Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Dominican Mottos: Veritas

Dominicans have a few mottos which encapsulate their purpose and mission. Frequently cited is veritas (truth). The other two most commonly quoted are laudare, benedicere, praedicare (to praise, to bless, to preach) and contemplare et contemplata aliis tradere (to contemplate and hand on to others the fruits of contemplation).


According to the Bible, God is the source of truth: ‘The sum of thy word is truth’ (Ps 119:160), ‘I the Lord speak the truth, I declare what is right’ (Is 45:19). He guides his people in his truth: ‘Lead me in thy truth, and teach me’ (Ps 25:5); ‘Teach me thy way, O Lord, that I may walk in thy truth’ (Ps 86:11). St Thomas Aquinas states that there ‘not only is truth in [God], but he is truth itself, supreme first truth’ (Summa Theologiae I.q16.a5).

In Jesus Christ the whole of God’s truth became manifest, ‘full of grace and truth’ (Jn 1:14). He came as ‘the Light of the world’ (Jn 9:5) and as ‘the Truth’ (Jn 14:6) to testify to this: ‘For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth’ (Jn 18:37). His disciples continue in his word because ‘the truth will make you free’ (Jn 8:32).

To follow Christ is to liv
e by the Spirit he sent, ‘the Spirit of truth’ (Jn 14:17; 15.26; 16:13), who bears witness to Jesus and sanctifies the disciples in truth (Jn 17:17). Loving the truth (2 Th 2:10) and ‘speaking the truth in love’, they grow into the fullness of their head, Christ (Eph 4:15). To be a Christian is to be a member of Christ’s body (Rom 12:5; 1 Cor 12:27; Eph 5:30) — the Church (Col 1:24) — which is ‘the pillar and bulwark of the truth’ (1 Tim 3:15).

Catechism teaches us that human beings naturally tend toward the truth; they are morally bound to seek truth, to adhere to the truth once they come to know it, and to direct their whole lives in accordance with what the truth demands (n. 2467).

The conviction that God is our beginning and our end, that we come from him and are going to him, that he himself is truth and that truth will set us free, is the ground of all Dominican action. As the hymn Adoro te devote (allegedly by St Thomas Aquinas) says, ‘Truth himself speaks truly, or there’s nothing true’. In the final analysis everything is about love: who we love and how much. But in order to love God and our neighbour better, we must know God and ourselves better. Love is served by knowledge.

St. Dominic sought ‘the salvation of souls’ by preaching truth to his hearers. He
instituted study as Dominican asceticism so that we might preach truth soundly and convincingly. St. Thomas Aquinas, like every good Dominican, firmly believed that there was all truth somewhere but also that there was some truth everywhere. He took all objections seriously, carefully distinguishing any truth in it from its error. This is the basis of the modern theological use of the term ‘dialogue’: the pursuit of truth is a shared journey of discovery.

Dominicans cannot be interested in quashing their opponents. They seek to buil
d with everyone on the same edifice of truth. Our pursuit of truth necessarily entails that we should also explain and defend the truth, in the old-fashioned sense of the word ‘apology’. Pope Honorius III, who officially approved the Order, told St. Dominic that he was ‘convinced that the brothers of your Order will be champions of the Faith and true lights of the world’.

The great Dominican St. Catherine of Siena summed up our ideal with her prayer ‘God grant that I may always be a lover and proclaimer of truth, and that for the sake of truth I may die’ (Letters, 277). In this love for truth, the great model for Dominicans is Our Lady, Mary, the mother of Jesus. She opened her heart and mind to the truth God sent her (Lk 1:38; 2:19, 51) and sought God’s will for herself and others (Gn 2:5) in spite of the pain it brought her personally (Lk 2:35; Jn 19:25). Recognising her son as Truth, Mary pondered his words (Jn 2:4) and the events of his life (Lk 2:19, 51).

This reflection, written by Fr Leon Pereira OP, is available in leaflet form at Blackfriars, Oxford

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Sunday, January 28, 2007

New Navigation Icons


'Godzdogz' has undergone a slight modification: four new 'Icons' have been placed in the Sidebar on the right. Clicking on them will take you to the relevant sections of this blog with archived content. Exciting new content to come will be posted regularly each week, tagged and placed in each of these four sections, so please do take the time to explore them, and check back regularly.


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Saturday, January 27, 2007

Christmas Puzzle - the TRUE Solution

Congratulations to a group of 13 year olds in a Sunday School in Singapore who found the correct solution to the Christmas puzzle (not the one posted yesterday: the godzdogz editor blushes - even more because in an earlier solution he had found Esther and Kings but overlooked them yesterday. Amos is very easy, Matthew is very clever. Oh to be 13 again!)The solution is as follows:

There are thirty books of the Bible in this paragraph. Can you find them? This is A MOSt reMARKable puzzle. It was found by a gentleman in an airplane seat pocket, on a flight from Los Angeles to HonoluLU, KEeping him occupied for hours. He enjoyed it so much, that he passed it on to some friends. One friend from Illinois worked on this while fishing from his JOHN-boat. Another friend studied it while playing his banJO. ELaine Taylor, a columnist friend, was so intrigued by it she mentioned it in her weekly newspaper column. Another friend JUDGES the JOB of solving this puzzle so involving, that sHE BREWS a cup of tea to help her nervES. THERe will be some names that are really easy to spot. That's a fACT. Some people, however, will soon find themselves in a JAM, ESpecially since the books are not necessarily capitalized. TRUTHfully, fROM ANSwers we get, we are forced to admiT IT USually takes a priest or scholar to see some of theM AT THE Worst. Research has shown that something in our GENES IS responsible for the difficulty we have in seeing the books in this paragraph. During a recent fund-raising event, which featured this puzzle, the Alpha Delta PHI-LEMONade booth set a new sales record. The local paper, The CHRONICLE, Surveyed over 200 patrons who reported that this puzzle was one of the most difficult they had ever seen. As DANIEL HumaNA HUMbly puts it, 'the books are all right here in plain view hidden from sight'.

