LH-Epilogue. The Centenary of ‘Aeterni Patris’

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by Msgr. Eugene Kevane
©2003 The Miriam Press. All Rights Reserved

Epilogue- — The Centenary of “Aeterni Patris”

The centenary of the Encyclical Aeterni Patris is itself a historical landmark that conveys meaning. Why is this the case? Because it marks a succession of one kind or another in the academic and catechetical orders of teaching in the Catholic Church.1 But what kind of succession? In answer, one may draw some corollaries of points mentioned in the course of the preceding study.

The second century of Aeterni Patris appears quite different in present prospect than Pope Leo XIII had hoped, because the reception of his program for the renewal of Christian Philosophy in the academic institutions of the Catholic Church has been different than that for which he hoped. Thus Aeterni Patris itself, in the vicissitudes of its first century, illustrates a succession in things which ministers to a philosophical understanding of recent Church History.

The Academic Order

The Holy See was motivated in the program of Aeterni Patris by a pastoral concern for Catholic student youth. Through these young people schooled in philosophically renewed academic institutions of the Church, the Holy See looked further to a wholesome effect upon the threatened foundations of a now-secularized Christian culture, at home in the West, but spreading its diseased condition to the entire world. Aeterni Patris, carrying the teachings of Vatican I into effect, literally had to be done as a part of the pastoral care of souls. For the effects of the philosophical apostasy had already fastened upon the academic order of Western colleges and universities, even the Catholic ones, and had even begun to infiltrate into the seminaries which prepare young men for the Catholic priesthood. This latter fact involves the catechetical order as well, for young men by their very preparation for the priesthood are prepared to be the leaders of the catechetical ministry. Thus the interior life of the Catholic Church was at stake, especially when one considers that the bishops are priests raised to the fullness of the Apostolic Succession and Ministry of the Word. There were therefore concomitant effects of the highest order associated with the primary intention of a pastoral care of Catholic young people in their academic studies.

The Holy See hoped a great hope. By means of the renewal of Christian Philosophy, the priesthood and its catechetical order would be protected; and the example and the leadership of Catholic young people restored to their rightful heritage in fundamental thinking would have a salutary effect upon society at large. In fact, Leo XIII in Aeterni Patris expresses the hope that academic professors imbued with Modern Philosophy would recognize through the ministry of their Catholic colleagues the inherent superiority of this Christian Philosophy, with its metaphysical openness to the intelligent Supreme Being, and that the recognition would occasion their recovery of the Catholic Faith itself.

Thus the renewal of Christian Philosophy in the academic institutions of the Catholic Church was to become the source of a salutary recovery of intellectual vision and sanity in the apostolate of Western academic life at large. For the People of God, St. Thomas Aquinas writes, has “a science of those things which can be concluded from the Articles of Faith.”2 It is the Science of Sacred Theology, which takes it first principles and point of departure immediately from God through the revelation proposed by His Teaching Church. Hence the human sciences do not judge it. They stand on a lower level, ministering to it as it itself judges them to be helpful. This science proper to the People of God, furthermore, does not identify itself with any culture it encounters in space and time. It is independent, illuminating from above by virtue of those first principles, the Articles of Faith, which shine through the entire body of its discourse. And so it is actually one consistent whole with Evangelization and Catechesis, and is simply that form of the Church’s teaching that is scientific in mode.

Christian philosophy is the first academic operation to receive this illumination, because it acts as a guiding star for fundamental thinking. But as more and more young people, holding this source of light personally in hand, take up all the other various arts, sciences and disciplines of human culture, a wonderful recovery of health through openness to the personal Supreme Being takes place in each of them. Thus the renewed, restored and brightened intelligible light heals and strengthens the values of social life and culture, dependent as they are, as Newman analyzed so well, on the very idea of a university. This light “operates to sublimate them…. It permeates them through and through and gives them tone… so that we can indeed have a Christian philosophy, a Christian economics and politics, a Christian art, and, more generally, a Christian culture — Christian, that is, in its inner inspiration, and in the way it faces the problems of life in time.”3

Such was the hope of Pope Pius IX in convening Vatican I. It was the hope of Leo XIII in the program launched by Aeterni Patris. It has been the hope of each succeeding Supreme Pontiff to John Paul II in his Constitution Sapientia Christiana of April 15, 1979, for the academic order.

