Catholic Culture Dedication
Catholic Culture Dedication

The Church's "Common Doctor": Thomas Aquinas and the Contemporary Catholic University

by Archbishop J. Michael Miller, C.S.B.


On January 28, 2010, Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, Archbishop J. Michael Miller, C.S.B., Archbishop of Vancouver, British Columbia, delivered this public lecture entitled: "The Church's Common Doctor": Thomas Aquinas and the Contemporary Catholic University at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas.

Publisher & Date

Congregation of St. Basil, January 28, 2010

Dear President Ivany, Dr. Mary Catherine Sommers, friends and colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen:


Thank you so much for your warm and very generous introduction. My first words to you this afternoon are of gratitude to you, Dr. Sommers, the Center for Thomistic Studies and Dr. Ivany for your gracious invitation to give this year's Aquinas lecture. I accepted with a certain trepidation, for I have been present at many of these lectures during my many very happy years at UST, and what I have to say is not of the high caliber of Thomistic scholarship that has marked this distinguished series. I do not – and cannot – address you as an expert on Thomas Aquinas and his thought; there are many in this assembly who are far better equipped than I to carry out that task, and do so here on a daily basis.

As a product of my times, I came to know, even if indirectly, the clarity, comprehensiveness and unified intellectual vision of St. Thomas through eight years of studying the Baltimore Catechism and four years of Our Goal and Our Guide, a series of texts which, in the early 1960s, introduced high school students in truncated and accommodated fashion to, among other concerns, Thomas' treatise on the angels. Through these and similar texts my generation received a coherent message indebted to the revival of Thomism launched in the mid-nineteenth century. For us, being Catholic and engaging in serious scientific and philosophical pursuits posed no problem for our faith. We were well armed for battle, and we knew it. Later, of course, Aquinas played a role in my studies in philosophy and theology but, already in the early post-conciliar years, he no longer guided learning as he had for my confreres even a decade earlier.

I am with you this evening, then, as an admirer of St. Thomas, as a former member of this community and as a bishop with a certain experience of higher education in the universal Church. It was really here at UST, and later working at the Vatican, that led me through the years to an ever greater conviction that the teaching and method of St. Thomas can – perhaps, even must – make an invaluable contribution to the intellectual life of the Academy and the Church, and the Academy in the Church.

Moreover, I cannot but add my admiration for the role that UST has given, and continues to give, to Aquinas through its undergraduate curriculum and especially through its now world-renowned Center for Thomistic Studies. Indeed, I remember well the formal launching of the Center, which took place during my first semester as a young professor here more than thirty years ago and the high standards that Father Victor Brezik set for everything associated with the vision that he relentlessly put in place. It is not out of place to invoke his blessing upon us today, this first St. Thomas Day at UST without him in more than fifty-five years.

It is for me an honor to be back on campus and have this opportunity to offer some reflections on the patron of our University, an institution born "from the heart of the Church" and integrally tied to her mission of evangelization. Because UST has publicly accepted this vocation and responsibility, it can escape a late medieval judgment which goes like this: "Universities, with their programs of study, their colleges, their degrees, and their professorships, are products of vain heathenism; they are as much good to the Church as the devil is."1 Fortunately, in 1415 the Council of Constance condemned this proposition of John Wycliffe, even if some today – especially we bishops – are sometimes tempted to side to with him against these Council Fathers. In all I have to say about the "contemporary Catholic university," I am referring to institutions in the United States – and, to a lesser extent, in Canada – which, though in varying degrees, are seeking to implement Pope John Paul II's apostolic constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae and the Norms of Application issued by the American bishops.

As for St. Thomas himself, we must admit that he never put his mind to worrying about how to think about a Catholic university, of his time or any other. His writings never touch upon matters of faculty, students or curriculum as they concern us today. Yet he does propose specific views about the acquisition of knowledge – about truth and the relationship of faith and reason – which are, I believe, of permanent value to understanding how the contemporary Catholic university should carry out its teaching and research.2

Outline of Lecture

After a look at the study of Thomism in centers of higher education – universities and seminaries – following the revival initiated by Pope Leo XIII, what I suggest in this lecture are several reasons why St. Thomas is rightly called "a light for the Church and the whole world,"3 above allthe world of the Catholic Academy at the dawn of this Third Christian Millennium. Besides relying on "the sublime figure of St Thomas"4 himself, I will draw on the Magisterium of Pope Paul VI, especially his Apostolic Letter, Lumen Ecclesiae, written in 1974 to the Master General of the Dominican Order to mark the seventh centenary of Thomas' death; several key addresses of John Paul II and his encyclical Fides et Ratio; and above all the teaching of Benedict XVI. Admittedly, unlike his predecessor who was trained at the Angelicum in the philosophy of Thomas, the current Pope's formation is essentially biblical, patristic and liturgical. He was formed more in the Augustinian tradition, obtaining his doctorate in theology in 1953 with a thesis entitled People and House of God in St Augustine's Doctrine of the Church.5 If the number of citations in Benedict's writings is any indication, Augustine wins hands down over Aquinas. Nonetheless, the Holy Father shows remarkable respect for St. Thomas, whom he has called "a very vigorous thinker"6 – a phrase similar to Paul VI's praise of him as "a master in the art of thinking."7

