"Ex Corde Ecclesia" and "Donum Veritatis": Twenty-Five Years After | Adam A.J. DeVille, Ph.D. | CWR
Though many academics put up a firestorm of controversy over having a mandatum when Pope John Paul II wrote "Ex Corde Ecclesia" in 1990, their objections are utterly silly and juvenile
2015 offers Catholic universities two silver anniversaries which are of particular importance. First, this year marks a quarter-century since Pope John Paul II issued his landmark apostolic constitution Ex Corde Ecclesia, a charter describing a profoundly important and necessary vision for how Catholic universities are to be fully Catholic and fully academic at the same time—without diluting their faith or diminishing their intellectual excellence. (On this, see George Weigel’s recent column, “Catholic Higher Education and the Perils of ‘Preferred Peers’”.)
Second, this year also marks the silver anniversary of a lesser known but clearly connected document, Donum Veritatis, published in May 1990 under the signature of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger on behalf of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and with the full approval of the pope. This document in English bears the title “On the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian.” Let us briefly consider each one in turn.
The first document generated controversy immediately upon publication, and that controversy has dimmed only slightly in the last twenty-five years. For the pope issued, especially to American Catholic universities, a direct challenge to reverse direction from the one adopted in 1967 at the infamous and pernicious Land O’Lakes conference in July of that year.
The danger and the damage of the Land O’Lakes statement has been far-reaching in the last 48 years and it is almost impossible to overstate. The threat may be discerned in its very first paragraph:
To perform its teaching and research functions effectively the Catholic university must have a true autonomy and academic freedom in the face of authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical, external to the academic community itself.
Hindsight is perfect, of course, but nonetheless this claim must be seen as utter nonsense that no serious academic today could possibly accept. For no academic is ever “truly autonomous” and no research is ever free of “authority of whatever kind.” That is so fatuous a claim that I am astonished anybody could have subscribed to it in the first place.
If I am, say, a psychologist licensed by the state of Indiana to perform research here at the University of Saint Francis, I am accountable not only to the state, but also to the American Psychological Association not to do certain things and to abide by certain professional codes of conduct and ethics. I am “free” and “autonomous” in ignoring those only if I want to lose my license, my job, and my livelihood. This is what the Catholic moral theologian Servais Pinckaers, OP (1925-2008), called the “freedom of indifference”: I am indifferent to any and all others outside myself even at severe cost to myself. That sounds perverse, and it is, but such is the nature of sin.
These two bodies—Indiana and the APA—are both “external to the academic community itself,” and have authority over me in very important ways. One could easily call to mind comparable examples for the health sciences, the biological sciences, the other social sciences, and almost all academic fields.
Autonomy and authority
Theology can and must be no different in this regard, though here the “external authority” is not an academic accrediting body, and in fact, properly understood, is not “external” at all.