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The idea of a university and the Varsitarian

John Henry Cardinal Newman
The Catholic Church is probably the only religion which raises reason together with faith as a standard for thinking and with it, life. And just for that as a way to praising the Divine, she invented the university, made sure this flourished to the present day, nurtured the arts and gave birth to science, the social sciences and modern mathematics.

The Church has always had a space for thinkers and that space sometimes was the Papal throne or at least the seat of the local diocese. Two of the recent popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI are major contributors to philosophy and theology and in John Paul II, even environmental ethics. Benedict is known to follow developments in science. Traditionally, the Catholic universities are the spaces for thinking with or even against the Church.

Ah yes! The University, the alma mater studiorum as the University in Bologna, the world's oldest in existence has for its motto. The University is semper liberi by its very nature and foundation. This is the Catholic understanding of what a university should be. The famous convert from the Church of England, John Henry Newman wrote probably THE SEMINAL work on what a university, Catholic or even a secular one ought to be.

And with the Catholic understanding of what the University is what then do we make of the recent controversial editorial of the student blurb Varsitarian  of the Royal and Pontifical University of Santo Tomas?

If the student editors represent what the University of Santo Tomas teaches, then it represents the worst kind of anti intellectualism that a Catholic university can ever produce. As John Henry Cardinal Newman, a beatus of the Church, worthy of veneration by universities wrote

A Catholic university is

"is a place where inquiry is pushed forward, and discoveries verified and perfected, and rashness rendered innocuous, and error exposed, by the collision of mind with mind, and knowledge with knowledge. It is the place where the professor becomes eloquent, and is a missionary and a preacher, displaying his science in its most complete and most winning form, pouring it forth with the zeal of enthusiasm, and lighting up his own love of it in the breasts of his hearers. It is the place where the catechist makes good his ground as he goes, treading in the truth day by day into the ready memory, and wedging and tightening it into the expanding reason. "

Theological error cannot be countered by a fundamentalist exposition coupled with a lame charge of intellectual pretension. And can inquiry be ever an interloper? It is in the land of the non-thinking it will be and it should be. Bad theology can only be countered by good theology, as bad science becomes of historical interest only with good science. What the Varsitarian did was to contract not expand reason in the most venerable of Philippine universities at the cost of damaging Catholic credibility. The UST is so highly regarded that at her foundation in 1908, the secular University of the Philippines paid her homage.

As Cardinal Newman and another beatus, John Paul II have emphasized, a university is not a seminary. It does not exist for solely for evangelization. Newman wrote

"it is a place of teaching universal knowledge. This implies that its object is, on the one hand, intellectual, not moral; and, on the other, that it is the diffusion and extension of knowledge rather than the advancement. If its object were scientific and philosophical discovery, I do not see why a University should have students; if religious training, I do not see how it can be the seat of literature and science."

Newman also writes that the university can exist without the church (as secular universities do) but it needs the Church to maintain its integrity, that is ensuring that there is liberty to search what is true and knowing that one is at the fount of truth.  This principle underlies John Paul II's Ex Corde Ecclesiae which builds on Newman's ideas.

The only way a Catholic university serves Catholic teaching by diffusing knowledge, expanding a student's knowledge lest he/she does not become obstinate in his/her views and have a clearer view of the truth. Newman believed that obstinacy in any subject be this in science, philosophy or theology is a sign of narrowness of a person's knowledge that will make him prone to the obstinacy of the bigot, without the apologies. This is the evangelical nature of a university, to teach and only to teach that the mind may discern the truth.


And so the main thesis of the Varsitarian in defending the RH Bill, which is an appeal to authority, UST, CBCP and the Magisterium, is flawed and thus leading to an uncharitable, ad hominem  and baseless charge at the faculties of two Catholic universities. This is not bravely defending the Catholic faith but a foolish attempt at doing so. Catholic faith is best defended with reason and charity, as Newman did in his Apologia.


The Reverend Fathers and lay professors of the Pontifical University still have the chance to turn this around not be censuring its student journalists but by teaching them more.  And I believe they will do it for the UST over the centuries, has defended its liberties in the search for truth.


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