I. Leo XIII's Aeterni Patris and the Thomistic Revival

At the outset, I would very much like to affirm the intentional decision this University has made in adopting St. Thomas as its intellectual master and his teaching as its trustworthy guide. Here Aquinas is venerated "not only as a supreme genius and teacher of the past but also for the continuing relevance of his principles, teaching and method."8 As Paul VI once affirmed, "there can be no doubt that in God's providential plan St. Thomas represents the high point of all Scholastic theology and philosophy and that his works are the main foundation on which all Christian teaching in the Church, then and now, can firmly rest and safely grow."9

Already in 1879, Leo XIII laid out the reasons for this stream of adulation in his encyclical Aeterni Patris, published exactly one century before the formal establishment of the Center for Thomistic Studies at UST. This is what the Pope wrote:

Among the Scholastic Doctors towers Thomas Aquinas, the chief and master of all who . . . is rightly and deservedly esteemed the special bulwark and glory of the Catholic faith. With his spirit at once humble and swift, his memory ready and tenacious, his life spotless throughout, a lover of truth for its own sake, richly endowed with human and divine science, like the sun he heated the world with the warmth of his virtues and filled it with the splendor of his teaching.10

Aeterni Patris galvanized the renewal in philosophical and theological studies in light of St. Thomas which had already begun.11 The Pope built on a fundamental principle which lends the encyclical its inner unity: the harmony between the truths of reason and those of faith. It is this harmony that was uppermost in the mind of Leo XIII, who invoked the Angelic Doctor in order to overcome the rupture between two extremes so evident in the nineteenth century: that of rationalism on the one hand – reason without faith –; and of fideism, on the other hand, – a false supernaturalism of faith without reason.12 The Pope wrote:

clearly distinguishing, as is fitting, reason from faith, while happily associating the one with the other, he [Thomas] both preserved the rights and had regard for the dignity of each; so much so, indeed, that reason, borne on the wings of Thomas to its human height, can scarcely rise higher, while faith could scarcely expect more or stronger aids from reason than those which she has already obtained through Thomas.13

After the promulgation of Aeterni Patris, the papacy spearheaded a marked resurgence in the study of Aquinas, fostered by Leo's urging of a restoration among philosophers and theologians of "the golden wisdom of St. Thomas,"14 a revival which has influenced this University from its foundation. St. Pius X gave a further impulse to Thomas by mandating the Summa Theologiae as a textbook in all pontifical institutions; and, under his direction in the aftermath of the Modernist crisis, the Vatican's Congregation for Studies decreed in 1914 that teachers in seminaries and religious houses of formation should adhere to twenty-four theses held to embody the essentials of the realist philosophy found in Aquinas.15 For his part, Pius XI wrote in an encyclical written to mark the sixth anniversary of Thomas' death: "go to Thomas"16; that is, read Thomas himself not just manuals or textbooks which claim to embody his fundamental teaching, but without capturing anything of his methodological genius or intellectual humility.

This return to the sources – reading Thomas himself – was soon accompanied by a more deliberate taking into account of the historical, intellectual and spiritual context in which he lived and worked. This assumption lay at the foundation of the Pontifical Institute for Mediaeval Studies founded in Toronto by the Basilians in 1929 and given such distinction by Jacques Maritain and Etienne Gilson. Following Gilson's retirement from the Institute in 1968, its center of gravity began to shift more to medieval history, mirroring the diminished interest of Catholic scholars in St. Thomas' philosophy after the Council. In summary, from the mid-nineteenth century until the Second Vatican Council, St. Thomas was the pre-eminent figure in Catholic intellectual life. His method and teaching were great resources suitably adapted to meet the challenges of the day, including those which gave rise to the Church's social doctrine.

Second Vatican Council: Apex and Decline

Following the long tradition according official approval to Thomas' teaching, which the Church used so widely and successfully "as an instrument superbly adapted to her purposes, thus casting the mantle of her own magisterial authority over Aquinas,"17 the Second Vatican Council followed suit. It highly praised Thomas, whose thought had prepared for it in so many ways.

The Decree on Priestly Formation, for example, recommended that seminarians be taught according to "that philosophical heritage which is perennially valid." Moreover, their dogmatic theology should be taught so as to illumine the mysteries of salvation as completely as possible, and seminarians "should learn to penetrate them more deeply with the help of speculation, under the guidance of St. Thomas, and to perceive their interconnections."18

In like fashion, the Declaration on Christian Education praised Aquinas' teaching for showing how faith and science can work in harmony in Catholic colleges and universities.19 For the first time an ecumenical council recommended an individual theologian for study, and they gave that honor to St. Thomas,20 even though the Fathers themselves made less use of him in their final documents than in those previously prepared for their deliberations.21

Ironically, right around the same time as the Council, a decline – what some have called a "collapse"22 – in the study of St. Thomas was taking place. Several reasons for this slow falling into neglect can be suggested. First, the renewal of biblical scholarship prompted by Pius XII's Divino Afflante Spiritu, published in 1943, introduced scriptural themes and categories more directly into theology, thereby making Thomas seem outdated. This was accompanied by a more general ressourcement among theologians, a return to the study of the Church Fathers, thereby bypassing the Scholastics, including Aquinas, in favor of the tradition of a presumed earlier golden age. At the same time, creating an almost perfect storm, a third movement was in the wind, one which, even if not intending to do so, undercut the privileged place of Thomism, especially in seminaries. Aidan Nichols comments on this new emphasis that emerged: theology itself should be preachable; that is, it should be readily and immediately able to be "translated" into a Sunday homily relevant to contemporary situations. In achieving this purpose Aquinas was held to be no help; he was insufficiently biblical, excessively philosophical and too complicated. Some blame for the hasty exit of St. Thomas from the Academy should also be placed on what Nichols calls "the off-putting mode of the pedagogical and literary presentation in which Thomism was often cast. . . . [I]ts communication in many seminaries and Catholic philosophy faculties appears to have become dessicated and ahistorical."23 Pius XI's admonition to "go to Thomas" was insufficiently observed. A dry summary of certain theses replaced the texts of the Master himself.

