I am honored indeed to have been invited to deliver this talk. Thanks especially to my friends Monica Hellwig and Fr. James Heft for giving me this opportunity. I must begin by confessing something to all of you, always a good opening, we Lutherans believe, when we are addressing largely Catholic audiences. As you know, the Reformation began as a University movement many years ago in 1517 with Martin Luther at Wittenberg. I was therefore tempted to use this occasion at the beginning of a new millenium to reverse the course of that Reformation by extolling as a Lutheran to this august assembly the many virtues of papal authority and of the invariable if sometimes intrusive wisdom of the magisterium. You will be glad to know that I have resisted that temptation in the aftermath of the many debates surrounding the eventual approval by the U.S. bishops of the most recent version of the general norms for implementing Ex Corde. I will say this much in all seriousness at the outset, however. As someone who worries with all of you about the future of Christian higher learning in this country, I have been consistently edified by reading Ex Corde, Fides et Ratio, and the many learned discussions about both of these documents among Christian educators in this country.
Indeed, I come to you from a university that is connected to the Lutheran Church, not "by a formal, constitutive, and statutory bond" (to use a familiar phrase) but "by reason of an institutional commitment made by those responsible for that university" (to use another familiar phrase), namely, its primarily lay board of trustees. Valparaiso University was founded by a group of clergymen and laymen from the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod who wanted to distinguish it sharply from the many Concordias that had been established to prepare young men for the clergy and young men and women for teaching in parochial schools. Thus, unlike the Concordias that were established directly by the church, that were and remain subject to the synodical board of control, and that are supported directly by lines in the church budget, Valparaiso has been governed from the outset by an autonomous board of directors and has always been affiliated with the Lutheran Church without being either governed or economically supported by it. Today, Valparaiso defines itself as an independent Lutheran university whose board of directors and central administration include members of all of the major Lutheran church bodies in the USA. And I do think I should identify myself further on this occasion as one of the members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the Lutheran body that was very much a party to the joint declaration recently issued by your communion and mine. Valparaiso's seventy-five-year history as a Lutheran institution of higher learning has been in one sense a continual struggle to maintain, refine, deepen, stabilize, improve, and clarify the relationship between university and church. Since my own grandfather was involved in the refounding of the school under Lutheran auspices in 1925, I have been a party, directly or indirectly, to many of those struggles. On that basis, I will say my last word to you about your own vastly more intricate and complicated conversations with the magisterium, if I may use one final, familiar phrase: "You have my deepest sympathy."
When I think historically about the various struggles that have gone on and that will continue to go on within our two communions, I think of Whitehead's remark about the Reformation. He argued that the religious struggles of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries within Christendom were a mere tempest in a teapot compared to the concurrent scientific revolution made manifest in the works of thinkers like Galileo and Descartes. I think we would all be well advised, at least for the time being, to regard various juridical issues within our respective communions as just such minor disturbances compared to the vastly more imposing set of tasks that the new millenium has set before us. Our collective ability to perform these tasks will depend upon whether and how we can faithfully mobilize our distinctively Christian intellectual tradition to respond flexibly to a world that is increasingly dominated by global capitalism. In our remaining time together, I want to suggest how some of the constitutive beliefs of a Christian college or university might be constructively put into educational practice in the coming century. Our colleges and universities will finally stand or fall as Christian colleges and universities depending upon how well or badly they foster among students, faculty, and alumni certain peculiar habits of mind and heart whose full flowering can come about only within a world continuously construed as one that is created, redeemed and sanctified by the Triune God.
The first such constitutive belief I would describe with the word "Unity." By unity, I refer simply to a constitutive belief that should be held by the Christian university that the cosmos, having proceeded from a Creator, is thereby and in that sense unified. To confess, in the words of the Apostle's Creed, "I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth," is one thing. To explain what this means and how it ought to work itself out in the practices of organizing a university is another. To some degree this constitutive belief raises more questions than it resolves, e.g. does the notion of cosmos suggest that everything is reducible finally to one thing, to matter or to spirit, for example? But in other respects, the constitutive belief should inform the official rhetoric of the Christian university over against rival metaphysical and epistemological views. So, for example, the belief in a Creator would seem to preclude a purely materialist metaphysic as well as certain extreme constructivist beliefs to the effect that human beings really do make the world. Thus, the education offered at a Christian university must be understood to involve both discovery and invention, both grateful wonder at what has been given to us in creation and concerted endeavor to make things new.
