Alfred J. Freddoso
University of Notre Dame

At a poignant juncture early in Brideshead Revisited, Sebastian, after briefly recounting for Charles his family's rather checkered performance with regard to its Catholicism, remarks, "I wish I liked Catholics more." When Charles replies, "They seem just like other people," Sebastian rebukes him:

    "My dear Charles, that's exactly what they're not ... It's not just that they're a clique--as a matter of fact, they're at least four cliques all blackguarding each other half the time--but they've got an entirely different outlook on life; everything they think important is different from other people. They try and hide it as much as they can, but it comes out all the time. It's quite natural, really, that they should. But you see it's difficult for semi-heathens like ... me."
Outsiders are often distracted and even mesmerized by the blackguarding. In discussions of the elusive "Catholic character" we have come to expect comments like, "You can't even agree among yourselves what 'Catholic' means; is it any wonder that the rest of us get edgy when we hear of efforts to reinforce the Catholic character of Notre Dame?" Larry's paper helps us to understand a bit better both the significance of these internal disagreements and the fervor with which they are carried on. As he suggests, a true catholicity is marked by a kind of "coincidence of opposites," a plurality within a unity, or perhaps better, a creative anarchy within fixed limits, a volatile mixture of the hierarchical and the charismatic, of the stabilizing and the spontaneous, of St. Peter and St. Paul. Chesterton characterized it as an equilibrium in which the duelling opposites are allowed to become exaggerated just short of the point where the one would wipe out the other:
    "St. Francis, in praising all good, could be a more shouting optimist than Walt Whitman. St. Jerome, in denouncing all evil, could paint the world blacker than Schopenauer. Both passions were free because both were kept in their place. The optimist could pour out all the praise he liked on the gay music of the march, the golden trumpets, and the purple banners going into battle. But he must not call the fight needless. The pessimist might draw as darkly as he chose the sickening marches or the sanguine wounds. But he must not call the fight hopeless ... By defining its main doctrine, the Church not only kept seemingly inconsistent things side by side, but, what was more, allowed them to break out in a sort of artistic violence otherwise possible only to anarchists" (Orthodoxy, chap. VI).
But if this is so, then everything hinges on preserving the balance that holds the exaggerated opposites together:
    "It is exactly this which explains what is so inexplicable to all the modern critics of the history of the Church. I mean the monstrous wars about small points of theology, the earthquakes of emotion about a gesture or a word. It was only a matter of an inch; but an inch is everything when you are balancing. The Church could not afford to swerve a hair's breadth on some things if she was to continue her great and daring experiment of the irregular equilibrium. Once let one idea become less powerful and some other idea would become too powerful. It was no flock of sheep the Christian shepherd was leading, but a herd of bulls and tigers, of terrible ideas and devouring doctrines, each one of them strong enough to turn into a false religion and lay waste the world" (ibid.).
This immediately invites the question: What is the source of unity that keeps these diverse elements together and prevents them from being fragmented into isolated eccentricities? My oldest son came home from World Youth Day pretty much overwhelmed by the instant bond of solidarity he felt with other Catholic young people from all over the world, even though they came from economic, political, linguistic, and cultural backgrounds /43/ very different from his own. What united them? What is it that unites such disparate and seemingly contradictory figures as St. Francis and St. Jerome--and makes heroes of them both to boot? (Indeed, we will be celebrating both of their feasts within the next few days.) More relevant to our own situation, what is it that makes an educational institution Catholic and unites it to other things Catholic? Larry [Cunningham's] paper is extremely illuminating in this regard, and also very revealing as we reflect upon the last twenty-five years at Notre Dame and upon our present and seemingly insoluble predicament.

(Let me throw in a disclaimer here. Even though some of my colleagues have at times expressed doubts about this, I do indeed understand the differences among elementary schools, secondary schools, seminaries, small liberal arts colleges, and universities replete with professional schools and graduate programs. But my topic here, taking my cue from Larry's paper, is what unites such educational institutions as Catholic rather than what distinguishes them from one another. Catholic universities, like the Church as a whole, have lots of tensions built into them by their very nature as universities and as Catholic universities, tensions that would lead to heated disputes even in a university where the faculty shared much more in common by way of fundamental moral and religious vision than it does at this university. But such disputes could be fruitful because they were taking place within a common framework of shared assumptions and in an atmosphere of trust generated by that unity of outlook. It is precisely the unity that I want to focus on here.)

