Signature qualities, habits of mind and unique insights that characterize Catholic thought


By Dr. Michael W. Higgins, President and Vice-Chancellor of Corpus Christi-St. Marks at UBC

As a journalist and academic, I have a strong professional commitment to accurate and fair writing. As president/principal of Catholic colleges, I have a vocational commitment to ensure that reasonable debate occurs in an environment of respect.

The recent publication on February 10 in the BC Catholic—a diocesan newspaper—of the article "'Wokeness' and 'pseudo-religions': Catholic colleges look for ways to challenge growing cancel culture" concerns me both professionally and vocationally. Let me be clear, the BC Catholic has every right to its expression of opinion—whether irenic or incendiary.

For sure, much of the content of the article deserves serious intellectual investigation and robust engagement, but the grand sweep lends itself to muddle and mischief.

The use of photos of Corpus Christi and St. Mark's, and the incorporation of interview snippets with our President/Principal-Elect, Gerry Turcotte, would lead the casual reader to assume that the thrust of the article reflects the views of the colleges and of Dr. Turcotte—and neither is accurate. Indeed, Dr. Turcotte understood that the article was an opportunity for a profile of the incoming president/principal (August 1, 2022).

I have written at some length elsewhere about what I understand Catholic universities and the Catholic Intellectual Tradition to be about, so in summary let me identify some of the signature qualities, habits of mind and unique insights that characterize Catholic thought and academic practice as I see it. And as St. Mark's and Corpus Christi embody it.

We affirm these truths:

Personhood—the essential feature of each existent as the imago Dei or image of God underscoring the staggering truth that we are all—singly and irrevocably—loved into existence by God irrespective of all the qualifying considerations such as gender, sexual orientation, colour, race, ethnicity, etc.

Communio—no individual is an island; all are united in a federation or commonwealth of the living and of the dead.

Tangibility of the Divine—relics, signs, holy places, wells, and sacred sites constitute a point of entry into a world that is not circumscribed—its mysteries not exhausted—by the rational categories, modes of investigation and scientific discourse that define our reality.

Fides et ratio—the Catholic genius recognizes the indispensability of both reason and faith in the making of a deeply constitutive spiritual human culture. The creative energy and friction that is generated by the dialectic of reason with faith ensures that religious belief is not a phantasm and rational understanding not the sole arbiter of human meaning and destiny.

Holiness—the call to live an integrated life—centered on Christ and the ethic of self-emptying—is not an esoteric, Gnostic or elitist invitation, but a common gift of our baptism; Catholicism, despite its fondness for hierarchy, is essentially democratic and egalitarian.

Intellectual and Spiritual Fecundity—the richness or plenitude of the Catholic heritage is in great measure to be found in its capacity to ferment new thinking from old, to build on the past and not be held hostage to it, to value both syncretism and institutional fidelity, authority and prophecy, continuity and innovation.

In addition, a Catholic college must value the gifts of diversity, equity and inclusivity precisely because we are genuinely Catholic when we seek a unity that transcends uniformity and when we engage with the wider culture that surrounds us. We display for all to see what Seamus Heaney called the radiance of Catholicism, the “benediction of it all.”


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