Belmont Abbey College is faithful to the Catholic Church’s document “Ex Corde Ecclesiae” written by Pope John Paul II in 1990. The article below written by Abbot Placid Solari, OSB, chancellor of Belmont Abbey, was featured in the Catholic News Herald, the newspaper of the Diocese of Charlotte in 2012.
On Aug. 15, 1990, Pope John Paul II issued his apostolic constitution “Ex Corde Ecclesiae” (“From the Church’s Heart”). An apostolic constitution is an official document issued by the pope concerning a matter of importance for the whole Church. In this instance, “Ex Corde Ecclesiae” gave the general norms governing Catholic colleges and universities throughout the world.
The Church has cultivated a concern for education from the beginning, as the Christian community sought to develop a more profound understanding of the Gospel message through its own experience and understanding of the world. Early Christian thinkers and the Fathers of the Church rank among some of the most formative influences on the development of Western culture. Their work and legacy gave rise to that distinctive character of the Catholic intellectual tradition, which is a search for truth through the mutual interaction of faith and reason.
The most recent impetus for “Ex Corde Ecclesiae” was provided by Vatican II. In the “Declaration on Christian Education,” the bishops of the council stated, “For her part, Holy Mother Church, in order to fulfill the mandate she received from her divine founder to announce the mystery of salvation to all people and to renew all things in Christ … has therefore a part to play in the development and extension of education.” It was in continuity with this teaching of the Council that Pope John Paul sought to provide guidance and direction for Catholic institutions of higher education.
The Church in the U.S. has the most highly developed system of Catholic higher education in the world. Beginning with the establishment of Georgetown University in 1789, the number of Catholic colleges and universities has grown to well over 200 institutions today. Founded for the most part by religious orders, these schools have made an immense contribution over the years to the Church and to the larger community. This system is unique in the Church, too, regarding the variety of systems of institutional governance and the relationships with the larger society.
Since it is directed to Catholic universities and colleges throughout the world, “Ex Corde Ecclesiae” outlines the general characteristics and mission of a Catholic institution of higher learning, and leaves the specific applications to be worked out by the colleges and universities in different regions, in cooperation with the local episcopal conferences.
It is divided into two principal parts which concern the identity of a Catholic university and the mission of service of a Catholic university. It gives four “essential characteristics” of a Catholic university: “1. A Christian inspiration not only of individuals but of the university community as such; 2. A continuing reflection in the light of the Catholic faith upon the growing treasury of human knowledge, to which it seeks to contribute by its own research; 3. Fidelity to the Christian message as it comes to us through the Church; 4. An institutional commitment to the service of the people of God and of the human family in their pilgrimage to the transcendent goal which gives meaning to life.”
Because it is intended to direct the life of institutes of higher learning, it explicitly affirms proper academic freedom and locates this freedom within the search for truth and for the common good. It states: “The Church, accepting ‘the legitimate autonomy of human culture and especially of the sciences,’ recognizes the academic freedom of scholars in each discipline in accordance with its own principles and proper methods, and within the confines of the truth and the common good.”
A closing section of the constitution sets out the norms for implementing “Ex Corde Ecclesiae” and how Catholic colleges and universities are to safeguard their identity, how such universities are established, and certain norms governing the life and work of Catholic colleges. This section received the most publicity, as these norms required that Catholics teaching theological disciplines receive a mandatum from the local ordinary. This provision was actually application of Canon 812 of the revised Code of Canon Law, promulgated in 1983.
Although some expressed concern that such a mandatum would limit the academic freedom of theologians teaching at Catholic colleges, the mandatum recognizes, on the part of the Church, that the theologian “is a teacher in the full communion of the Catholic Church.” On the part of the theologian, it “recognizes the professor’s commitment and responsibility to teach authentic Catholic doctrine and to refrain from putting forth as Catholic teaching anything contrary to the Church’s magisterium.” If a theologian is exercising a critical function, based on his own learning and research, in questioning and critiquing the Church’s teaching, the requirement is that the professor make it clear that, in such an instance, he is proposing his or her own ideas and not the official Church doctrine.
The madatum is requested from the diocesan’s bishop when a Catholic theologian first receives an appointment in a Catholic college. It is personal and remains valid as long as the theologian teaches, even if the theologian takes a position at a college or university in another diocese. It cannot be withdrawn except by competent ecclesiastical authority, for cause, with due process.
In our own diocese, Belmont Abbey College has publicly stated its intention to be a Catholic college according to the provisions and direction set out by Pope John Paul II in “Ex Corde Ecclesiae.”
Abbot Placid Solari has served as the spiritual leader of the Benedictine monks at Belmont Abbey Monastery since 1999. He acts as chancellor of Belmont Abbey College.