Monday, August 23, 2010

Catholic Teaching & St. Thomas Aquinas

The tragedy of Catholic universities was deftly addressed by Anne Hendershott in her marvelous book: Status Envy: The Politics of Catholic Higher Education, and this article from The Catholic Thing notes the importance of teaching the works of our greatest thinker, St. Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor, and the Catholic Encyclopedia notes his final days:

An excerpt.

“On 6 December, 1273, he laid aside his pen and would write no more. That day he experienced an unusually long ecstasy during Mass; what was revealed to him we can only surmise from his reply to Father Reginald, who urged him to continue his writings: "I can do no more. Such secrets have been revealed to me that all I have written now appears to be of little value" (modica, Prümmer, op. cit., p. 43). The "Summa theologica" had been completed only as far as the ninetieth question of the third part (De partibus poenitentiae).

“Thomas began his immediate preparation for death. Gregory X, having convoked a general council, to open at Lyons on 1 May, 1274, invited St. Thomas and St. Bonaventure to take part in the deliberations, commanding the former to bring to the council his treatise "Contra errores Graecorum" (Against the Errors of the Greeks). He tried to obey, setting out on foot in January, 1274, but strength failed him; he fell to the ground near Terracina, whence he was conducted to the Castle of Maienza, the home of his niece the Countess Francesca Ceccano. The Cistercian monks of Fossa Nuova pressed him to accept their hospitality, and he was conveyed to their monastery, on entering which he whispered to his companion: "This is my rest for ever and ever: here will I dwell, for I have chosen it" (Psalm 131:14). When Father Reginald urged him to remain at the castle, the saint replied: "If the Lord wishes to take me away, it is better that I be found in a religious house than in the dwelling of a lay person." The Cistercians were so kind and attentive that Thomas's humility was alarmed. "Whence comes this honour", he exclaimed, "that servants of God should carry wood for my fire!" At the urgent request of the monks he dictated a brief commentary on the Canticle of Canticles.

“The end was near; extreme unction was administered. When the Sacred Viaticum was brought into the room he pronounced the following act of faith:

“If in this world there be any knowledge of this sacrament stronger than that of faith, I wish now to use it in affirming that I firmly believe and know as certain that Jesus Christ, True God and True Man, Son of God and Son of the Virgin Mary, is in this Sacrament . . . I receive Thee, the price of my redemption, for Whose love I have watched, studied, and laboured. Thee have I preached; Thee have I taught. Never have I said anything against Thee: if anything was not well said, that is to be attributed to my ignorance. Neither do I wish to be obstinate in my opinions, but if I have written anything erroneous concerning this sacrament or other matters, I submit all to the judgment and correction of the Holy Roman Church, in whose obedience I now pass from this life.”

“He died on 7 March, 1274.”

An excerpt from the article in The Catholic Thing.

“As students are beginning to arrive at our more than 250 Catholic colleges and universities in America for a new academic year, it’s a good thing for those who care about the Catholic tradition to recall a little recent history.

“In 1879, Pope Leo XIII published the encyclical letter Aeterni Patris, in which he called for an intellectual revival based on the “perennial philosophy” of Thomas Aquinas. In the years following, there was a remarkable flourishing of the Catholic intellectual life as institutes were founded and university curricula were redesigned in fidelity to Leo’s call for reform.

“In 1998, Pope John Paul II published the encyclical letter Fides et Ratio, in which he too called for a Catholic intellectual revival, one based on a renewed appreciation for the necessary dialogue between faith and reason. That would involve re-discovering the metaphysical and sapiential dimensions of philosophy, as well as the formulation of an integrative vision of human knowledge to counteract the fragmentation of knowledge that characterize the various disciplines in the modern university.

“In the years since, there has been a remarkable silence about Pope John Paul’s call for renewal as Catholic colleges and universities continue on as usual, as though the encyclical were never written, or else they pretend that by doing nothing different and merely re-describing their usual practices in more “integrative” language, they can fool people into thinking they’ve been faithful to John Paul II’s vision….

“The late Fr. James Weisheipl once suggested in a wonderful article on “The Revival of Thomism” (available on-line here ): “Historically speaking, it must be admitted that Catholic textbooks in philosophy produced during the eighteenth and early nineteenth century were very much ‘up to date’ in the sense of being modern. The latest findings of modern science were incorporated; the Bible and post Cartesian philosophers were generously quoted, while Aristotle and scholastic philosophers were rarely mentioned, except in an historical survey.”

“Breaking with all this “being-up-to-date-ness” and returning to the roots of their own Catholic tradition made possible a new flowering of Catholic intellectual life. Karl Rahner, Bernard Lonergan, Edith Stein, Henri de Lubac, Josef Pieper, Jacques Maritain, Yves Simon, Flannery O’Connor, Pope John Paul II — the list goes on and on — all of whom owe much of their intellectual formation to that Thomistic revival. In nearly every case, such scholars went beyond their Thomistic training and developed their thought in differing directions – a good teacher could ask for nothing more – but the formation they received studying the thought of Thomas Aquinas gave them a solid foundation on which to build. It also gave them a common language and set of categories with which they could enter into dialogue both with their Catholic peers and their secular counterparts. Such are the benefits of being formed in the “perennial philosophy” of the “Common Doctor.”