THOSE Able to find all of them will hear great LAMENTATIONS from those who have to be shown. One REVELATION that may help is that books called TIMOTHY and SAMUEL may occur without their NUMBERS. Also, keep in mind, that punctuation and spaces in the middle are norMAL. A CHIpper attitude will help you comPETE Really well against those who claim to know the answers. Remember, there is no need for a mad EXODUS, there really are 30 books of the Bible lurKING Somewhere in this paragraph waiting to be found.

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Godzdogz Aquinas Lecture 2007

St Thomas Aquinas: Missionary to the new Universities
Gregory Murphy OP

§1 Introduction
To consider St Thomas Aquinas as a missionary or teacher in the new universities begs a larger question: why should anyone wish to study the philosophy or theology of Aquinas at all? As Anthony Kenny has put it with characteristic wit and acuity, Thomas ‘was an Italian friar of the thirteenth century, writing in low Latin encumbered with antiquated jargon, subservient to the teaching authority of the medieval church’ (Aquinas on Mind Routledge (1993) page 1). Kenny goes on to note that the answer one gives to this question will depend on one’s conception of the nature of philosophy: ‘unlike works of science, classic works of philosophy do not date’ (ibid). Also, contemporary philosophers have more in common with their medieval predecessors than some might care to admit: most study of philosophy at the present time takes place in universities, and the university was a medieval invention, if by ‘university’ we mean a corporation of people engaged professionally in the teaching of a corpus of knowledge, handing it on to their pupils, with an agreed syllabus, agreed methods of teaching and agreed professional standards. I shall describe the origins and development of these institutions in more detail below.

In the Middle Ages the syllabus was set especially by the translation of the surviving works of Aristotle into Latin. This provided the twelfth and thirteenth-century scholars with a corpus of information about the world and humanity that was independent of, and in some places in conflict with the Christian tradition. Arguably, the main focus of Aquinas’s work was to create a synthesis between faith and reason: to show that Christian Revelation was compatible with the new way of thinking about the world. And in his success in that endeavour lies his continuing importance as an exemplar, as instanced by Pope John Paul II in his 1998 encyclical Fides et Ratio ‘not only because of the things contained in his teaching but also because of the dialogue which he undertook with the Arab and Jewish studies of his time … he argued that the light of both reason and faith comes from God and therefore there can be no conflict between them’ (Fides et Ratio §43, citing Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles (SCG) I.7). However, it is important to note that (in contrast to nineteenth-century neo-Scholasticism) Aquinas is not held up as having all the correct answers, but rather as a theologian whose work can be a template for those who, in our own time, are convinced that faith and reason can, and must, be held together.

One of the major difficulties in appropriating Aquinas’s thought is the sheer bulk of his output. His works were the first major corpus to be turned into machine-readable form for the purpose of constructing a computerised index and concordance. So we are in a position to say that in the less than fifty years of his life he produced 8,686,577 words (excluding works where there is any doubt about authenticity – if these are included, the total reaches some 11 million)(Kenny, op.cit., page 11). Obviously, I cannot offer a comprehensive survey of his thought here. So what I intend to do in this talk is first, to sketch the intellectual context in which Thomas worked, and then to focus on recent re-readings of the genre and purpose of one of his major works, the Summa contra Gentiles, which for long was taken to be intended for missionaries. This view is now increasingly, and, I think, convincingly contested.

The reception of Thomas’s work since the thirteenth century has been long and complex: by his immediate successors; by the generation affected by John Duns Scotus; by sixteenth-century expositors such as Suarez and Cajetan; by those like Las Casas and Vitoria who used his teaching about natural law to develop a doctrine of human rights to defend the indigenous peoples of Latin America – to mention only the salient phases of the story(for a survey of modern interpretations of Aquinas see Fergus Kerr, After Aquinas: Versions of Thomism Blackwell Publishing, 2002). Ecclesiastical interest in Thomas revived in 1879 following the influential endorsement of his thought by Pope Leo XIII. Accordingly he was neglected by professional philosophers, as he was accepted, both inside and outside the church, as the official philosopher of Roman Catholicism. Since the Second Vatican Council Aquinas’ influence on Catholic institutions has become much looser, and, by contrast his reputation in the non-Catholic world has gained from the fact that he is now no longer seen as the spokesman for a party line (Kenny, op.cit., page 13). Nor, now, does the criticism made by, for instance, Bertrand Russell seem tenable that ‘Aquinas was not a serious philosopher because he was looking for reasons for what he already believed’ – as Kenny dryly observes, ‘it is extraordinary that that criticism should be made by Russell, [who took] hundreds of pages to prove that two and two make four, which is something he had believed all his life’ (Kenny, op.cit., page 12).

Initially, recent interest had focussed on Thomas as a philosopher, although, inside and outside the church, the volume of his writings has meant that he has been read principally in epitome and anthology, which has often blunted the sharpness of his thought. Of course, Thomas did not think of himself primarily as a philosopher – he saw himself first of all as a commentator on the ‘sacred page’ of Scripture. Recent Anglophone scholarship has redressed this imbalance by paying more attention to the theological and scriptural emphases in Thomas’s writings.

Initially, my response to being asked to talk about St Thomas as a missionary was one of slight perplexity. He did cover prodigious distances in Europe mainly on foot – from Naples to Paris, Paris to Cologne, Cologne to Paris, Paris to Naples, Naples to Orvieto, Orvieto to Rome, Rome to Paris, Paris to Naples, Naples to Fossanova (and thence to glory, en route to the Council of Lyons) – to mention only the major stages. But he was not a missionary as the term is commonly understood, in the sense of preaching the gospel directly to heathens or to the Muslims, although several of his Dominican contemporaries were doing just that. In a slightly wider context, and especially with reference to the new institutions of learning – the universities – that were emerging in Christian Europe, though, I will argue that it makes very good sense to read Thomas as a missionary – as his was one of the first, and (belatedly) most influential Christian responses to the challenge of the re-appropriation of pagan learning in the form of the major works of Aristotle, up to then unavailable to the Latin West, which had been translated from Greek into Arabic via Syriac in Damascus, and which were being translated from Arabic into Latin by scholars based principally in Naples and Spain. Crudely, the issue was that while the Aristotelian corpus seemed to offer a better understanding of the world, the philosophical principles on which it was based seemed to be in conflict with well-established principles of Christian Revelation (which themselves were expressed in terms deriving from neo-Platonism, inherited from the thought, especially, of Boethius and Augustine). Before focussing on some of the issues Thomas was grappling with, and how he resolved them, I want to say something briefly about the origins and character of the ‘new’ universities.

