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Kretzmann's Inaugural Address

Background

KretzmannThe Rev. Otto Paul Kretzmann began his productive 28-year presidency of Valparaiso University in 1940, his inspiring inaugural address setting the tone for years to come. During his administration a new campus was developed, enrollment grew from 400 to 4,000, and the University became nationally recognized.

Before coming to Valpo, O.P., as he was affectionately known, had been executive secretary of the international Lutheran youth organization, the Walther League, for six years. Prior to that, he had served for ten years on the faculty of Concordia Seminary, Springfield, Illinois.

A 1920 graduate of Concordia Collegiate Institute, Bronxville, New York, he received the Master of Sacred Theology degree in 1924 from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, and pursued further graduate study at Columbia, Johns Hopkins, Harvard, and Chicago Universities. He was the recipient of ten honorary doctorates. He died on Holy Cross Day, September 14, 1975, in his 75th year.


Dr. O.P. Kretzmann
Inaugural Address- Delivered October 6, 1940- Valparaiso, Indiana


The Destiny of a Christian University in the Modern World

Anyone who is charged with the task of speaking on an occasion of this nature in the year of our Lord 1940 must be profoundly conscious of the potential futility of anything which might be said. By this time even the most optimistic observer of the course of human events knows that the world has come to an hour of crisis in the life of man which threatens to destroy all the values of Western civilization as we have known them since the Church emerged from the catacombs. We have come now to the winter of the modem world, and there are few signs of spring. It would be relatively easy, therefore, for us to retire to our campuses, our classrooms and our sanctuaries, to admit that the important things in the world of 1940 are being said by bombs and planes and guns, and to concede the futility of saying anything at all which might be heard above the roar and confusion of a World which is now concerned with another demonstration of the ultimate futility of life without God.

But just here is the justification for a few words which are rooted in the very principles which the new barbarism is seeking to destroy. No matter how futile our words may appear at this moment, the ultimate futility is not here. This twilight hour of the world may darken down into a deeper night than man has ever known before, but the lights by which men find their way between the eternities will not die forever. Once before in the history of the Western world, the lamps of Truth were kept alive by men in hidden places, in half-forgotten schools and monasteries, while the captains and the kings had their little day for almost a thousand years. And then the relentless dust of time covered the sons of the sword, as it always has and always will, and out of the darkness came the bearers of the light, the lone watchers of the lamps, the blessed and terrible Meek for whom Truth is greater than Power, and Wisdom is sharper than a sword. The Almighty is not yet on the side of the strongest battalions. He may not balance the scales of history every day, but when He does, the weight of the Universe is on the side of truth and mercy and justice and faith and hope and love. It is much too late in the time of man for God to forget these now.

It is this great, fundamental fact- a fact which lies at the very heart of my personal philosophy of life and history-which has persuaded me to speak to you today concerning "The Destiny of a Christian University in the Modern World," and to submit to you that in view of the present crisis in the affairs of men this destiny is almost inconceivably great, both intellectually and spiritually. In choosing this topic I feel that I am, in a very small way, paying a debt of gratitude to the men and women who for fifteen years have carried the vision of this destiny in their hearts, and have given this University the full measure of their loyalty and devotion. I am certain also that I am merely reaffirming the compelling influences which guided my distinguished predecessors in their difficult task of reorganizing the University and carrying it safely through one of the most trying periods in the economic and social history of America. I am dominated by the conviction that we are now privileged to enter upon the heritage which they have given us and to build here a school, a center of learning and of faith, whose destiny cannot be limited by forces outside ourselves. The measure of the future of Valparaiso University is our own measure-the measure of our courage and our willingness to sacrifice in order that the dreams of the founders of the University may come true.

Essentially a University is a voluntary association of free men and women in a community which is dedicated to a two-fold task: the search for Truth and the transmission of Truth, free and unbroken, to those who are born later in time. Its first and supreme requirement is a company of men and women who will know Truth when they meet it, no matter whence it comes or whither it leads; who will love Truth more than riches and power; who will conduct the search for Truth with radical sincerity, intellectual honesty, and a deep reverence for even its smallest and faintest gleam; and who will be able to transmit this devotion to the generation who will live long after they have joined the company of the wise and the silent in the graveyards of the world. Especially in the modem world it must be the destiny of a Christian University to cling to the reality of universal truth. There is a moral, philosophical, and scientific Truth which must be one and the same for all races and all nations. For the modem heresy of the relativity of all standards it must substitute the concept of an order of absolute Truth, of absolute ethical goodness, of absolute social justice to which all differences must be submitted, and by which they must be judged. Although we must be ready at all times to admit the partiality of our apprehension of Truth, we must also stand sharply and immovably against the unintelligent and unreasonable pretensions of the philosophies in the modem world which identify the extent of Truth with our partial apprehension of it, or confine it to a certain race or nation. In the fullest and highest sense of the words the Christian University can be and must be, the most catholic and universal and democratic institution in the modem world. It can never compromise with the moral disorder of liberalism or the dangerous heresy that Truth is a slave and not a master.