An informing principle like "Unity" really does make the Christian university to some extent counter-cultural in the modern world. When Henry Adams observed about his wonderful book The Education of Henry Adams that in working from unity to multiplicity he had to reverse the direction taken by St. Augustine some fifteen centuries before him, he was correct. And he understood very well that the fragmented, disconnected, and alienated life that he both lived and then re-described for his readers in the Education was to a large extent the product of the disappearance of God and the emergence of new metaphysics driven by science and technology. Though Adams might himself doubt the efficacy of the project, he would surely agree that part of the mission of the Christian university must be a quest for unity, an undertaking to find ways of seeing and knowing what the Christian believes is, in a profound and mysterious sense, there already.
One such way of seeing and knowing has always been at the heart of university life from the time of the emergence of the university in the West during the Middle Ages. As you know, in Ex Corde, John Paul II portrayed Catholic universities as places where not only is "each individual discipline studied in a systematic manner," but where, "scholars will be engaged in a constant effort to determine the relative place and meaning of each of the various disciplines within the context of a vision of the human person and the world." Recently invoking this description, Alasdair MacIntyre, in an address he delivered last fall at Notre Dame, characterized this way of knowing as "integrative." And he argued at considerable length, convincingly in my judgment, that "from a Catholic standpoint universities that become what the great American research universities of the present have become may be judged to have failed, not because they are not Catholic or otherwise Christian-important as that is-but because they are in grave danger of no longer functioning as universities." Having lost the sense of a cosmos, a created order of things, these institutions of higher learning have lost as well an encyclo-paedia, a circle of learning that situates the findings of any one discipline in relation to the others and that enjoins students and faculty alike to see life wholly and truly.
The second constitutive belief of a Christian university is the conviction that all human beings, everywhere and at all times, are made in the image of God and loved in the way that God loves, i.e. in a manner best exemplified in the life and death of Jesus the Christ. Let us call this second constitutive belief "universality." Like the informing principle of unity, this one will raise more questions than it will answer. What does it mean in a given case to love as God loves? What does it mean to be created in God's image? How and to what extent does this belief inform the way we should order our common life at a Christian university? Has it any application, for example, to principles of university governance or to personnel issues or to the rules governing residence hall life?
There are of course any number of secular intellectuals who would wish to defend and even to promote similar informing principles, like a belief in universal human rights or a belief that all human beings are by nature entitled to be treated with dignity and respect. Since around 1980, however, many of these thinkers, like the philosopher Richard Rorty, have gone to considerable lengths to insist that universalist aspirations such as these are but the idols of particular tribes of modern, Western democracies. And this insistence that all talk of universal human rights and dignity is really a kind of ethnocentrism has had worrisome implications. In a 1983 essay Rorty wonders what would or should move us citizens of a Western democracy to respond to a hypothetical child found wandering in the woods as the sole survivor of a nation whose culture and religion have been totally destroyed. Such a child would have, Rorty admits, "no share in human dignity," since her moral community has been slaughtered. But under the ministrations of we Westerners, this stranger would surely be "reclothed with dignity," because "the Jewish and Christian element in our tradition" contains certain universalist ideals, beliefs that are still "gratefully invoked," he admits, "by free-loading atheists like myself."
Candid accounts like this and a surrounding sense among many thoughtful observers that gestures of good will toward other human beings in need seem increasingly arbitrary and sporadic rather than dutiful and habitual among our fellow citizens have led to a new variation on the classical form of the Jeremiad. One example comes from the posthumously published collection of essays by the widely influential American intellectual historian and cultural critic Christopher Lasch. "Modernism," Lasch wrote, "continues to live off the capital of the creeds it has rejected, and the most admirable among modernist intellectuals. . . have always been aware of this dependence--even when, like Freud, they were urging their readers to outgrow it." Another example comes from the philosopher Charles Taylor who wrote in his book Sources of the Self: "The question . . . is whether we are not living beyond our moral means in continuing allegiance to our standards of justice and benevolence. Do we have ways of seeing-good which are still credible to us, which are powerful enough to sustain the standards?" Even if all of these worries are exaggerated or misguided, even if religion does not in fact soften and temper human sentiments, curbing the baser appetites and exalting nobler ones, it would still seem important for the health of a pluralistic, democratic society that there should exist some institutions of higher learning whose mission involves a continual renewal of those practices, stories, and teachings that have inspired the proclamation and elaboration of certain liberating universal truths, making sense of them in theory and sustaining them in practice.