Larry reminds us, first of all, that at the center of Catholicism lie the sacraments as instruments of divine grace and as divinely instituted sources of the new life of liberation from sin and ignorance won for us by Christ's life, death, and resurrection. In the supernatural light of faith, we see the world and, more importantly, ourselves as both sinful and called to sanctity, as both in dire need of spiritual healing and yet already redeemed by the blood of the Lamb of God. It is through the sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation, that this saving work of our Lord is appropriated by us as individuals within the community formed by His Body and Blood. And it is in this context that we live out what Vatican II termed our universal call to holiness, our daily lives of prayer and repentance, of fasting and good works, of the sanctification of the ordinary and the extraordinary--in short, our daily lives of sacrificial love of God and neighbor made possible by Christ's own sacrificial love. Or this, at least, is what we strive for.

The sacraments, then, and other related liturgical practices, both communal and private, lie at the center of our lives. We long with the Psalmist to live in the presence of God. But, of course, the sacraments do not exist in a vacuum. They express and effect a vision of the world, a faith, that has been bequeathed to us down through the centuries as the pearl of great price. Word and sacrament, as we say today. The two go together ineluctably: Lex orandi est lex credendi. Two of Larry's "Salient Characteristics of Catholicism" are especially relevant here.

The first is tradition. The Faith comes to us hammered out, as it were, through a two-thousand-year quest, exciting yet oftentimes painful, to spread the Gospel faithfully and intact to every corner of the earth. The excitement and pain are both evident from the very beginning, in the Acts of the Apostles, and they continue to this day. The blood of martyrs, as well as the ordinary and extraordinary lives of millions of saints down through the centuries, have mediated the passage of the Gospel from the time of Christ to our own time. This is a Church that has survived many deaths, to use Chesterton's image, only to rise again when, from a merely natural perspective, it /44/ should have perished once and for all; and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit it will undoubtedly survive many more deaths to come. We may battle among ourselves about the fine points, about what is essential to this tradition and what is peripheral. But the stakes are high; for central to the Catholic faith is the haunting conviction that to cut ourselves off from this tradition is to cut ourselves off from Christ. This is our inheritance, sealed from the very beginning with the blood of martyrs. It is not ours to reinvent; nor are we free to make it up as we go along.

The second, and closely related characteristic, is communion, communion with the successors of the apostles, a communion that, to use Larry's words, "finds its organic center by union with the Bishop of Rome." It is this characteristic I want to focus on in the remainder of my remarks, and this because neither the confusions that permeate the present conversation about the Catholic character of Notre Dame, nor the deep distrust many faculty members feel for the university Administration and the Congregation of Holy Cross, can be fully fathomed without adverting to the fact that for the last twenty-five years the higher echelons of the Notre Dame family have consciously and deliberately distanced themselves and the University of Our Lady from the Bishop of Rome and from the Vatican generally. I'm not talking here explicitly about theological disagreements, though there are certainly many such disagreements lurking in the background. Rather, I'm talking about a pervasive attitude that typically manifests itself as a type of condescension, not unlike what embarrassed family members might feel toward grandpa's latest antics, and that sometimes erupts into outright hostility and arrogant disdain. It is an attitude that slowly but surely undermines our love for the apostles, our respect for their authority as teachers and pastors, and our ability to recognize in their office the continuation of Christ's threefold ministry as priest, prophet, and king.

In a moment I will descend to examples. But first I want to make clear that my purpose here is not to engage in polemics--or in blackguarding, as Waugh puts it. To be sure, I personally am deeply saddened and sometimes angered by curt dismissals of very holy and (I judge here as a philosopher) extremely intelligent men like Pope John Paul and Cardinal Ratzinger. It grieves me even more that this dominant attitude of disrespect might pose an obstacle to our students' discovering the truth that will set them free and the truth that did set me free--spiritually, morally, and intellectually--after my own ten-year hiatus from the faith. However, here I'm concerned mainly with the atmosphere that has been created by this attitude and by the resulting confusions that have been spawned in our discussion of the Catholic character. One last preliminary point. It is not part of my purpose to speculate about motives. Some are fairly obvious and close to the surface, e.g., the desire to win acceptance and acclaim from our counterparts in secular universities; others are more hidden and perhaps somewhat darker. It makes no difference for now.