Will this Constitution be accepted and implemented in the academic institutions of the Catholic Church? Sapientia Christiana stands entirely under the sign of intellectual obedience given out of the virtue of religion. It is the question whether persons of the cloth, they primarily and then the academic laity, are willing to think within the Faith and to administer institutional programs so that they follow it like a guiding star. As the German historians say, each age stands with its own openness to God, free of compulsion from what has gone before. In the drama of the contemporary renewal of Christian Philosophy, everything the Holy See has hoped for in benefit to the academic order and hence to the values of human culture, could take place. Concomitantly, religious education would be healed, secured as authentic catechetics by a priestly ministry shared by many catechetical teachers grounded in their intellectual heritage. The apostolicity of the Catholic Church would thus be projected vigorously intact into the future. Such would be one kind of succession into the second century of Aeterni Patris.

On the other hand, the pattern of succession into this coming century of Aeterni Patris may project the tacit opposition to the program that was present in certain quarters of Catholic academic life from the beginning and which became a visibly growing phenomenon beginning with the Juvisy Conference in 1933. In such a case, Catholic academic institutions will become increasingly indistinguishable from the secular campuses in full apostasy. Catholic seminaries will increasingly train young men in the ideology of the apostasy. And religious educators will be prepared more and more to administer a pantheistic religious education on behalf of the apostasy.

Thus the agonizing question raised in the Introduction would in such a succession of things become even more acute: If Christ is no longer the center, how can a catechist be Christocentric in teaching? Is not the very profession of the Apostolic Faith in the Lordship of Jesus at stake?

The Catechetical Order

It is clear that the pattern of refusal of Aeterni Patris by Catholic academic institutions as its first century has gone by poses a quite special challenge to the order of catechetical teaching. If the Constitution Sapientia Christiana is ignored and disobeyed in the years to come by an academic order dedicated to what is called smoothly “a re-dimensioning of the Papacy,” then the challenge to catechetics will become acute and the danger to the Apostolicity of the Catholic Church will become a menacing reality.

The first thing in such a case is to recognize accurately and lucidly the nature of the situation. By a turn of Providence ever more recognizable as the Twentieth Century has proceeded, the academic and the catechetical orders of teaching are held separate at the Holy See, with distinct offices located in different Sacred Congregations. This may well indicate the direction in which accuracy and lucidity are to be found. Catechetical teaching will be called upon to become self-aware, cultivating its own free and independent intellectual life by taking the Articles of Faith as a set of principles and point of departure.

For the Articles of Faith are already the issue. And if the Constitution Sapientia Christiana is given the treatment envisaged above as one possibility for the second century of Aeterni Patris, then the Articles of Faith will be all that remains to Catholics and to the Catholic Church. The illumination of the values of general cultural life and the temporal order at large will have been snuffed out. Academic institutions generally, whether Catholic or secular, will have become a darkness visible, a darkness ministering to that inhumanity which the Holy See has been foreseeing with pastoral admonition for many decades.

It would be a separate study to trace the concern for “The Deposit of Faith” in the documents of the Holy See that bear upon the philosophical apostasy in the once-Christian Western culture. This concern has been present in these documents ever since 1835. It was so at Vatican I. So too in the documents of Leo XIII on “False Americanism in Religion.” John XXIII voiced this concern explicitly when he opened Vatican II. It was the recurring theme of the Pontificate of Pope Paul VI.

Why is the Catholic Church interested in Philosophy? Why was there ever such a document as Aeterni Patris? Because “The Deposit of Faith” is not a piece of stone dropped from heaven to be carried forward by the Church like an object in a box. It is to be proclaimed from housetops by living heralds and taught by living teachers who explain its Articles of Faith accurately and responsibly. It is carried by the Church in a process of human discourse, the discourse of teaching, a teaching with authority, not like that of merely human philosophers and theologians.

The Catholic Church, in the second century of Aeterni Patris, may well concentrate upon the role of Christian Philosophy in relationship to this Deposit of Faith. For this is the philosophy which is able to give human ear to the abiding meaning of this same deposit.

Does this mean that catechesis can dispense with academics? Not at all. It means only that the structural framework might be different. If the large and established academic institutions fail to rise to the level of the Constitution Sapientia Christiana, then the authentic intellectual life of the Catholic Church will of necessity take place in small units such as St. Philip Neri pioneered and which John Henry Newman chose as the medium best suited to the times he foresaw — and already lived in personally. In such small houses of prayer and study an immensely great intellectual life can indeed be cultivated, one that sees the point of Aeterni Patris, one that applies the norms given in Sapientia Christiana for the right way to teach Philosophy and Theology.

