Academic journal article Catholic Education

What Would Newman Do? John Cardinal Newman and Ex Corde Ecclesiae

Academic journal article Catholic Education

What Would Newman Do? John Cardinal Newman and Ex Corde Ecclesiae

Article excerpt

John Paul II's 1990 apostolic exhortation Ex Corde Ecclesiae and subsequent legislation require those teaching theological disciplines in Catholic universities to have a mandatum. This article explores the thought of John Cardinal Newman with a view to defending a position, consistent with Newman's thought, relative to the seeking and acceptance of a mandatum.


In the June 2003 edition of Catholic Education: A Journal of Inquiry and Practice, Heft detailed the work between one Catholic diocese, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, and one Roman Catholic university, the University of Dayton, as together they sought to implement the Vatican decree, Ex Corde Ecclesiae (ECE; John Paul II, 1990). Of particular concern in the Heft essay was the mandatum, a requirement that a Catholic teaching a Catholic theological discipline at a Catholic university have the approval of competent ecclesiastical authority (John Paul II, 1990, para. 4.3). Thus, the mandatum is a statement by an ecclesiastical authority, generally the ordinary of the diocese, that the Catholic theologian is teaching in communion with the Church. As Heft opined in another essay, it is a recognition by the bishop that the theologian is teaching in communion with the Church.

   There may also be good reason for a particular theologian not to
   accept a mandatum; nor should anyone conclude that a theologian
   without it is, by that fact alone, not in full communion with the
   Church. There is an important distinction between teaching in full
   communion with the Church and being recognized officially as doing
   so by the bishop. (Heft, 2002, p. 41)

This essay examines ECE from the perspective of the individual theologian. Should an individual theologian apply for a mandatum or accept one if it is given? It will seek to do so through the eyes of one theologian, John Henry Newman (1801-1890). No one can say for certain how someone who lived over 100 years before ECE would react to it. What one can do, however, is to examine the writings of John Newman and to hypothesize whether an acceptance or a rejection of ECE is consistent with his scholarship, beliefs, and convictions. This paper will examine Newman's reflections on the purpose of a Catholic university. These reflections, contained in The Idea of a University (1982), were originally lectures given 150 years ago (1850-1852), and have been influential in the development of Roman Catholic universities. ECE cited Newman twice, and these two references to Newman are the only citations in ECE to sources that are not from the Bible or from ecclesiastical documents. In article 4, ECE quoted Newman's The Idea of a University, "an intimate conviction that truth is (its) real ally ... and that reason and knowledge are sure ministers to faith" (John Paul II, 1990). In addition, ECE cited Newman in its own footnote 19, "Cardinal Newman observes that a University 'professes to assign to each study which it receives, its proper place and its boundaries to define the rights, to establish the mutual relations and to effect the intercommunion of one and all'" (John Paul II, 1990).

Before examining whether Newman's idea of a Catholic university is consistent with the idea of a Catholic university present in ECE, this essay will briefly review Ex Corde Ecclesiae. The examination of the reflections of Newman on the purposes of a Catholic university will follow. Then this paper will compare the ideas of John Newman with those of ECE, with regard to the idea of a Catholic university. Special attention will be given to two themes: that of universal knowledge and that of faithfulness to reason and tradition.


On August 15, 1990, Pope John Paul II promulgated Ex Corde Ecclesiae, the long-awaited apostolic constitution on Catholic universities. ECE took its name from the first words of the Latin document, which declared that a Catholic university is born "from the heart of the church" (para. …

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