Despite this evident decline in the study of Aquinas, in 1974, Paul VI rather surprisingly expressed his delight in what he optimistically called "the extraordinary, even if unforeseen, 'return' of St. Thomas, which has confirmed the wisdom of the supreme Magisterium in declaring him to be the authoritative, irreplaceable guide in philosophy and theology."24 For his part, John Paul II hoped that the Council's encouragement, together his own particular blend of Thomism and phenomenology, would give a new impetus to the Church's intellectual apostolate. To be sure, John Paul did not propose that Thomism was the Church's only philosophy, as had Leo XIII, who had affirmed that "insistence upon the thought of the Angelic Doctor" is "the best way to recover the practice of a philosophy consonant with faith."25 Rather, John Paul allows for a plurality of philosophical systems, with the caveat that to be acceptable they must share Aquinas' metaphysical realism, including his position on the natural knowability of the existence of God.26 Certainly Thomas is a "model"27 for the philosopher. Nevertheless, the Pope adds, despite the high praise owed to Thomas, "the Church has no philosophy of her own nor does she canonize any one particular philosophy in preference to others."28

As for theology, John Paul lauds St. Thomas as "a model of the right way to do theology,"29 adding that "the Magisterium has repeatedly acclaimed the merits of Saint Thomas' thought and made him the guide and model for theological studies."30

Seminary Formation

Taking into account the views of Paul VI and John Paul II, I would now like to take a brief look at the place of Aquinas in the intellectual formation of seminarians in the last forty years. In articulating the mind of the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council on this point, a 1972 document of the Congregation for Catholic Education, The Study of Philosophy in Seminaries, observes that "the repeated recommendations of the Church about the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas remain fully justified and still valid."31 In its canon on the philosophical formation of seminarians the 1983 Code of Canon Law says only this: "Philosophical instruction must be grounded in the perennially valid philosophical heritage and also take into account philosophical investigation over the course of time" (canon 251) . There is no specific mention of Thomas, though it is implied. The canon on the study of theology, however, is more specific. It legislates that "There are to be classes in dogmatic theology, always grounded in the written word of God together with sacred tradition; through these, students are to learn to penetrate more intimately the mysteries of salvation, especially with St. Thomas as a teacher."32

John Paul II's 1992 post-synodal apostolic constitution Pastores Dabo Vobis, which is the foundation document for all priestly formation in the universal Church, contains no similar injunction to study St. Thomas. On the other hand, in the most recent edition of the Program for Priestly Formation of 2006, the American Bishops are more explicit about the role of Thomas' teaching in the seminarians' philosophical formation:

The philosophy of Saint Thomas Aquinas should be given the recognition that the Church accords it. Especially in the courses on the history of philosophy, there should be a significant treatment of Saint Thomas' thought, along with its ancient sources and its later development. The fruitful relationship between philosophy and theology in the Christian tradition should be explored through studies in Thomistic thought as well as that of other great Christian theologians who were also great philosophers.33

Likewise, for the study of theology, the American Bishops are more specific in recommending Thomas than the documents from the Holy See. They write this: "Although various theological schools exist within the Catholic tradition, in accord with Church teaching, the significance of Saint Thomas Aquinas as the model and guide for study and research in theology should be recognized."34

Now I would like to examine in greater detail two areas where I believe Aquinas, as commented on by recent Popes, has something crucial to say to the contemporary Catholic university about its search for truth and its commitment to the harmony of faith and reason.

2. Doctor Veritatis: Relativism and the Crisis of Truth

Much can be said about the intellectual malaise, the so-called "weak thought"35 of our contemporaries. Probably there is no single cause for the corruption of the modern mind. But I would submit that a good place to begin finding a cause is the penetrating analysis of Pope Benedict.

Benedict XVI: Relativism and Truth

According to the Holy Father, among the major challenges to the Church of the twenty-first century, and one which presents "a particularly insidious obstacle in the task of educating,"* is the massive presence of relativism in society and in the halls of the Academy. The central problem of our system higher education is not its failure to provide strong intellectual and marketable skills, which it can do well enough, but its premise that reality does not exist independently of the human mind and cannot be known with any certainty. In this way, even if not intentionally, far too many colleges and universities stifle the students' natural desire to know, and to know the truth. This entices them to avoid the humanities and liberal arts and take refuge in the professional and practical arts alone, with their expected financial rewards.36

Another consequence of this underlying assumption – and one even more serious – is that, even if a person practices his or her faith, such faith has nothing to do with truth; hence, nothing to do with the core purpose of a university; that is, teaching and research. In situations where what makes a university "Catholic" is not the content of what is taught – in other words, the curriculum – but only the laudable concern for the "whole student," then its intellectual foundation has been weakened, perhaps beyond repair. Important as student life is to expressing one's faith, it can never replace the curriculum as the principal locus of genuine catholicity in the world of higher education.37

All too often relativism and privatized faith are not only the academic's creed, but also that of the person on the street. Indeed, relativism has become a secular dogma and "it is considered dangerous and 'authoritarian' to speak of truth."38 A "dictatorship of relativism"39 prevails – in the now famous phrase from Cardinal Ratzinger's homily before he was elected Pope.

