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Catholic Intellectual Tradition



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    Throughout history, the Catholic intellectual tradition has shown and defined itself through literature, music and art. Equally, within these means of expression are a means to connect the human consciousness as a whole: it is through the examination of the history of the Catholic intellectual tradition that one is able to find a joining of human spirit, intellect, soul and emotion. Indeed, it is also through these creative expressions that the many facets of this approach to understanding human existence have developed.

    Such examples of this long standing tradition are seen in literature ancient and modern, sacred and secular as well as throughout the art world. Yet with so many sources of reference to help qualify and reflect the Catholic intellectual tradition, and so many multi-cultural and diverse opportunities to further understanding the Catholic intellectual tradition’s purpose and goals, there is a anchoring idea. At its very core, the Catholic intellectual tradition strives to produce the most full picture of what it means to be human through a variety of world views, all the taking the intellectual route in the journey towards God.

    This tradition is a lens through which a variety of people and cultures have been able to look, divine and contribute meaning to human life and spiritual journey. Thus, in trying to reflect more deeply on the Catholic intellectual experience, the many goals and components must be addressed. First, the Catholic intellectual tradition looks to affirm the dignity of man, as well as attempts to outline “the catholic version of the person” (Hochschild. The Catholic Intellectual Tradition At Mount St. Mary’s University). Additionally, the tradition sees intellectual pursuits as an equal pursuit of God.

    The intellectual as spiritual lends itself to representing people as both spiritual and physical beings, and thus capable of combing both earthly and heavenly knowledge in pursuit of the truth. Indeed, the existence of truth is another important component and belief generally associated with the Catholic intellectual tradition. Furthermore, it is through the celebration and contemplation of the great mysteries of the church that a creative and multi-cultural understanding of God’s role in the human life is experienced.

    Indeed, the Catholic intellectual tradition is seen in the mass and manifested in the the arts. It is through all these things that the Catholic intellectual experience aims to create an ongoing dialogue through means of philosophical, creative, scientific, musical, spiritual, and social analysis about what it truly means to be human. Thus, development, as well as an understanding of the many facets within the Catholic intellectual tradition, is reflected through music, literature and art throughout history. An example of this development is in the affirmation of the dignity of man.

    This idea was created in context of the Catholic intellectual tradition and represents a major philosophy within the tradition. The humanist movement, prevalent in the 13th through 16th century, was a new way of viewing the world and education. Emphasis on the classics of ancient Greece and Rome became the basis and main focus of the humanist educational movement. It was through the imitation of what was once great that the minds of the Renaissance were able to further greatness and innovate ideas. It was within this context that Giovanni Pico della Mirandola created his Oration of the Dignity of Man.

    Through his concepts of the “Chain of Being”, Pico was able to help to develop some of the Catholic intellectual tradition’s main core components (Pico. 4). Equally, it opened the door for discussion and affirmation of the dignity of man. Pico’s Chain of Being argues that the dignity of man is held in the fact that God created us as spiritually mobile beings. Being able to chose to be as lowly as a plant or be seated higher than the angels is what gives man purpose: the fact that God bestowed man with this ability intrinsically gives us a dignity.

    Furthermore, the Catholic intellectual tradition is mirrored in Pico’s idea that the only way to transcend the physical aspect of our human nature is through intellectual pursuit. Yet, what is more, this source for also helps to reiterate the value of multi-cultural and broader spiritual context that the Catholic tradition holds. His ideas that humans may transcend angels as well as by referencing the various gods of history in his argument for the Chain of Being, Pico furthers his firm hold on helping to create a foundation of the Catholic tradition.

    Additionally, Pico stated that the the dignity of man also means that every man is born with the seeds with the potential for higher rational and intellectual understanding. It is the treatment of each seed within a person which produces the varying results. Thus, the idea that everyone has the ability to reach the the Lord through intellectual means is present in as early a text as Pico. Indeed, in the same way, the ideologies that surround Pico do not stop with Pico. Modern interpretations and dialogues, such as those found in Dr.

    Joshua Hochschild’s statement, The Catholic Intellectual Tradition at Mount St. Mary’s University help to carry on the tradition. In this statement, the affirmation of the human dignity is expanded to include the idea that because humans are in the image of God, and thus reflect Him, we are simply born with inherent dignity. There cannot be a creation from the Creator after his image that does not have the intrinsic value of God. Thus is this idea furthered even today in the pursuit of more finely defining what the Catholic intellectual tradition fully entails.

    In this way also, Hochschild helps to clarify the means by which the Catholic intellectual tradition both reflects and and is a reflection of the Catholic vision of a person. That through learning from the past with the many sources of Catholic tradition and dialogue to draw from, Hochschild is able to pin point man’s purpose as being to“know and love a truth which is transcendent, perfect, and personal”(Hochschild). Here, Hochschild is simply drawing lines between the many different goals and points held within this long standing tradition, and thus adding to the wealth of value in approaching learning and religion in the Catholic tradition.

    Also, his statement points to the many means through which the Catholic intellectual tradition shines and creates a way to equate reason and faith. Furthermore, Hochschild advocates for the multi-voiced quality of this tradition, and encourages that, though it is centered on God, that the tradition has never been narrow, but a “diverse cloth woven from diverse cultural threads”(Hochschild). Thus, it is through the fact that a modern interpretation that the Catholic intellectual tradition is propelled forward, developed and perpetuated.