Such an intellectual life will carry the Deposit of Faith forward by teaching.4 It will be ministry to that kind of catechetical teaching which explains the Articles of Faith and helps those who learn them to deepen their conversion to Him whom the Articles of Faith profess. The catechetical order of teaching is thus specifically distinct from all other kinds and disciplines of teaching. By its didactic explanations of them, it communicates the Articles of Faith as such, expressing the Word of God proposed by the authority of the Teaching Church, ever faithful to the same meaning in which this Church of God always has taught them. It is to secure the natural foundations of this meaning that the renewal of Christian Philosophy, the natural metaphysics of mankind, will serve in its second century.5

And what is this meaning? It is nothing else than Jesus Christ, seen in the fullness of His Lordship which the Apostles’ Creed professes.

Christocentrism and the Philosophy of History

Not least among the benefits of Christian Philosophy to Evangelization and Catechesis is the light it throws upon the simultaneously two-fold object of Divine Faith. Divine Faith professes Ipsa Veritas, Truth Itself, who is the Supreme Being incarnate now in the fullness of time and able to say in human words: “I am the Truth.” Thus God Himself is the direct object of Divine Faith. But the means whereby the human mind moves toward Him, raises its inner eye to Him, and embraces His goodness with a personal act of its free will, is the doctrine which the Catholic Church proposes to mankind in her Evangelization and Catechesis. This doctrine is the witness of the Church to Jesus Christ. No other witness is available. Peter’s question abides: “Lord, to whom shall we go?” Without the witness of this doctrinal teaching, therefore, only Heidegger’s brief earthy Holzweg remains, a logger’s road that fades away, a dusk that turns into night, the nihilism which Nietzsche foresaw and announced.6

The Christocentrism to which Aeterni Patris and its philosophical renewal minister, as a matter of fact, centers upon the full Jesus Christ of Gospel history, of Eucharistic presence, and of the coming Parousia. It ministers to a recovery of the New Testament as a whole, presaged by the Fifth Weekday Preface of the renewed Roman Rite of Vatican II: “With love we celebrate His death; with living faith we proclaim His resurrection; with unwavering hope we await His return in glory.” For the natural thinking which provides the preambles and the foundations for the Divine Faith of the Catholic Church in the Eucharistic Real Presence of the Risen Jesus Christ is an integral part of the renewal of Christian Philosophy. The linearity of the Judaeo-Christian view of history is not incompatible with the exitus—reditus of St. Thomas’ Summa, for it bears history forward to this present final stage, to this fullness of time, to this Christian Era which is the Eucharistic dawning of the Empire of Christ the King which will last forever.7

The kind of thinking on the meaning and direction of universal history which this present study exemplifies can of course hardly please those whom Maritain has rather incisively termed the ideosophists of the Modernist movement. The Catholic intellectual life of the second century of Aeterni Patris will be called upon to exercise great forbearance toward them, for not a few will be fellow priests, “peace-priests,” as it were, who will think to accommodate with an outwardly triumphant Marxism. A situation is developing which calls for forbearance, patience, and much fraternal dialogue with them designed to help them see that their shallow kind of ecumenism obstructs that true ecumenism which already professes the Apostles’ Creed and which is gradually discovering the Victim for sin, the Lamb of God really present and offered daily in the Sacrifice of the New Testament.

But there will always be not a few priests and religious who already give a hearing to this kind of thinking about the wonderful works of God “from Genesis to the present times of the Church.” Already the younger ones are at hand. They recognize in the Christian philosophy of history the perspective of Newman, Aquinas and Augustine, the perspective proper to those who wish to abide in communion with the Church of the Apostles.

With such priests and religious there will be the immense body of the Catholic laity, raising their families and deeply concerned for the eternal salvation of their children.8 For all such persons, Christocentrism is of the essence. For them, Peter’s question abides: “Lord, to whom shall we go?”

These Catholic priests, religious and laity of the second century of Aeterni Patris will have some questions of their own which involve the philosophy of history. For example: Are they who look upon themselves as Catholics, indeed, but updated and “Chardinian,” not benighted and obscurantist like these others, not perhaps going toward someone other than Jesus Christ? Preparing his way? Announcing his coming? Nuntii eius, in Aquinas’ perceptive phase? But this coming one, who will he be? What good will he do? What lies beyond his deceptive promises? Will he raise anyone up on the last day? Is it not better to be faithful to the Lord of history?

The particular moment of the centenary of Aeterni Patris brings such questions to mind. They imply the Christocentric answer to which the Christian philosophy of history points, the answer which begets confidence for the coming second century of the program of Vatican I, Vatican II and the Holy See on behalf of the natural metaphysics of mankind. For these questions call for the program which helps “reveal to minds… with ever increasing clarity the Mystery of Christ, which affects the whole course of human history, exercises unceasing influence on the Church, and operates mainly through the ministry of the priest.”9


  1. 161. Cf. André LaLande (ed.), Vocabulaire technique et critique de la philosophie (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1967), p. 416: “History, third meaning: The very succession of the conditions through which humanity has passed.” 