In the years immediately ahead of us, I suspect that this second constitutive belief, one that I have associated here with the second person of the Trinity, will conflict most pointedly with an alternative logos, the techno-logos that is driving all of us and our universities into hyper-modernity at increasing velocities. The great Christian proclamation of the Logos at the beginning of John's gospel teaches that the pattern of all things from eternity became flesh and dwells among us full of grace and truth. This Logos showed himself to be a God of love. Ever since that time, the Christian church has connected human understanding to love, not to control and manipulation. Your own sense of that great truth will fade quickly the moment your Vice President for Electronic Information Services presents you with the minimum budget for technology at your college or university. You will, of course, probably have to yield. But if you mean to maintain your Christian identity, you must not yield as well to the underlying techno-logos that would connect knowledge at its deepest levels to power rather than to love, to problem-solving rather than to understanding, to control rather than wonder. So buy the technology for your faculty and students, but don't let them buy the notion that life is without remainder a problem to be solved.
The third constitutive belief of the Christian University is integrity. By integrity, I mean the belief of a Christian university that there is an integral connection among the intellectual, the moral, and the spiritual dimensions of human life and experience, and that these therefore ought where possible to be addressed concurrently within a single institution rather than parceled out into separate and often conflicting realms. Integrity refers then to a kind of wholeness, an internal balance and harmony in the operation of the moral, the spiritual, and the intellectual virtues. A Christian university, like any university, must surely subordinate all other endeavors to the improvement of the mind in its pursuit of truth. Unlike many other universities, however, a Christian university believes that this pursuit is best undertaken within a community that also attends to the moral and the spiritual.
Indeed, as I have argued at considerable length elsewhere, some of the moral and spiritual virtues have vital cognitive significance and hence strengthen the practices of both teaching and learning. An arrogant teacher, for example, no matter how well she understands organic chemistry, is apt to be unresponsive to her students and impatient with their errors and hesitations. Humility, therefore, is both a spiritual excellence and a pedagogical virtue. It would be an interesting and worthy project to articulate in a more systematic fashion those virtues whose exercise is most important for good teaching and to rank them accordingly. They would surely include, in addition to humility, faith, justice, courage, prudence, temperance, honesty, and, perhaps above all, charity. Indeed, my favorite brief account of the vocation of teaching has become the unofficial motto of the honors college where I teach. It comes from the eleventh century St. Bernard of Clairvaux: "Some seek knowledge for the sake of knowledge: that is curiosity; others seek knowledge that they may themselves be known: that is vanity; but there are still others who seek knowledge in order to serve and edify others, and that is charity."
It may well be the case that the widespread, secular endeavor to separate the moral virtues from the intellectual virtues, to divorce entirely the cultivation of character from the improvement of the mind, has led directly to the abandonment in many influential circles of aspirations to any kind of objectivity. What might our universities say to the almost unanimous contemporary rejection within the human sciences of the notion that objectivity is a precondition for knowledge? Let us agree with our postmodern colleagues who construe objectivity as a Janus-faced concept, referring on the one side to being in touch with the object, with the way things are, and on the other side to being impartial, i.e. to becoming free from the distorting lenses of personal bias. Let us also agree with them that this ideal can be and has been both crippling and impossible of attainment. Finally, let us agree that we should celebrate the several different standpoints from which various postmodernists see the world as giving them access to realms of reality that would otherwise be extremely difficult to come by. Let us, in other words concede to the postmodernists that all knowledge is to some degree perspectival.
The trouble with this wholesale concession is that it omits or abbreviates important features of both academic life and our ways of thinking generally that require careful attention if Christians are to join the general celebration of perspectival knowing. First of all, since we believe that all have sinned, we must recognize that our narrative identities might just as well distort as disclose aspects of reality, and we need to be able somehow to distinguish at any given moment whether we have an instance of the former or the latter condition--distortion or disclosure. Christians would or should insist that all human beings share a capacity for self-transcendence, an ability to bring their own narrative identities under some measure of critical scrutiny. Part of what it means for humankind to be fashioned in the image of God is that we are imbued with a capacity for critical self-consciousness. That consciousness is, moreover, best exercised within communities of learning that cultivate certain virtues like humility, certain habits like attention and certain practices like repentance and forgiveness.
