‘At the end of the day, I believe what I believe as a Christian not because of some fancy argument and deductive theology, but because I was taught by somebody who was taught by somebody, who was taught by somebody, who was taught by one of the Apostles, and that the revelation was given to the Apostles. The Apostolic deposit of faith is the thing that has come down through human beings, over the centuries.’
Those were the words of Professor John Haldane, one of the world’s most pre-eminent thinkers in moral philosophy and education. He was speaking at the time to students and staff at the University of Notre Dame on the limitations of a purely intellectual approach to theology. He reminded his audience that Christianity is a religion of historical reality, something that has been ‘transmitted down the centuries by one teacher to another.’ And not just an intellectual teacher, ‘but simply somebody who was a recipient of that teaching themselves.’
Professor Haldane is once again in Australia, this time leading an important Catholic educational, cultural and societal project in partnership with the Archdiocese of Melbourne and Melbourne Archdiocese Catholic Schools (MACS).
As part of his visit, he is offering a six-part virtual lecture series entitled The Catholic Contribution, which begins on Thursday 14 October with the question: “What does it mean to be Catholic?”
‘At the core of Catholicism lies the incarnation through which the Divine in the person of Christ took on human nature and thereby opened itself to the contingency and vulnerability of the human condition. This gives a unique perspective on the question of what it is to be human.’
‘We need to probe deeper into the foundations and development of Catholicism and look at its religious and cultural roots, and at the very idea of the Catholic Church,' he says. 'This means going to its origins in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ and the experience of the apostles in making sense of these, as well as in founding communities based upon them, in which those teachings were preserved and transmitted to the wider world.’
The series will explore Catholicism’s historical and cultural roots, looking at its beginnings in Judaism and the new universal covenant established through Jesus Christ. Professor Haldane will then explore how early Christian thinkers drew upon Greek philosophical and Roman political and legal thought to create a comprehensive understanding of the human condition and the nature and role of the Church in mediating our relationship to God. From there, he will explore the meaning of “Catholic identity” and the role of the medieval Catholic Church in establishing institutions and structures of higher education, in founding religious orders to teach, preach and care for the growing urban populations, and how the Church through the centuries has and must continue to grapple with 'being in the world but not of it'.
Professor Haldane has said that what Catholicism offers ‘is a kind of ennobling account of the human condition. It raises us up, but not in a reality-denying way. It [Catholicism] can recognise our vulnerabilities and our weaknesses … but also recognise that a correct understanding of that brokenness points to the possibility of the healing of it.’ That healing, Professor Haldane says, is possible ‘in cooperation with God.’
Professor Haldane is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Chair of the Royal Institute of Philosophy in London, and a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life in Rome. He has written for a number of newspapers and appeared on radio and TV in the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia, including on The Drum and Q+A.
The Catholic Contribution is a free virtual series and is open to all. The first lecture will be delivered this Thursday, 14 October from 4pm - 5pm. All other lectures will then be available to watch online. Register now
Fiona Basile14 October 2021
Melbourne Catholic14 October 2021