Right Opinion

'Faith and Reason Are Mutually Reinforcing'

Imprimis · Dec. 16, 2019

By Clarence Thomas, Associate Justice, United States Supreme Court

Hillsdale College held a dedication ceremony for its new Christ Chapel on October 3, 2019, during a two-day gala to celebrate the College’s 175th anniversary. The following are excerpts from the dedication address. A video of the dedication ceremony may be viewed online at fourpillars.hillsdale.edu.

This is a very special occasion — the 175th anniversary of Hillsdale and the dedication of Christ Chapel. This beautiful Chapel is a culmination of years of generosity, planning, and hard work. And the end result is at once stunning and glorious.

The Chapel’s enduring beauty highlights the transcendence, the sovereignty, and the grace of God. It truly illustrates how architectural design can reflect the character of God and evoke a sense of reverence for His majesty.

Everyone involved in the financing, planning, and construction of this Chapel should rightly be proud. It is a magnificent accomplishment. But we’ve gathered here today not just to admire this beautiful Chapel — we have gathered here to dedicate it.

The word dedicate in this context means “to set apart and consecrate to a deity or to a sacred purpose.” To dedicate this Chapel appropriately, then, it is worthwhile to reflect on the purposes for which we are setting apart this sacred place on a college campus.

The primary purpose of a chapel is to provide a place where man can enter the presence of God. It provides a sanctuary in which man can withdraw from the chaos of our world and seek a sacred stillness. For as Elijah learned on Mount Horeb, God so often comes to us not in the storms, not in the earthquakes or fires of life, but in stillness — in a “gentle whisper.”

Accordingly, men and women have long sought respite from the noise and commotion of daily life, where they can “be still, and know that [He is] God,” where they can seek an inner calm and a transcendent peace. Beautiful chapels, such as this one, provide that sacred space for stillness, a place for an encounter with the Divine. As the architect of this Chapel has written, “When you enter a church, it is as if you are entering through a gateway from the profane toward the sacred.”

It is difficult to overstate the significance of the role that this Chapel will play in the life of Hillsdale College.

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Although a chapel is a place for many activities, it also serves as a statement about the importance of those activities. The construction of a college chapel, in particular, is a public declaration that faith and reason are mutually reinforcing. And in 2019, the construction of a chapel is a bold act of leadership at a crucial time in our nation’s history. So I would like to underscore briefly the broader significance of the decision that Hillsdale College has made in building Christ Chapel.

Beginning in the early 1900s, many elite private colleges and universities began to face questions about the continuing relevance of religious instruction on campus. These questions would have surprised the founders of those schools, many of which were created in part for the express purpose of providing religious instruction. But as time went on and as schools moved away from their religious roots, the relevance of religion to higher education was increasingly questioned, and campus chapels, in particular, came to be viewed as relics of a bygone era.

With the completion of Christ Chapel, Hillsdale College has staked out its position in this debate, and its decision serves as an example for all of us. The construction of so grand a chapel in 2019 does not happen by accident or as an afterthought. Christ Chapel reflects the College’s conviction that a vibrant intellectual environment and a strong democratic society are fostered, not hindered, by a recognition of the Divine. Hillsdale College affirms, with the writer of Proverbs, that, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.”

By constructing this Chapel, the College upholds the continued importance of its Christian roots, even as it respects the rights of each person to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience. Our country was founded on the view that a correct understanding of the nature of God and the human person is critical to preserving the liberty that we so enjoy.

John Adams wrote, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” He recognized that the preservation of liberty is not guaranteed. Without the guardrails supplied by religious conviction, popular sovereignty can devolve into mob rule, unmoored from any conception of objective truth.

As I think about our political culture today, I am reminded of Ronald Reagan’s warning that, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. The only way they can inherit the freedom we have known is if we fight for it, protect it, defend it, and then hand it on to them … [to] do the same.”

Each generation is responsible both to itself and to succeeding generations for preserving and promoting the blessings of liberty. Faith in God, more than anything else, fuels the strength of character and self-discipline needed to discharge ably that responsibility. That is why I am so encouraged by the construction of Christ Chapel.

Hillsdale College’s Articles of Association affirm that “inestimable blessings” flow from “the prevalence of civil and religious liberty and intelligent piety in the land.” The College was founded on the belief that “the diffusion of sound learning is essential to the perpetuity of these blessings.” Thus Hillsdale College was founded on the understanding that the battle to preserve and promote freedom in our country will be waged in the hearts and minds of the people.

Rather than shrinking from the battle, Hillsdale is rising to the occasion by investing in the intellectual and spiritual development of its students, so they can provide God-honoring leadership in our country. Let it be said of them what was said of David, that he “served the counsel of God in his own generation.”

Students, faculty, administrators, and friends of Hillsdale, let this Chapel be more than just an impressive building. Let it be a place where people enter the presence of a majestic God. Let it be a house of worship, of prayer, of meditation, and of celebration before God. Let it be a haven of rest for the weary, a place of healing for the wounded, a place of comfort for the grieving, and a source of hope for the despairing and forgotten.

Let it point to a day when “the dwelling of God” will be “with men,” when God himself will “wipe away every tear” and mend every wound. Let it be a place where tomorrow’s leaders discern their callings and grow firm in their convictions. Let it stand as a bold declaration to a watching world that faith and learning are rightly understood as complements, and that both are essential to the preservation of the blessings of liberty.

Let this Chapel equip and inspire us to honor God in whatever He calls us to do. For as Saint Paul wrote in his Letter to the Romans, “From Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.”

May God bless each of you. May God bless Hillsdale. And may God bless this wonderful country.


Reprinted by permission from Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College. The opinions expressed in Imprimis are not necessarily the views of Hillsdale College.

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