§2 The new universities
If we should talk of ‘new universities’ just now the implied context would be drawing a comparison, favourable or otherwise, with the ‘old universities’ – especially, in England, those of Oxford and Cambridge, which are roughly contemporaneous (if a little later) than the two Thomas was principally engaged with – Naples and Paris. To understand how these institutions arose I want to look briefly at two examples: Oxford and Paris. But first a little about the circumstances which gave rise to these institutions. Europe experienced a demographic surge in the first half of the 12th century as a consequence of an agricultural revolution based on the use of horse-drawn plough. This increased availability of food sustained a correspondingly greater population (and labour force) in the new towns. In turn, this resulted in a growing demand for educated officials from all branches of medieval government: kings, bishops, monasteries and all the great landowners required educated men for the conduct of their affairs. Students sought out recognised scholars (or Masters) who were usually associated with Cathedral schools, such as Orleans, Chartres, and, above all, Paris, which themselves had grown out of the monastic schools. These schools in turn coalesced into the first universities – corporations of scholars licensed by ecclesiastical and secular government.

§2.1 Paris
One of the schools of Paris that existed in the monastery of St Victor just outside the city walls fostered an Augustinian tradition of philosophy strongly influenced by Plato. The purpose of learning, according to that school’s most distinguished representative, Hugh of St Victor (died 1141), was ‘wisdom’ – ‘the eternal and unchanging truths concealed by the myriad deceptions and alterations of perception’ (Anders Piltz, The World of Medieval Learning, translated by D. Jones Blackwell (1981) pages 40-41). This and other monastic schools had reached their peak of influence by the early twelfth century. Then, as centres of learning, they were outstripped by the cathedral schools. This was due to two parallel effects of, first, the Carolingian renaissance, and then the later, associated Hildebrandine (Pope Gregory VII) ecclesiastical reforms: on the one hand, monasteries began to lessen the emphasis on (pagan) learning, focussing more on scriptural exegesis; on the other, an enhanced drive to reform the education of the clergy led to the formation of cathedral schools, and the appointment of cathedral officers (responsible to the bishop) who directed the education of the clerics associated with that church. Students from all over Europe travelled to famous masters in these schools such as Gerbert of Rheims and Fulbert and Bernard of Chartres. An outstanding example of such a student, whose autobiography gives an account of one living through this transitional period, is Peter Abelard, who could not unreasonably be claimed as Europe’s first professional academic (Abelard, Historia Calmitatum and Personal Letters, Penguin Classics; M.Clanchy, Abelard: a Medieval Life; H.Waddell, Peter Abelard (this last is a brilliant novel based on Abelard’s life).

The growing fame of individual Masters led them to establish schools associated more-or-less loosely with the cathedrals (in that age, all had to be licensed by the church), pre-eminently in Paris (the arts and theology) and Bologna (canon and civil law). Eventually, we find the scholars validating each others’ progression through an evolving university system in the manner of a guild, itself a medieval innovation structuring trade in the emerging cities. The course in the Faculty of Arts was lengthy and rigorous. At Paris, it was five or six years. The first two years were spent listening to lectures and attending disputations, and the next two participating in disputations under the supervision of a master. A minority of students went on to ‘determine’ – to determine or resolve questions being disputed. At this stage, students would also lecture cursorily on assigned texts. Finally, the student could be presented for a license to incept as a master. Although this was not universally enforced, upon graduating as a Master of Arts he was required to lecture for two years on the faculty. After completing the arts course, a smaller number of highly qualified students would go on to study theology. To become a ‘Master of the Sacred Page’ required eight years in addition to the arts course: four years were spent hearing lectures on the Bible, and two on the Sentences of Peter Lombard (a thematic compilation of Scriptural and Patristic quotations). After this, if he were 25 or older, a student could petition to be made a bachelor. As a bachelor he gave cursory lectures on the Bible for two years. He then became a bachelor of, and delivered lectures on, the Sentences (John I. Jenkins, Knowledge and Faith in Thomas Aquinas Cambridge University Press (1997) page 88). Eventually, a student could attain the highest possible qualification: that of Master in Sacred Theology (only studied at what we would term postgraduate level). As I have said, Paris drew students from all nations, who settled in districts based on nationality (the origin of the quartiers) close to Notre Dame on the left bank of the Seine. Then, as now, this would have been quite volatile – people would have started university at about 15, and riots and outbreaks of violence were commonplace. Out of these schools the university coalesced, and soon this nascent institution was also hosting the study-houses of the new religious movements sweeping thirteenth-century Europe: the friars.