As Nicholas Woltersdorff acknowledges, "The current argument for allowing [particularist perspectives] entrance [into the academy] is purely political: it assumes that no one ever has any awareness of reality, and argues on that ground that it would be unjustly discriminatory to exclude any perspective." He might have added that this postmodern position leads directly, both logically and sociologically, to tribalism, to a lack of genuine engagement and a hardening of the lines that divide human beings from one another, and finally to the argument that diversity is an end in itself rather than a means to a larger end that is connected to the pursuit of the truth of matters.
Is there an escape from these difficulties short of a return to an untenable notion of objectivity? I think that objectivity, properly refurbished under Christian auspices, should refer neither to the notion of unmediated access to reality nor to the view that we could ever become free from bias or purified of distortions or generically human (whatever these achievements might mean). Rather, I think objectivity should refer, and to a larger extent than we realize it has always referred, to what Thomas Haskell calls, "the expression in intellectual affairs of the ascetic dimension of life." Though he ignores altogether the significance of the historical connection between asceticism and monasticism, Haskell is right, I think, in understanding ascetic practices like objectivity as "indispensable to the pursuit of truth. The very possibility of historical scholarship as an enterprise distinct from propaganda," Haskell continues, "requires of its practitioners that vital minimum of ascetic self-discipline that enables a person to do such things as abandon wishful thinking, assimilate bad news, discard pleasing interpretations that cannot pass elementary tests of evidence and logic, and, most important of all, suspend or bracket one's own perceptions long enough to enter sympathetically into the alien and possibly repugnant perspectives of rival thinkers. All of these mental acts -- especially coming to grips with a rival's perspective -- require detachment, an undeniably ascetic capacity to achieve some distance from ones own spontaneous perceptions and convictions, to imagine how the world appears in another's eyes, to experimentally adopt perspectives that do not come naturally -- in the last analysis, to develop, as Thomas Nagel would say, a view of the world in which one's own self stands not at the center, but appears merely as one object among many."What Haskell has said here about historical scholarship applies, I think, to liberal learning in general. If we really mean to be freed from the tyrannies that hold sway over our minds, we must be able, to some degree, to distance ourselves from our own prejudices rather than to construe all of our intellectual experiences--perceptions, judgments, and interpretations--as mere manifestations of those prejudices. And we might well have reached the point in contemporary culture when the Christian university's mission in the next century will include the preservation this version of the ideal of objectivity against a world that threatens almost daily to abandon objectivity altogether.
I said at the beginning of this address that we are facing now the question of how well we can mobilize the constitutive beliefs of our distinctive tradition to respond flexibly to a world increasingly dominated by global capitalism. I have thus far elaborated upon three of those constitutive beliefs under the headings "unity, universality, and integrity," but I have only hinted at what might be the shape of the engagement between the Christian tradition and this formidable, world-wide formation that is both cultural and economic, global capitalism. In the time remaining, I want to reflect more directly upon the terms of that encounter, since I believe that it is being thrust upon all colleges and universities with unexpectedly overwhelming force.
Before turning to some of the specific ways that the market economy is reshaping our institutions of higher learning, let me offer a couple of broad reflections as important qualifications to what will follow thereafter. If we are to be faithful and thoughtful about this matter, we must not become imprisoned by old divisions and suspicions that belong to another era. For example, the mutual hostility between a certain account of liberal learning and much of professional and pre-professional education, especially the kind of education that goes on in the business community, must end quickly. An increasing number of the best graduates of the interdisciplinary honors college that I serve as dean have gone on to prominent positions in investment banking firms, in inventive engineering companies, in international law firms, and in global corporations. It is very clear to me that many of them are attracted to these positions by the culture of learning within these enterprises, by the collaborative style of education within them, by the support for research and the exercise of imagination, and by the thrill of the workplace. It is simply false to say of most of them that they have simply been seduced by filthy lucre. There are more deep affinities than most of us have come to realize between aspects of liberal learning and the habits of mind that many of our leading corporations look for and seek to cultivate in their offices and boardrooms. Indeed, if I had to draw a picture of the Christ College graduate who is arguably serving the most neighbors in need most effectively she would be working on a collaborative research team in an investment banking firm that specializes in the improvement of American cities. Her work regularly leads to substantial improvements in education, transportation, and air quality in the lives of more of our fellow citizens than the work of most of our other graduates.
