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Sapientia Christiana


An apostolic constitution issued by Pope john paul ii on April 15, 1979. Sapientia Christiana is the canonical, academic law governing "ecclesiastical" post-secondary education.

Sapientia Christiana has two major parts: a discursive proemium or introduction in six brief sections, followed by a total of 94 normative articles, including a few transitional norms for putting the constitution into effect. The articles are both general norms for all ecclesiastical universities, faculties, and institutes and special norms for particular faculties, especially theology, philosophy, and canon law. This second main section concludes with an enumeration of the other kinds of faculties already authorized as ecclesiastical: Christian archeology, Biblical studies and ancient Christian studies, Church history, Christian and classical literature, liturgy, missiology, sacred (liturgical) music, psychology, educational science or pedagogy, religious science, social sciences, Arabic and Islamic studies, medieval studies, oriental ecclesiastical studies, utriusque iuris (both canon and civil law).

The general norms of the apostolic constitution (nos. 164) are divided into 10 sections: nature and purpose of ecclesiastical universities and faculties; the academic community and its government; teachers; students; officials and staff assistants; program of studies; academic degrees; matters relating to teaching; economic matters; and planning and cooperation of faculties. These sections are closely paralleled in the norms of application, and the same is true of the series of special norms in both documents (nos. 6587 of Sapientia Christiana ) concerning the particular kinds of faculties.

In dealing with the governance of ecclesiastical faculties, the constitution introduces the distinction between personal governance (by academic administrators) and collegial governance (by the teachers in their councils, committees, and the like); there is concern as well for a role for students to take part in the academic community "in those aspects which can contribute to the common good of the faculty or university." In the respective sections dealing with teachers and students, it is required that the statutes safeguard rightsof the individuals, of the institution, of the ecclesial community.

The role and authority of the chancellor or magnus cancellarius is spelled out: he is "the ordinary prelate on whom the university or faculty legally [i.e., canonically] depends, representing the Holy See to the university or faculty and equally the university or faculty to the Holy See." Commonly but not necessarily, the diocesan bishop or other local ordinary is the chancellor, except in the case of the ecclesiastical faculties of religious institutes.

An important section deals with the appointment and dismissal of teachers, with emphasis upon the kinds of academic credentials expected in a particular region and upon the probity of life and integrity of doctrine of teachers. They are to carry out their work "in full communion with the authoritative magisterium of the Church, above all, with that of the Bishop of Rome." Those who teach disciplines concerning faith and morals require a canonical mission from the chancellor "for they do not teach on their own authority but by virtue of a mission they have received from the Church." Teachers in other disciplines (and teachers who are not Catholics) require a permission to teach (venia docendi ), again from the chancellor. Prior to permanent appointment (that is, with continuous tenure) and/or prior to promotion to the highest academic rank of ordinary or full professor, a teacher must also have a declaration or clearance from the Holy See, the nihil obstat.

Corresponding to these requirements for appointment or tenure, the norms of application spell out the steps to be taken before the suspension or dismissal of a teacher, but require that the internal statutes of each faculty determine the precise procedure. In the section treating the program of studies, the constitution attempts to define a balanced academic freedom (no. 39).

The pastoral concern of the constitution, and of the norms for application, is evident in the sections on planning and cooperation of ecclesiastical faculties. Methods of affiliation, aggregation, and broad cooperation among institutions are proposed, with special mention of the need to study the distribution of ecclesiastical faculties, a responsibility also attributed to the conferences of bishops. For the rest, the documents deal with specific requirements of persons and programs, of criteria for admission and the conferral of degrees, of support and facilities. In almost every case it is expected that the universal norms of the Roman documents are to be made effective through more detailed statutory norms enacted by the respective faculties.

As a whole Sapientia Christiana and the supplementary ordinationes may be described as a combination of principles and binding requirements, and the question of their specificity is a matter of degree. It went into effect at the beginning of the 198081 academic year or of the 1981 academic year, depending on the calendar in use in various places.

[f. r. mcmanus]

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