§2.2 Oxford
This process is perhaps more easily illustrated in the case of Oxford (although this institution was not, alas, one attended by Aquinas). Like Paris, its older and more famous cousin, the University of Oxford was not created; rather it emerged after a long period of discontinuous and fitful scholastic activity, which only gradually received the stamp of corporate identity in the first quarter of the thirteenth century (R.W.Southern, 'From Schools to University' pages 1-36 in The History of the University of Oxford: Vol 1 The Early Oxford Schools ed J.I.Catto, Clarendon Press, Oxford (1984), at page 1). The first sign of academic activity in Oxford was the appearance of a schoolmaster who taught in the town about a century earlier. This reflected the enhanced demand for literacy from the church, due to a rapid growth in the number of parishes and religious communities; and, more effectively, the increased demand for educated men from every level of medieval governance, as mentioned above. The growth of a centre for higher studies in England was primarily governed by the ease or difficulty of access to the great schools on the continent (ibid, page 3); for while the advantage of continental schools was primarily chronological – the schools of northern France and Italy having in or about a 100-year head-start – Oxford had become increasingly important as a centre for ecclesiastical and civil courts and litigation towards the close of the reign of Henry II (ibid, pages 15-21). Slightly later, due to the increasing and unprecedented levels of violence and organisation in the wars between Richard I and Philip Augustus of France (1193-1204), scholars were unable to travel to Paris and, consequently, an enhanced and enlarged activity of the Oxford schools is documented around 1200 (ibid, page 25). But this was almost stillborn. In 1209 a student killed his mistress with a bow and fled. Spurred on by the enraged townsfolk, the mayor and officers seized and hanged two others from his lodgings. Masters and scholars scattered, upset by this affront to their juridical immunity from the savagery of the civil law, and went to Paris, Reading and Cambridge (ibid, page 26). [The community at Reading did not survive, though now even Oxford academics, under pressure, will admit that that at Cambridge did so]. Eventually, in 1214, a papal legate arranged for the bishop of Lincoln to appoint a chancellor with some kind of authority over the masters (ibid, page 29): ‘any clerk arrested by a layman was to be handed over at once on request to an officer of the bishop’ (ibid, page 30).

The chancellor as such was not, initially, an important figure – he had no stipend, and his main duty appeared to be the selection of a hundred poor scholars for a free dinner (funded by the city, as part of the legatine settlement) once a year - but his importance grew with time, as the symbol and rallying point for the corporate identity and ambitions of the body of Masters (ibid, page 33). Over time, we see these bodies asserting their independence from the Church; for example, the Masters of Paris rebelled against their Bishop in 1221, asserting their right to make regulations and seal with their own seal. Similarly, in Lincoln in 1295 the Masters of Oxford wanted to appoint their own candidate as chancellor – the bishop accepted him, but still claimed the right to appoint; however, the direct involvement of the bishop in appointments was gradually eroded (ibid, page 36). Oxford was first recognised as an institution by the crown in 1231, and gained a papal charter from Innocent IV in 1254. Paris had been recognised as a corporate entity by the Holy See in 1245 (M.B.Hackett, 'The University as a Corporate Body' pages 37-95 in The History of the University of Oxford: Vol 1 The Early Oxford Schools ed J.I.Catto, Clarendon Press, Oxford (1984), at pp 49-50).

§ 2.3 Conclusion: the Universities in medieval polities
I had hoped to illustrate three main points from this sketch of the early universities; first, they were, like the Guilds they resembled, medieval innovations arising from the growth of cities for the first time since the collapse of the western Empire; secondly, they were perceived as a valuable resource, and so under ecclesiastical control – the church in the West had, after all, ‘held the gates of learning for Europe’ (see H.Waddell, Songs of the Wandering Scholars); third, the rulers of the nascent nation states also perceived them to be a valuable resource, in part because they would allow the formation of a cadre of literate bureaucrats seeking patronage from the monarchy rather than the church. Thus we find the Kings of France and England supporting the Universities of Paris and Oxford, respectively; and, more germane to my topic here, the Emperor Frederick II Hohenstauffen founding the University of Naples – decidedly not under papal control (D.Abulafia, Frederick II, Pimlico (1992) pages 263-264). Unlike the Universities of Paris and Oxford, the University of Naples did not help secure the emerging nation-state in the Holy Roman Empire, as Frederick had hoped, but it played a rather more interesting role. Explicitly founded against the church monopoly of education by a Norman prince who had grown up in the multicultural Sicilian court exposed to Jewish and, especially, Islamic influence, it became one of the key centres in the transmission and translation of the Aristotelian corpus into the Latin west (S.Runciman, The Sicilian Vespers Cambridge University Press (1958) pages 14-15; J-P.Torrell, St Thomas Aquinas vol 1: the Person and his Work translated by R.Royal, Catholic University of America Press (1996) page 6). And Aquinas was exposed to this from the beginning.

§3 Aquinas and the Universities
The struggle between Pope and Emperor is one of the great shaping narratives of the Middle Ages, and one in which Aquinas’s family was very much involved. The family seat was near Monte Cassino, pretty much on the frontier between the Emperor’s Kingdom of Sicily and the Papal states. Aquinas’s family generally supported the Emperor’s cause. As a younger son, Thomas was educated first at the Benedictine Abbey of Monte Cassino. As this occupied a strategic position and was in danger of being besieged, about 1239 (aged about 15) the abbot sent him to the University of Naples. There he would have encountered Peter of Ireland, Michael Scot, and others involved in the transmission of the new learning. More significantly, it was at Naples that he first encountered the new Order of Preachers, founded by St Dominic in 1221. Against family opposition (they had expected him eventually to become the abbot of Monte Cassino rather than join a bunch of apostolic ragamuffins) he persisted in the order, and was sent first to Paris, and then to the newly-established Studium Generale founded by St Albert the Great in Cologne.

§3.1 Dominican Education
The arrival of the mendicant friars (Dominicans and Franciscans) in the emerging universities helped establish the independence and status of these institutions. But it also aroused the jealousy of the secular masters, who feared competition (their wealth and status depended upon the number of students they could attract). In turn, Dominic’s decisive action in sending small groups of his friars to Paris, Bologna and Oxford changed the Order: its essential apostolate now conceived both in terms of preaching the gospel and in acquiring the formal learning to enable this to be efficiently prosecuted. Not all of the Order’s tertiary-level institutions were linked to Universities (for example, the Studium Generale at Cologne), but a significant number were, and this linkage perdures down to the present.

The primary building-blocks which comprised the Dominicans’ graduated hierarchy of schools were: the priory schools, the provincial schools, and the studia generalia. Utilitarian in form and content, the sole objective of the Dominican educational system was to provide the vast majority of the friars preachers with the theological training necessary for their day-to-day ministry. Thus, the Dominican novitiate was designed to immerse the novice in the Dominican way of life, not to educate him in grammar or the arts. Preferring to recruit among the magistri and students of the arts, the Dominicans did not, as a practice, recruit from the insufficentia. Even after the Order lowered the age of admission to 15, candidates were expected to have already acquired the basics of grammatica. Conventual priors were held responsible for the instruction of the uneducated youths whom they admitted.

