The Lord of History – Introduction

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

The General Catechetical Directory is lucid and categorical about the first principle of method in religious education. Its paragraph No. 40 states:

“Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word of God, since He is the supreme reason why God intervenes in the world and manifests Himself to men, is the center of the Gospel message within salvation history … Hence catecheis must necessarily be Christocentric.”

But if Christ is no longer the center how can a catechist be Christocentric in teaching? If He is no longer the center of the universal history of mankind, how can He be the center of each one’s personal history? Is not the very profession of the Apostolic Faith in the Lordship of Jesus at stake?

The Second Vatican Council addresses such questions in one of its most far-reaching statements of position, made, significantly enough, in its Decree on the Training of Priests. Pointedly enough as well, granted the agitation among priests and bishops on the right way to renew and up-date philosophy and theology. That such an agitation exists is a commonplace since Fathers Loisy and Tyrrell early in the present century and a reality since Fathers George Hermes and Anton Günther in the German Universities of mid-Nineteenth Century. Indeed, the First Vatican Council was called primarily to settle this matter, and the program of Aeterni Patris for the renewal of Christian Philosophy was intended to be the instrument for effecting this conciliar settlement throughout all the institutions of Catholic higher education.

“In the revision of ecclesiastical studies,” states the Second Vatican Council, “the main object to be kept in mind is a more effective coordination of philosophy and theology so that they supplement one another in revealing to the minds of the students 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.”1

Before an entity can be coordinated with something else, it must continue to exist in its own right. The Council intends, therefore, that philosophy not fall by the wayside or merge somehow into theology. It must continue to be taught in programs of ecclesiastical studies. Vatican II takes it for granted that philosophy will continue to be taught in its own right as an independent intellectual discipline with its own proper object and its own distinctive methodology. Hence it is to have a suitable portion of academic time. When ecclesiastical students, whether seminarians or catechists, receive relatively too little philosophy, even quantitatively, the mind of Vatican II will not be implemented and the renewal of the Church which it intended will not be achieved.2

When once philosophy has its rightful quantitative presence in terms of the academic time devoted to it, the inevitable qualitative question arises. What kind of philosophy? The issues that depend upon the answer are immense. The very renewal of the Church is at stake.

The Second Vatican Council is very clear. It must be that kind of philosophy which coordinates with theology, supplements theology, and, in some way to be determined, is in turn supplemented by theology. The purpose is likewise explicitly stated: when philosophy functions in this qualitative mode, it will join theology, while remaining itself, in “revealing the Mystery of Christ …”

This position of Vatican II calls for careful analysis. The purpose of the present study is to gather the elements which help to implement this revision of ecclesiastical studies and to indicate some implications for the religious way of thinking proper to the present times of the Church.3 This will be done in terms of the philosophy of history, that branch of philosophy which has achieved centrality of position in these two hundred contemporary years since Voltaire, Hegel and Marx. The Council itself points in this direction, for it has in mind a philosophizing, valid as philosophy, which helps “to reveal the Mystery of Christ which affects the whole course of human history.”

This implies a certain idea of philosophy, one which completes and fulfills the renewal in philosophy which the Church has sponsored in her own universities, seminaries and schools since the First Vatican Council.4

In line with the pastoral nature of the Second Vatican Council, this renewal of philosophy turns from an emphasis on the possibility of saving Christian culture to a saving of the very substance of the Catholic Faith itself, in its very formulation, and in the right understanding and interpretation of its formulas. The renewal, to put it another way, turns to some extent from the academic toward a greater emphasis on the pastoral and the catechetical.5 These are large issues and perspectives, ones which imply for the philosophy of history that new importance and function for which Vatican II calls.

The basic text of this work was first published as a monograph in Doctor Communis, the organ of the Pontifical Academy of St. Thomas founded in Rome by Pope Leo XII: (1977), pp. 219-249; pp. 378-409; and (1978), pp. 29-51. The writer wishes to thank Msgr. Antonio Piolanti, Vice-President of the Academy and Editor of Doctor Communis, for permission to publish it in this form.

