Alasdair MacIntyre gave a talk at Villanova on September 27 in acceptance of the first Civitas Dei Medal. The medal, initiated under the auspices of Dr. Barbara Wall, the vice President of the Office for Mission and Ministry, recognizes Catholics whose work has contributed greatly to the Catholic intellectual tradition. Several former students of Professor MacIntyre, now at Villanova, spoke first about MacIntyre’s tremendous influence in their lives and thinking. Among them were Dr. Michael Moreland, Vice Dean and Professor of Law at the Law School and Dr. Thomas Smith, Associate Dean of the Honors Program.
So, what exactly is the Catholic intellectual tradition? The speakers highlighted 3 primary characteristics: 1) The human being is a being that is always searching for wisdom; 2 )faith enlivens reason; and 3) It believes in hope as distinct from optimism. Optimism may wish that things turn out well, but it is curiously detached from the outcome and processes that enable them to. Hope, by contrast, is invested in the process and grounded in the truth in Christ, that well is how things are meant to be. MacIntyre noted that stories of fallenness are not stories of hopelessness. They are infused with the hope that fallenness is beneath who we are meant to be. Fallenness is all too real, but it is not the full truth of being human. We were and are meant for more wholeness and so we search. A striking comment by MacIntyre was his insistence that “to be Catholic is not to be something else.” It is, he said, to deny scientific naturalism and, to deny hopelessness. He emboldened us to deny hopelessness and by extension the cynicism all around us, and that is a genuinely hopeful gift.
Carey Walsh, Associate Professor of Theology