Between the priory school and the studium generale the Dominicans experimented with several different types of provincial schools, such as the language schools (which taught Arabic, Hebrew and Greek) founded in Spain in the late 13th century for future Dominican missionaries. The fundamental units of province-level education were the studium artium and the studium naturalium. These combined were roughly the equivalent of the arts course at the northern universities. At the pinnacle of the Dominican educational system was the studium generale. This denoted a school that possessed one of the superior faculties or which had obtained papal or imperial recognition; possessed a permanent location, and served friars drawn from the Order as a whole rather than a specific province (summarised from E.Lowe, The Contested Theological Authority of Thomas Aquinas Routledge (2003) pages 22-29). Aquinas’ assignment to the studia generale in Cologne and Paris thus indicates the Order’s recognition of his gifts, culminating in his election as Master of Theology in Paris, in one of the two chairs allotted to the friars. This was a highly prestigious (if fixed-term) appointment: others who had held it included Thomas’s teacher, St Albert the Great, and his Franciscan contemporary St Bonaventure. Thomas, indeed, had the rare honour of being appointed to this position twice (the only other Dominican who achieved this accolade being Meister Eckhart, a generation later).

§3.2 Thomas as a Teacher
The majority of the friars, then, the fratres communes, no matter what their age or experience, are the juniors (iuniores), beginners (incipientes), and the simple (simplices) addressed in so many medieval Dominican prefaces. They are, on the whole, those who had not had the chance of higher education in the manner of Albert, Thomas, Peter of Tarentaise or other intellectual lights of the teachable (docibiles) or lector class (L.E.Boyle, 'The setting of the Summa- Revisited' pages 1-16 in S.J.Pope, (ed) The Ethics of Aquinas, Georgetown University Press (2002) at page 2). Thomas, as far as we can tell, had his first taste of this ordinary Dominican world of fratres communes, pastoral aids and practical theology when after two years in Naples he took on the post of lector at Orvieto in autumn 1261, after spending some thirteen or fourteen years in the Studia generale at Cologne and Paris. Thomas was not unaware of the demands on lectors (supposed to be totally at the disposition of their brethren) and of the limitations of the priory schools. In June 1259, six months before he left Paris for Naples and, eventually, Orvieto, he had been, along with Albert the Great and Peter of Tarentaise, a member of a committee of five that presented a ratio studiorum for the whole Order to the general chapter at Valenciennes, north of Paris.

Boyle suggests that Thomas may have felt that the emphasis on practical theology (moral cases discussed in the training of preachers and confessors) was too narrow an approach to theology; in any event, around 1265, he seems to have been given a free hand in setting up a studium provincialis for theology in Italy, probably at Santa Sabina, in Rome. There, he was free to devise his own curriculum, focussed on his student body, and this work ‘for the instruction of beginners’ is the Summa theologiae (ST). Thomas did not, of course, ignore practical theology – indeed, the largest part, the Secunda pars specifically considers human beings and their acts. But he now gave that practical theology a setting not evident in Dominican circles before him. By prefacing the moral part with a treatise on God, Trinity and Creation, and then rounding it off with a Tertia pars on the Son of God, Incarnation and the Sacraments, Thomas put practical theology – the study of Christian life, its virtues and its vices - in a full theological context. Christian morality was shown to be more than a question of straight ethical teaching of vices and virtues in isolation. Inasmuch as the person was an intelligent being who was master of himself and possessed freedom of choice, he was in the image of God. To study human action is therefore to study the image of God, and to operate on a theological plane. To study human action on a theological plane is to study it in relation to its beginning and end, God, and to the bridge between them, Christ and his Sacraments (ibid, page 6; see also M-D Chenu’s exitus-reditus model of ST).

Boyle suggests that the audience Thomas had in mind when, with stark prose and easy, logical steps he composed ST, was young, run-of-the-mill Dominicans, and not a more sophisticated university audience: ‘my purpose’, he wrote, ‘is so to propose the things that pertain to faith that the instruction of beginners will be better served (ST I prologue). But the term ‘beginners’ can be deceptive here, and others contest this view. For Jenkins, those called beginners are not always rank beginners. He sees the presupposed contrast as between students, albeit very advanced students (the equivalent of bachelors of the Sentences), on the one hand, and Aquinas’s fellow theological Masters at Paris on the other (Jenkins (1997) pages 89-90). Similarly, for Mark D.Jordan, ST is not so much the report of Thomas’s classroom performance or his script for future teachers as it is the pattern for an ideal pedagogy, a pedagogy for middle learners in a vowed community of Christian pastors (M.D.Jordan, Rewritten Theology: Aquinas after his readers Blackwell Publishing (2006) page 120).

§4 Thomas as a Missionary

§4.1 The Summa Contra Gentiles

For a long time this shorter and less famous of Thomas’s Summae was classified as a missionary manual and, indeed, included in histories of missionary activity. Recent readings, especially by Mark Jordan, persuasively argue that such interpretations of the work, and of Thomas’s motives in writing it, comprehensively misread it. But such misreading originated with the Dominicans themselves, not long after Thomas’s death. I would like to summarise the main points of Jordan’s comments on the purpose of SCG, as this illuminates both what Thomas saw as one of his main projects (judging by the length of the work), and his method of engaging with the new learning in the universities.

One early account of the origin and what we would now call genre of SCG runs as follows (here I quote from Jordan):

In a narration of the deeds of James I of Aragon, as part of a reminiscence of Raymond of Peñafort, the Dominican chronicler Peter of Marsilius recounts a story about the composition of Against the Gentiles. Peter’s text was finished on April 2nd, 1313; the frame for the story of Raymond is a narrative about Christmas, 1274; and the story itself lies even further back – more than 40 years before the date of writing. At that time, Peter says, Raymond asked Thomas to compose a work ‘against the errors of the unbelievers (contra infidelium errores)’ as an aid in conversion. ‘That master did what the humble rogation (deprecatio) of such a father required; and he composed (condidit) a summa called ‘against the Gentiles,’ which is believed not to have any equal for such material (pro illa materia)’. … The story is introduced to illustrate Raymond’s zeal for conversions and to show his influence within the Order. Since the story is not repeated in the contemporary lives of Raymond or in any of the canonization proceedings for Thomas, it is presumed that Peter was relying on a local legend from the Dominican house in Barcelona, where he had worked with Raymond years before’ (Mark D.Jordan, ‘The Protreptic Structure of the Summa Contra Gentiles’ in The Thomist 50 (1986) 173-209, at pages 175-176; essentially reproduced in Jordan, Rewritten Theology: Aquinas after his Readers (2006) Blackwell Publishing, chapter 5 pages 89-115, at pages 90-91).

