In view of the renewal of ecclesiastical studies, on January 29, 2018 Pope Francis promulgated “Veritatis Gaudium,” “The Joy of the Truth,” a new Apostolic Constitution for ecclesiastical Universities and Faculties. Among other things, the document encourages study with “an open spirit and on one’s knees,” to improve scientific research and promote encounter and dialogue, without forgetting to posit an “option for the poorest.”.
Varitatis Gaudium gives new norms for these Institutes that, to date, were regulated by the Apostolic Constitution “Sapientia Christiana,” promulgated by Saint John Paul II on April 15, 1979. “Almost 40 years later, an updating of this Apostolic Constitution is necessary and urgent,” explains the Argentine Pope. In fact, although remaining fully valid in its prophetic vision and in its lucid content, it calls for being integrated to the normative dispositions that have come out in the meantime, taking into account the development of university studies, which have taken place these last decades, as well as the changing socio-cultural context at the global level.”
In the Preamble, the Pope specifies “The priority exigency today in the order of the day is, in fact, that the whole of the People of God is prepared to undertake ‘with spirit’ a new stage of evangelization.”
In this connection, the new Constitution “will be implemented the first day of the academic years 2018-2019 or of the academic year 2019, according to the school calendar of the different regions.” Each University or Faculty must present its status and its program of studies, revised according to this Constitution, to the Congregation for Catholic Education before December 8, 2019.
“The joy of the truth (Veritatis Gaudium), explains the Pope, expresses the poignant desire that makes the heart of every man restless until he finds, dwells and shares with all the Light of God . . . Truth, in fact, isn’t an abstract idea, but is Jesus.”
Four Background Criteria
“Philosophy and Theology enable one to acquire convictions that structure and strengthen the intelligence and illumine the will, one can read in the text . . . however, all this isn’t fruitful unless one does it in an open spirit and on one’s knees.” Pope Francis gives “four background criteria for a renewal and re-launching of the contribution of ecclesiastical studies to a missionary Church that goes forth.”
The “priority and permanent” criterion is “the contemplation and spiritual, intellectual and existential introduction to the heart of the kerygma, namely, of the new and fascinating joyful proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus.” This proclamation is manifested notably by “the option for the last, for those that society rejects and puts aside,” which must “permeate the presentation and further reflection of the Christian truth.”
The second criterion “is that of dialogue in all areas, not as a simple tactical attitude, but as an intrinsic exigency,” for a “culture of encounter among all the authentic and living cultures, thanks to the mutual exchange of respective gifts in each area of partly open light by the love of God for all His creatures.”
The third criterion, continues the Constitution, is “the inter- and the trans-disciplinarity exercised with wisdom and creativity in the light of Revelation”: “It’s about offering, through different courses proposed by the ecclesiastical studies, plurality of knowledge corresponding to the multi-form richness of the real by the partly open light of Revelation, which at the same time is harmonically and dynamically gathered in the unity of its transcendent source.”
Finally, the fourth criterion concerns “the urgent need to ‘network’ between the different institutions that, everywhere in the world, cultivate and promote ecclesiastical studies.” It’s about giving “new impulse to scientific research,” of “being equipped with specialized centers that deepen dialogue with the different scientific milieus.”
The Structure of Veritatis Gaudium
In the first part, which concerns the “common norms,” the Pope explais the nature and ends of Ecclesiastical Universities and Faculties: “one understands under the name Ecclesiastical Universities and Faculties the Institutions of higher learning that, erected canonically or approved by the Apostolic See, study and teach Sacred Doctrine and the sciences that have a link with it, and that have the right to confer academic degrees by the authority of the Holy See . . . They can be either an Ecclesiastical University or Faculty sui iuris, or an Ecclesiastical Faculty within a Catholic University, or an Ecclesiastical Faculty within another Faculty.”
The document also regulates the academic community and its government, as well as the choice of teachers “who must always be distinguished by their honesty of life, by their doctrinal integrity, <and> by their attachment to duty.” It gives the norm of access for the students and specifies the role of officers, and administrative and service personnel. The program of studies, stresses Veritatis Gaudium, must take into account acquired characteristics that result from scientific progress and that contribute notably to resolve the questions in discussion today.” The Constitution pleads for “a just freedom of research and teaching” but it also reminds that true freedom of teaching and true freedom of research “is necessarily contained within the limits of the Word of God, as it is constantly taught by the living Magisterium of the Church.”
Ecclesiastical Institutes are also called to “carefully reconcile the scientific exigencies with the pastoral needs of the people of God.” The text also addresses academic degrees – the Baccalaureate, the Licentiate, the Doctorate – didactic instruments – the library, computer equipment, technology, audio-visual, etc. of the economic administration, the planning of Faculties and their collaboration.
In the second part, on “special norms,” Veritatis Gaudium addresses specificities of the Faculty of Theology, of the Faculty of Canon Law and of the Faculty of Philosophy.