Five theses on the relation of Christian universities to the Church

While some statements can only make sense in the Catholic context, these apply to institutions operating in different Christian contexts as well.

I. In Melba P. Maggay’s book Transforming Society, she views the Church’s role as being a servant of society, modeling a different kind of leadership and a crucial role both as conscience and as transformer. The Church heralds the kingdom, but is not the kingdom. It does so by seeking to transfigure human institutions by the power of Christ, the Word of God.

II. Likewise, universities of the Church (understood to be institutions that are historically or canonically connected to the Christian community) have that role with relation to society. Following on from what Cardinal Newman and Johann Metz suggests, their role within the Church can and ought to be similar to their role with relation to society. By analogy, the universities are not the Church, but can call the Church to what it can truly be.

III. At the same time, universities of the Church must understand their role as servants precisely with respect to the authority which Christ gave the leaders of the Church. This is what predicates, for example, the norms of John Paul II’s Apostolic Constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae. If a Christian community does not lay down clear guidelines for mutual accountability, guidelines which are firm but flexible, it is acting irresponsibly.

IV. It is here that the question of fidelity to the faith of the Church is a point of contention. Rather than the polemic which has distinguished discussion of such questions, dialogue on how this is to be lived out is key as well. One must bear in mind that the notion of “hierarchy of truths” applies here above all. A non-negotiable emphasis on trust in the Triune God and the unique salvific role of Jesus Christ in human history must be central. However, the consciences of individuals must be respected, especially those who are not of the Christian faith.

V. However, as the Letter of James said, “faith without works is dead.” Christian universities must be places where faith in God and in Christ is lived out, in service to society, in realizing to the full the grace of God-given knowledge, and above all in the liturgical worship of God, the source and summit of Christian faith.

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