This is not to deny at all the much more deeply problematic, sometimes devastating, effects of trans-national corportations on the global labor force (perhaps it is time for the equivalent of an Amnesty International for violations of the rights of laborers), nor is it to excuse the uglier aspects of corporate re-engineering so ably discussed in Richard Sennett's latest book, The Corrosion of Character. I am simply suggesting that if we are to engage the world of global capitalism credibly and responsibly, our criticisms will need to emerge from more subtle analyses of our contemporary situation than old categories will allow.
I would go further still. I think we need to re-examine some of the most hallowed distinctions in the literature of Catholic education, such as Newman's own sharp distinction between knowledge for its own sake and knowledge for the sake of something else like professional skill or commercial activity. The great cardinal insisted that the knowledge that is the proper object of study at a university is good simply for its own sake. Though such knowledge has profound implications for professional skill, its pursuit cannot be and should not be, Newman argued, justified with reference to those implications. But our world is in this respect perhaps most different from Newman's, for most of our students come to the university primarily to prepare themselves for work, and the vast majority of these do not intend to prepare themselves either for the academy itself or for one of the learned professions-law, medicine, and divinity. In this present context, a Christian university, both by nature and necessity, ought to construe the kind of knowledge it principally pursues as being for the most part both good in itself and good for the sake of something else, namely, to paraphrase St. Bernard again, to serve and edify others. The knowledge that integrates, that enables me to see life whole, and that enlarges the mind, is the same knowledge that is part of the cultivation of good judgment and practical wisdom and that leads directly to the kind of resourcefulness that makes for good leaders in the worlds of politics and commerce as much as the world of the academy. Indeed, much of the knowledge most worth having becomes a true possession, truly incorporated into the knower, if and only if it is put to use in the service of others.
Having said all of this, however, I must say that in the coming years we are all going to become more deeply enmeshed in markets in ways that are likely to distort and even to destroy our character as Christian colleges and universities. I say this being fully aware of the differences among the schools you represent. The developments I will mention now are already being felt at research universities like Georgetown, Boston College, and Notre Dame. They will become increasingly felt at comprehensive universities like my own, such as Creighton, Dayton, Santa Clara, and Villanova. And they will eventually overtake even the Catholic liberal arts colleges. The good news, I think, is this. For reasons that I will suggest, Catholic colleges and universities, of all the institutions of higher learning in the USA, have the best chance of withstanding some of the more ominous aspects of the onslaughts of the market. But this will require both vigilance and cunning. You will all need to be wise as serpents and gentle as doves.
What are some of these ominous developments? Among the more familiar are growing expenses in the face of declining state support, escalating technological costs, increasing competition for students, and a growing number of new for-profit competitors. Like it or not, many of us are becoming market-driven service providers instead of educators. In addition, we are experiencing organizational behavior that is more and more corporate and less and less collegial, we are steadily moving away from faculty governance and toward board governance at many institutions, and we are experiencing less and less emphasis on undergraduate education. To be blunt, the money is in research, not in teaching.
Nor is this all. We shall soon be seeing more and more joint faculty appointments between industry and the university. We are already witnessing a sad decline in the proportion of full-time, tenure-track faculty. And an increasing number of faculty contracts require the return of a certain percentage of patent and copyright earnings to the university where these are developed or produced. Can the day be very far away when we begin to hire faculty on the basis of how much revenue they can produce for the university in terms of research and development? And once we define the value of our intellectual work on the basis of how much money our knowledge and skill can command on the global market, we will soon be reduced to resource centers, not universities, whose character will be determined by and parceled out to a series of external clients.
And what of our students and their parents? Consider the following true story. From 1992-1994 Valparaiso University attempted collectively to reformulate and revivify the Lutheran character of the University. Committees were convened, open forums held, drafts of various documents circulated, panels engaged, retreats enjoyed, special issues of the campus newsletter published, board members briefed, and so forth. There was, as is customary at universities, a lot of sound and fury eventuating in a committee report. Since faculty wrote the report, it required of course fifty-four pages, composed in dialogue form, to express the Lutheran character of Valparaiso University. Almost the day that this report finally emerged our admissions office reported that there was one attribute of Valparaiso University that was conspicuous by its continuing, annual demotion on a list of attributes that led prospective students and their parents to select Valparaiso University over its competitors. That attribute was "Lutheran." This attribute ranked far below location, academic quality, cost, campus safety, size, comprehensiveness, etc. And-here is the especially relevant point-the Lutheran character of VU mattered almost as little to Lutherans as it did to non-Lutherans. Valparaiso and its major constituency seemed to be like ships passing in the night.
