Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology

Russell Hittinger Citation

Published: October 21, 2014

Written by Fr. Michael Sweeney, OP, on May 2013 at the Induction in the College of Fellows

Francis Russell Hittinger, author, teacher, papal academician, philosopher of common sense, loyal son of the Church, the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology salutes you.

On the occasion of the presentation of his Encyclical Letter, Fides et Ratio, St. John Paul II cited “…the sensitive role that philosophy plays in the formation of conscience, in the vitalization of cultures and, as a result, in the inspiration of laws that regulate social and civil life.” 

Your work in in law, your examination of culture and its institutions and your analysis of the contemporary social, juridical and political environment stand as witness to the decisive contribution of the philosopher who will dare to maintain a double fidelity: to the truth revealed in Christ and the truths about the person and the world accessible by reason alone, practically manifested in the ordinary relationships and initiatives of everyday life.

You have insisted that apart from the benefits both of contact with faith and of common sense, the modern state places its own authority in peril.  You are wonderfully plain-spoken; no one is ever left in doubt of your position. So, for example, from your consideration of human rights published in First Things:

“Even when their content seems morally unobjectionable, human rights are often vague and leave the scope of individual and social responsibility so blurry that we cannot know with any precision who owes what to whom—or, on another model, they are enumerated in such detail that they look more like social legislation than natural rights”.

You have identified the absence of a coherent anthropology as the besetting problem of our age: “There can be no efficacy in a systematic philosophy that loses sight of the vocation of the human knower to the whole of reality.” You have followed Bl. John Paul II in proposing St. Thomas Aquinas, “not as a tool for weeding out disorder within the Church but rather as a teacher on the integrity of the human person.”

Since 1996, you have been the incumbent of the William K. Warren Chair of Catholic Studies at the University of Tulsa, where you are also a Research Professor in the School of Law. You have taught at Fordham University and at the Catholic University of America, and as a Visiting Professor at Princeton University, New York University, Charles University in Prague, Notre Dame University, Providence College and the Pontifical University Regina Apostolorum in Rome. 

Your books and articles have appeared in the University of Notre Dame Press, Oxford University Press, Columbia University Press, Fordham University Press, the Review of Metaphysics, the Review of Politics, several American and European law journals. You are the recipient of the Silver Gavel Award of the American Bar Association and you have twice received the Josephine Yalch Zekan Award for the Best Scholarly Article in Faith and Law.

For St. Thomas Aquinas the end that philosophy seeks is wisdom, a virtue that cannot be taught, but only emulated; the measure of wisdom is the one who is wise. Wisdom, then, is your measure and we must not overlook that your counsel has been sought both inside and outside the Church, by pontiffs and by secular leaders: 

In 2001 St. John Paul II appointed you to the Pontifical Academy of St. Thomas Aquinas, of which you became ordinarius in 2004 and, since 2006, appointed to its governing board. In 2009 Pope Benedict XVI appointed you to the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences as ordinarius. You are one of only two lay academics in the world to be appointed to two pontifical academies. In 2003, to mark the centenary of the death of Pope Leo XIII, you offered a lecture to the Ministry of Culture of the Italian Government. In December 2006, you addressed the President, Prime Minister, and Speakers of the Polish Parliament, culminating a week-long celebration of human rights and the Polish constitution. 

Our mission as a graduate school is to insist upon the relationship of faith and reason through the conversation of theology with philosophy for the sake of addressing the contemporary academy and the society that it informs. We are delighted that you have consented to join with us in this work as a member of the College of Fellows.

Therefore, as an expression of our esteem and gratitude, and in virtue of the authority invested in me by the Board of Members of the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology, I am privileged to bestow upon you, Francis Russell Hittinger, the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters honoris causa, and to name you a Fellow of the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology.

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