Convocation Address Delivered By Bishop John Ifeanyichukwu Okoye, Bishop Of The Catholic diocese Of Awgu On The Occasion On The 48th Convocation Ceremony Of Bigard Memorial Seminary, Enugu, Enugu State, Today, Tuesday The 19th Of March 2019

The Rector, Very Rev. Dr. Albert Ikpenwa,

Distinguished Formators, Professors, Members of Staff,

The Graduands,

Dear Seminarians

Visitors; Ladies and Gentlemen,

l. It gives me great pleasure to address this audience on this wonderful occasion of the 48th convocation ceremony of this noble institution. Permit me to begin by congratulating all the graduands. The academic feat we are celebrating today is the fruit of your resolute and undaunted dedication and hard work; an achievement unattainable without thorough self discipline and mastery. And so, I say congratulations for you have merited this honor. °

2.1 would also like to thank the formation team and professors without whose efforts and sacrifices today’s achievements would not have seen the light of day. Indeed, behind every academic success story, there is a teacher who never stopped believing in his student and whose input and support remain indispensable determining factors. Thus, the success we are celebrating today is a testimony of your commitment and dedication. Yours is a difficult task that involves not only the academic training of the seminarian but also their human,‘ Spiritual and pastoral formation. Even without commensurate material remuneration, you devote your time and energy to the accomplishment of the all-important task of the formation of future priests entrusted to you in confidence by the Church. And so, I thank you immensely and pray that God, who sees all your sacrifices, would bless and reward you abundantly.

3. To you my dear graduands, I would like to take the opportunity of this address to make you understand the necessity and interrelatedness of the studies you have just concluded. The study of philosophy and theology’ remain indispensable prerequisites in the formation of the candidate for the Catholic priesthood. In the words of Pope St. John Paul II, “the study of philosophy is fundamental and indispensable to the structure of theological studies and to the formation of candidates for the priesthood. It is not by chance that the curriculum of theological studies is preceded by a time of special study of philosophy” (Fides et Ratio, 62). These words of Pope St. John Paul II paint a very positive picture of the relationship between Philosophy and Theology that stand in sharp contrast to the suspicion with which some Theologians viewed Philosophy vis-a-vis Theology in the medieval ,era. Perhaps the suspicion was based on the perceived need to protect the sanctity of Theology from the threats posed by mundane and unregulated curiosity and rational enquiry. Since philosophy had its own view on the God question and on the human reality, the fear was there that it would alter or suppress the truth of revelation. Even some ancient Christian thinkers had some serious reservations about the intentions of philosophy; thus, Tertullian once said: “Athens has nothing to do with Jerusalem” in other words, there is no common ground between philosophy and revelation” (Tertullian, De praescriptione, 7). Contrary to this assumption, your study of philosophy and theology needs to bring you to a deeper appreciation of the complementarity and connectedness that define both disciplines. There is an interrelatedness and interdependence between Theology and philosophy. Theology concerns itself with revealed truth. And, proceeding along the pathway of systematic inquiry into the objects of revelation, it draws conclusions based on reason that is (most importantly) enlightened by faith. Philosophy stands not only as a guard against the infiltration of‘untruth and blind fideism, but it also furnishes theology with the thought structure and language which would make the foundations of revelation communicable and amenable to human rationality and understanding. Philosophy which is the rational search for the truth needs theology without which it would never be able to attain its goal. The Angelic Doctor himself Thomas .Aquinas expresses this unity in these words: “this knowledge (revelation: theology) can draw upon philosophical disciplines for the greater clarification of what is conveyed in this knowledge. For it does not draw its premises from other sciences, but directly from God through revelation. Thus it does not draw upon other sciences as though they were superior to it, but it makes use of them as handmaids… ” (Summa Theologiae, 1a., q. 1, a. 2). This view of Aquinas although might appear to have’ been overtaken by contemporary appreciation of the autonomy of both fields, it nevertheless highlights the fact that there exists an indisputable interrelatedness between the two disciplines.

4. Suffice it to say that Philosophy and Theology are not to be considered as disconnected domains completely separated from each other. They are distinct, -but not unrelated. Philosophy and Theology are distinct in terms ‘ of their sources, in terms of their procedures and in terms of their subject matter. With regard to sources, Theology draws its principles from divine revelation, the foundational truths expressed in the Creed, whereas philosophy acquires its basic principles from intellectual research aimed at gaining knowledge of the meaning of reality. In terms of their procedures, philosophical reasoning seeks to base the validity of conclusions on premises that offer the indispensable grounds for such conclusions, whereas Theology rests on the divine authority of the Creed, even though it remains a rational engagement in which reason is aided by faith in its attempt to understand divine revelation. Philosophy and Theology not only differ in their source and procedure but also in what constitute their subject matter. While Philosophy seeks reasoned interpretation of nature and reality at large, the subject matter of Theology is God’s_se1f-revelation. (cf. Aidan Nichols, Discovering Aquinas, 174). These distinctions notwithstanding, both natural reason and the doctrine of faith cannot contradict each other since both have their origin in God.