  2. 162. De veritate, q. 14, art. 9, ad 3m. 

  3. 163. Charles Journet, The Church of the Word Incarnate (London: Sheed and Ward, 1955), Vol. I, pp. 205-206. One can say that all the Successors of St. Peter in modern times have had this concern, voiced in various ways and in many applications, for the philosophical corrosion which has set upon the fundamental values of Western culture. All these Popes from Pius IX to John Paul II support and illustrate in their documents this word of Pius XI: “Only that is truly and fully human which is Christian, and that which is anti-Christian is inhuman.” Cf. John Paul II, Redemptor Hominis: The Redeemer of Man (Boston: St. Paul Editions, 1979). For a pioneering study of the leadership of the Holy See in the re-discovery of the “Historia spiritalis” from Leo XIII through Pius X and Pius XII to the aggiornamento of Vatican II, cf. Pietro Chiochetta, Teologia e Storiografia della Chiesa: Historia spiritalis (Roma: Editrice Studium, 1969). This opens up entirely new perspectives for further research that will correlate “philosophy” and “history” in the intellectual life of the Church in the times ahead. 

  4. 164. This is to be a teaching, it is understood, that is on a par from the viewpoint of academic methods with the best teaching in serious universities. Cf. the General Catechetical Directory, par. 109. It will cultivate ecclesiastical studies with the same seriousness that physics, for example, still receives in secular universities. This comprehensiveness and seriousness of teaching and learning is a Catholic heritage and it ought to be recovered in ecclesiastical studies: if the academic institutions will not do so, then younger scholars will do so in the newer entities that are already emerging. Mozart as a young man went from Salzburg to Bologna to study at the small Academy of Music operated by Father Martini, famous for the rigor of his teaching and the comprehensive thoroughness of his examining. This rigor still characterizes the Academies of Music in Italy. The graduates do not regret this, for they know there is no other way to make a musician who is solid. This is what the catechetical order needs, one way or the other. 

  5. 165. In other words, the renewal of Christian Philosophy was a necessity in its first century for the health and soundness of the academic order. In its coming second century, it will be a necessity for the very existence of Evangelization and Catechesis, and will be cultivated with perceptive care in the higher institutes of catechetical training. Why? In answer, it may be permitted to cite from the present writer in George A. Kelly (ed.) The Teaching Church in Our Time (Boston: St. Paul Editions, 1978), p. 58: “Because the Creed is neither professed nor explained in the language of one of Karl Rahner’s philosophies chosen eclectically, nor one of the theologies emerging from the new pluralism. It is professed in the language of the ordinary man of all times, places and cultures, of fishermen, one may say, who think in the metaphysical constants of natural common sense and express them in the constants of language which linguistic science is able to observe, and which the philosophy preferred by the Church is able to appreciate. This makes the meaning of the Apostolic writings abidingly intelligible without any ‘New Hermeneutic,’ and offers the basis for a catechetical communication with men today that is faithful, namely apostolic, in character.” This is perhaps the most fundamental reason for celebrating the centenary of Aeterni Patris and for projecting its program forward into the coming times. 

  6. 166. It is the tragedy of Modernist priests to concentrate so much upon an ecumenism wrongly understood as to lose their own identity. Cf. notes 130 and 150 above on “the shallowly irenic approach” of Father Loisy’s non-doctrinal foi mystique. Recentaly a priest well-known in the academic order, giving a paper at Oxford University some months after the Constitution Sapientia Christiana, was heard by the present writer to say that “we are working now to re-dimension the Papcy.” Consistent with his light-toned suit and shirt-with-tie, he sought to identify with a concept of ministry which he imagined in his hearers. This anachronism took place in the very times when his hearers not only have taken up the custom of wearing the “Roman” collar, but are also in a declared search for the authentic Successor of Peter. It is a sign of these times that a young man of his audience protested against his “Chardinian metaphysics” and asked for that original perception of Peter’s function that antedates any ecclesiastical use of Graeco-Roman juridical concepts and terminology. The renewal of Christian Philosophy comes to meet such young men, helping them recognize the sacrificing priests of the New Testament, men endowed with the power to consecrate the Eucharistic elements, a power which no other man possesses, not even baptized and confirmed Roman Catholics. 