In fact, in many universities, seeking truth is considered a hopelessly impossible, even naive, undertaking. Academics are suspicious, if not hostile, to any claim to know the truth. They often suffer from "the widespread conviction that the possibility of attaining truth is an illusion of traditional metaphysics,"40 accepting as true only what can be experienced.

In his magisterial address at Regensburg in 2006, the Holy Father pointed out that for many of our contemporaries

only the kind of certainty resulting from the interplay of mathematical and empirical elements can be considered scientific. Anything that would claim to be science must be measured against this criterion. . . . by its very nature this method excludes the question of God, making it appear an unscientific or pre-scientific question.41

In the university world skepticism reigns about truth: nothing is definitive except in the empirically verifiable scientific realm.42 If this University is going to fulfill its mission in the Church as a community of teachers and learners, its curriculum is going to have to meet this crisis of truth head-on. It can do so by arguing convincingly, with passion and respect, that the truth can be pursued and, to a limited but real extent, attained by the human mind and communicated to others. Such a service to the truth is the intellectual foundation of every Catholic university. Today we must reaffirm the "the "passion for truth"43 that animated St. Thomas in order to harness the intellectual forces necessary for the development of a future of authentic human flourishing.44 Failure to engage this quest leads a scholarly community to see itself merely as an educational provider, trapped in a hall of mirrors of endless choices without focus or purpose. Consequently, as Ralph McInerny has noted in typical pithy fashion, "The main reason to read Thomas is to learn things that are true."45

Wherever the Truth is Found

Catholic universities can imitate today what Aquinas did in the thirteenth century by imbuing their curricula with the desire to search freely "the whole truth about nature, man and God."46 Although his serene openness alarmed not a few of his contemporaries, he searched for truth diligently and lovingly among pre-Christian and non-Christian philosophers, willing to engage in intellectual dialogue with all wise teachers.47 Thomas showed great liberty of spirit and intellectual honest in dealing with new questions and by not rejecting secularist philosophies a priori and without examination.48

Aquinas was ever alert to the truth buried in the opinion of others: "There is no false teaching which does not have some truth admixed in it,"49 he affirmed. John Paul II observed that for Thomas "this presence of truth even if it be incomplete and imperfect and at times distorted is a bridge uniting every man to other men and makes understanding possible when there is good will."50

Whence the source of the Saint's conviction? In his unrelenting search for the good and the true, Thomas recognized that the Holy Spirit was already at work, opening the human heart and making it ready to welcome the truth of the Gospel. In a celebrated phrase he states: "any truth, no matter by whom it is spoken, is from the Holy Spirit."51 The action of the Spirit creates an affinity for the truth and draws the human heart towards it; he helps human knowledge mature in wisdom and in trusting abandonment to what is true.52 Just as he succeeded in establishing a fruitful confrontation with the Arab and Hebrew thought of his time, treating them respectfully but refusing to let himself be overawed by their authority, so must scholars and students in a Catholic university, with a similar grace bequeathed by the Holy Spirit, be free to examine the truth wherever it may be found.

Pope Paul VI sums up this attitude of Thomas to all the great masters of human thought, an attitude which might well undergird every university which strives to preserve, hand on and enrich the Catholic intellectual, moral and artistic tradition. First, he began with great admiration for the intellectual patrimony of other traditions. Second, he recognized the value and significance but also the limitations of each thinker. Finally, he was compassionate towards those who, like the philosophers of antiquity, lacked the light of faith.53 The Holy Father then speculated on how Thomas would confront contemporary questions:

We are convinced that were he among us today he would be no less eager to investigate the forces that are bringing about changes in man, his conditions, his manner of thinking and his way of life. Whatever would help him now to speak of God more worthily and persuasively than ever before would be in his eyes a cause for rejoicing. Yet in all this he would never lose that serene, magnanimous sense of security which faith alone can bestow on the human mind.54

The Angelic Doctor is a marvelous example of Christian scholars open to the signs of the times shaping their age and yet remaining faithful to the path marked out by faith, tradition and the Church's teaching.55 What a lesson this is for civilized and respectful scholarly interchange in the Academy!

