Jan. 19, 2011

Discussion of Faith and Intellect Highlights Inaugural Theme

Faculty roundtable participants, left to right: Ernest Suarez, Lucia A. Silecchia, Ann T. Cederna, Joseph E. Capizzi, J. Steven Brown, and Monsignor Robert S. Sokolowski. View photo gallery.

"What does faith have to do with intellect?" Monsignor Robert S. Sokolowski, Elizabeth Breckenridge Caldwell Professor of Philosophy, posed this question to an audience of nearly 250 on Tuesday, Jan. 18, at the Edward J. Pryzbyla University Center.

"We might be tempted to think of these two terms as a disjunction: We might have understanding, or we might have faith, but we can't have both. We might think that they exclude one another. Faith comes in when understanding fails, and when understanding arises faith disappears," said Sokolowski.

"But this disjunction between faith and intellect is not appropriate for Christian faith, the faith of the Church. Christian faith makes an appeal to human understanding. It enlarges and confirms understanding and does not extinguish it. For Christian faith, the more understanding the better."

Sokolowski served as the moderator and first speaker at a faculty roundtable discussion, part of a series of events celebrating the theme of President John Garvey's inaugural year, Intellect and Virtue: The Idea of a Catholic University.

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Through the centuries, the Church has developed a blend of faith and reason, Sokolowski noted.

"She has a treasury of theological and cultural truth, in writings, music, painting, and in Christian practice and liturgy. She has established her universities and other schools to hand on this endowment, to educate people in it, to cultivate it, and to represent it in her contemporary world. This is why it is so appropriate to reflect on what faith has to do with intellect on the inauguration of a new president of The Catholic University of America."

The five other faculty members spoke from the experiences of their unique disciplines and addressed what faith means for them as teachers, researchers, and scholars.

Speaking from the perspective of his own discipline, J. Steven Brown, associate professor of mechanical engineering, said, "In [engineering] you are nobody without empirical data or without theoretical constructs based on empirical evidence. But my question is: 'Is this all there is to engineering?'"

"I would argue 'no' because… engineering is always a human endeavor, and to say this implies that it is tied to God. Without God, without Christ, I simply do not know who I am and, in fact, will be less of a person and thus less of an engineer."

Sophomore Regina Conley has a question for the panel.
View photo gallery.

In helping his students understand that faith and reason are not "enemies," Brown says he challenges them to "simply observe how they go about living their daily lives. In doing so, I am convinced they will discover that, in fact, we use the method of faith all the time."

Ann T. Cederna, associate dean for graduate studies and professor for the School of Architecture and Planning, shared her perspective on the day's topic by addressing the role of faith in the creative process.

She told the story of her two children who were at work on a "never-ending project" in her backyard, building a large structure out of sticks and twigs. "Children remind architects that we build with the elements, including elements of faith. The creative process, and the results, are often the closest path to God there is, and all artists strive to be allowed the time to develop this," said Cederna.

She added, "The masters of intellect in the art world, including the Renaissance artists, knew best how to express the wealth and power of love. Faith fueled the vision, gave it form such that it touches our senses, and the resulting beauty is an inspiration that has fueled intellect for centuries."

Following presentations by three additional faculty members: Joseph E. Capizzi, associate professor of theology and religious studies and area director of moral theology/ethics; Lucia A. Silecchia, professor of law at the Columbus School of Law; and Ernest Suarez, professor and chair of the Department of English, the floor was opened to questions from the audience. Sophomore Regina Conley, a history major from Raleigh, N.C., had the final question of the day.

Conley later said she got what she came for. "I took away the idea of letting faith guide your words and actions without getting in the way of reason. The panelists showed us that faith and reason can be complementary."

At a reception that followed the program, Capizzi said, "I hope we have started a conversation that goes beyond this special event."

Watch a video of the roundtable discussion. For more information about the inauguration and other related events, visit http://president.cua.edu/.


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