It is one of the tragedies of the modern educational world that the Church-related college or university has too often failed to recognize its profound and fundamental difference from all schools which have not been integrated by a unified and permanent philosophy of life and history. On the one hand, there can be little doubt that the contributions of the Church-related colleges and universities to the life and progress of America have been far more important and significant than the general public realizes. Since their material resources have often been pitifully limited, they have been unable to meet the American demand for magnificent buildings and great numbers. Despite these handicaps, however, the Church-related college has since the beginnings of the Republic played an important role in the progress and development of American society. On the other hand, it must be noted with regret that it has often been forgetful of its essential mission and message, particularly in the twentieth century. Overwhelmed and even dismayed by the development of education under the almost unlimited resources of the state, it has retreated from the modem world in a pitiful attempt to live by a negation which has at times degenerated into a vicious form of obscurantism. It has too often appealed to its constituency in terms that were entirely negative: We are deserving of your support because we do not do certain things, because we are not as other men are. Even the approach to prospective students has been based on the dubious appeal that in a Christian school they would be protected from the evil that is abroad in the world. Although I yield to no one in my spiritual and intellectual doubt concerning the truth and value of much of the theory and practice which has permeated the educational world for the past twenty-five years, I must reaffirm my conviction that the destiny of a Christian University does not lie in a negative approach to its problems and opportunities. Men and institutions simply can not live by saying "No" to reality. A Christian University can not fulfill its destiny by belittling or even ignoring the impact of science upon the life and thought of man, the manifest tensions in our social order, or the constant and crying need for intelligent reorientation as scholars throughout the world push back the horizons of man toward the Unknown. It must immediately and incessantly appropriate every newly discovered Truth, and place it in the permanent frame of reference which it alone possesses. A Christian University must be in the van of the progress of knowledge, not behind it.

It is this positive and aggressive approach to the problems of a changing world which enables us to face the future of this particular University with absolute confidence in its destiny. Only the school with a Christian orientation can today stand before the rising generation and say: We have something to offer you which you can find nowhere else. Others may try to make men scientific; we must do that-and make them wise. Others may give men knowledge; we must give them that-and understanding. Others may try to make men useful; we must do that-and we must make them noble. We are not asking you to come to an ivory tower to escape from the realities of life or to a market-place where the voices and minds of men are confused by the immediate and material things of life. We are able to give you the fellowship of men and women whose respect for Truth is not vitiated by doubts concerning its reality and permanence. We are able to offer you a school which recognizes the supreme dignity and worth of the individual human being. We are committed to the principle that the destiny of a Christian University lies in the quality of the men and women who are graduated from its halls rather than in quantitative production. Our future lies in the development of men and women, perhaps relatively few in number, whose quality will be so high that they will exert an influence on society which cannot be measured in terms of numbers. Above all, we are deeply committed to the recovery of the one great fact which our wayward world has forgotten: The reality of God and the individual's personal responsibility to Him, a responsibility which can be met only by the fact of the Atonement and the re-establishment of an intimate relationship with the Ruler of the Universe through Him who once entered the stream of time in order to tell men that they could know the Truth and that it would make them free. We can build here a school whose greatness is the greatness of freedom under God, the greatness of the free preservation and transmission of Truth, the greatness of an intelligent and dynamic application of a militant faith. It is our destiny "to enter into the labors and sorrows of the world in order to carry into it the flame of a faith truly free from the world."

In the development of this attitude over against the future of the University there is, of course, always the immediate danger of sentimentalizing or oversimplifying the enormous difficulties which confront us. I have no illusions about them. In the fulfillment of our destiny as a Christian University we shall run head-on into some of the most perplexing problems in modem thought. How can we train a generation which will be both open-minded and deeply committed? Is it possible to be highly intelligent and deeply religious? How much of our thinking must be in terms of the historic other-worldliness of Christianity? Is there an answer for our social problems which will avoid, on the one hand, the evasive sentimentality of many academic solutions, and on the other hand, the immediate pragmatism of those who believe that when a man has bread he has everything? These, and many other, questions will require the hard, cold, realistic processes of thought in the best sense of the word. There can be no doubt that the world of tomorrow will be the scene of two battles. One will be fought with bombs and guns on land, on the sea, and in the air; the other, and, I suspect, the far more important, will be fought in quiet classrooms, in libraries, in laboratories, and in the hidden meetings of men of thought and good will. Nor will it be a battle suspended in the thin, lifeless air of theory; the issue will be a matter of concrete living and desperate importance for the next generation. It will revolve about the great questions which must be answered in our time-our view of God, of the Church, of the State, of man, of the human mind and spirit, its origin, nature, function, and destiny, of the nature of Truth, and many other related issues. It is our destiny to throw ourselves into this battle with all the resources of body, mind, and soul, and to train here a generation which will carry the conquering spirit of a vital Christianity into the life and thought of America.