What has happened? "We will be Catholic," they said, "but on our own terms and in our own way. We have come of age. We will hire the best and brightest (or some reasonable facsimile thereof), and we won't scare them away with Catholicism; we will invoke those aspects of Catholicism and Catholic doctrine that they are likely to find attractive and ignore those aspects that they might find repugnant. In any case we will not give in to those individuals and groups [read: grandpa and his friends] who 'would propose to control the development of the Church'," as our newly /45/ minted mission statement darkly puts it. So as time went on--in the 70's but especially in the remarkable expansion of the 80's--we hired many people who knew very little about Catholicism; who were perhaps hostile to what they did know but were much more likely to be indifferent; who were never so much as invited to meditate on the relationship between faith and reason or on the unity of truth across the disciplines, including theology; who would be bemused by the notion that at a Catholic university we, the faculty, ought to be concerned with the spiritual development of our students as well as their intellectual development; who could not themselves serve as role models of Catholic, or, more generally, Christian intellectuals. Vast numbers of them didn't even have the cultural advantage, shared by many of their older colleagues, of being lukewarm or fallen-away Catholics.

To be sure, at various points in the 70's and 80's directives would come down from on high to hire Catholics. These directives were rather mysterious, seemingly arbitrary, and lacking any intellectually coherent context. In any case, they were easily enough circumvented. I myself remember vividly receiving a phone call in my office at Brown University shortly after I was hired by Notre Dame. The call was from a future senior colleague who told me in no uncertain terms, "Look, I don't care what you do or don't believe these days; but it's really important to us that you check the Catholic box." Again, just a few years ago my department hired four "Catholics" to junior positions, one priest and three others who made no attempt to hide the fact that they had not practiced the faith since childhood; yet they are numbered among the dwindling percentage of Catholic faculty that Fr. Malloy fretted about in his recent letter to the faculty. And, of course, each of us knows of many similar cases. So even if Fr. Hesburgh himself had a coherent vision, that vision never filtered down to the administrative levels where the vast majority of personnel decisions were effectively being made. Is it any wonder that many faculty members, especially younger faculty members, feel threatened by talk about the Catholic character? Might not some of them reasonably come to suspect that they were hired under false pretenses?

But it gets worse. In 1990 Pope John Paul issued his apostolic constitution on Catholic universities, Ex Corde Ecclesiae. When a preliminary draft had been circulated for comments a few years earlier, the general reaction by administrators on this campus, as well as on other Catholic campuses in this country, might be accurately summed up by a condescending recital of the phrase, "Uh-oh, there goes grandpa again." Don't get me wrong; I, too, believe that the preliminary draft was unsatisfactory. The pope must have suspected as much himself; that's why he sent it out for comments. He got comments alright, but a lot of prideful public posturing as well. Imagine St. Paul, with his deep love for the Church and his repeated insistence that attacks on the unity of the Church are among the most grievous of sins, airing his differences with St. Peter on the pages of the Chronicle of Higher Education. Well, all turned out just fine in the end. Our official--and breathtakingly minimalist--response to the final version was that we have nothing to fear from the document ... and, it went without saying, nothing to learn from it, either. And this, despite the fact that the first part of the document articulates a deeper, more thoughtful, and more cohesive vision of what a Catholic university is than anything that has ever emanated from the Dome--a vision, by the way, from within which an administrator could deal openly, honestly, and straightforwardly with non-Catholic and non-Christian faculty members. Why, you might ask, wasn't a copy of Ex Corde Ecclesiae sent to every faculty member? Is what the Vicar of Christ has to say about Catholic universities less significant for us and less worthy of being distributed to the faculty than, say, the President's annual address to the faculty or the Provost's homily at the opening mass? (We now know, from reading the New York Times, that in Fr. Malloy's opinion papal documents are boring. Can that be what distinguishes them from the other elocutionary gems /46/ just mentioned?)