  7. 167. Linearity, the movement of a human group from one condition to a succeeding one, is implied by the very concept of fulfillment, the hermeneutic principle used by Christianity in understandinag the Hebrew dispensation. Linearity is a fact if the succession of the Testaments is a fact. But this particular linearity is not incompatible with another fact, that this particular succession can be in God’s own sense final, in that the Christian Era is, or can be, or at least ought to be, the everlasting effective renewal of the original condition of mankind. This implies something cyclic, like the exitus-reditus which is the master-concept of St. Thomas’ Summa Theologiaé. If this renewal is not accomplished on this earth, it will be due to the cumulative effect of persons who are deficient causes, failing in lessor or greater degree to make this renewal personally their own. But even so, this world, rendered thus increasingly defective, will serve God well as the temporary scaffolding by which His everlasting structure is built and its living stones are hammered, chiseled and polished. Per machinas transituras, Augustine said with great insight, domum manentem. Cullmann’s book (cf. note 16, above) drew some opposition from those who point out the underlying affinity of the Hebrew world-view with that of the Greeks, the Romans and indeed all the peoples of the earth, including the great religious traditions of the Orient, all of them aspiring to the renewal of an original justice. But Cullmann’s study bears validly upon the concept of history in the cultivated academic life of the clasical culture. For a discussion of the point and the literature, cf. Max Seckler, Le salut et l’histoire: La pensée de saint Thomas d’Aquin sur la théologie de l’histoire (Paris: Cerf, 1967), an important work translated from the German, Das Heil in der Geschichte: Geschichtstheologisches Denken bei Thomas von Aquin (Munich: Kösel Verlag, 1964); esp. pp. 143-155, “Cycle et linéarité.” These perspectives place Thomas Aquinas in remarkable relationship with all the religious traditions of this planet, validating the title Doctor Communis from a new point of view. All of this merits much additional research in the coming second century of Aeterni Patris, research which will minister to a better appreciation of the significance of the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. There has been a tendency in the Christian Era no tonly to reject the doctrine of the Real Presence, but also among Catholics to undervalue or even in practice to overook the fact of this Presence. This has been the case strangely enough even in religious houses, as the revelations to St. Margaret Mary bear witness. In the second century of Aeterni Patris it can be expected that the original thought of the Fathers of the Church regarding the Eucharist will be seen more comprehensively and accurately. Cf. the pioneering study of Raymond Johanny, L’Eucharistie centre de l’histoire du salut chez Saint Ambroise de Milan (Paris: Beauchesne, 1968). 

  8. 168. For a remarkable and timely example of a layperson’s insight regarding the relationship of St. Thomas Aquinas to the esential truths and values, cf. the work of the well-known French laywoman, Renée Casin, Saint Thomas d’Aquin: L’intelligence de la foi (Montsurs: Editions Resiac, 1973). France continues to be the eldest daughter of the Church, experiencing things first. The laity have made this work available in an English translation by Dr. James Likoudis: Renée Casin, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Orthodoxy and Neo-Modernism in the Church (New Rochelle: Catholics United for the Faith, 1977). With the keen insight the author has taken for the structure of her book the four signs of recognition stated by the Catholic laity left by the interrupted mission of St. Francis Xavier in Japan; if the reception of the Constitution Sapientia Christiana in the academic institutions of the Catholic Church proves to be negative in the second century of Aeterni Patris, the resulting deception may bring the laity elsewhere to give them heed. For Renée Casin’s use of these hallmarks, cf. pp. 30-31: “These were the four touchstones of the Faith appealed to by the forgotten Christians of Nagasaki who once again encountered Catholic missionaries after an interruption of three centuries. Yes, for three centuries these Japanese Christians had lived heroically without any priests, with no sacraments other than baptism and marriage, without churches and without books, as well as being continually harassed and wounded by the Imperial police. It was one of their spokesmen who joyfully reminded the astonished Pére Petitjean: ‘Our fathers have taught us what they held from their fathers: You will recognize the ministers of the true God by this four-fold sign of purity: the Eucharist, the Virgin, the White Father of Rome, and the celibacy of the preists….’ And since we have discovered in St. Thomas (Renée Casin continues) a champion of truth and intelligence, he will now aid us to find again those four essential truths of the Faith which serve as the true test of Catholicity: the Eucharist, the Priesthood, the Papacy, and the Blessed Virgin Lady. Each of these Catholic dogmas has been utterly devalued by those who have lost at the same time their understanding of the faith and the sense of sin.” 

  9. 169. Vatican II, Optatam totius (Oct. 28, 1965), “Decree on the Training of Priests,” No. 14; Flannery, op. cit., pp. 717-718. 

  • You are my witnesses (Is. 43:10)  •  You shall be my witnesses (Acts 1:8)