    Is is in the tradition to be able to draw lines from Pico and the 15th century to today’s ideology. Moreover, features of the Catholic intellectual tradition can be clearly seen in the music of composers such as Phillipe de Vitry and Luca Marenzio. It is indeed through the lens of the Catholic intellectual tradition which brings these pieces to full fruition. The Catholic tradition truly sheds light on what the music aims for and thus, helps to illuminate and reflect part of the Catholic tradition.

    First, the sacred motet entitled Garrit Gallus by composer Phillipe de Vitry carries a very different message than the humanistic pieces to proceed it. Yet, despite the dramatic difference in the sound and the structure as well as the text of this work with later music, there are still underlying traditional themes to this piece. This music was made in 1350, and represents the pinnacle of musical genius of the time. The actual sound of the piece is disjointed and seemingly chaotic, but in looking at the technicality of the piece, it is almost structurally prefect.

    The relationship seen between the three lines suggests a mathematical precision, and beauty. Indeed, the reason the sound does not please the physical, sensual side is because the composer did not want this to be the focus; the imperfect human pleasure should not be the focus of creation, as the creator is the only thing perfect enough to deserve recognition. Thus, how does this piece relate back to the Catholic intellectual tradition? The full point and purpose of Garrit Gallus is to point to God, and to reveal God as the being who resides in the mysteries of this world: mysteries such a math.

    This is a core value of the Catholic intellectual tradition as it is the value that most points towards the celebration of human life as well as the celebration of the great mystery of life that God created. Or indeed, as Hochschild expresses it in his statement, that it is through the “belief in the mysteries of the Catholic faith” strikes a “harmony of faith and reason”(Hochschild). Thus, even though it seems to be so very different from the humanistic aesthetics that pervade around this era, Garrit Gallus directs the listener’s attention to the perfection and mystery of God; a clear aim of the Catholic tradition.

    Secondly, the secular piece Solo e Pensoso by Luca Marenzio draws upon a different element within the Catholic intellectual tradition. Indeed, the method by which this piece, and many pieces like it, attempts to reconcile the emotional and intellectual is a reflection of what the Catholic tradition stands for and what is expressed even today in such statements as Hochschild’s. The text of the piece is a poem by Francesco Petrarch, and is an expression of human emotion of sadness, loneliness and heartbreak. In an attempt to quality these emotions within the music, this madrigal was made to mimic the words it depicts.

    Indeed, the text painting is an attempt to reveal aurally what people feel and know. It is through this texture of music that the Catholic tradition is found. Indeed, Hochschild comments on the human social significance of emotion and human nature in that music and creative processes are a means to “convey the affective, emotional, and imaginative dimensions” of the Catholic intellectual tradition (Hochschild). Also, as the “human life is inescapably social”, the very fact that this song seems to try to qualify certain generally held emotions and ideas about emotions, there is a study of the human as a social person (Hochschild).

    Indeed, reflected in the music is also a need to try to more aptly express the emotions that affect every person, to find a means to understand that human nature. Additionally, the detailed way in which the text painting is employed is intellectual skill of huge proportions. This is where the intellectual and the emotional are met and blended. Indeed, this is a sure connection and reflection of the Catholic intellectual tradition, and it only serves to broaden the sources from which the tradition pulls from.

    Furthermore, the means by which the arts connect and blend the intellect, soul, spirit and emotion of a human, reveals meaning to human existence as well as casts into relief the intellectual journey towards God is embodied in paintings such as The School of Athens by Raphael. Here, Raphael combines the ancient and innovative, the great minds of the past and the Renaissance. Thus, in this one painting is an expression of so many philosophical, architectural and artistic ideas and views.

    This painting celebrates the pursuit of the meaning of human life through art as well as through all these various minds trying to puzzle out what the direct meaning of human existence could be. What is more, the linear perspective draws upon another ancient practice and is actually an imitation of the theory redeveloped my another mind of the Renaissance, Fillipio Brunelleschi. Indeed, through all of this, the Catholic intellectual tradition shines. As Hochschild states, “the Catholic intellectual tradition is a conversation joined by many voices”, and thus us seen and depicted exactly in the School of Athens painting (Hochschild).

    Indeed, this voice within the Vatican, this painting is a sure depiction of the Catholic intellectual tradition as a means of human expression and intellectual questioning and pursuit. In total, the Catholic intellectual tradition is a journey in itself, as it is ever growing and changing to accommodate more sources and ideas. Indeed, as it is a tradition, its core beliefs permeate through so much of history and are celebrated in such outgrowths as music, literature and art. Indeed, through the examination of these outgrowths, the tradition is deepened, and made more diverse.

    Furthermore, the tradition casts greater light on the creative process, expression as well as the meaning behind human expression and the meaning of being human. Therefore, the arts serve as a mirror to the Catholic intellectual tradition: not only does it reflect its principles, it equally is a reflection of what the tradition strives to be and do. Indeed, the ongoing dialogue is a tradition that the Catholic church should cherish and perpetuate.

    Works Cited

    Hochschild, Joshua PhD. The Catholic Intellectual Tradition at Mount St. Mary’s. Ingham, Mary Beth. “The Catholic Intellectual Tradition. ” The Catholic Intellectual Tradition. 2007. Web. 09 Mar. 2012. . Pico, Giovanni della Mirandola. Oration on the Dignity of Man. The Western World. ed. Dr. Teresa Rupp. United States: Pearson Custom, 2012. 6-17. Print. Thomas F. X. Noble, Barry Strauss, Duane J. Osheim, Kristen B. Neuschel, Elinor A. Accampo, David D. Roberts, and William B. Cohen. Western Civilization: Beyond Boundaries. 6th ed. Volume B: 1300-1815.

    Catholic Intellectual Tradition. (2017, Jan 21). Retrieved from

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