3. Doctor Concordiae: Harmony of Faith and Reason

Besides being, par excellence, the Doctor Veritatis, Thomas is also the Doctor Concordiae; that is, he is the pre-eminent teacher of the harmony between faith and reason, the "two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth."56

In addressing the University community at Leuven in 1985, Pope John Paul II affirmed: "The whole living tradition of the Church teaches us this: faith seeks understanding, and understanding seeks faith. Both the need to understand and the need to believe are deeply rooted in man's heart. It is for this reason that the Church herself was the point of departure for the creation of universities."57 Nonetheless, a particular challenge faces universities today in that many would detach faith from reason, and reason from faith. This challenge can be met if teachers and learners take the Angelic Doctor as their master.58 "With his charism as a philosopher and theologian," says Pope Benedict, "he [Thomas] offered an effective model of harmony between reason and faith, dimensions of the human spirit that are completely fulfilled in the encounter and dialogue with one another."59

For Aquinas, then, faith and reason should be neither separated nor placed in competition; rather, they go hand in hand. "Both the light of reason and the light of faith come from God, he [Thomas] argued; hence there can be no contradiction between them."60

On the relationship St. Thomas is truly enlightening. Commenting on this,61 Pope John Paul II has said:

Philosophical and theological truth converge into a single truth. The truth of reason ascends from creatures to God; the truth of faith descends directly from God to man. But this diversity of method and origin does not detract from their fundamental unity, because there is a single identical Author of truth manifested through creation, and truth communicated personally to man by means of His Word. Philosophical research and theological research are two different directions of movement of a single truth, destined to meet, but not collide, on the same road, in order to help each other. Thus reason, illuminated, strengthened and guaranteed by faith, becomes a faithful companion of faith itself and faith immensely widens the limited horizon of human reason.62

Pope Benedict reaffirms his predecessors' views that Aquinas offers "an effective model of harmony between reason and faith, dimensions of the human spirit that are completely fulfilled in the encounter and dialogue with one another."63 Indeed, "an intellectual 'culture' which is genuinely Catholic," must be "confident in the profound harmony of faith and reason."64 The Holy Father affirms that "a natural friendship exists between faith and reason, founded in the order of Creation itself."65 The synergy between the two is yhe linchpin of Benedict's thought. At the origin of the Christian faith there is not only the Jerusalem of the theologians but also the Athens of the philosophers.66

Benedict on Ransoming Reason

In dealing wit h the harmony between faith and reason developed so exquisitely by Aquinas, the Holy Father leaves no doubt about the Christological center of this vision. For Thomas, he writes, "the definitive fulfilment of every authentic human aspiration rests in Jesus Christ."67 But it was the genius of Aquinas to have highlighted the autonomy of philosophy, and with it the laws proper to reason. He gave a new emphasis to the specific responsibility of reason, which was not to be absorbed by faith. According to Thomas, Christianity was obliged to argue the case for its own reasonableness.68

Drawing, then, on St. Thomas, Pope Benedict is convinced that it is urgent for contemporary thinkers "to rediscover anew human rationality open to the light of the divine Logos and his perfect revelation which is Jesus Christ, Son of God made man."69 Nor does exhort only scholars. In countless homilies and discourses he cites St. Peter's injunction to every Christian: "Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you" (1 Pet 3:15) . It is the Christian faith which safeguards reason in the modern world. Indeed, faith liberates reason from its own limitations. God has revealed himself as creative Reason and, precisely as the Logos, has acted and continues to act lovingly on our behalf. "In the beginning was the Word," the Logos, and "the Word became flesh" (Jn 1:1,14) . The divine Logos is thus the origin of the universe, and this same Logos was united once and for all with humanity, the world and history, in Christ.70 Moreover, this Reason is not a mathematics of the universe nor a first cause that withdrew after producing the Big Bang. Rather, it has "a heart such as to be able to renounce its own immensity and take flesh."71

The Holy Father addresses directly the consequence for higher education of holding to such an understanding of reason. In his first major address to academics he affirmed: "This then is the great challenge to Catholic universities: to impart knowledge in the perspective of true rationality, different from that of today which largely prevails, in accordance with a reason open to the question of the truth and to the great values inscribed in being itself, hence, open to the transcendent, to God."72

Because God is Reason, our faith has something that has to do with reason; it can be passed on through it and has no cause to hide from it.73 Whenever faith in God separates itself from its rational foundation, such a faith is put at risk.74

Giving Faith Its Proper Role

Without the light of faith, however, human reason cannot find sure and fulfilling answers to today's many urgent problems. Catholic universities, if they are to remain true to the intellectual tradition which has shaped them from their beginning, are called to bear witness not only to the dignity of human reason and its capacity for knowing reality but also to the role played by faith in learning. Our universities are broader, not narrower, in their outlook, since the study of divine revelation opens up a whole area of reality beyond the reach of reason left to its own natural resources. As Father Victor Brezik once reminded us, "the combination of the world of revealed knowledge with the world of rational knowledge gives the Catholic university a much more challenging horizon of study."75

The Mall without the Chapel would be incomplete; and the Chapel without the Mall would be in exile. What we are blessed to have at UST is an architectural embodiment of a sound Thomism. The Catholic sacramental imagination demanded the completion of the Academic Mall crowned by the Chapel – and we are forever grateful to Dr. Joe McFadden for that. Moreover, that the Chapel bespeak a certain prominence for faith is also necessary. When the study of the world guided by reason and faith is taken seriously, a certain hierarchy of importance emerges. That is why theology and philosophy have long been accorded a kind of primi inter pares status in the University's curriculum.

