On Monday Pope Francis released a new apostolic constitution calling for a “radical” reform to the nature and curriculum of ecclesiastical universities and institutions.

“The primary need today is for the whole People of God to be ready to embark upon a new stage of Spirit-filled evangelization,” the Pope said in the document, “Vertatis Gaudium.”

This new stage of evangelization, he said, “calls for a resolute process of discernment, purification and reform. In this process, a fitting renewal of the system of ecclesiastical studies plays a strategic role.”

Signed Dec. 8, 2017, and published Jan. 29, 2018, the 87-page document is Francis’ is titled “Veritatis Gaudium,” meaning “the joy of truth.”

The document deals specifically with ecclesiastical universities and faculties, which, differing from regular Catholic universities, offer Vatican-approved degrees required to teach in seminaries or at pontifical universities.

It consists of two parts dedicated to general norms and specific norms, and also contains an appendix and norms of application. The document is meant to “update” previous norms, and abrogates any prior rules which contradict the new ones laid out by Pope Francis in Veritatis Gaudium.

The document abrogates any contrary norms established by John Paul II’s 1979 Apostolic Constitution “Sapientia Christiana,” issued after a careful study of the Second Vatican Council’s decree “Optatam Totius” on ecclesiastical studies. However, John Paul II’s 1990 Apostolic Constitution “Ex corde Ecclesiae” is not impacted, as it deals specifically with Catholic colleges and universities, rather than ecclesiastical academic entities.

Criteria

In the foreword for his new constitution, Pope Francis, who has often spoken of the importance of education, said that while offering a great contribution to the Church’s life and mission, Sapientia Christiana “urgently needs to be brought up to date.”

“While remaining fully valid in its prophetic vision and its clarity of expression, the constitution ought to include the norms and dispositions issued since its promulgation, and to take into account developments in the area of academic studies in these past decades,” he said.

“There is also a need to acknowledge the changed social-cultural context worldwide and to implement initiatives on the international level to which the Holy See has adhered.”

Francis noted that the world is currently living not only a time of change, but it is also experiencing “a true epochal shift, marked by a wide-ranging anthropological and environmental crisis,” such as natural, social and financial disasters which are swiftly reaching “a breaking point.”

This reality, he said, requires “changing the models of global development and redefining our notion of progress.” However, a great problem in doing this is the fact that “we still lack the culture necessary to confront this crisis. We lack leadership capable of striking out on new paths.”

Because of this, he said that on the cultural level as well as that of academic training and scientific study, “a radical paradigm shift” and “a bold cultural revolution” are needed which involve a worldwide network of ecclesiastical universities and faculties which are capable of promoting the Gospel and Church Tradition, but which are also “ever open to new situations and ideas.”

“Philosophy and theology permit one to acquire the convictions that structure and strengthen the intelligence and illuminate the will,” he said, but cautioned that this “is fruitful only if it is done with an open mind and on one’s knees.”

“The theologian who is satisfied with his complete and conclusive thought is mediocre,” Francis said. However, “the good theologian and philosopher has an open, that is, an incomplete, thought, always open to the maius of God and of the truth, always in development.”

Pope Francis then listed four criteria for ecclesiastical studies which he said are rooted in the Second Vatican Council’s teaching and and inspired by the changes that have taken place in the decades since.

The first of the criteria, he said, is the “contemplation and the presentation of a spiritual, intellectual and existential introduction to the heart of the kerygma, namely the ever fresh and attractive good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Secondly, he said there is need for a “wide-ranging dialogue” which is not merely a “tactical approach,” but which is “an intrinsic requirement for experiencing in community the joy of the truth and appreciating more fully its meaning and practical implications.”

He then pointed to the need for an “inter-disciplinary and cross-disciplinary” approach which is carried out “with wisdom and creativity in the light of revelation.”

“What distinguishes the academic, formative and research approach of the system of ecclesiastical studies, on the level of both content and method,” he said, “is the vital intellectual principle of the unity in difference of knowledge and respect for its multiple, correlated and convergent expressions.”

The fourth and final criteria the Pope gave was “the urgent need for networking” between worldwide institutions that “cultivate and promote ecclesiastical studies, in order to set up suitable channels of cooperation also with academic institutions in the different countries and with those inspired by different cultural and religious traditions.”

Full story at Catholic News Agency.