Saturday, July 12, 2008

In praise of Thomas

F

r. Enrico Gonzales painstakingly outlined the enduring qualities of Thomas Acquinas in his article entitled “Is Thomistic Philosophy Relevant in Seminary Formation?” These qualities, he argued, are outstanding mark of “the spirit of Acquinas…the spirit, which in turn leads to a balanced view what really man is and his world.”

No, Fr. Gonzales did not include Thomas’ love for learning, industry, self-discipline and holiness among these traits. Acquinas may be hailed as the Catholic Church’s greatest theologian—one of the 33 doctors of the Church—who has contributed so much in the theology of the modern Church we know of, but he is also a Saint.

I am tempted to say that being a canonized saint of the Church, this alone ought to make Thomas’ life and perhaps, also his philosophy, worth taking a second look. Much yet, to study.

However, I believe that St. Thomas’ contribution to the Church is not only his distinct brand of holiness—but also his enlightened brilliance well articulated in his philosophy which has become one of the very bases of our theology.

Leo XIII, the very pope who issued the encyclical Aeterni Patris on August 4, 1879, hailed St. Thomas as the prince of the Scholastic theologians and philosophers (Catholic Encyclopedia). The main aim of Leo’s letter was the revival of Scholastic philosophy fashioned after the mind of St. Thomas Aquinas.

Part of the encyclical reads:

We exhort you, venerable brethren, in all earnestness to restore the golden wisdom of St. Thomas, and to spread it far and wide for the defense and beauty of the Catholic faith, for the good of society, and for the advantage of all the sciences… Let carefully selected teachers endeavor to implant the doctrine of Thomas Aquinas in the minds of students, and set forth clearly his solidity and excellence over others. Let the universities already founded or to be founded by you illustrate and defend this doctrine, and use it for the refutation of prevailing errors.

Canon Law

Thomas Aquinas must have been a very important figure in the Church that no less than a vicar of Christ in the person of Leo XIII would play a vital role in calling the attention of everyone to return to the philosophy Acquinas espoused.

I thought that was all to it about Thomas, but when I came across a text, which now escapes my mind, stating that a certain portion of the Canon Law of the Church encourages the seminary formators to train their formands “at the foot of Thomas.”

And true enough, the third paragraph of Canon Law 252 reads:

Lectures are to be given in dogmatic theology, based always on the written word of God and on sacred Tradition; through them the students are to learn to penetrate more deeply into the mysteries of salvation, with St. Thomas in particular as their teacher. Lectures are also to be given in moral and pastoral theology, canon law, liturgy, ecclesiastical history, and other auxiliary and special disciplines, in accordance with the provisions of the Charter on Priestly Formation.

The Canon Law is the internal ecclesiastical law of the Church. I have not read the manuscript from cover to cover, at least not yet, but I am struck with the very mention of the word of recognition granted to St. Thomas to be “the teacher” of our future Church ministers. I take it as not merely a celebration of Thomas’ contribution to the Church, but a mandate addressed to those in charge of priestly formation to reserve a special place for Thomas in the context of the seminary formation.

Challenges

While it is true that Thomistic Philosophy is still fundamental to the formation of our priests, there is a need for those who are running formation houses to be more creative in the task of shaping our future ministers. The genius of Thomas may still be relevant in our time and age, but let’s accept it, he lived more than 800 years ago.

Copleston (1944), the authoritative source when it comes to the history of Philosophy believes in the existence of a philosophia perennis (eternal philosophy) and that this philosophia perennis is Thomism in a wide sense. However, he gave a caveat that to say that the “Thomist system is the perennial philosophy does not mean that that system is closed at any given historical epoch and is incapable of further development in any direction.” This view has been forwarded by Rosario (1999) as this philosophy should not be depicted as a universal source of all explanations and solutions.œ

References

O’Riodan, M. (1907). Aeterni patris. The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company Retrieved July 4, 2008 from http://www.newadvent.org/cathen /01177a.htm

Copleston, Frederick. (1946). A history of philosophy (Vol. 1 p. 7). Doubleday: New York.

Leo XIII. (August 4, 1879). Aeterni patris.

Rosario, Tomas. (April 5, 1999) Thomism in the next millennium. National Convention on Philosophy in the Third Millennium. Philosophical Association of the Philippines. Ateneo de Manila University Loyola Heights Quezon City.