(For the earlier Rorate Caeli report, see this.)
CONGREGATION FOR CATHOLIC EDUCATION
DECREE ON THE REFORM OF ECCLESIASTICAL STUDIES
I. The Current Situation
1. In her work of evangelizing the world, the Church follows attentively and discerningly the rapid cultural changes at work, which influence both her and society as a whole. Among the changes of the predominant culture, some particularly profound ones regard the concept of truth. In fact, there is often mistrust in the capacity of human intelligence to arrive at objective and universal truth – a truth by which people can give direction to their lives. Furthermore, the force of the human sciences, as well as the consequences of scientific and technological developments, stimulate new challenges for the Church.
2. With his Encyclical Letter Fides et ratio, Pope John Paul II wished to emphasize the need for philosophy, so as to advance in the knowledge of the truth and to render earthly existence ever more human. In fact, philosophy “is directly concerned with asking the question of life’s meaning and sketching an answer to it.” This question arises both from the wonder that man experiences in his encounter with others and with the cosmos, and from the painful and tragic experiences that assail his life. Philosophical knowledge, therefore, is seen as being “one of the noblest of human tasks.”
II. The “Original Vocation” of Philosophy
3. Philosophical trends have multiplied in the course of history, showing the richness of the various rigorous, sapiential searches for truth. While ancient wisdom contemplated being from the perspective of the cosmos, patristic and medieval thought offered a deeper, purified vision, identifying the cosmos as the free creation of a God who is wise and good (cf. Wis 13,1-9; Acts 17, 24-28). Modern philosophies have particularly emphasized human freedom, the spontaneity of reason, and its capacity to measure and dominate the universe. Recently, a certain number of contemporary schools of thought, being more sensitive to the vulnerability of our knowledge and our humanity, have focused their reflection on the mediating roles of language and culture. Finally, moving beyond Western thought, how could one forget the numerous and sometimes remarkable efforts to understand man, the world and the Absolute made by different cultures, for example Asian and African cultures? This generous exploration of thought and language, however, must never forget that it is rooted in being. “The metaphysical element is the path to be taken in order to move beyond the crisis pervading large sectors of philosophy at the moment, and thus to correct certain mistaken modes of behaviour now widespread in our society.” From this perspective, philosophers are invited energetically to reclaim philosophy’s “original vocation”: the search for truth, and its sapiential and metaphysical characteristic.
4. Wisdom considers the first and fundamental principles of reality, and seeks the ultimate and fullest meaning of life, thus allowing it to be “the decisive critical factor which determines the foundations and limits of the different fields of scientific learning”, as well as “the ultimate framework of the unity of human knowledge and action, leading them to converge towards a final goal and meaning.” The sapiential characteristic of philosophy implies its “genuinely metaphysical range, capable, that is, of transcending empirical data in order to attain something absolute, ultimate and foundational in its search for truth”, even if only gradually known through the course of history. In fact, metaphysics, i.e. first philosophy, deals with being and its attributes, and, in this way, raises itself up to the knowledge of spiritual realities, seeking the First Cause of all. Nevertheless, to emphasize its sapiential and metaphysical characteristic must not be understood as concentrating exclusively on the philosophy of being, inasmuch as all the different areas of philosophy are necessary for a knowledge of reality. Indeed, for each area, the proper field of study and the specific method must be respected, in the name of consonance with reality and the variety of human ways of knowing.
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