Furthermore, fidelity to Thomas also demands that a Catholic university teach theology as a divine science, and not religious studies, a human one dependent on rational inquiry alone.76 Even though the core beliefs of Christianity are revealed and held by faith, students have to be informed of what they are. Aquinas never suggests that explaining the content of the articles of faith will bring about a response of faith, but he does think that we need to be told them. Theology courses at a Catholic university propose sacra doctrina. They set out what Christ taught in the Gospels, since he "is the first and chief teacher of spiritual doctrine and faith."77 Consequently, a Catholic university should be a place in where special attention is given to ensuring that students learn from theologians who propose the teaching of Christ as historical and authoritative.78

Authentic Christian faith does not fear reason "but seeks it out and has trust in it."79 Faith presupposes reason and perfects it. Nor does human reason lose anything by opening itself to the content of faith.80 When reason is illumined by faith, it "is set free from the fragility and limitations deriving from the disobedience of sin and finds the strength required to rise to the knowledge of the Triune God."81 The Holy Father observes that St. Thomas thinks that human reason, as it were, "breathes" by moving within a vast horizon open to transcendence. If, instead, "a person reduces himself to thinking only of material objects or those that can be proven, he closes himself to the great questions about life, himself and God and is impoverished."82 Such a person has far too summarily divorced reason from faith, rendering asunder the very dynamic of the intellect.

What does this mean for Catholic universities today? Pope Benedict answers in this way: "The Catholic university is [therefore] a vast laboratory where, in accordance with the different disciplines, ever new areas of research are developed in a stimulating confrontation between faith and reason that aims to recover the harmonious synthesis achieved by Thomas Aquinas and other great Christian thinkers."83 When firmly grounded in St. Thomas' understanding of faith and reason, Catholic institutions of higher learning can confidently face every new challenge on the horizon, since the truths discovered by any genuine science can never contradict the one Truth, who is God himself.


The future of this University lies in the hands of a merciful and loving Providence, and this conviction grounds our hope. Let me close by citing from one of John Paul II's last messages in which he called upon Aquinas as an exemplary guide for the intellectual apostolate, an apostolate which finds a welcome home in the Catholic university:

Although St Thomas was firmly rooted in his own day and in medieval culture, he developed a teaching that goes beyond the conditioning of the time in which he lived and can still offer today fundamental guidelines for contemporary reflection. His doctrine and example are a provident reminder of those unchanging, perennial truths that are indispensable if we are to foster an existence that is truly worthy of man.84

And so we must continue to learn from Thomas, the Master – this "icon of the Christian mind in the Church today."85 As the Teacher of Truth, and Teacher of the Harmony between Faith and Reason, Aquinas invites the University of St. Thomas to be a faithful yet creative center of Catholic thought in the heart of America's fourth largest city. Here, I pray, the doctrine, method and inspiration of St. Thomas – what Father Jack Gallagher has referred to as Aquinas' "intellectual sinew"86 – will engage ever more intentionally the fascinating and complex culture in which we are immersed.

In a word, our Patron invites us to be intelligent, creative, humble and holy scholars, students and supporters, who are dazzled by the wonder and order of the universe and by the beauty and love of God.

Thank you all very much.

+ J. Michael Miller, CSB
Archbishop of Vancouver


1 Denzinger-Schonmetzer, Enchiridion Symbolorum, 1179; cited by Avery Dulles, The Craft of Theology (New York: Crossroad, 1992) , 149.

2 Cf. Brian Davies, "Aquinas and Catholic Universities," New Blackfriars, 86 (May 2005) , 276-277.

3 Paul VI, Lumen Ecclesiae, 1.

4 John Paul II, Address to the Participants in the Eighth International Thomistic Congress (13 September 1980) , 1.

5 In 1969 Joseph Ratzinger admitted that "I have developed my theology in dialogue with Augustine, though naturally I have tried to conduct this dialogue as a man of today" (cited in Aidan Nichols, The Thought of Benedict XVI [New York: Burns & Oates, 1988, 2005) ], 27.

6) Benedict XVI, May 21, 2008, General Audience.

7 Paul VI, Lumen Ecclesiae, 2.

8 Paul VI, Lumen Ecclesiae, 2; cf. 14.

9 Paul VI, Lumen Ecclesiae, 13.

10 Leo XIII, Aeterni Patris, 17.

11 According to John Paul II, "More than a century later, many of the insights of his encyclical letter have lost none of their interest from either a practical or pedagogical point of view – most particularly, his insistence upon the incomparable value of the philosophy of St. Thomas" (Fides et Ratio, 57) . Leo XIII created the Roman Academy of St. Thomas Aquinas so that the recommendations of Aeterni Patris could be put into practice. As young priests both Achille Ratti (later Pius XI) in 1882 and Giovanni Battista Montini (later Paul VI) in 1922 obtained their doctorates in Thomistic philosophy at this Roman academy.

12 Cf. John Paul II, address to Thomistic congress, 2; cf. Lumen Ecclesiae, 9: "St. Thomas thus overcame the kind of exaggerated supernaturalism that flourished in the medieval schools and at the same time stood firm against the secularism that was being broadcast in the European universities through a naturalistic interpretation of Aristotle."

13 Leo XIII, Aeterni Patris, 18.

14 Leo XIII, Aeterni Patris, 31.

15 Cf. The Craft of Theology, 120; Romanus Cessario, "Thomas Aquinas: A Doctor for the Ages," First Things, 91 (March 1999) , 31.

16) Pius XI, Studiorum Ducem: Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 15 (1923) , 323.

