I am not ashamed of the Gospel


Intellectual Vapidity Challenged by Faith, Reason and Tradition


Marion Sinclair-Simpson

Archbishop Michael Miller from the Vancouver Archdiocese came to give a talk at the University of Victoria. The Archbishops’ talk was primarily aimed at educators of Catholic youth and Catholic youth themselves. The Archbishop had been invited by the University Catholic Chaplaincy. The topic was “I am not ashamed of the Gospel”

Archbishop Miller began by saying that he was originally a Basilian Father and that the main charism or gift of the Basilian Fathers was education. The Archbishop strongly believes that parents have the responsibility as the original educators of their children to teach them about their faith. He offered the opinion that this is much more challenging now than it is ever has been because of the times we are living in.

The Archbishop informed us that his intention was to offer us a few points for consideration while proclaiming the need for and benefits of a truly Catholic education. At one point in his talk he opined that the church in the past twenty or so years had failed to form a generation of Catholics in their faith properly. That for a time people became involved in more feeling than thinking and consequently the intellectual side of our faith has suffered as a result. He believes that the great falling away of faith we see in the church has to do with the lack of knowledge about the Catholic tradition. He stresses that it is important that each church member is aware of the root and origin of church teachings and beliefs. We must know why we believe what we believe in order to successfully give an account of our faith to non-believers.

He touched on abortion and opined that no-one can say “I am a good Catholic and I am pro-choice” to acknowledge that they are in favour of abortion is to admit their own ignorance on what the church teaches about abortion and what abortion actually entails – (the intentional killing of an unborn human person). He explained that when someone declares themselves to be in favour of abortion they have in fact excommunicated themselves from church teaching and are therefore no longer a member in good standing with the church.

Archbishop Miller frequently and liberally quoted Pope Benedict stating that the Pope himself had declared that there must be a close relationship between the Gospel, education and the church, adding that a place to encounter the living God would be in Catholic educational institutions. Miller believes that education is ultimately a question of communicating Christ – which is the transmission of truth. (I am the Way, the Truth and the Life) John 14:6

Foremost among these truths is that we are created in the image and likeness of God and Christ is the perfect model of our humanity. He is our exemplar after whom we pattern our own endeavours and to stress this point Archbishop Miller quoted from Gaudium Et Spes. (the pastoral constitution of the church in the modern world)

“The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. For Adam, the first man, was a figure of Him Who was to come, namely Christ the Lord. Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear. It is not surprising, then, that in Him all the aforementioned truths find their root and attain their crown.”[1

Miller states that tradition has concentrated on moral virtue and character, also on social conscience and desire for justice and a love and concern for the marginalized. Another dimension of tradition is the intellectual heritage which the Catholic Church proclaims to the community. Nowadays Miller believes that the intellectual heritage is not being proclaimed and that in our modern age we need to experience a ‘healing of the mind’. The Catholic intellectual tradition is over 2000 years old and we would as a church benefit from serious, sustained and intellectual thinking. Archbishop Miller expressed concern about moral relativism (the theory that there is no objective right or wrong) which has had a negative impact on the belief in absolute truth.

To disprove the theory that ‘everything is relative’ we can ask the question “Is it true to state that there is no absolute truth?” If this statement is indeed true, then that proves there is something that is absolutely true the statement itself. If a relativist posits the statement that there are no absolute truths, it can be discounted by asking if they are absolutely sure of that statement. People who profess that ‘there are no absolutes’ are in themselves professing a belief in an absolute by their very own words.

This can be seen as semantics but both John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have spoken out strongly against ‘moral relativism’ Benedict calls it the ‘major evil facing the church’ and John Paul stated: There is the tendency to consider that relativism is the attitude of thought that corresponds better to democratic political forms, as if knowledge of the truth and adherence to it were an impediment. In reality, truth is often feared because it is not known. Truth, exactly as Christ revealed it, is a guarantee of genuine and full freedom for the human person,” the Pope stated “Without being rooted in the truth, man and society are exposed to the violence of passions and to open or hidden conditioning.” [2]

We need God, faith and reasoned arguments as to why we believe what we believe to counteract the world’s apathy. Relativism: is any theory holding that truth or moral value is not universal or absolute but may differ between individuals or cultures. As Catholic Christians we are called to believe in absolute truths such as that God created the Universe, that Jesus is Son of God and Son of Man, that we believe in One Triune God, consisting of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, that Jesus was fully divine and fully human, that Jesus was born lived as a man, was crucified and was raised from death after which he ascended into Heaven. We believe in the sanctity of life from the moment of conception until the moment of natural death. As Catholic Christians we respect the dignity of all human beings including our own dignity.

Archbishop Miller states that the Catholic faith must be thought about and those thoughts must include God and have a spiritual dimension. Catholicism is not anti-intellectual – many great thinkers came from the Catholic tradition. If we think about that we can quickly recall the names of Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Dionysus, Gregory the Great, Socrates etc., Miller informs us that the Catholic tradition finds its seeds in Judaism and Roman law; Greek philosophy etc., shaping the intellectual and moral life of the West where the church borrows from other cultures sometimes rejects sometimes accepts but always purifies to fit in with Catholic teachings. In the first centuries of the church we will find the cornerstones of intellectual traditions and they show respect for cumulative traditions from other cultures. It is important Miller stresses for us to listen to those who have come before us such as the early church fathers, and to learn about canon law and traditions.