What we have here, then, is a unique attestation for what seems to be a bit of local hagiography. However, Jordan argues, if we assume that the story is a luckily preserved fact rather than a pious invention, difficulties merely multiply. The first difficulty is simply to know what Peter means, especially what he intends by the phrase ‘such material (illa materia)’. What is the matter or material of SCG? Where does it fit into the well-organised Dominican missionary effort? Jordan suggests three possibilities: it is a book to be given to potential converts; it is a manual for field-training missionaries; it represents a reference work that refutes all errors of unbelievers compendiously.

Of these three readings of materia he considers only the third to have any plausibility – and then not much. As to the first, Jordan thinks Against the Gentiles cannot have been directed at potential converts, as ‘from the first line and then on every page thereafter, Thomas’s rhetoric is the rhetoric of one Christian speaking to another’ (Jordan (1986) page 176). This is evident in the use of Scriptural and magisterial quotations, in a presumption of acquaintance with Christian letters, and even in the voice of the first person plural. More precisely, Thomas argues in the prologue that the mysteries of Christian faith ought not to be presented argumentatively before non-believers for fear of making them think that faith depends only upon such weak arguments. But it is precisely these arguments that are presented as part of the plan of the fourth book (SCG I.9.3: ‘answering the objections of its adversaries and setting forth the truth of faith by probable arguments and by authorities, to the best of our ability’). How then could Thomas have intended that his book be placed into the hands of non-believers, without giving them offence and exposing the Christian faith to scandal?

Jordan thinks it no more likely that SCG was intended to train Dominican missionaries in the field. There are external and internal reasons for adopting this view. Externally, the work is an unsatisfactory missionary manual precisely by Dominican standards of the thirteenth century. The life of Raymond himself offers counter-examples. Raymond not only founded schools for Oriental studies within the Dominican order, as Peter narrates, but also figured prominently in public debates with non-Christians. In 1263, for example, Raymond helped set the rules for a debate between the Dominican Paul the Christian (a convert from Judaism) and Rabbi Moses ben Nachman of Gerona. Paul’s strategy was to argue from a detailed knowledge of rabbinical writings that the messiah had already come, that he was prophesied to be both divine and human, and that his advent had destroyed the laws and ceremonials. This same strategy of refutation from within the opposing tradition was used by Dominicans in campaigns of Jewish conversion through the 1250s and 1260s in Spain and France. They dealt similarly with the Cathars and allied heretics (Jordan (1986) pages 177-78 with references given there), and very much the same devices and emphases figure in Dominican preaching to Islam.

Internally, Thomas, in the prologue to the work (the first nine chapters of SCG I) excuses himself for not being able to deal with particular errors (SCG I.2). He is not familiar with them, nor can he proceed against all adversaries on the basis of common Scriptural authorities (I.2.3) since ‘Mohammedans and the pagans’ do not share any Scriptural authority with Christians. The second passage, in SCG I.6, contrasts the sober motives for accepting Christian revelation with the improper persuasions to various erroneous opinions, citing Mohammed ‘seducing the people by promises of carnal pleasure’ (SCG I.6.4). It is clear this description depends on no very detailed knowledge of Islam. But that is because Thomas’s source is not contemporary Dominican research, but rather the century-old Summula of Peter the Venerable. Elsewhere, in his Contra errors Graecorum, a short work written as Thomas was finishing the last book of SCG, we find Thomas being textually scrupulous within the limits of his knowledge and cautious about overstepping those limits (Jordan (1986) pages 179-81).

It seems, then, that we are reduced to the third possibility, that SCG was intended to provide a reference book of philosophical arguments against the conceptual arguments instanced by unbelievers, to be read by Christians who live in intellectual contact with them. But it is difficult to call such a general work of Christian pedagogy ‘missionary’, except in the sense in which every Christian reader is being called to conversion.

In a close analysis of the text, Jordan argues that the structure of SCG as Thomas conceives it is phrased in terms of a rhetorical or pedagogical efficacy (SCG I.9). But who is to be persuaded, and about what? The audience is not the adversary himself, nor the prospective convert. Rather, Thomas wants to show how an adversary could be convinced. However, in order to teach believers what can (what we might call natural theology) and what cannot (what we might call revelation) be demonstrated, Thomas must undertake a persuasive clarification of the truth of faith (ibid, page 190). Jordan therefore classifies the genre of SCG as ‘protreptic’: in classical writing a persuasion to the study or practice of some art or skill; for philosophical writers, an exhortation to the practice of the philosophic art, which required virtues of inquiry and contemplation (ibid,l page 192). If we recall that the ancient philosophical schools functioned in a semi-religious sense as schools of wisdom, eclipsed by Christian asceticism in the monastic movement, then the notion of SCG as an essentially rhetorical work might not seem so outlandish. Thomas’s call in this work, then, is not to conversion (it presumes baptism) but rather to progress in the practice of Christian wisdom.

One of the most obviously persuasive structures in the work is the ascent to the human good in the first 63 chapters of the third book. The argument rises from a general assertion of teleological order (1-16), through the thesis that God is the end of all and of intellectual substances particularly (17-26), to a comparison of contemplation with all other possible claims to human happiness (27-47). Thomas ends with a technical analysis of the contemplation of God in beatitude, but reminds the reader that this fulfils the philosophic longing for highest contemplation (48-63). Thomas ends his peroration by juxtaposing the Aristotelian and scriptural praises of wisdom, so that the reader might see the one perfected in the other (63). But the third book does not stop there. Thomas then turns to a long consideration of providence – precisely to assure the reader that the distant end of contemplation, which so little resembles our life here, is within the power of the ruler of this cosmos. God’s providence is not coercive; however the culmination of the treatment of providence comes in the argument for man’s need of divine grace in attaining the end already proposed (147-163).