17 Paul VI, Lumen Ecclesiae, 22.

18 Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Optatam Totius, 15, 16.

19 Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Gravissimum Educationis, 10.

20 Cf. Paul VI, Lumen Ecclesiae, 24.

21 Cf. Cf. Avery Dulles, The Craft of Theology (New York: Crossroad, 1992) , 121- 124.

22 Cf. Philip Gleason, Contending with Modernity: Catholic Higher Education in the Twentieth Century (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995) : "Hardly had this climax [of the Thomistic revival] been reached when a decline set in that was so sudden and so steep as to justify calling it a collapse."

23 Aidan Nichols, Discovering Aquinas (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2002) , 141.

24 Paul VI, Address to the Members of the Commission in Charge of the Index Thomisticus (20 May 1974) : L’Osservatore Romano (20-21 May 1974) .

25 John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, 57.

26 Cf. John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, 53.

27 Admittedly, John Paul's referring to Thomas as "model" is more concerned with that role in the study of theology rather than of philosophy: "The church has been justified in consistently proposing St. Thomas as a master of thought and a model of the right way to do theology" (Fides et Ratio, 43) ; "the magisterium has repeatedly acclaimed the merits of St. Thomas' thought and made him the guide and model for theological studies (ibid., 78) ; "the magisterium's intention has always been to show how St. Thomas is an authentic model for all who seek the truth" (ibid., 78) .

28 John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, 49.

29 John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, 43.

30 John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, 78. Another typical remark is John Paul's statement to the International Congress of the St. Thomas Aquinas Society, where he says that the Angelic Doctor "in the field of systematic and speculative theology has always been the object on the part of the magisterium of the church of special praise and recommendation, even as recently as the well-known directives of the Second Vatican Council, in the specific field of priestly formation (Optatam Totius, 16) ": L'Osservatore Romano, Eng. ed. (Jan. 27, 1986) , 6.

31 Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, The Study of Philosophy in Seminaries, 2.

32 Code of Canon Law, canon 251, §3.

33 United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Program of Priestly Formation, 5th edition (Washington: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2006) , n. 157; cf. Kurt Pritzl, “Philosophy in the Pastoral and Spiritual Formation of Priests,” Seminary Journal, 11:1 (Spring 2005) , 40-44; John Hittinger, “St. Thomas Aquinas, Thomism, and a „Philosophy

34 "Program of Priestly Formation," No. 219.

35 United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Program of Priestly Formation, 5th edition (Washington: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2006) , n. 219.

36 John Paul II, Message to the Sixth National Meeting of University Professors (4 October 2001) , 5.

37 Cf. Stephen M. Krason, "Education, Truth and the Catholic University," Social Justice Review (March/April 1990) , 65.

38 Cf. Stanley Hauerwas, "How Risky Is The Risk of Education? Random Reflections from the American Context," Communio, 30 (Spring 2003) , 82-83.

39 Benedict XVI, June 7, 2007, Address to the Convention of the Diocese of Rome.

40 Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Homily at Mass Pro Eligendo Romano Pontifice (18 April 2005) : Origins, 35:45 (28 April 2005) , 720.

41 John Paul II, May 5, 2000, Message to the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, 5: L'Osservatore Romano, Eng. ed., 21 (May 24, 2000) , 9.

42 Benedict XVI, Sept. 12, 2006, Address at the University of Regensburg.

43 Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Homily at Mass Pro Eligendo Romano Pontifice (18 April 2005) : Origins, 35:45 (28 April 2005) , 720.

44 John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, 44.

45 Cf. Benedict XVI, Sept. 27, 2009, Address to the Prague Academic Community.

46 Ralph McInerny, A First Glance at St. Thomas Aquinas (South Bend: University of Notre Dame Press, 1990) , 2.

47 John Paul II, Ex Corde Ecclesiae, 4.

48 Cf. Paul VI, Lumen Ecclesiae, 19: "He carefully examined their assertions, opinions, doubts and difficulties; he inquired into the intellectual causes and bases of these and not infrequently looked as well to the social and cultural context of their thinking. Then he would set forth their ideas, especially in the various Disputed Questions and the two Summas. He did not, however, think of these ideas primarily as difficulties to be solved or objections to be answered. He was interested rather in presenting the dialectical process by which he had been led to certain positions through arguments requiring careful reflection and examination."

49 Paul VI, Lumen Ecclesiae, 8.

50 St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I-II, q. **.

51 John Paul II, Address to the Participants in the Eighth International Thomistic Congress (13 September 1980) , 3.

52 St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I-II, q. 109, a. 1, ad 1: "Omne verum a quocumque dicatur a Spiritu Sancto est."

53 Cf. Paul VI, Lumen Ecclesiae, 10:: "Every truth, no matter who utters it, is from the Holy Spirit, since he bestows the natural power of knowing and moves the person to understand and express the truth."

54 Cf. Paul VI, Lumen Ecclesiae, 11.

55 Paul VI, Lumen Ecclesiae, 25.

56 Cf. Paul VI, Lumen Ecclesiae, 10.

57 John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, introduction.

58 John Paul II, Address to the University Community of Leuven (20 May 1985) , 2: L’Osservatore Romano, English-language edition (22 July 1985) , 9.