According to Archbishop Miller tradition is alive and continues to grow. Customs, rituals organizations and living traditions must be honored. In order to reclaim intellectual tradition he recommends we read classic texts for example those containing Theological, Philosophical, Cultural and Literal content. Tradition also includes scriptures, creed, rituals, sacraments, liturgical calendars these would be considered foundational elements. Other traditions though not considered foundational are also beneficial these include catechesis, religious drama, fiction, poetry, philosophy. Some components of Catholic tradition are wisdom, insight, and fidelity to our beliefs. The church assumes responsibility to keep tradition alive and does so through schooling and people committed to their faith and the propagation of the faith. 

Three foundational themes that Archbishop Miller detailed are:

1                    Conviction of truth, truth pursued, arrived at and communicated.

Catholic tradition believes in searching for truth wherever it may be found both in the material world and the spiritual world.

2                    Faith and reason, knowledge of life and God. Revelation of God and ourselves which should be complimentary and not contradictory. The admonition is given to the practicing scholar to remember always that God is love and “creative reason “ (A phrase coined by Pope Benedict)

3                    Sacramental principle. Our tradition celebrates Christian feasts. Liturgy helps us to understand who we are. God came into the world to help us know Him, to know His world and ultimately know ourselves in relation to Him.

The intellectual tradition according to Archbishop Miller “Opens the world to a sacramental world. God’s transcendence is at the heart of all human activity.”

Archbishop Miller ended his talk by saying that Catholics have inherited a 2000 year old tradition of intellectual accomplishments and approaches. We are all enriched by the immersion of our faith in the intellectual traditions of the church and we are responsible to hand on this treasury of intellectual tradition to the current and future generations of Catholics.

After the talk there were some questions for the Archbishop and as he answered these it became apparent that he has concerns for the current generation and future generations of young Catholics. He spoke of the current “intellectual impoverishment’ that we are experiencing he believes caused by a lack of true formation in the faith. He said that some people are, “intellectually vapid” when it comes to explaining the reasons for their faith and therefore incapable of teaching others what they themselves are unaware of. He believes that we have an entire generation of Catholics who were not formed intellectually. Because they never learned the Aristolean or scholastic way of intellectual reasoning, which involves a certain rigour of thought with integrity at its centre and helps the Catholic faith make sense out of our world. He offers the hope that Catholic secondary schools have time to form the minds of the current generation of young people.

Archbishop Miller also mentioned that globally Catholicism has halved in the last 20 years. That caused me to wonder could this possibly be entirely because of the lack of intellectual faith formation or could there be other contributing factors?

Obviously we have a great apostasy in our faith, and we must ask where have all the people gone? Why have they lost the need and or desire to attend church? Why do they feel that they do not need the church community to be in relationship with God? Why have some people even abandoned their relationship with God?

Intellectual vapidity’ while sounding quite condemnational is probably an accurate way to describe the ordinary person who is more used to reading columns in a newspaper and internet blogs, than pages of hard to read, difficult to understand (if you are not a scholar,) church dogma which is oftentimes written by Theologians. Perhaps simplifying the teachings by writing them in a more conversational tone would be a good beginning toward change and inviting back those who have wandered off? People need to feel included and welcomed. No-one likes to be talked down to. There is such a wealth of knowledge in church history and tradition that should be accessible to each church member not simply those among us who choose the life of a scholar.

What is urgent is the evangelization of a world that not only does not know the basic aspects of Christian dogma, but in great part has lost even the memory of the cultural elements of Christianity.” Pope John Paul II [3]

Intellectual study and growth are beneficial to all but that is not the only way to bring the people back to the pews. Jesus told us what is required is that we must pray and worship God giving Him thanks for all things, we must love God above all others and acknowledge our complete dependence on Him, we must evangelize and spread the Gospel, feed the hungry, share what we have, visit those in hospitals and prisons, forgive those who have injured us and do it all for the glory of God. Not so that mankind will think well of us, but so that God receives the glory, for He is the light inside of us that inspires all good.

Why, in brief, does the faith still have a chance? I would say the following: because it is in harmony with what man is.” Modern theories have a poor recognition of man, an inadequate philosophical anthropology.

“Only the God himself who became finite in order to open our finiteness and lead us to the breadth of his infiniteness responds to the question of our being.”

“Our task is to serve the faith with a humble spirit and the whole strength of our heart and understanding.”[4]Pope Benedict XVI




I Am Not Ashamed of the Gospel”  Talk given by Archbishop John Michael Miller at the University of Victoria Article written by Marion Sinclair-Simpson (C)

© Marion Sinclair-Simpson



[1] http://www.zenit.org/article-113122004-(10-19-04)


[1] Boston Catholic Journal April 24th, 2005 Page 1



(Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, gave this address during the meeting of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith with the presidents of the Doctrinal Commissions of the Bishops’ Conferences of Latin America, held in Guadalajara, Mexico, in May 1996.)


[1] Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, GAUDIUM ET SPES Promulgated by His Holiness, Pope Paul VI, December 7 1965 www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_cons_19651207_gaudiumetspes

[3] Boston Catholic Journal April 24th, 2005 Page 1



(Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, gave this address during the meeting of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith with the presidents of the Doctrinal Commissions of the Bishops’ Conferences of Latin America, held in Guadalajara, Mexico, in May 1996.)