Jordan argues that further evidence for a protreptic structure in the work is in the selection of topics treated at length: those treated extensively and most technically are those which have a direct bearing on persuasion to the highest good (ibid, pages 207-08). Consider the technical analysis of the beatific vision (III.51-60). These chapters must show that God can be contemplated directly, but only by his gift – otherwise the rest of the third book will be otiose. If there is no direct contemplation, the protreptic has no end (or the end ever recedes); if there is no need for grace, the protreptic is in no way Christian. The work, then is concerned to persuade its readers to the practice of the virtues of Christian wisdom, both acquired and infused. Now, persuasion to the practice of a virtue will be sterile unless it can offer the opportunity for its practice. It is an Aristotelian principle that the virtues, including the intellectual ones, are acquired by practice. The best Aristotelian protreptic then would not only exhort, but would engage. In this work Thomas applies in hundreds of particular arguments the principia that are the seeds of speculative virtue. This work, Jordan concludes, is at once both an introduction to wisdom, and a school for it.

§4.2 Conclusion
So, was Thomas a missionary? Not in the narrow sense of the term. However, my aim in this all-too summary survey of contemporary reappraisals of his work is to try to bring out the sense in which he was engaged in a lifelong effort to hold together the truth of Christian revelation with the truth of the world, challenged by a new and deeper understanding of man and nature. And that challenge today is even more exigent – not so much from alternative philosophies, but from the dramatic increase in our understanding of the world given by the natural sciences. Some Christians, unfortunately, see this as a threat, rather than a challenge. Aquinas offers us a good paradigm of how we should respond to it.


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Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity

The week of the 18th to the 25th of January is the octave of prayer for Christian unity. A group of Dominican students attended a celebration of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom at the Orthodox Parish of the Annunciation, Oxford. Each year the parish celebrates a special liturgy to mark the octave, to which members of other Churches and denominations are invited. In his homily the celebrant, Bishop Kallistos Ware, spoke of the pain caused by divisions amongst Christians. He stressed the need for courage and patience in the search for true unity.

In the encyclical Ut unum sint, the late Pope John Paul II, reminds us that ‘the unity of all divided humanity is the will of God… On the eve of his sacrifice on the Cross, Jesus himself prayed to the Father for his disciples and for all those who believe in him, that they might be one, a living communion. This is the basis not only of the duty, but also of the responsibility before God and his plan, which falls to those who through Baptism become members of the Body of Christ, a Body in which the fullness of reconciliation and communion must be made present’ (UUS, 6).

The encyclical reminds us of the importance of prayer in the work of bringing about the unity to which we are called: ‘When brothers and sisters who are not in perfect communion with one another come together to pray, the Second Vatican Council defines their prayer as the soul of the whole ecumenical movement. This prayer is a very effective means of petitioning for the grace of unity, a genuine expression of the ties which even now bind Catholics to their separated brethren. When Christians pray together, the goal of unity seems closer… If Christians, despite their divisions, can grow ever more united in common prayer around Christ, they will grow in the awareness of how little divides them in comparison to what unites them' (UUS, 21-22).

Here is a prayer for Christian unity written by the Orthodox priest and theologian, Fr. Sergei Bulgakov (1871 – 1944):

O Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour, thou didst promise to abide with us always. Thou dost call all Christians to draw near and partake of Thy Body and Blood. But our sin has divided us and we have no power to partake of Thy Holy Eucharist together. We confess this our sin and we pray Thee, forgive us and help us to serve the ways of reconciliation, according to Thy Will. Kindle our hearts with the fire of the Holy Spirit. Give us the spirit of Wisdom and faith, of daring and of patience, of humility and firmness, of love and of repentance, through the prayers of the most blessed Mother of God and of all the saints. Amen.

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Friday, January 19, 2007

New publication

The Master of Students, Fr Vivian Boland, gave four talks to the students during the summer term of 2006 on the theme of spiritual warfare. These have now been published by the Catholic Truth Society in their Deeper Christianity Series . This is a series of pamphlets intended for recently baptised and received Catholics, adult education groups and others who wish to deepen their understanding of various aspects of the faith. The booklet (60 pages) is entitled 'Spiritual Warfare: Fighting the Good Fight' and is a survey of the theme of spiritual warfare in the Bible. It is in four parts considering the struggle with ourselves, with powers that are 'not just flesh and blood', and with God, and concluding with a reflection on how these aspects of Christian spiritual warfare are embraced and resolved in the work of Jesus Christ, our brother and victorious champion. Available direct from the Catholic Truth Society or from Catholic bookstores (ISBN 1 86082 421 8).


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Saturday, January 06, 2007

Feast of the Epiphany

Readings: Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 71; Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6; Matthew 2:1-12

After they have met publicly with the chief priests and scribes, Herod is anxious to meet the wise men ‘secretly’. It is how politics tends to be done, through secret deals and meetings outside meetings. But today’s feast is about the opposite of secrecy. The mystery hidden in God from all eternity is made known to the world in the birth of Jesus. It is a mystery of light, a revelation, and an illumination. Like all politicians, Herod is anxious to control events and he is already devising his strategy. But another hand is guiding these events, another mind is revealed in how they unfold, and a different power is at work here for a purpose beyond anything Herod can imagine. God’s plan – for it is the hand and mind and power of God that are being revealed – will not be frustrated by Herod.

There had always been a universalist strand in Jewish thought. We find it in the prophets, who issue frequent reminders that the choosing of Israel, and her re-establishment after the Exile, are not just for Israel but are, through her, for all the nations. So the first reading already provides much of the imagery and meaning of today’s feast: your light has come, the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. In the darkness of this world’s night the nations see and are led by the light that has risen over Israel. This universalism is there from the beginning, in the original call of Abraham. He is promised a land and a people so that all the nations of the earth might be blessed through him.

