(Page 2 of 2)
Here, I thought, was a kind of archaeological evidence for the collapse of Catholic identity at an historically Catholic university. Santa Clara’s collection of Catholic authors from the 19th and 20th centuries is fabulous — 157 volumes of Chesterton alone. Yet for all the use to which these volumes are now put, they may as well be sealed in plastic wrap and stored away in packing crates.
Barely two years after the close of Vatican II, in the summer of 1967, the secularization began in earnest at a meeting of 26 prominent Catholic educators in Land O’Lakes, Wisconsin. The consequent “Land O’Lakes Statement” declared: “The Catholic university today must be a university in the modern sense of the word…. To perform its teaching and research functions effectively, the Catholic university must have a true autonomy and academic freedom in the face of authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical, external to the academic community itself.”
In retrospect, this absurd boilerplate set the college tone for a generation of wrangling between the Vatican and a majority of the 240-odd Catholic colleges in North America. Taken literally, the statement would mean that the Catholic leaders were declaring total independence for their schools: no more pressure from accrediting agencies, donors, federal mandates, state licensing commissions, local fire marshals. We’re autonomous!
BUT OF COURSE THERE WAS JUST ONE authority of a particularly religious kind that the educators had in their sights. The statement was not meant to be taken literally, any more than the historically Catholic colleges have bothered to take literally Ex Corde Ecclesiae, the apostolic constitution finally issued by the Vatican in 1990 — defining what the Holy See would thereafter recognize as a Catholic college or university.
The past thirteen years of dithering — mostly between weak bishops and stonewalling secularized colleges mysteriously clinging to the Catholic moniker — turns principally on a “general norm” of Ex Corde requiring that Catholic theologians be faithful to Church teaching. But another section of the same norm (Article 4, Section 4) requires more concretely that “non-Catholic teachers should not be allowed to constitute a majority.”
A faculty poll taken some years ago by our political science department of “attitudes” about religion and politics showed more than 60 percent of the faculty at Santa Clara professing no belief whatever in any transcendent order. Fewer than 20 percent are practicing Catholics. Forget theology. All you need is arithmetic: Santa Clara is no longer a Catholic university as defined by the Roman Catholic Church.
Yet the dithering continues, and in the past few months, the administration, inexplicably, has delivered to a puzzled or indifferent faculty yet another working paper on Santa Clara’s Catholic identity. It’s all starting to remind me of a comment by Monsignor Ronald Knox, the Catholic chaplain at Oxford in the 1930s.
In the first chapter of his Enthusiasm, a celebrated anatomy of religious faction published in 1950 (last check-out date at Santa Clara: 1972), Knox explains his theme: “There is, I would say, a recurrent situation in Church history — using the word ‘church’ in the widest sense — where an excess of charity threatens unity. You have a clique, an élite, of Christian men and (more importantly) women…. More and more, by a kind of fatality, you see them draw apart from their co-religionists, a hive ready to swarm…. Then, while you hold your breath and turn away your eyes in fear, the break comes; condemnation or secession, what difference does it make? A fresh name has been added to the list of Christianities.”
Now ponder this garland of committee prose in the current working paper on Catholic and Jesuit identity: “Jesuit education is distinguished by praxis, or the integration of the intellect and faith with practice and an intelligent foundation for active engagement in the promotion of social justice. It seeks a more just and humane world through personal commitment; whereas Catholic education tends to be more parochial, more doctrine-based, and less actively concerned with change.”
Which reminds me: Cheap ideas, Augustine likes to say, often come dressed in gaudy patter. But he also allows that the motives behind the ideas are inscrutable.
And so the Augustine course takes a peculiar toll of a sort I didn’t precisely anticipate back when I agreed to teach it. It casts the secularization of an erstwhile Catholic university into a relief of painful clarity. Think of it. In just over a generation, a great many influential American Catholics, inscrutably, have traded a heritage of nuanced and soaring thought for a pottage of murky bromides and gummy jargon.
What would St. Augustine say if he were zapped forward from his own era of widespread apostasy, half-baked pagan resurgence, and shallow cosmopolitan pretense? Always more interested in the personal backdrop, he would, I suppose, pick through the historical details carefully and then brush them aside to get at those inscrutable motives behind the events. And I suppose I could cap this essay with any number of apt quotes from the Doctor of Grace.
Instead, let me try to get into the spirit (so to speak) of secularization by quoting Jake Holman, the Steve McQueen character in his dying gasp at the disastrous climax of the 1966 movie The Sand Pebbles: “What the hell happened?”
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?