59 Cf. Paul VI, Lumen Ecclesiae, 14: We are justified "in seeing in him [Thomas] a man whom God in his wisdom has given to the church, a man who by the originality and power of his work set Christian thought on a new track, especially in regard to the relationship between reason and faith."

60 Benedict XVI, Jan. 28, 2007, Angelus.

61 John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, 43; cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, I, 7.

62 St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, IV, 1, n. 3349: "Since natural reason ascends to a knowledge of God through creatures and, conversely, the knowledge of faith descends from God to us by a divine revelation – [and] since the way of ascent and descent is still the same – we must proceed in the same way in the things above reason which are believed as we proceeded in the foregoing with the investigation of God by reason."

63 John Paul II, Address to the Participants in the Eighth International Thomistic Congress (13 September 1980) , 4. Modifications in the published English translation made by the author, after consulting the Italian original.

64 Benedict XVI, Angelus (28 January 2007) .

65 Benedict XVI, April 17, 2008, Homily at National's Stadium.

66 Benedict XVI, General Audience (28 October 2009) .

67 Characteristic of the pope's conviction are his remarks to an international congress on science, philosophy and theology and dialogue held last month at the Lateran University in Rome: "Questions on the immensity of the universe, its origins and its end as well as on understanding it do not admit of a scientific answer alone. Those who look at the cosmos, following Galileo's lesson, will not be able to stop at merely what is observed with the telescope; they will be impelled to go beyond it and wonder about the meaning and end to which all creation is ordered. At this stage philosophy and technology have an important role in smoothing out the way toward further knowledge. Philosophy, confronting the phenomena and beauty of creation, seeks with its reasoning to understand the nature and finality of the cosmos. Theology, founded on the revealed word, examines the beauty and wisdom of the love of God who has left his imprint on created nature (cf. Summa Theologiae, Ia, q. 45, a. 6) . Both reason and faith are involved in this gnoseological act; both offer their light. The greater the knowledge of the complexity of the cosmos, the greater the number of instruments that can satisfy it will be required. There is no conflict on the horizon between the various branches of scientific knowledge and of philosophy and theology. On the contrary, only to the extent that they succeed in entering into dialogue and in exchanging their respective competencies will they be able to present truly effective results to people today" (Benedict XVI, Nov. 26, 2009, Message to the International Congress "From Galileo's Telescope to Evolutionary Cosmology: Science, Philosophy and Theology in Dialogue") .

68 Benedict XVI, Address to Feb. 10, 2006, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Plenary Assembly.

69 Cf. Benedict XVI, Address Prepared for the University of Rome, La Sapienza (17 January 2008) .

70 Benedict XVI, Address at the University of Regensburg (12 September 2006) .

71 Cf. Benedict XVI, Address to the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart (25
November 2005) .

72 Benedict XVI, Nov. 9, 2006, address to Swiss bishops.

73 Benedict XVI, Address to the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart (25 November 2005) .

74 Cf. Benedict XVI, Address to the Swiss Bishops (9 November 2006) .

75 Cf. Benedict XVI, Address to the Representatives of Science, University of Regensburg (12 September 2006) .

76 Victor B. Brezik, "The Role of Faith in University Education," Homiletic and Pastoral Review, 105:7 (Summer 2005) , 23.

77 Cf. Romanus Cessario, "Thomas Aquinas: A Doctor for the Ages," First Things, 91 (March 1999) , 30-31.

78 Cf. Summa Theologiae, III, q. 7, a. 7.

79 Cf. Brian Davies, "Aquinas and Catholic Universities," New Blackfriars, 86 (May 2005) , 285.

80 John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, 43.

87 Cf. Benedict XVI, Angelus (28 January 2007) .

81 Fides et Ratio, 43; cf. Summa Theologiae, I, 1, 8 ad 2.

82 Benedict XVI, Angelus (28 January 2007) . 91

83 Benedict XVI, Address to the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart (25 November 2005) ; cf. John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, 78: “The Magisterium's intention has always been to show how Saint Thomas is an authentic model for all who seek the truth. In his thinking, the demands of reason and the power of faith found the most elevated synthesis ever attained by human thought, for he could defend the radical newness introduced by Revelation without ever demeaning the venture proper to reason.”

84 John Paul II, Message to the Participants in the International Thomistic Congress
on “Christian Humanism in the Third Millennium” (20 September 2003) , 7.

85 Aidan Nichols, Discovering Aquinas (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2002) , 181.

86 Jack Gallagher, "Thoughts about Father Victor Brezik, CSB, as Philosopher," unpublished manuscript, 2009.

J. Michael Miller served as the eighth president of the Basilian Fathers' University of St. Thomas from 1997-2004, prior to his elevation to the Episcopate and his Roman posting at the Congregation for Catholic Education. He has been Archbishop of Vancouver in Canada since 2009. Prior to delivering the lecture to a packed audience in the University's Jones Hall in downtown Houston, Archbishop Miller received the prestigious "Order of St. Thomas" Gold Medal from the University dedicated to the Angelic Doctor for his "admirable effectiveness towards the goal of ensuring that every Catholic University has the essential characteristics enumerated by Pope John Paul II in Ex Corde Ecclesiae. The University of St. Thomas paid tribute to Archbishop Miller "for his firm friendship with the Centre for Thomistic Studies" at Houston's only Catholic university.

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