“No one believes anything unless one first thought it believable . . . Everything that is believed is believed after being preceded by thought . . . Not everyone who thinks believes . . . but everyone who believes thinks, thinks in believing and believes in thinking.” — St. Augustine
Believing is a form of knowing where what is known is revealed by God, but then draws in all else that is known. Believing incorporates all human operations within itself. Believing involves seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, tasting, inquiring, imagining, understanding, conceiving, formulating, reflecting, marshalling and weighing evidence, judging, deliberating, evaluating, deciding, speaking, writing. This believing or Catholic faith attends to what God reveals, seeks to know what it means, reasons about what it implies, and is responsible for what must be done. Catholic faith co-inheres with reason, expresses itself through reason, reasons about itself, and reasons about all that is. Such an understanding of faith can help us overcome a culture of timidity. It can help us focus the study of theology at Saint Joseph’s College.
(1) Catholic faith co-inhering with reason defends the whole point of education by affirming the ability of human reason, and all of its operations, to discover and reach the truth. The reigning post-modern academic philosophies are critical of human ability to reach the truth. This hyper-criticism, methodical doubt turned back on itself, is hardly a solid ground for a community of learning. In John Paul II’s words,
The currents of thought which claim to be postmodern merit appropriate attention. According to some of them, the time of certainties is past, and the human being must learn to live in a horizon of total absence of meaning, where everything is provisional and ephemeral . . . and now at the end of this century one of our greatest threats is the temptation to despair. Fides et Ratio, #91
(2) Catholic faith co-inhering with reason is open to dialogue with all. Dialogue always involves a balance between conviction and a humble openness. Catholic faith respects the differing forms of faith that are found in the branches of Christianity, in the world religions, and among people of good will.
(3) Catholic faith co-inhering with reason provides a robust ground for academic freedom. Human dignity demands that human rights are respected, especially that freedom of conscience which is necessary for true Catholic faith.
(4) Catholic faith co-inhering with reason also provides a strong basis for a special, communal form of academic freedom, the academic freedom of the theology programs to have a unique Catholic identity of their own, and not to be a derived and weak clone of generic American colleges and universities in the midst of an endemic secularity. This communal academic freedom is why a religious community, our Sisters of Mercy, can sponsor a college “rooted in and professing fidelity to the teachings of Jesus Christ and the doctrines and heritage of the Roman Catholic Church.”
(5) Catholic faith co-inhering with reason is open to the entire range of reality. It stands in awe and wonder before the gifts of what is, the gifts of being. The faculty of Saint Joseph’s College’s undergraduate and graduate programs in theology founded on Catholic faith co-inhering with reason, can be confident in their ability to form a community of reflective intelligence, will understand the difference between a healthy diversity based on the riches of reality, discovered through a reason-informed faith, and a virulent diversity that lets everyone be anything because it has no criteria for telling difference between anything. The theology programs of Saint Joseph’s College have nothing to lose, and everything to gain, by being rooted in and professing fidelity to Catholic faith co-inhering in reason.
Daniel Sheridan is Professor of Theology at Saint Joseph’s College of Maine and former Director of the Online Theology Program