Opening and Blessing of the Moorgate Building

21 May 2015

Homily for Opening and Blessing of the Moorgate Building
School of Philosophy and Theology, University of Notre Dame, Chippendale, 21 May 2015

“woman has baby” was the clever headline. In case you are the only person on the planet who hasn’t heard Private Eye was referring to the recent birth of Her Royal Highness Princess Charlotte Elizabeth Diana to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Appearing briefly on the steps of the hospital earlier this month, the proud parents, Prince William and Kate, displayed the latest heir to the throne rather like Our Lady holding forth her Son for adoration, only in this case the devotees were paparazzi and royal-tragics. Named for her grandfather Prince Charles, already the oldest ever English king-in-waiting, and his first wife the doomed Princess Diana, as well as for her great-grandmother the keeps-on-keeping-on Queen Elizabeth, she is unlikely to be monarch as there are three ahead of her in the line. But you never can tell: Queen Victoria was fifth-in-line when she was born, Queen Elizabeth third, and neither was expected to reign.

Today we honour three other queens, whose titles and prestige surpass even that of the Royal House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (Windsor), three queens greater than Victoria, Elizabeth and maybe-queen Charlotte. Amongst the courtiers of these three alternative sovereigns are our Acting Chancellor Peter Prendiville, Vice-Chancellor Celia Hammond, Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor Hayden Ramsay, Directors and Trustees, staff and students and many distinguished guests here today, and I salute you all.

The first of the queens that I have in mind is, of course, Notre Dame, that grand dame for whom this university is named and to whose patronage we entrust it yet again today. St Luke records that as soon as she consented to the Incarnation and conceived of the Holy Spirit, Mary of Nazareth ran into the hills to call upon (and perhaps play midwife to) her elderly kinswoman Elizabeth who “was in her sixth month”. Amidst much dancing and singing, even it seems by their babies in the womb, Elizabeth completed the Hail Mary with “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb”. Now if calling her the Most Blessed Woman or ‘Blessed Virgin’ wasn’t enough, Elizabeth added another title: “Why is this granted to me,” she asked, “that the Mother of my Lord should visit me?” Now, in the Ancient Near East that title, ‘Mother of my Lord’, meant mother of the king or Queen Mother. So already, in the very first days of the Incarnation, Notre Dame, Our Lady, was acknowledged as Queen.

A strange sort of a queen though: nine months later she would bring forth a royal baby in a rather less comfortable environment than St Mary’s Hospital Westminster and then leave not by car but by donkey and not to Kensington Palace but to Egypt as a refugee. Yet in due course she would accumulate more titles than Queen Victoria, including Queen of Heaven and Earth. Our favourite of her titles here at UNDA is ‘Seat of Wisdom’. Under that title she is the chosen patron of our campus and a very fine mosaic of her features in the main courtyard. This Mary is no shrinking violet but a strong throne. She carries Wisdom incarnate in her womb, then dandles Him on her knee. Monstrance-like she holds Him forth for contemplation and adoration. She carried and brought forth the λογος, communication or philosophy of God, the divine Word or Truth or teaching made man (Jn 1:1-4; 14:6) and St Luke twice tells us, “she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Lk 2:19,51). So it is fitting that we honour her by dedicating a new building in her University, a new place for treasuring and pondering the things of God, a new cenacle in her university that has now surpassed 11,000 students and 830 staff.

In our reading this afternoon from the Book of Wisdom we meet another regal lady. The Hebrew word for wisdom chokmoth and the Greek word σοφια are both feminine nouns and so the ancients often personified wisdom as a woman worthy of devotion and discipleship (Wis 7:7-20; cf. Prov 1:20-33; 8:1-9:12). She is called Lady or Queen Wisdom because, our sage insists, she is higher than sceptres and thrones, more precious than gold and gems. Through her, he says, God grants mere mortals language, understanding and technology. And not just in one field but “true knowledge of all that is” (metaphysics), “of the structure of the world and the properties of the elements” (cosmology, physics and chemistry), of “the beginning, end and middle of the times” (history), of “solstices” and “seasons” (astronomy and climatology), of “the natures of animals” and “the varieties of plants” (biology), of “the medicinal properties of roots” (pharmacology) and of “the powers of spirits and the mental processes of men” (angelology and psychology). In other words, Lady Wisdom is the university in all its richness and diversity. To love her is to engage in φιλω σοφια, love of wisdom, philosophy. From our new Board Room the Directors and Trustees will govern all the disciplines of the university and we honour their service today. There will also be an area designed for staff ‘get togethers’ and we honour the work of our staff. Leaders and staff are united by the identity, mission, dare I say philosophy of the university.

So we have met two queens today, Queen Mary and Queen Sophia, both of whom guide our university. But there is a third, known in the mediæval world as “the Queen of the Sciences”. To modern ears it is passing strange to think that any discipline might reign over the others: ours is an era of specialisation and fragmentation of knowledge, of radical postmodern scepticism about any absolute truth and so any meta-narrative, unified theory or summa by which to interrelate all knowledge and make it something deeper, make it wisdom. If we moderns had to crown a Queen of the Sciences, it would probably be Mathematics, Cosmology or Computers. Yet the mediævals who invented the university knew better. To them it was obvious: Theology is king – or, better, Queen. (Philosophy, I’m sorry to tell Professor Ramsay, is merely her lady in waiting!)

Now, before you write this off as the imperialism of a theologian, let me explain why theology is crowned queen here. Albert the Great, who published and taught in every university discipline, and his clever student Tommy Aquinas, both thought Sacred Doctrine the greatest of all studies because it starts and finishes with God, focuses the mind on the highest things, and is the most certain and most useful of all knowledge. Google-maps might get you from Chippendale to Darlinghurst but if you want the map to happiness in this life and eternal bliss in the next, theology is the thing! (cf. St Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae Ia, 1, 5) Theology unites our experience and reasoning to divine revelation in contemplation of the mysteries. As St John Paul II opened his great encyclical Fides et ratio: “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth-in a word, to know Himself-so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.” As faith seeks understanding vistas of truth hitherto unknown to humanity are opened up: the very life of the Blessed Trinity and the splendour of Christ in His Incarnation of the Blessed Notre Dame, in His body the Church, in His actions the Sacraments, and in His likeness the human person.

UNDA is unique among Australian universities in honouring the three queens Mary, Sophia and Theologia, in recognizing the importance of each and the interconnections between them, in asking the big questions in pursuit of a deeper wisdom for all the disciplines, in having a core curriculum and chaplaincy for students of all disciplines and specialists more full-time in philosophy and theology also. This new building is testament to the University’s commitment to those disciplines and to the breadth and depth of the Catholic intellectual tradition.

Here in the Moorgate Building the academic and general staff of the Philosophy and Theology School, including the Core Curriculum lecturers, will at last be housed together and in a facility outfitted for the purpose. I understand that the corridor is wide enough for playing sport during free time – though for the benefit of the University’s leadership team I will assume there is very little of that. There are plans for an in-house library of Alexandria and Vatican library there and I believe there is an impressive walk-in stationary closet, though not so grand as the bank vault once sported by the school of Philosophy and Theology in Fremantle. I congratulate you all on this latest addition to this burgeoning university campus. You are a treasured part of the academic landscape of Sydney and the mission of the Church in these parts. May God bless the work that occurs here and may Our Lady Seat of Wisdom continue to treasure and ponder the great mysteries alongside you all and reveal to you her Son who is the Wisdom of the Father, solace for every aching heart, the answer to every inquiring mind.