The First Lecture Series is a student-designed initiative the goal of which is to bring together students and faculty members who are actively pursuing Notre Dame’s Catholic mission. The series combines faith and reason in the professor’s personal expertise and philosophy in order to develop appreciation for Notre Dame’s unique mission.
Finance Professor Martijn Cremers delivered his First Lecture on Thursday, February 6. Cremers said he joined the Notre Dame community to develop his understanding of business in light of Catholic social teaching.
“One of the reasons our business school here at Notre Dame is so well-regarded is because of the education in ethics it provides, and Professor Cremers is an example of why this is the case,” stated senior Tim Kirchoff, organizer of the First Lecture Series.
Cremer’s talk was based on “Corporate Governance and Catholic Social Teaching,” a senior finance elective he currently teaches. The course covers the “purpose, priorities, and practice” of business in the context of Church teaching. Cremers argues that these three aspects form “the trinity of business,” which he connects with Catholicism.
In his lecture, Cremers asserted that a trinity can only be understood through the relationship between all of its parts. Catholic social teaching is concerned with the trinity of seeing, judging and acting, and the business equivalent includes purpose, priorities and practice.
Purpose involves seeing a mission or vision, while priority encompasses judging which values or criteria will be used to achieve the mission. Practice includes acting with virtue in regards to growth. If all three aspects are consistent, the business has integrity; if all three aspects are good, it possesses virtue.
To clarify how to understand business in the context of Catholicism, Cremers illustrated each of the three aspects of the trinity of business with Gospel parables .
To demonstrate purpose, Cremers used the parable of the rich fool. Jesus criticizes the rich man, not because he acquired wealth unjustly, but because wealth was his only interest. Cremers contended that business cannot be an end in itself: Its true purpose must be to serve the common good.
The Church strongly defends the right to private property, but this does not mean that property can be used in any way that pleases the owner. Rather, the ownership must have another purpose to promote human flourishing.
Cremers used the well-known parable of the Good Samaritan to convey his argument about priority. This parable relates the necessity of just relationships, especially in the business world. Just relationships are primarily understood in two forms: distributive justice and commutative justice.
Distributive justice pertains to the responsibility of distributing goods and services to society or, in business, deciding how means and resources are used. On the other hand, commutative justice is found when each party obtains equal value from a transaction and neither side is abusing power or control.
Based on these forms of justice, help is given according to need, relationship and merit. The Samaritan recognizes the need of the injured man and provides for him in proportion to both this need and the relationship between them.
In this way, business leaders, too, are responsible for promoting human flourishing by supplying help according to need, relationship and merit.
“Whatever we do in business, we should think first of the human person,” Cremers explicitly stated.
Using the parable of the talents, Cremers illustrated practice, the third aspect of the business trinity. This parable teaches the responsible use of every gift. Cremers related this parable to the principle of subsidiarity, according to which issues are addressed at as local a level as is possible.
In other words, people should have the freedom to resolve their own problems whenever they are able. From a business perspective, this principle allows firms and people to make their own decisions, which furthers human flourishing and promotes individual creativity.
Cremers concluded that “business is business of the human person,” and must allow people to flourish from the just relationships formed in the context of a common purpose and mutual benefit. Virtuous businesses provide opportunities for people to develop the gifts that God has given them, and use freedom for the purpose of the common good.
“I benefit so much from other faculty across the whole university here, and from teaching to Notre Dame’s students,” Cremers said.
Hailey Vrdolyak is a sophomore political science and Spanish major who uses a freckle on her hand to tell left and right. To talk to her about being directionally challenged, email her at email@example.com.