedicated to studying “the epochal issues affecting humanity today and to offer appropriate and realistic paths for their resolution.”
He urged the competent authorities to give a “new impulse” to scientific research conducted in ecclesiastical universities and faculties, saying the need for new and qualified research centers is “indispensable.”
These centers, the Pope said, ought to include scholars from different religious universities and from different scientific fields who can interact with “responsible freedom and mutual transparency.”
He said plans are already underway for the establishment of “outstanding interdisciplinary centers and initiatives aimed at accompanying the development of advanced technologies, the best use of human resources and programs of integration.”
In the new norms, Francis outlined the role, nature and purpose of ecclesiastical universities and faculties, saying they are to evangelize and, through scientific research, better enunciate the truths of the faith and present them in “a manner adapted to various cultures.”
Bishops’ conferences will be charged with overseeing the life and progress of the universities and are to be headed by a chancellor who will serve as the entity’s go-between with the Holy See. All ecclesial universities and institutions will be overseen by the Congregation for Catholic Education, headed by Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi.
Regarding the role of teachers, the Pope said there must be several teachers of various ranks in each faculty, including permanent ones.
Criteria necessary to be considered for appointment to such faculties include the need to be “distinguished by wealth of knowledge, witness of Christian and ecclesial life, and a sense of responsibility.”
Teachers, Francis said, must also have a doctorate or similar equivalent title or scientific accomplishment; they must show “documentary proof” of their suitability for doing scientific research, preferably a published dissertation, and they must demonstrate adequate teaching ability.
He also stressed that all teachers, no matter their rank, “must be marked by an upright life, integrity of doctrine and devotion to duty, so that they can effectively contribute to the proper goals of an ecclesiastical academic institution.”
This goes for both Catholics and non-Catholics, as the document allows for non-Catholic professors to teach specialized courses at ecclesiastical universities and institutions in their areas of expertise.
Francis said that, should any of the required criteria cease, “the teachers must be removed from their post, observing the established procedures.”
Teachers who instruct on faith and morals, he said, “are to be conscious of their duty to carry out their work in full communion with the authentic magisterium of the Church, above all, with that of the Roman Pontiff.”
On the role of students who attend the ecclesiastical universities and institutions, the Pope said these entities must be open “to all who can legally give testimony to leading a moral life and to having completed the previous studies appropriate to enrolling in the faculty.”
As far as the study plan for ecclesiastical entities, the Pope said they must place a focus on ecclesial texts, with special emphasis on those from the Second Vatican Council, while also taking into account scientific advances that contribute to answering questions on modern concerns.
“Up-to-date didactic and teaching methods should be applied in an appropriate way, in order to bring about the personal involvement of the students and their active participation in their studies,” he said.
The Pope also said there must be freedom and flexibility in terms of research, but stressed that it must be “based upon firm adherence to God’s word and deference to the Church’s magisterium, whose duty it is to interpret authentically the word of God.”
“Therefore, in such a weighty matter, one must proceed with trust, and without suspicion, but at the same time with prudence and without rashness, especially in teaching; moreover, one must carefully harmonize the necessities of science with the pastoral needs of the People of God.”
He said faculties of theology have the specific task of “profoundly studying and systematically explaining, according to the scientific method proper to it, Catholic doctrine, derived with the greatest care from divine Revelation,” and of carefully seeking solutions to human problems in light of this revelation.
Revealed truth, the Pope said, must be considered alongside valid scientific accomplishments, in order to see “how faith and reason give harmonious witness to the unity of all truth.”
“Also, its exposition is to be such that, without any change of the truth, there is adaptation to the nature and character of every culture, taking special account of the philosophy and the wisdom of various peoples,” Pope Francis said, stressing that “all syncretism and every kind of false particularism are to be excluded.”
While the positive aspects of the various cultures and philosophies studied are to be sought and taken up after careful examination, he said “systems and methods incompatible with Christian faith must not be accepted.”
Ecumenical questions must be “carefully treated,” as well as questions regarding relationships with non-Christian religions. In addition, Francis said problems that arise from atheism and other currents of contemporary culture must also be “scrupulously studied.”
“In studying and teaching the Catholic doctrine, fidelity to the magisterium of the Church is always to be emphasized. In the carrying out of teaching duties, especially in the basic cycle, those things are, above all, to be imparted which belong to the received patrimony of the Church,” he said. “Hypothetical or personal opinions which come from new research, are to be modestly presented as such.”
Faculties of canon law, whether in the Latin rite or in Eastern rites, must cultivate and promote the judicial disciplines in light of the Gospel, he said.
These faculties, Francis said, should include a first two-year cycle for those who have no prior education in philosophy and theology, as well as those who have a degree in civil law. During this first cycle, students ought to study the basic concepts of canon law, philosophy and theology in order to advance.
In the second cycle, which he said should last three years, students must become familiar with canon law “in all its expressions,” including the normative, jurisprudential, doctrinal and praxis, and the codes for both the Latin and Eastern Churches should be studied “in depth” with magisterial and disciplinary sources.
As with theology, the third cycle ought to consist of a suitable time frame in which students finish their training with scholarly research aimed at preparing a doctoral dissertation.
Faculties of philosophy, he said, have the aim of “investigating philosophical problems according to scientific methodology, basing itself on a heritage of perennially valid philosophy.”
Philosophical study, Francis said, must look for solutions in the light of “natural reason” and must also demonstrate “consistency with the Christian view of the world, of man, and of God, placing in a proper light the relationship between philosophy and theology.”
The first cycle of study, he said, should last for three years and consist of an “organic exposition” of the various aspects of philosophy — including the world, man and God — as well as a look at the history of philosophy and an introduction to the method of scientific research.
In the second cycle, which should last for two years, Francis said specializations ought to begin through special disciplines and seminars. The third cycle, which he said should last for three years, must promote “philosophical maturity” through writing a dissertation.
The document also included new norms on other types of faculties, degrees, financial management, strategic planning and cooperation, and leadership and government for ecclesiastical universities and institutions.
These new norms will go into effect on the first day of the 2018-2019 academic year or of the 2019 academic year, depending on the calendar year of the various academic entities. Each faculty or university must present their revised statutes and plan of studies before Dec. 8, 2019.
After being presented, the new statutes and plans of study will be approved ad experimentum for a three-year period. However, faculties with a juridical connection with civil authorities can be given a longer period of time with permission from the Congregation for Catholic Education.