Shortly after I told this story in this very city almost exactly a year ago today to the presidents of all the Lutheran colleges and universities, they invited me to remain after my address to witness a presentation that made matters even more complex. They had spent collectively over $250,000 to commission an independent research firm to survey huge numbers of Lutheran young people who had attended Lutheran colleges, flagship state institutions, or secular private colleges and universities. The findings were staggering, since they confirmed exactly what these Lutheran presidents had been saying all along. The graduates of Lutheran schools were much more satisfied with their education than the Lutheran alumni of flagship state institutions. Moreover, to quote now from the results of the study, graduates of Lutheran colleges and universities from the classes of 1958 to 1993 "demonstrate a set of personal values that place greater importance on concerns for social justice, raising families, and moral and ethical considerations. In their communities and congregations, they are more frequent contributors as members, volunteers and donors than graduates of public institutions." Finally, the study found that the graduates of Lutheran schools believed themselves to be much better prepared for their work than graduates of public institutions. It was as though the study had supplied empirical verification for claims that exceeded those made by the promotional brochures developed by the institutions these presidents represented. To be blunt, the presidents were a bit astonished.
Astonished to be sure, and pleasantly so, but also quite sobered. The study also revealed that "Lutheran parents considering Lutheran colleges do not understand the importance of student involvement and do not believe that these involvement factors are more likely to be found at Lutheran colleges. They have a low level of familiarity with Lutheran colleges, and consequently they do not believe that Lutheran colleges are worth the tuition they charge."
Though these presidents are moving quickly to educate the parents of Lutheran students, it is not altogether clear how much this endeavor will lead to an increase in "market share" of Lutheran high school graduates. At present, less than five percent of Lutheran students attend Lutheran colleges and universities. An increase to six percent of that number would translate into an increase of 20 percent in the actual number of Lutheran students enrolled on Lutheran campuses. So the stakes are potentially quite high. Even so, some evidence suggests that Lutheran parents are not only ignorant about the distinctive character of Lutheran higher education at its best, they are indifferent to it to some degree. They have, in short, become so acculturated to consumerist values that increasing numbers of them readily permit price to determine educational preference completely. Still others prefer brand name recognition and social prestige to church affiliation and Christian formation.
I am almost certain that your experience is to a large extent very much like the experience of the Lutherans. And if it is, you are quite correct to resist, as you have, the so-called "secularization hypothesis." On the one hand, much of the secularization that has taken place within your institutions has not been the result primarily of maladroit, cowardly, though well-meaning leadership, as Fr. Burtchaell has suggested. It has come about instead in response to the acculturation of Catholics into mainstream American values and preferences. On the other hand, Lutheran and Catholic parents have not been so much secularized as they have been induced to construe their religion as another consumer good. They are not so much irreligious or secular as they are corrupted by consumer culture. They do not know what is truly needful. They are driven increasingly by what they are told they really want. And we have increasingly succumbed to the temptation to pander to the wants instead of ministering to the needs.
We are implicated in this problem, and this is where all good Christian social criticism should begin, namely, with an acknowledgement of our own sinful complicity in the worst of global market behavior. Having done this much, we must continue to educate our lay people about the real virtues of our to-some-extent counter-cultural endeavors. And, as I have already suggested, we must curb or resist the most menacing aspects of global capitalism. We must counter the fragmentation and hyper-specialization that the market demands or creates with the practices of integrative education. We must not permit our Logos to be reduced to a techno-logos. And we must strengthen, through ascetic practices, those virtues that govern the passions and appetites that threaten to replace inquiry with ideology.
But we must do more than that, and I come now to the fourth and final constitutive belief of the Christian university, its commitment to the idea of vocation. You have already been contending for years with the problem of a drastic decline in the number of religious on your faculties. You must now contend with a more serious difficulty. Unless you can raise up a generation of young Christian teacher-scholars who understand the academic vocation as best pursued within a particular kind of community, who prize loyalty to particular communities of learning and particular missions over what their intellectual skills can command on a global market, and who believe that an education without transcendent horizons is no education at all, your universities and your colleges will disappear. They will not die, but they will fade quietly away.
