Inclusiveness and diversity: the Catholic Intellectual Tradition

The Catholic Intellectual Tradition: What is it? Why should I care?

Fall Forum College of Saint Benedict / Saint John’s University (August 20, 2003) by William J. Cahoy, Ph.D., Dean: Saint John's School of Theology Seminary


I want to claim the idea of "inclusiveness" as part of the Catholic Intellectual Tradition and of schools like ours that seek to draw on that tradition. At the very least, this brings us back to the difficult issue of diversity that must not be avoided in any discussion of Catholic identity.


Inclusiveness and diversity come in here around the idea of universality. After all, the very term "catholic" means "universal." With more than a billion Catholics spread all across the globe (70% of them in Africa, Latin America, and Asia), one would be hard pressed to find a more culturally and racially diverse religious group. While the Catholic Intellectual Tradition is historically European, the last 40 years or so have seen the Catholic Church come to terms with the reality of its global character.[13]


Diversity and openness to others are not at odds with the tradition, are not something we pursue in spite of our catholic identity. Quite the contrary, it is required if we would be truly catholic. Thus using the affirmation of Catholic tradition and community to create a ghetto of like-minded people is a misunderstanding of the specific tradition of this community. Turning in upon ourselves in parochialism or sectarianism, is a failure to live up to our ideals as a church. In the end it is a failure to be Catholic, not merely a failure to be humane, relevant or politically correct.


Unfortunately, the Catholic Church has far too often failed to live up to its ideals and forgotten its need for these intellectual virtues of listening, humility and self-criticism. It would be naive to suggest that such failures are all in the past, that these intellectual virtues are not now and will not in the future be threatened by forces of conformity from within the church. Real and frequent as that fight may be, however, the point I want to underscore is that it is a fight within the tradition and community of faith. It need not and should not be understood as a fight between the church, identified with the forces of conformity, on the one side and reason, the forces of secularism, on the other.


History shows that the church has learned much from the cultures in which it lives and suggests that it still has much to learn. Indeed, this is precisely the nature of the dialogue the tradition instructs us to have with the world in which we live. This dialogue, which involves real listening, vulnerability and self-examination, however unsettling it might be, is necessary for the continuing life of the tradition and the community.


It is the privilege and the responsibility of the Catholic college to be the special locus of this dialogue, to exist in the midst of the vulnerability that is its constant companion. Confident that it will be better for it, the Catholic community commissions its colleges-and you and me-to engage in this dialogue in order to understand the world and itself better.


This is the Catholic Intellectual Tradition. It is an ancient and living tradition worth caring about and caring for. I wish you all blessings abounding as we seek to make this tradition live among us in the year to come. Thank you.


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