Misplaced Nostalgia

'Ex corde' & the medieval university

Ex corde ecclesiae will go into effect as church law for the United States on May 3, 2001. For most commentators, the fundamental issue concerning the implementation of Ex corde is the conflict between the ideals and practices of American higher education, as these have emerged in a liberal, secular society, and the ideals and practices informing a distinctively Catholic tradition of learning. Those who criticize Ex corde, especially its requirement that theologians obtain a mandate from the local bishop, do so on the ground that it will lead to violations of academic freedom, or that it will destroy the credibility of Catholic higher education in this country. Those who defend it reply that Catholic universities should be governed by a different set of ideals, in which accountability to the church and demonstrated fidelity to its teachings are paramount.

Much of this debate presupposes a certain perspective on the history of Catholic higher education. In this view, the earliest Catholic universities, emerging as they did from "the heart of the church," were very closely connected to, and under the control of, ecclesiastical authorities. Scholars working in such a context, it is thought, had no aspirations to freedom of inquiry, and would probably have considered such aspirations as expressions of a dangerous disloyalty. It is certainly the case that the scholastics did not defend an ideal of academic freedom...

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About the Author

Jean Porter teaches ethics at the University of Notre Dame. Her most recent book is Natural and Divine Law: Reclaiming the Tradition for Christian Ethics (Eerdmans, 1999).