The volume at hand is the record of a conference held at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, June 25-29, 1999. Eighty-three authors (mostly Jesuits) delivered talks or made comments on everything from the traditional ratio studiorum of Jesuit education to MBA degrees and student life. As a tour d’horizon of the voices of Jesuit education in the United States, this volume is fascinating, indispensable, and inconclusive. I hope it is not unkind to the earnest authors who contributed to the 544, 8 1Ú2-by-11-inch pages of this book to say that at the end I am still not certain what Christian/Catholic/Jesuit higher education is or will be. (One assumes that the adjectives are at least compatible if not synonymous.) What Jesuit higher education was is clear, but all the authors reject a return to the past. Most assume that there will be fewer Jesuits and fragmented theology. No one wants to go back to "ghetto Catholicism" and theology as Baltimore Catechism Plus. Jesuit universities and colleges have enjoyed unprecedented success in the recent past. The contributors are justifiably proud of the fact that several of these institutions would be regarded as leading players in American higher education. Jesuit colleges are no longer thought of by the public or the higher education establishment as academically deviant, strange isolates of superstition and religious rant. But such academic success is precisely what has made the adjectival qualifier (Catholic/ Jesuit) problematic. To what extent has entry into the mainstream of higher education swamped or submerged (to stick to watery metaphor) the religious sense of these institutions? Faculties are now built competitively with quality appointments from the leading secular graduate institutions, not from the Society of Jesus-where there may be no qualified candidates at all. (Frederick Homann, S.J., points out that while there are currently twenty aging Jesuits with doctorates in mathematics there is not a single Jesuit now enrolled in a doctoral program in that field.) This absence of Jesuit scholars means that laymen will have to carry these institutions in the Ignatian tradition-thus repeated suggestions that an "affirmative action" policy for appointing Catholics and/or inculturation into a school’s "mission" for non-Catholic faculty is a necessary strategy for a "Jesuit" future. What then is the special mission of Jesuit education, the mission that will differentiate these worthy institutions from their secular peers? The editor, Martin Tripole, offers in his introduction a theme, which runs through a large number of the offerings. Referring to the Jesuit General Council 32 (December 1974-March 1975)-"the most innovative of the modern Society"-Tripole notes the emergence of social justice as a or the guiding Jesuit task. But General Council 32 was hardly concluded before Tripole among many others questioned the formula as too restrictive. How, exactly does pursuit of the moral virtue of justice integrate or expand the intellectual virtues pursued in the academy, specifically the traditional Jesuit apostolate in education? Even supposing that concern for justice was a differentiating mark of Jesuit education, three immensely difficult questions arise: What, after all, is justice? Can justice be taught? Is justice the special Christian virtue? Robert J. Arujo, S.J., expresses the first problem in one of the earliest papers at the conference. "I have examined all the theories and meta-theories [of justice], and while each offers varying degrees of insight, I am still unsatisfied." "Justice" has been a monumental puzzle since Plato’s Republic, which labors through ten long books to define it-and then it turns out that only philosopher kings could administer a just state. Alfred North Whitehead’s famous remark that the history of philosophy is a "series of footnotes to Plato" suggests how elusive and inconclusive the discussion of "justice" has been. But let us suppose that we knew the nature of justice. Plato’s second problem arises: Can virtue be taught? In one sense the answer is obviously "Yes!" Humans do not come prewired for justice or any of the other moral habits. (Pace the sociobiologists.) What is not clear, however, is how the intellectual work of higher education affects just behavior. One does not become courageous by reading books about courage; one does not become just by reading the Republic. Plato had that correct. The testimony of Jesuit alumni contained in the present text suggests that "lessons" about justice took place in the slums and barrios of the "real" world beyond the academic quad. Those who take up higher studies must first be just, so that when philosophic reason arrives to "justify justice" they will welcome it as an old friend. Maybe the best one can say for university education is that it should not persuade youth that their previous moral indoctrination and experience were a total fraud. The final issue, however, would seem to be the crucial one. Is "justice" a particularly Christian virtue? The prospectuses and programs of most American colleges and universities claim to educate for citizenry. "Princeton in the nation’s service" and all that. However well or ill that end is pursued and accomplished, "justice" would not immediately serve as a distinguishing mark for Christian higher education. More important than achieving differentiation from distinguished secular peers is the question whether "justice" is the right designation for what Christianity is all about. On this score, the most crucial paper in the entire volume is that of noted biblical scholar John A. Fitzmyer, S.J., who discusses the complexity of translating Hebrew terms into the Latin justicia. To illustrate only one problem: the Hebrew sedeq, which often appears as "justice," can also be translated as "charity." Further Jesuit General Councils recognized the issues raised above. Tripole thinks that General Council 34 is more balanced since it speaks to "the justice of God’s kingdom" and "the justice of the Gospel" which display "God’s redemptive righteousness and mercy." Surely this is on the right track, but proper formulae do not of themselves solve the problem for Christian higher education. From General Council 32 to General Council 34 one could say that one moves from Jesuit higher education as academics+morality to academics+mystery ("God’s redemptive righteousness and mercy"). Fitting "mystery" into the clarified conceptual world of the modern university is, I suggest, the problem for Catholic higher education if it is to have any future at all.

Published in the 2001-04-20 issue: View Contents

Dennis O’Brien, former president of the University of Rochester, is a longtime contributor to Commonweal.

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