But this idea of vocation is even more important for our students than it is for our faculties. One of the primary teachings of a Christian university should be that legitimate work of each and every kind is a social station where human beings use their God-given talents and whatever knowledge they have acquired to serve neighbors in need This idea has, I think, profound implications for the way in which a Christian university might define human excellence. Most accounts of human excellence suggest that human beings achieve that which is noblest and hence most worthy of praise in some particular theater of human endeavor-in ancient times on the battlefield or in political assemblies, later in the study or the studio, the laboratory or the arena. Protestant Christians in the early modern period and ever since, however, argued that men and women were stationed in a variety of callings simultaneously. They were at one and the same time parents, citizens, neighbors, and professionals. And although most Christian thinkers, Protestant and Catholic alike, have resisted the temptation to insist upon one form of saintliness, more and more of them have tended, since the Reformation, to locate the exercise of virtue not so much in exceptional heroic endeavor as in the quiet and steady business of everyday life. A Christian university should therefore equip its students to perform well in all of their concurrent callings, and it should teach them to regard human life, not primarily as a tragic set of impossible choices between excellence at home or at work or in civil society, but as a striving for the proper balance of exertion and achievement within all of these fields of endeavor.
Finally, of course, the Christian university must insist that, however strenuous the exertions it ordains and fosters, and however successful students may be in meeting the standards of excellence that it holds up to them, they will still fall short of the mark without the grace of God. Newman was profoundly impressed by this fact, and according to one account of his thought about education, he was haunted by "the paradox that one who was fit to see God might be unfit to be seen by anyone else."
I should close my talk with another confession, since I opened with one. As I contemplate with you what I have been calling our tasks and our challenges at the beginning of this millenium, I actually envy you your magisterium with all of the attendant irritations and occasionally unwelcome intrusions that go with it. I am, I think, prudent enough to know that to contend credibly with a formation of world-wide scope like global capitalism, one needs a countervailing formation, also of global scope, also of immense internal diversity, also armed with a body of social teachings and practices of deep and enduring importance. Protestantism has no such countervailing formation. Its task, I think, will be in the field of higher learning to acknowledge the ecumenical impulses in the very idea of university, to remember its own raison d'etre as a confessional movement within the Church catholic, and to work with renewed vigor to bring about full communion among Christians.
Universities and colleges, Catholic and Lutheran, will increasingly need one another's wisdom and support. Lutherans need a deeper sense of tradition and a renewed appreciation for truly global religious institutions. Catholics need a renewed sense of the idea of vocation for all Christians, clergy and lay. In addition to constitutive beliefs like the four I have discussed, our colleges and universities are defined by the questions that they love and keep alive. For all of us, these questions have always involved the relationship between faith and reason, between Christianity and contemporary cultures, and between the sacred and the secular. We strive to achieve a perfect synthesis between faith and reason, and then we distrust all such final solutions of fallen human intelligence. So we live uneasily. We honor and give thanks to God for the ordered activities of the human mind, yet we doubt whether any such activities can reach perfect truth. Freed by the Christian gospel to pursue the truth, we nonetheless profess that it is the Truth that finally frees. The only Truth that ultimately matters is gift, not something we achieve. As colleges and universities, we have at the center of our missions the transmission and creation of knowledge. As Christian colleges and universities, we at the same time insist that all of our knowledge cannot finally save us.
These rather exalted ideas seem to some terribly abstract and to others terribly frustrating. But to countless numbers of our alumni, they are very liberating and finally very comforting. Many of these alums regard their work with special intensity and meaning because they feel called by God to do it. At the same time, they know that the final outcome of their labors rests in God's hands, not in their own. And this is liberating. All of them have known moral and intellectual and spiritual failures. Many of them also have come to know that they are forgiven and have been led to forgive themselves as well as their fellow human beings. This is comforting.
These alums are also a suspicious lot. They suspect all systems of "truth," they suspect all authority, including churchly authority, and the best of them even come to suspect their own suspicions. They suspect all human words about everything, perhaps especially human words about God. They are also at their best a grateful lot. They know that gratitude is the right response to a love that comes to them in the midst of their doubts and suspicions, a love that does not expect them first to figure everything out.
Perhaps what really makes our colleges and universities distinctively Christian is our love for questions, including questions about our own identity, even as we remember that it was the serpent who asked the first question. We know that questioning, the activity that makes us colleges and universities is not the final or most blessed state of humankind. The restless mind will be at rest, we all believe, only when it finally rests in God.