CNS PHOTO | NANCY WIECHEC
St. Thomas Aquinas maintained the universe has an objective and understandable order.
Education in the Catholic tradition is indispensable to evangelization, theologian and educator Colin Kerr told the Catholic Teachers' Guild here Nov. 20.
"The Church has always made its greatest strides when it entered most fully into the intellectual fray," said Kerr.
The Church must not retreat from debate even if its ideas are unpopular. "Good education is evangelization."
Kerr became principal this fall at Maryvale Academy, a private Catholic school in Ottawa after having taught theology at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy in Barry's Bay.
He warned against using the strategies of the recent past to meet today's challenges, noting many only look to the successes of the last century for their models.
The Church's intellectual tradition goes back to the Apostles who confronted the schools of thought that existed in their day: Stoicism and Gnosticism, he said.
"Religion to them did not mean some sort of separate realm of knowledge or belief removed from the world of everyday experience," he said. Nor did it mean the "absence of rational inquiry."
Whether during the time of the Apostles, the early Church Fathers, the High Middle Ages, or the 16th century, the coincidence of evangelization and mental rigour is "unmistakable," he said.
"What is also unmistakable is that material advantage had nothing to do with success either in the missionary or in the intellectual fields," he said.
Finding the right balance of faith and reason "is essential if the Church is to continue to reach souls in an age of increasing darkness," Kerr said.
"The Christian tradition tells us that moral darkness always follows close behind intellectual darkness – not a lesson many of us want to acknowledge."
Pope John Paul II in his encyclical Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason) said the modern intellectual was tempted to intellectual laziness mainly through the unwillingness to take on significant questions such as What is the meaning of life? In what does goodness consist? Kerr said.
They have "adopted the very anti-intellectual stance that such questions admit of no solution but are just matters of personal position."
The inability take on those questions contrasts with the Catholic intellectual tradition based on natural law and philosophical realism, he said. Natural law – the idea "the natural world can tell us how to live morally" – are "age-old doctrines," ones the "secular world rejects out of hand."
"Christianity is committed to them," Kerr said. St. Thomas Aquinas and the popes "were united in their defence of the objective order of the universe" in a manner that was both philosophically and morally coherent.
"At every time in the Church's history when its mission was most effective, its commitment to the pursuit of reason was strongest."
Kerr admitted the Church's intellectual tradition is not easy to understand or defend. It's also not easy to determine how that tradition best speaks to the present age of modernity and post-modernity.
Catholic educators can start by embracing the "real human questions," on how the truth of God impacts sociology, politics, psychology, the natural sciences, ethics and so on, he said.
Intellectual fads and popularity are fleeting, he said, and "oftentimes the position of wisdom is not flashy."
"The Desert Fathers prayed for decades in silence for the truth to come to them," he said. "We should be prepared to do nothing less."
Catholic education must be "universal in scope" to be truly Catholic, he said. "Catholic education is evangelical simply because it pertains to what exists in the world," he said. "It has something to say, an interest in, everything that is."