As I have adumbrated, this dismissive attitude toward the Holy Father makes it well-nigh impossible for the Administration to deal honestly and openly with precisely those people who feel threatened by talk of the Catholic character. In the same week that Fr. Malloy was bemoaning the decrease in the percentage of Catholic faculty, he was telling (who else?) the New York Times that the Pope's forthcoming encyclical on moral absolutes, Veritatis Splendor, can be dismissed a priori as a conservative document issued by a conservative pope. Perhaps Fr. Malloy meant to reassure non-Catholic faculty by intimating that they shouldn't be so naive as to confuse his own use of the term 'Catholic' with the Pope's. The problem, of course, is that none of us knows exactly what Fr. Malloy does mean by 'Catholic' in the phrase 'Catholic character'. An honest observer might even get the impression that he is making it up as he goes along. And, indeed, that is precisely what several of my non-Catholic colleagues believe. I myself first learned of the New York Times article during a faculty meeting which constituted the first serious departmental discussion of the Catholic character we've had in my fifteen years on the philosophy faculty. The article was quoted by a colleague, no friend himself of the Holy Father's (to put it mildly), who complained at length that Fr. Malloy's disdain for the Pope demonstrates that all of this hiding behind Catholicism is not to be taken seriously, and that in fact what we have here is nothing more than a raw power play on the part of the Congregation of Holy Cross to maintain control of the university and to keep the faculty from seizing control. (By the way, it is this line of reasoning that leads to the conclusion, astonishing to me but nonetheless apparently widely accepted, that Fr. Miscamble is no more and no less than an agent of Fr. Malloy's.) Ironically, my unnamed colleague and many like him view the top echelons of the Administration and of the Order as being every bit as authoritarian and autocratic as the latter themselves accuse the Vatican of being. As one wag put it: "Dissent in the Church but not, by God, in the University!"

In any case, the atmosphere is poisoned; distrust is rampant. My contention is that this is in no small measure due to the failure of the Administration to articulate a deep and carefully thought out vision of what a Catholic university is, and that this failure is itself in no small measure due to the confusion that will inevitably arise when a university--or any other institution or individual, for that matter--tries to be Catholic on its own terms while distancing itself from the Vicar of Christ, i.e., from him who stands in the place of Christ and holds the keys of the Kingdom.

To some outsiders the Catholic Faith will seem anything but what I know it to be, inexhaustible in its spiritual and intellectual riches, liberating in its effects, and full of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Yet a university fashioned in the image of Part I of Ex Corde Ecclesiae welcomes even such as these--on its own terms, to be sure, but on terms that flow from a coherent vision that promises to preserve the distinctiveness of a Catholic university while promoting the sort of intellectual excellence that could earn the respect, if nothing else the grudging respect, of academics at other, more conventional, universities. It is a vision the rudiments of which have already attracted many of our most distinguished colleagues to this place, and in the absence of which it will be much more difficult, if not impossible, to attract such established scholars in the future. The alternative, as we know from experience, is to have no coherent vision at all. Within such a context, administrative efforts to patch a bunch of Catholics onto our already existing faculty will be viewed as a merely arbitrary imposition and /47/ will lead to nothing but more resentment, more distrust, and more of the cynical circumventions we are now all too familiar with. This business-as-usual approach will eventually lead, I predict--extrapolating from the likely future fate of my own department--to a relatively wealthy second- or third-tier university that is distinguished neither in the eyes of God nor in the eyes of the world. This is not a pleasing prospect for any of us. Do we really need yet another second- or third-tier secular university with a good football team? If for no other reason than revulsion at such a bourgeois and, shall we say, boring prospect, I invite you, my colleagues, to study and discuss Part I of Ex Corde Ecclesiae with an open mind.

Whatever the future might bring, however, this is still at present a great environment for a Catholic intellectual. I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that I personally have much more intellectual freedom here than I would at a completely secular university. What's more, the students are bright, eager, and teachable; many of them have grown weary of minimalist talk about what they don't have to do or believe in order to be good Catholics, or about who they don't have to pay all that much attention to. They, like the tens of thousands of young people who gathered in Denver last month, are looking for something more positive, for the very sort of spiritual and intellectual challenges that the Faith in all its purity and splendor can open up to them.

September 28, 1993
The eve of the feast of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael