Why Be Catholic?: Understanding Our Experience and Tradition

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The truth about the object is found in the correspondence between the image in the mind and the object external to the observer. Aquinas claims that the observer reaches some reality external to his imagination and can say that he knows something beyond than what he makes in his imagination. The imagination plays a key role in the act of knowing but the knowledge gained is not simply a fabrication of the imagination.

Commonsense knowledge affirms such a principle. Scientific investigation demands that an experiment can be duplicated by other scientists in order to achieve similar results. There is an objective world there even though our capacity to know it is incomplete. As Aquinas makes the claim that the form of an object is given and is to be discovered, he is saying that creation is not simply moist clay to be shaped at will by a human knower.

When the object of investigation is a human being, Aquinas would claim that the human being has a nature and is not simply shaped by the forces of history. This claim is in accord with his conviction that nature has an order inherent in it and aspects of this order can be perceived by a reasonable person without the assistance of faith. The recovery of Aristotle could not have taken place without the Islamic culture. Likewise, the capacity of Catholic scholars to carry out text criticism was greatly enhanced by the assistance of Jewish scholars who had worked closely with scriptural and talmudic texts and their transmission.


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The history of the high middle ages attests to substantial exchange between Catholic, Jewish, and Islamic scholars. The Islamic scholars devoted to Aristotelian works came from other professions such as medicine and law. Even though these cultures recognize the need to adapt and develop, their bias has been towards continuity rather than toward innovation. So the communication between thinkers of these cultures tends to be aimed at conserving their distinctive heritages and at times clarifying their positions or doctrines by contrasting them with those of other cultures i.

The rise of universities in Italy, France, and England in the high middle ages marks the new value placed upon learning in the humanities and sciences. In monastic orders, the danger of classical rhetoric and learning to the monk in his search for God was frequently expressed. Aquinas' efforts to demonstrate the existence of God from observation of order in nature exemplify the confidence of this era in the capacity of reason to gain truth.

Dialectic was an important art operative in medieval universities since the time of Peter Abelard Debate and argument is prized in this setting. Aquinas is celebrated as the highly intelligent synthesizer who was able to bring the thought of Aristotle into harmony with the scripture and tradition of Christianity. As a knowing subject, Aquinas not only had to be attentive to the data of nature and Aristotle's thinking about this, he also had to recognize that he was thinking out of and on behalf of the Christian community and so had to pay attention to its values and vision.

As with Augustine, it was important for the knower to gain at least a portion of the truth in order to guide and sustain the search.

Why Be Catholic?: Understanding Our Experience and Tradition by Richard Rohr

Aquinas seems to have had an intuitive vision of how the world fit together, for Brian Davies claims that Aquinas articulates all the major conclusions of his worldview in his first work. The Catholic tradition had from the very beginning drawn upon and distinguished itself from classical culture and Judaism. Integral to a tradition is a foundational event.


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To keep the memory of this event alive, the event must be re-presenced in each generation and sustained in an ongoing way. Anthropologists claim that such a memory does not aim to recapture the original event wie es eigentlich gewesen.

Mindfulness and Catholic Mystical Tradition

Rather humans tend to remember previous tellings of events, even if they were present for the actual event. To remember and re-articulate a re-telling points out that the original event contains a richness that no observer could fully articulate in one telling. So in subsequent re-tellings individuals elaborate on aspects of the event that they have gained from subsequent reflection. All of these reflections and elaborations are legitimate dimensions of the rich, polyvalence of the original event. The Reformers initiated an important process of purification within the church.

The fruits of their criticisms are still unfolding within the church. But the scandal of schism weighs heavily on the Body of Christ. The Catholic tradition envisions the church as the Body of Christ in which the bishop of Rome exercises primacy among the bishops.

The teaching, governing, and priestly authority of the bishops reaches back to the apostles. This apostolic tradition and the scriptures constitute the authoritative memory of the church. The Reformers's legitimate appeal to the primacy of the scriptures could not simply erase the developments of the intervening centuries.

How to receive the divine grace which alone can sustain unity is an important question facing a divided Christianity. The Council of Trent set the agenda for the Catholic Church for the succeeding centuries. On doctrinal points it responded to the following issues: It took about one hundred years for such seminaries to finally take shape i. Theological education has been shaped by the faculties of these seminaries who have pursued their theological research from the perspective of how their findings would be communicated to pastoral situations.

Richard Rohr

When more scientific, skeptical approaches to scripture and traditional documents began to influence the research of seminary professors in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, tensions between the Catholic tradition and scientific research in theology began to intensify and reached crisis proportions in the events leading to the modernist crisis of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The concerns fueling such strong measures had substantial arguments in their favor e.

For communities shaped by tradition in the way Catholic communities are, it is important that the rate of change in doctrine, values, and the vision of the community proceed at a measured pace. The vision articulated in documents is subsidiary to the living reality of Christ within the Church; too much change may take attention away from this reality and so harm the community. The idea of faith shared by all Christian churches is rooted in the New Testament. But the New Testament idea of faith is not simple; indeed, it possesses a breadth of meaning that has led to varying understandings, even within a single Christian communion.

Most modern interpreters of the New Testament would agree to a description of faith as the personal knowledge of God revealing himself in Christ. Yet it is doubtful whether the post- Reformation theology of any Christian church has presented faith simply in these terms. Well before modern theologians considered the meaning of faith, Christian thinkers, beginning with St. Paul and the Evangelists, sought to explain faith. The Apostle Paul taught that faith meant belief in Christ and the preaching of Christ, which is the word of God, as well as obedience to Christ.

Faith also was the key to salvation , and as such it offered confidence in the reconciliation with God. For St. John , faith was inspired by miracles and was knowledge of Jesus as the Messiah. The Apologists and other early writers commented on faith, but the most influential discussion of faith was that of St. Augustine , for whom faith was the acceptance of revelation and the freely given gift of God.

Beliefs and practices

This idea was developed and given official sanction at the second Council of Orange , which declared that the beginning and even the desire of faith was the result of the gift of grace. In the 13th century St. Thomas Aquinas defined faith as an intellectual assent to divine truth by the command of the will inspired by grace and the authority of God.

Two subjects are key to understanding Catholic faith: the preambles of faith and the motivation of faith.

Why Be Catholic?: Understanding Our Experience and Tradition by Richard Rohr

The preambles of faith include those rational steps through which the believer reaches the conclusion that belief in God is reasonable. The freedom of faith is respected by affirming that such a conclusion is as far as the preambles can take one. We designed the Colloquium to facilitate encounter with the tradition as embodied in the other. We wanted to transcend learning about the other, as important as that may be; rather, our interest lay in providing ways participants might meet Judaism or Catholicism as it was lived by informed, committed Jewish and Catholic educators. We had a further transformation in mind.

If our participants began to think in new ways about the other, their relationship with the other and their own tradition, then ultimately they would be challenged to educate differently. Both the Catholic and Jewish educators would view with a more critical eye how the relationship between Christianity and Judaism is presented in religious education in their communities. Further, they would be more sensitive to how the tradition of the other is presented or, indeed, whether it is presented at all.

We hoped that the participants would emerge from the Colloquium with the knowledge and know-how to make significant changes in the way Judaism and Christianity are taught. That is, we intended that participants would not simply teach more adequately about the other tradition, but also about their own. Our agenda, we recognize, was ambitious and, to many within our respective traditions, controversial. It also required enormous care. The process of transformation takes time.