The Natural Order of Church and University

University of Bologna, Oldest University 1088

This is the second in a series taken from Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger’s essay, “Theology and Church Politics” published in a 1987 book Church Ecumenism and Politics: New Endeavors in Ecclesiology. In it he explains what theology is, what the relation of theology is to the Church, and what the relation of the Church is to education and politics. The first article dealt with the fundamental claim to reason itself, from an atheistic view and the Christian view.

The Christian position is not based on “In the beginning was irrationality…” but on the opposite. The Gospel of John says, “In the beginning was the Word: and the Word was with God: and the Word was God.” God, the Creator who made everything out of nothing, is Reason Itself, and since we are made in the likeness and image of God, our ability to reason came from Reason Itself, revealed to us by Christ, the Word or Logos. The foundation of rationality cannot be irrationality; reason cannot spring from the unreasonable. This article moves into the relationship, then, between the Church and the University.


The modern mindset has come to regard knowledge and religion as occupying different, non-overlapping spheres, but as Cardinal Ratzinger reminds, the “university came into being because faith declared the search for the truth to be possible.” The Church started the University because it urged believers to search for truth, and so from theology an ordered set of bodies of knowledge broadened out with a “common subordination to the question of truth.”

It was precisely because of this unity of human knowledge that institutions developed where learner and teacher were also united and the University got its name, universitas. “The university is a product of the task for reason that is inherent in the Christian act of faith.”

When the Church and University are Not United

If this unity is dissolved, then the University is no longer serving the ultimate question of truth, but merely different, disconnected subjects. This is the fundamental crisis in the universities today. They form a collection of specialized pragmatic schools aimed at producing professionals but neglecting to produce thinkers interested in the more thorough questions about the origin and purpose of it all.

When universities reject the primacy of the Logos, they reject reason and truth. “In the beginning was not reason, but rather the unreasonable.” Whatever is said to be true is merely a human construct, depending on the particular subject, necessarily implying the “partisan character of reason” in which the truth is subjected to the ideals of groups of men, parties. There is no enlightened, faith-guided freedom of thought.

Nonetheless this Kantian description of the university spread under Marxist thought, and the Church came to be regarded as “a reactionary instrument” and a “hindrance to the future.” Theology was no longer regarded as the unifying discipline and was instead pushed off to the side as just another area of professional study, as we see so prevalent today.

So is the Church Partisan?

One might question whether the Church is itself partisan, an ideological party dictating truth. This assumption still pervades universities and social life today and this question urgently needs to be answered.

The Church sees herself as a community, the environment where faith is lived as a communal act,where reason asks the question that faith makes possible and maintains its claim to the truth. Individuals need to reason within a community to guarantee rationality.

This individual-community relationship is what led to misgivings about the Church as partisan, the “governing body of a political party that tries to subordinate science to a nonscientific authority.” Ratzinger disputes this and it is a critical point to be articulated in the New Evangelization because as much as, if not more than, ever the Church and her role in education and society needs to be defended and respected as authentically good.

The difference lies in the question of truth.

The atheistic assumption is that in the beginning was irrational matter, logically extended means there is no ultimate objective truth to claim. The Logos, however, brings forth man as made for truth, truth that existed from the beginning, and he is receptive – not productive. That is a key difference.

Therefore the Church, if called a party, is a party that knows she is independent of the truth and does not determine or construct it; she is built up by it and remains subordinate to it. Theology and all bodies of knowledge remain subordinate to truth. Therein lies the natural ordering of Church and the University. This natural ordering is a foreign concept today, but to recognize it is to admit what is special about the Christian position.

This relationship applies to society and politics as well. Next…

More to explorer


  1. Stacy, I just wanted to let you know that my Pentecostal older brother told me on Facebook that he really enjoyed your post. Even if many people don’t comment as they do for posts by Paul Z, Bonchamps or Donald M, still be assurred you’re doing a great job.

  2. Thanks for the reminder, Stacy. We have lost sight not only of the nature of the univeristy but of the nature of truth itself. It is the modern university that is constructing the truth. The Church, on the other hand, is open to the truth as it is, not what we will it to be. Certainly, the modern “Catholic” universities have lost sight of this concept. We must continue to be reminded of this. Keep up the good work.

  3. Socialism appears to be the perennial bane of the world and all secular universities in the U.S. and even in some notable Catholic Universities that should have lost their accreditation long before now. Since circa 1936, thanks to the Communist John Dewey, public schools in America have been inundated with his corrosive philosophy and now thanks to the fulfillment of the prophecies of Norman Thomas in 1936 and Nikita Khrushchev in 1960, socialists have taken over our nation from within with the election of Obama. Traitorous American voters made that possible, and America has now become a pagan nation. God help us all. ..

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