The School of Philosophy's Unified Approach
Speakers at first session of the philosophical conference “The Metaphysical Dimensions of Nature”. Fr. Rafael Martinez (Santa Croce) at the podium, and from left to right: Dr. Enrico Berti (University of Padova), Fr. Kevin Flannery (Gregorian University), and Fr. Stephen L. Brock (Santa Croce).
“Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.” St. John Paul II
These opening words from St. John Paul II’s encyclical on the relation between faith and reason are a succinct and beautiful expression of the principle at the core of Santa Croce’s School of Philosophy. In the history of Christian philosophy there are a few other famous expressions of this basic idea. St. Augustine wrote, “I believe in order that I may understand.” Another phrase from St. Anselm of Canterbury is his motto, “faith seeks understanding.”
Because man is made in the image of God, Christian philosophy insists on a proper anthropological view of the nature of man as a starting point. That would include the belief that human freedom, the human conscience, and rational inquiry are compatible and even intrinsic to the practice of Christianity. These ideas are reflected in the philosophical tradition of Christian humanism which is part of the curriculum at Santa Croce.
A second school of thought which is foundational for the School of Philosophy is philosophical realism. Only in relatively modern history have philosophers embraced the notion of a radical subjectivism, where truth is not grounded in objective reality, but are relative to individual perspectives or language. This modern mindset has been vigorously rejected by the Church through the teachings of the magisterium and encyclicals of the popes. The antithesis of this philosophical relativism is philosophical realism – most famously supported in the works and Aristotle and later in the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas.
Since the challenges of contemporary culture and intellectual thought continue to present themselves, it is necessary for Christian philosophers to defend the foundations of Christian understanding. In recent times, it has been increasingly important to address questions arising from the experimental and human sciences. As stated in an introduction to the philosophy program, students from Santa Croce “are taught to analyze texts actively and critically, dialogue with openness and breadth of perspective, and respond to the deepest questions of others with empathy and lucidity.”
Fr. Rafael Martinez, the academic vice-rector and former dean of the School of Philosophy for eight years, listed two main emphases at Santa Croce: 1) metaphysics and sciences, and 2) ethics and anthropology. The sciences would include more than physical sciences, but also political science and the science of psychology. The human elements of government, economics, the life of an organization, etc. all have ethical and philosophical dimensions.
Considering that Christian philosophy is the foundation for sound thinking, it is clear why the Church requires its priests to obtain a philosophy degree in addition to theology. Santa Croce offers a bachelors degree, a specialized licentiate degree, and a doctoral degree. The School of Philosophy also sponsors annual conferences, monthly seminars, and various publications. Philosophy professors also contribute to a variety of research projects, such as the Center for Markets, Culture, and Ethics (MCE).
While it is common for secular universities to study philosophy from a purely historical, compartmentalized, skeptical viewpoint, Santa Croce teaches a unified, rational search for truth. “After all,” said Fr. Martinez, “we just have one world to understand.” By understanding the philosophical foundations of Christian truth, students of Santa Croce are prepared contribute to the New Evangelization in the 21st century.