Thursday, January 31, 2013
On 30th January Blackfriars held its annual Aquinas Lecture. This year the speaker was Matthew Levering, Professor of Religious Studies at Dayton University, USA. He spoke to a packed hall on the subject of ‘Aquinas and the Gospel’, specifically ‘The Pauline Gospel According to Aquinas’. His major source was the commentary by St Thomas on the letter to the Romans, and he focused on the detailed commentary made by Aquinas on the first three verses of the letter.
Professor Levering set out to explore what was Aquinas’s understanding of the Gospel. He explained that for Aquinas it was good news because it announced the fundamental human good, which is our union with God. More specifically the theme of unity is three-fold: (1) the union of God and man in Jesus; (2) our union with God now; (3) the fulfilment of this union in Heaven and at the end of time. The content of the gospel is Jesus Christ, the union of his full divinity and full humanity being stressed by both Aquinas and Levering. The Gospel comes from God and is first preached by God, in the person of Jesus. While there is a certain newness in the New Testament the gospel also draws its credibility from it fulfilling the Old Testament Scriptures and promises, seen as given through the prophets. As such the prophets had the quality of antiquity (since they spoke long before Jesus came), of reliability (as God inspired them to speak the truth) and of dignity (as God chose and raised them up as holy mediators of grace).
Professor Levering drew out the rich use that Aquinas made of other scriptural texts in his commentary, using the Gospel of John to cast light on Paul’s ideas, and using a variety of Old Testament texts, especially Isaiah, to bring out the depth of the meaning in both the thought of Paul and to express his own ideas.
Discussion followed including a discussion of the extent to which Aquinas’s appeal to antiquity had similarities with modern concerns of historical consciousness, and the extent to which proclaiming the Gospel brings about faith in a way akin to, or different form the way in which celebration of the sacraments brings about sanctification. The Gospel is powerful and listening to it and pondering it can be a huge grace, if done with faith.
After drinks for all our guests, and Evening Prayer, Professor Levering joined the community for supper. He stayed on to give the Aquinas Seminar the next day ‘Milbank and Aquinas on Nature and Grace’. It was all a very enriching experience.