5. The relationship between Philosophy and Theology touches basically on the age-long debate about the scope and relation of faith and reason. At one end of the spectrum were rationalists and semi-rationalists who professed confidence in the powers of unaided reason to fathom the depths of reality. At the other end were fideists and traditionalists who denied the capacity of the intellect to attain truths of a moral or metaphysical nature and who promoted confidence in faith as a passive conformity to tradition. Taking a middle course that avoids extremes of both rationalism and fideism, Aquinas dedicated much of his works to the uniting of faith and reason and his arguments in this regard is precisely what was adopted by the Church especially in the First Vatican Council.

6. Aquinas argues that God has written down clearly in the book of the material universe a good deal about Himself and His invisible perfections, and to man he has given art intellect by which he can read what is written therein. That we are able to easily arrive at the knowledge of some of these truths, for example, the evidences we find in nature about the attributes of God, is in turn an indicative of his existence. Although the human reason can attain some knowledge about God by study of nature, yet reason alone cannot tell us everything about God. ”It can reach the door of the inner sanctuary of divine life, but alone can never penetrate there; of the intimate nature of God and the decrees of His divine wisdom it can tell us nothing. And here where reason ends, faith begins and leads us higher to the knowledge of things known to God alone and made known to us by revelation; all of which we accept by faith, and hold as certain on the authority of Him who can neither be deceived Himself nor deceive us” (Victor Flanagan OP, Faith and Reason in the Theology of Thomas Aquinas, 13).

7. Throughout his works, Aquinas has constantly insisted that the truth of Faith cannot be contrary to the truth of reason. This was especially necessary in his time, for Averroism was then taught openly in the schools of Paris,’ and one of its tenets was: “What is true in-theology can be false in philosophy and vice versa.” In the eighth article of the very first question of the Summa Theologiae, he says: “Since faith rests upon the infallible truth, and since the contrary of a truth can never be demonstrated, it is clear that the arguments brought forth against faith cannot be demonstrated, but are difficulties that can be answered.” Again in the seventh chapter of the first book of the Summa Contra Gentiles, where he shows that the truth of reason cannot be in opposition to the truth of Christian faith, we read: “Although the truth of Christian faith surpasses the ability of reason, nevertheless those things that are naturally instilled in human reason cannot be opposed to this truth. For it is clear that those things which are implanted in reason by nature, are most true, so much so that it is impossible to think them false. Nor is it lawful to deem false what is held by faith, since it is so evidently confirmed by God” (cf. Victor Flanagan OP, Faith and Reason in the Theology of Thomas Aquinas, 14).

8. Following the position of Aquinas, the First Vatican Council, recognizing elements of truth and falsehood in both rationalism and fideism, adopted a mediating position. Against the fideists it affirmed that reason, by its natural powers, could establish the foundations of faith and the credibility of the Christian revelation (DS 3019, 3033). And against the rationalists Vatican I attributed the full assurance of the act of faith to the power of divine grace enlightening the intellect and inspiring the will (DS.3010).

9. In line with the position .of ‘the First Vatican Council on the interrelatedness of faith and reason, the Church has never ceased to underline the need to encourage and promote a thoroughly rational engagement with the articles of our faith. Subsequent documents of the Church and papal teachings have continued to affirm the necessity of ~ having a faith that is not opposed to rational enquiry. In today’s world marked with the craze for demonstrability, intellectual curiosity and global preference for rational analysis of facts, it becomes even more imperative that the study of Theology must find a viable preparatory ground on a formidable philosophical enterprise that trains the mind. to question assumptions and seek for explanations in an unrestrained manner. An unhindered search for the truth poses no threat to theology; on the contrary, it is an advantage. Indeed, the faith that stands to be of service to the individual and the Church in our age is a faith that is not in any way opposed to the penetrating light of reason. Dedicated philosophical studies correctly united to theology would make one understand that Truth, which God reveals to us in Jesus Christ, is not opposed to the truths which philosophy perceives through reason. On the contrary, the two modes of knowledge lead to truth in all its fullness (cf. Pope John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, 25). The unity of truth is a fundamental premise of human reasoning, as the principle of non-contradiction makes clear. Revelation renders this unity certain, showing that the God of creation is also the God of salvation history. It Is the one and the same God who establishes and guarantees the intelligibility and reasonableness of the natural order of things upon Which scientists confidently depend, and who reveals himself as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The nuclear physicist and Nobel Prize winner, Werner Heisenberg once said: “The first swallow from the cup of the natural sciences (or philosophy) makes atheists – but at the bottom of the cup God is waiting.” (J. Ratzinger, Light of the World, 107). Thus far, it becomes clear and quite comprehensible to assert that even though philosophy and theology are two distinct fields of study, they are necessarily related to each other to a greater extent in such a manner that a good philosopher would also make a good theologian. This claim has been proven in the lives of a great number of the doctors and theologians of the Church.