Is all this a practical program for a Christian University? I must confess that I am somewhat suspicious of the word "practical." If it means that we must always think in terms of compromise, in terms of financial support, in terms of our immediate material needs, then, I truly believe, the word should be eliminated from our thinking. Finances, endowment, enrollment-these are not the primary problems of a Christian University. Perhaps that has been the trouble with Church-related schools. To be practical only in this sense of the word means that we shall go down in defeat. There is only one way of being permanently practical. Let the University set an ideal, a vision, a dream, if you please, for itself-and I am confident that there are still enough men and women in visible Christendom who will see the glory of the dream and, with their prayers and support, help to make it a reality. The human resources of this University today are great. There is the growing body of men and women in the University Association who realize that the future of the Church in America demands the services of a great University. There are the alumni whose loyalty to the school and its mission has been one of the most striking factors in the development of Valparaiso. There are the citizens of the city of Valparaiso who have stood by the school these many years and who, lam sure, will continue to stand by it in the years to come. There are the women of the University Guild whose quiet devotion has already made tremendous contributions to the progress of the University. Perhaps there are men and women in the modern world who honestly believe that we represent a lost cause. I can only say that I am persuaded that lost causes are the only ones that are finally never lost. There is a hidden flame in them which will not die. If God is in them, they can not lose. The prayers of so many men and women for the University will not go unheard and their work will not be in vain.

Permit me to speak for a moment in more immediate terms. The fulfillment of our destiny requires the adoption of a seven-fold program for action in the very near future. I am deeply aware of the fact that I am able to present such a program only on the basis of the heroic work of my distinguished predecessors, Drs. Dau and Kreinheder, and the thoughtful administration of the affairs of the University by its Acting President during the past fifteen months, Dr. Friedrich, who today becomes the Dean of the Faculty. In large part the program of the University for the immediate future has been conceived and prepared by them. The seven concrete and tangible realities which should engage our immediate attention are:

  1. The constant and intelligent interpretation of the mission and message of the University to the Church. This will require the full cooperation of the Administration, the Faculty, and the Board of Trustees.
  2. The continued building of a faculty of great teachers who will exert a compelling influence on the life and thought of the student body.
  3. The development of the social and spiritual life of our student body by means of a deep respect for the dignity and worth of the individual student. This will require the construction of a system of faculty counseling which will bring the students into constant personal relations with their instructors.
  4. The extension of the work of the University to metropolitan centers in order to reach men and women who, for one reason or another, can not come to Valparaiso.
  5. The preparation of plans for a School of Higher Studies, especially in those fields in which the life and thought of the Church are involved.
  6. The periodic release of members of the faculty from other duties so that they may devote themselves more completely to research. This will result in the production of books and articles which will be a contribution to scholarship and to the life of the Church.
  7. The immediate formulation of permanent and far-reaching plans for increasing the enrollment of the University. This will require an intelligent interpretation of the purposes of the school to the younger generation and increased student aid.

I am persuaded that these more immediate objectives are not only attainable, but almost desperately imperative if we are to continue the process of building this school toward the vision and dream of its founders and supporters. We shall have no time for the contemplation of possible failure. Ours is a great task. If we are to accomplish it, our spirit must be great-great in its humility, great in its devotion, great in its single-minded, relentless driving toward the realization of the will of God for Valparaiso University.

I should like to say a few words to the men and women of the student body now in residence. When all is said and done, you are the heart of the University. For almost ten years I have noted that one of the most remarkable things about Valparaiso is the spirit of loyalty and fellowship among its students. I hope you will continue to foster and develop that spirit. As many of you know, I am persuaded that the generation of men and women now enrolled in our colleges and universities is far better, both morally and spiritually, than we have been ready to admit. It has become a habit with some members of the older generation to identify the darkest corners of their own minds with the complete mind of the younger generation. This has led to much misunderstanding between the generations which must now desperately face the ultimate problems of life and living together. May I assure you that the administration of the University will always be sympathetically concerned with your problems; that we will recognize you as centrally important; that we will do everything possible to make your campus experience happy and memorable; that we shall consider you ladies and gentlemen who have joined us in this academic community to help us work out the problems of the troubled present and the clouded future. Many of you know already that I have no use for authority which is predicated on vertical relationships; that I believe, deeply and consistently, in the discipline of liberty; and that I shall join you in your impatience with all blind traditionalism; in your opposition to all sham and pretense; and in your fight against all the forces and factors which may prevent your full growth and development. In the years to come you will be the final measure of the success or failure of Valparaiso University. If you will leave this campus prepared to become thoughtful and intelligent citizens of a free and democratic America; sympathetic and understanding healers of a torn and broken society; great and courageous leaders of the Body of Christ in the world-then there is no power on earth that can stop Valparaiso University in the attainment of its destiny.

In this spirit, then, I am deeply grateful for the privilege of joining the company of men and women who have prayed and worked for Valparaiso University these many years. I know that our task is great. Our time is short. It is later now than we think. We can not wait for another time and another generation. Clearly aware of the magnitude of our problems, deeply committed to the importance of our work, humbly certain of our destiny, we may hope, under God, to prepare a growing number of men and women who will go out of this community into the darkness of a dying world as the living embodiment of the motto of this University, "In Thy light we shall see light." To that end I implore the benediction of Almighty God.