With the birth of Jesus the mystery of God’s love for humanity is revealed definitively and uniquely. In this mystery, the Gentiles, represented by the three pagans who present their gifts to the Holy Family, are fellow heirs with the chosen people, members of the same body and partakers of the same promise. Following their own best understanding of how truth is to be sought, they find their way to Bethlehem. All who seek truth with a sincere heart will, sooner or later, find their way to Bethlehem. The clamorous human world gathers at the feet of this Child, not just the Jewish world of Mary, Joseph and the shepherds but the Gentile world from Midian, Ephah and Sheba. The revelation and the promise are for everybody.

This reflection, by Vivian Boland OP, is reprinted with permission from The Pastoral Review Vol 3 Issue 1, January-February 2007
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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Blessed be his Holy Name

In 1274 the Council of Lyons entrusted to the Order of Preachers the task of promoting reverence for the Holy Name of Jesus and countering profane and blasphemous uses of it. In 2002 Pope John Paul II re-instituted the feast of the Holy Name, celebrated now on January 3.

One of the earliest Christian creeds is simply 'Jesus is Lord'. Saint Paul tells us that it is on account of his obedience and love that Jesus is given the divine name 'Lord', the name that is above every name, the name before which all creation bows (Philippians 2:9-10). The honour evoked by this divine name extends also to His human name, Jesus. which is entitled to similar honour and respect.

An alarming anecdote tells of a child asking her parents why Mary and Joseph named their child after a swear word! It remains the case that many people use the name 'Jesus' in swearing so that the child's experience is not unusual. The commemoration of this feast is one way to counteract such abuse and to give due honour to the Holy Name.

[The following hymn may be sung to any long meter tune]

by Br Lawrence Lew, O.P.

Sing we of that most precious name,
The name by which all men are saved,
That angel hosts adore and fame,
That shatters evil and the grave.

The name before whom devils quake,
The name proclaimed before all time,
The name that took flesh for our sake
The name told oft in verse and rhyme.

This name foretold by angel sent,
And promised to the one Most Pure;
The name to whom she gave assent
Became mankind’s salvation sure.

The name that came in quiet of night,
In lowly pomp led out to die.
The name that humbly veiled its might
Is now raised up to God on high.

This name the prophets spoke of old
And chosen men did tell abroad,
To bring to faith by preaching bold
And in this name confess the Lord.

This name is love, let evils cease,
It conquers sin and death and fear,
Brings end to sorrow, hastens peace
And is a cry for justice clear.

Behold! To every Christian soul,
This name brings joy and hope divine;
Across the Church, from pole to pole,
Gives comfort to the one who pines.

Sing we of this most glorious name
Invoked in prayer, called on by men;
For saints and sinners, still the same:
Jesus, O Jesus Christ, Amen!

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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Book Review

Martin Laird OSA, Into the Silent Land: The Practice of Contemplation Darton, Longman and Todd, London, 2006

One question that often puzzles people: what is contemplation? It is likely that if you asked this question of ten different people who are in some way classed as ‘contemplatives’, you would get ten different answers. The lack of an agreed answer is off-putting, and those who had ideas about practising it might be discouraged and decide to leave it to others. If this sounds familiar, then Martin Laird’s book will make you think again. For Laird, contemplation is nothing more than ‘seeking communion with God in the silence of our hearts’ (Laird, page 1). Being contemplative is something that we are all called to – it is in our nature.

How then are we to set about becoming contemplative? Laird tackles this by first assessing a common problem – that we all too easily think of God as some distant ‘thing’, somewhere out there, far removed from us. The early part of his book seeks to remind us that we discover the sacred within, because God is, as St. Augustine put it, ‘closer to me than I am to myself’ (City of God, IX.7). Further discussion of this concept is given, drawing on the scriptures in particular, but using other sources including The Cloud of Unknowing, Eckhart, and St. John of the Cross.

The next problem Laird addresses is that of 'the noise of the heart', which stifles our ability to pray. This leaves us unaware of the great vastness and freedom to be found in God, and we end up chasing our tails rather than roaming free (page 20). His answer to this problem is to suggest repetition of the Jesus Prayer: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God have mercy on me’. This invocation of the Holy Name is seen by the Orthodox Church as the foundation of contemplation, and is also endorsed by the Catholic Church (Catechism of the Catholic Church §435). Such a prayer helps us realise what our distractions and anxieties are but also draws us away from them to a deeper level of reality: our union with God.

Laird speaks also of the importance of the body in prayer – the importance of posture and breath to aid relaxation and attentiveness. These things combined are not contemplative prayer as such – it would be a mistake to think that our own efforts are enough. But these practices should help us to become people who are alert and focused enough to receive the gift of prayer from God, when it is given.

Laird is without doubt a man of prayer himself. He is honest about the fact that contemplative prayer is likely to expose something of our wounded human condition, and the problems of temptation, of pride and of failure (Laird, page 117). However, he persuades us that in persevering we may truly find healing and wholeness through the power of Christ.

This book is a real gem. Its brevity means that can be read in a short time but its profundity means it needs to be read and re-read to absorb as much of its wisdom as possible.

Robert Gay OP


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Monday, January 01, 2007


The Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God

Readings: Numbers 6:22-27; Psalm 67; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:16-21

When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of the woman (Galatians 4:4)

It is no coincidence that we celebrate today’s solemnity a week after Christmas. Both Christmas and today point to the same fact: the Word’s Incarnation - God was born of the woman. Jesus is true God and a true human being at the same time. Mary did not simply give birth to a baby, Jesus, who later assumed divinity, but gave birth to the baby Jesus who is fully God and human. Mary, therefore, may be uniquely called God-bearer.

Why does this matter, one may ask, that the child born of Mary is both human and divine from the very beginning of his life? It does matter, because God saved us by establishing a bond between what is divine and what is human. This living bond is Christ. He united in himself the two natures so that, as Paul tells us, 'we might receive adoption as sons' (Galatians 4:5).


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