10. The study of philosophy should make one ready and fully equipped for the study of theology; philosophy begins a process which then culminates in understanding of faith. Pope John Paul II in his encyclical: Fides et Ratio expresses this unity in the most sublime of words: “The relationship between theology and philosophy,” he writes, “is best construed as a circle” (Para. 73). ”God’s word comes to meet the human quest for truth, and is itself best understood with the help of philosophy. The revealed word keeps philosophy from going astray and-at the same time stirs philosophy to explore new paths that it would not have discovered without revelation”. Reason and faith, therefore, are not competitors. Each, according to the Pope, contains the other (cf. Para. 17). The simultaneity of faith and reason in the Pope’s thinking makes him reluctant to speak of either in isolation. As he puts it in the preamble to the encyclical, “Faith and reason are like, two wings on which the human spirit rises. to the contemplation of truth.” Revelation and reason, for John Paul II, are two different paths, neither sufficient unto itself. Revelation perfects the work of reason in its quest for ultimate truth. “Deprived of what Revelation offers, reason has taken side-tracks which expose it to the danger of losing sight of its final goal. Deprived of reasons faith has stressed feeling and. experience, and-so run the risk of no longer being a universal proposition. It is an illusion to think that faith, tied to weak reasoning, might be more penetrating; on the contrary, faith then runs the grave risk of withering into myth or superstition” ( Fides et Ratio, 73).  

11. The greatest religious crises we have in Africa and particularly in Nigeria stem from blind fideism that admits of no reason. In Nigeria today we find different churches springing up all around with self-acclaimed prophets and pastors that take advantage of the gullibility and unwitting vulnerability of ‘the people to extort them of their lives earnings through the promise of miracles, breakthroughs and wonders; prosperity preaching that eschews all forms of suffering; conviction of the power to overcome various purportedly constantly threatening malignant forces both visible and invisible and buttressing all these lies with selective nay misinterpreted biblical quotations. Unfortunately, this religious deception has gradually begun infiltrating into the Catholic Church. Healing ministries are ever on the increase. Interestingly, most of the so-called ’powerful priests’ who champion these healing ministries would prefer to spend more energy doing all sorts of queer things to ’advertise their giftedness’ than finding time to say their breviaries. One cannot but question the motive behind such spirituality that tends to ignore right reason and ‘sound judgment in the desperate bid to exploit and feed on people’s gullibility. Whereas in the Western world there seems to be the problem of the apotheosis of reason to the extent that faith suffers, in Nigeria, we suffer from an apotheosis of blind faith to the effect that reason suffers. Among our people today, the greatest threat to the Christian faith seems to be the increase in superstitious interpretations nourished by irrational assumptions. The worst tragedy is that some of those trained and ordained to help people find the light of the truth in a rational manner end of up exploiting the ignorance and gullibility of those they are supposed to lead. I therefore call upon you our dear graduands, as you go into the world as priests or seminarians on apostolic work, .try to reintroduce reason into religion. Do not for selfish reasons be betrayers of the honour being bestowed on you today, but be true ambassadors of the true Faith which is neither irrational nor blind fideism, but faith which finds an indispensable partner in sound reason.  

12. Finally, dear graduands, I would like to remind you that philosophical and theological studies can never come to an end until we behold the Truth himself in the beatific vision. Philosophy and Theology are not simply _ prerequisites for ordination, not a stage which one necessarily engages in and completes in order to be ordained. The search for the truth and the desire to know God more deeply ought to be’ a lifelong engagement. Today’s celebration should not be the signal to let your philosophical and theological books be permanently confined to the constantly growing cobwebs of your shelves, it should rather stimulate this curiosity to continually dig ever deeper into the divine mysteries.

l3. Now to you dear seminarians and students of philosophy and theology, I encourage you to take full advantage of the opportunities you have now. Remember what I said earlier: ‘a good philosopher would make a good theologian’. All that I have said to the graduands applies to you in a special way, for you still have the opportunity of picking the lost pieces and realigning your priorities that you might graduate as fulfilled and well-formed philosophers and theologians. Take your studies seriously: Work hard to be the best that you can be, and do not settle for anything less.

l4. This address would not be complete if I fail to mention and thank in a special way, the parents, relations, guardians and benefactors of our graduands, whose material, spiritual and moral support have kept them going. I also appreciate the efforts of the non-tutorial members of staff who have put in their best in their different areas of assignment the kitchen, different offices .and other places of assignment. For all you have been and done, to and for the graduands, and for all the countless sacrifices you have made for the growth of the body of Christ the Church, I say thank you and may God bless and reward you all abundantly.


Let me conclude with words of congratulations to the entire Bigard family. Every convocation ceremony is not just a celebration of success of the students; it is especially a testament to and a celebration of the fruitful efforts and great feat of the institution. And so I say congratulations to this wonderful family and thank you very much for inviting me. God bless you.