Catholicity as Gift and Task: Introducing St. Bernard’s Fall 2022 Academic Conference

May 10, 2022

Matthew Kuhner, Ph.D.

Has it ever struck you as strange that, during the recitation of the Nicene Creed on Sundays, we profess belief in the Church? Typically when we think of belief within Catholicism, we think of believing in God and in Jesus Christ as true God and true man. But what does it mean to believe in the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church?

Remarkably, our belief in the Church implies something remarkable: our sinful failures do not ultimately define the Church, nor do our temporal successes invest her with value and dignity. To the contrary, the Church is a gift from above, first and foremost defined and dignified by God. In this sense, the Church is thoroughly a mystery: she is divine and human, she is thoroughly temporal with a fixed origin and end in eternity, she is visible and animated invisibly by the Spirit of God. She is the in-breaking of the Kingdom and the sacrament – the efficacious sign – of communion with God and of communion among human persons. We believe in the Church, then, because we believe that the Church is not just a sociological marker, but also a divine event of encounter, in which we are invited to participate in God’s oneness, God’s holiness, God’s universality, and God’s apostolicity. Just as belief in God is the first and proper response to the gift of the revelation of God’s own heart, so also belief in the Church is the first and proper response to the gift of the Church.

Perhaps there is nothing needed more today than a deep reflection upon the gift-character of the Church, particularly in terms of her catholicity, her universality. The Gospel proclaims that each and every human person is called to communion with God in Jesus Christ, and that it is only in answering this universal call to communion that human flourishing will occur in its fullness. The Church is therefore called to be precisely the guardian and the declaration of the vocation of all human persons to communion with God. The geographical universality of the Church is a great sign that this call to communion has stretched forth to the ends of the earth!

But whenever the Church appears to be stretched to the breaking point due to radical polarization, or when ecclesial communion is tested – or God-forbid, broken – right before our eyes, what can be said about such universality? All too often the gift of the Church’s universality is mixed with some narrowing element that threatens its unfolding in the here and now. Or perhaps it’s not uncommon that the rallying point of ecclesial universality is taken to be something different than the Gospel in its fullness. But the catholicity of the Church is not aspirational and out of reach; it is precisely a dimension of what the Church is, precisely because this catholicity is gifted to her by God. Surely we must look towards the integrative center, the beating heart of the Church, to the Giver of the gift of the Church itself! Only in this way may we come to understand and live the catholicity of the Church as a gift and a task.

For our 2022 academic conference, St. Bernard’s will be commemorating the 50th anniversary of a publication that has exemplified this drive towards authentic catholicity. In 1972, a group of Catholic leaders and theologians founded a journal – Communio: International Catholic Review – that set out “to perceive of the Church as a central communion, a community that originated from communion with Christ, who presented himself as a gift to the Church; as a communion that will enable us to share our hearts, thoughts, and blessings.” Hans Urs von Balthasar, Henri de Lubac, and Joseph Ratzinger were among this group, whose original impulse has unfolded over time into fourteen editions in the United States, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East. The journal Communio strives to be truly universal in both its content and its (publication) form!

We invite one and all to join us as we celebrate the legacy of Communio, contemplating and discussing the demands of catholicity in our time. The conference will be held at St. Bernard’s main campus in Rochester, NY from 7:00pm EST on Friday, September 30th to 1:00pm EST on Sunday, October 2nd, 2022. We welcome in-person attendance or attendance via Zoom! We are pleased to welcome an international lineup of keynote speakers, including:

  • Jean Duchesne, Ph.D.
  • Jean-Luc Marion, Ph.D.
  • Tracey Rowland, Ph.D.
  • David L. Schindler, Ph.D.
  • Rev. Jacques Servais, S.J., Ph.D.

We hope that you are able to attend, that together we might forge a deeper appreciation of what it means to understand and to live the Church’s catholicity in our time!

Early bird registration is going on now through June 30th. For more information and to register for our 2022 academic conference – Catholicity as Gift and Task: The 50th Anniversary of Communioclick the link below!

Dr. Matthew Kuhner is Vice President / Academic Dean and Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology at St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry in Rochester, NY. Dr. Kuhner earned his Masters in Theological Studies at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family in Washington, DC and completed his Ph.D. in systematic theology at Ave Maria University in southwest Florida. Dr. Kuhner’s academic work has appeared in Harvard Theological Review, Nova et Vetera, Angelicum, the Journal of Theological Studies, Pro Ecclesia, and the Journal of Jesuit Studies, and his areas of research interest include Christology and the theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar. Dr. Kuhner deeply loves teaching at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, and his favorite classes are Theology of the Body: Sexuality and the Sacred, and Faith, Fiction, and Film: The Drama of Belief. Dr. Kuhner is married to his college sweetheart, Michelle, and they have the joy of sharing their lives with their young daughter, Catherine Grace, and son, John Benedict.