August 4, 1979
Centenary of Aeterni Patris
Eugene Kevane


  1. 1. Vatican II, Optatam totius (Oct. 28, 1965), “Decree on the Training of Priests,” No. 14; in Austin Flannery, O.P. (Gen. Editor), Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents (New York: Costello, 1975) pp. 717-718. The official Latin of this passages reads: In ecclesiastics studiis recognoscendis eo imprimis spectandum est ut disciplinae philosophicae et theologicae aptius componantur et concordi ratione conspirent and alumnorum mentibus magis magisque aperiendum Mysterium Christi quod totam generis humani historiam afficit, in Ecclesiam iugiter influit et ministerio sacerdotali praecipue operatur. Cf. AAS (Oct. 1, 1966), p. 711. On the Decree Optatam totius, cf. The Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Ratio fundamentalis institutionis sacerdotalis: Basic Norms for Priestly Formation (Rome: Vatican Press, 1970), esp. pp. 55-57, “Studies in Philosophy and Kindred Subject.” For a general study of Optatam totius, somewhat marred by the shallowness of its time, cf. A. Laplante, La formation des prêtres: Genèse et commentaire du décret conciliare Optatam totius (Paris: Lethelleux, 1969). 

  2. 2. Cf. the “Introduction” to Optatam totius in Flannery, Op. cit., p. 707: “The Council is fully aware that the desired renewal of the whole Church depends in great part upon a priestly ministry animated by the spirit of Christ and it solemnly affirms the critical importance of priestly training.” Mutatis mutandis, the desired “more effective coordination of philosophy and theology” should take place also in the training and formation of all who assist the priestly ministry, especially catechists who undertake “The Ministry of the Word,” the title of Part Two of the General Catechetical Directory (Washington: USCC, 1971), Nos. 14-35. This is particularly the case in the “Higher Institutes for Training in Pastoral Catechetics,” described in No. 109. 

  3. 2-a. Cf. the General Catechetical Directory, No. 88, on “Intellectual Demands” in the catechesis of adolescents: “The adolescent…is learning how the intellect is to be used rightly… If catechesis is to be able to awaken an experience of the life of faith, it simply cannot neglect the formation of a religious way of thing.” And the Directory adds, within its text: “Cf. First Vatican Council, Constitution Dei Filius, Chapter IV.” It would be difficult to indicate more plainly that the Catholic Church considers Vatican I and Vatican II to be in full harmony, rather than in the opposition sometimes imagined in the years after Vatican II. The Directory concludes: “The intellectual building up of the faith of adolescents must by no means be considered as merely a kind of addition, but rather it should be counted as an essential need for the life of faith. The manner of teaching is of special importance. The catechist, in dialogue with the adolescent, must stimulate the mind of the adolescent.” Catechesis, in other words, has its own kind of intrinsic dependence upon Aeterni Patris and the renewal of Christian Philosophy. 

  4. 2-b. Cf. “Aeterni Patris: Epistola Encyclica de Philosophia Christiana ad mentem sancti Thomae Aquinatis Doctoris Angelici in scholis Catholicis instauranda,” in Leonis XIII Pont. Maximi Acta (Romae: Ex Typographia Vaticana, 1881); Vol. I, pp. 255-284. For the English, cf. Etienne Gilson (ed.) The Church Speaks to the Modern World (New York: Doubleday Image Books, 1954), pp. 31-54. The Encyclical Aeterni Patris is dated August 4, 1879. In 1902 Leo XIII published a review of his many years as the Successor of St. Peter in which he himself listed Aeterni Patris first among “the principal acts of Our pontificate.” Cf. Gilson, ibid., p. 333. 

  5. 2-c. This shift in perspective, which has become quite visible at the centenary of Aeterni Patris, seems destined to be the coming hallmark of the renewal of Christian Philosophy as this program of the teaching Church turns into its second century. This point will be discussed further in the Epilogue below. 

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