Above Ideology

A response to: A Question of Identity

In discussing current problems with and within our Catholic universities, we must, first and foremost, understand what we mean by the expressions «Catholic tradition, Catholic culture, and Catholicism.»

One meaning of the word tradition is to be found in the sense of the Greek word paradosis: «passed on orally from generation-to-generation.» However, in the current debate about Catholic education, the phrase Catholic tradition refers to the Church’s part in the development of cultures and civil societies. That distinction is important because the Church’s role involved more than the transmission of revelation. The Church also recognized and continues to champion the part that reason plays in human affairs.

Some Catholics (and many anti-Catholics) regard the other two expressions, Catholic culture and Catholicism, as synonymous because they confuse Catholic doctrine with ideology. History has recorded instances in which Catholic clergy with civil power ruled through clericalism and/or Puritanism, both of which are ideologies. These misguided clerics cast a shadow over the Church’s true mission, providing caricatures that ideologues outside the Church continue to point out. Most people who use the term Catholicism aren’t referring to these historical incidents, but the word itself provides aid to those critical of the Church, and Catholics should avoid it. Ideologies are closed systems by nature and deny the interdependence of faith and reason. In other words, ideologues fail to acknowledge that everyone has faith — whether that faith includes God or not. As for Catholic «culture,» there isn’t and never was one.

Pope Benedict recently observed that, «Belief in the one God, far from stunting our capacity to understand ourselves and the world, broadens it. Far from setting us against the world, it commits us to it.» These statements were made in conjunction with his plea for reason in the world: «I believe a particularly urgent task of religion today is to unveil the vast potential of human reason.»

From a purely intellectual standpoint, then, everyone may apprehend the pre-eminent position the Catholic Church occupies in human affairs. Whether or not one accepts its doctrines, he or she will if guided by reason admit that its very existence stands as a reasonable account of what the human race is and why it exists, something no ideology has ever done, nor will ever be able to do.

C. Edward Collins

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Sarnia, Ontario Canada

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