Topic: Thomism

Br. Bradley Thomas Elliott, O.P.'s picture

Aquinas on Virtue (Part 1)

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"Morality" and "moral rules" tend to bring up hot topics in our current culture. Thomas Aquinas, though, highlights the role of "virtue" in the moral life as the key to happiness. In this series of instructional videos, I will explore, question by question, St. Thomas's treatises on the virtues in the Summa Theologiae that lay out the basic foundations for Aquinas's notion of virtue. The first installment centers on the first question in the treatise, which deals with the definition of virtue. I explain how St. Thomas uses Aristotle's "four causes" to flesh out the essential notion of what a virtue is. As we will see throughout the series, practicing virtue does involve our feelings and emotions, but only insofar as they are ordered by the mind and our reason...


Br. Thomas Aquinas Pickett, O.P.'s picture

Intellectual Compassion

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Stephen of Salanhac, O.P. (d. 1290) composed an apt description of the nascent Order of Preachers when he wrote that a Dominican was "a canon by profession, a monk in austerity of his life, and an apostle by his office of preacher." Indeed, as Dominicans we are bound to careful and prayerful execution of the choral office in its full, public, sung ceremony; we are bound (under Saint Dominic's own last will and testament) to poverty and a life of penance, mortifying the flesh like St. Paul, lest after preaching to others we should be disqualified (cf. 1 Cor 9:27); we are bound to preach the Gospel, to proselytize, to combat heresy and error, and to embrace the spiritual works of mercy. Stephen of Salanhac's characterization of the Dominican, however, overlooks an indispensible element of the life: the assiduous study of Truth. A Dominican is indeed called to be a canon, monk, and apostle, but he is also called to be a contemplative, i.e., one whose life is ordered to the consideration and pursuit of truth (cf. St. Thomas ST II-II.179.1). The Dominican in meditation (i.e., rational investigation for the purpose of contemplation, cf. II-II.180.3. ad 1) seeks the Truth in Scriptures first, then in theology, philosophy, and other sciences so that, filled and overwhelmed with the Truth, he may pass it on to others for the salvation and edification of their souls. Instead of being an active religious, the Dominican is in primis a contemplative who, having grown an abundant harvest in the prayerful field of his mind and heart, hands on the fruits of his contemplation to others out of intellectual compassion. Bl. Humbert of Romans, the fifth master of the Order, devoted a considerable part of his work on the formation of preachers to study and contemplation in the preacher's life. These are not ends in themselves, but are means of ensuring the edification and benefit of the listeners: "A good preacher's concern is rather to study what is useful" (83); "the most important thing of all for a preacher is that he should have recourse to prayer, asking God to grant him speech that will be effective in bringing salvation to his hearers." (96, Emphasis added).

Recently I was able to see first hand the Order's devotion to the rigorous pursuit of truth through study and prayer. During the first week of July, I was greatly priviledged by the generosity of my Province to attend a conference at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington D.C..  This conference was titled "Dominicans and the Renewal of Thomism," and it attracted over 100 preeminent Dominican scholars. Being a student I was intimidated and awed to see and hear lectures by Giles Emery, Serge-Thomas Bonino, Richard Schenk, Romanus Cessario, and many others. I was also greatly inspired by seeing the zeal possessed by Dominicans, young and old, for the attainment of wisdom and holiness. But this conference was far from being stuffy; rather, it was a gathering of brothers committed to the contemplative pursuit of Truth guided by the wisdom of St. Thomas Aquinas. We indeed were brothers in the Lord. We sung the office together, relying on our great patrimony of Latin hymns and canticles. We shared meals with one another, discussing our shared experiences in Dominican life. We listened to one another share the fruits of study and research, testing all and retaining what was good (1 Thess. 5:21). I was amazed that world-renowned friars, whose books I often read for my theological studies, had the genuine humility to talk with me as a brother. The entire conference impressed upon me the beautiful community that the Order of Preachers has established throughout the world. We indeed were all brothers, teaching and learning the wisdom of our brother Saint Thomas Aquinas. We were all brothers unreservedly committed to the truth and beauty of the Catholic faith that has been handed down to us.

As the Western World grows more secular, however, what role does the beauty and truth of the faith play? What place is there for a theologian like St. Thomas Aquinas, who died more than half a millenium ago? How do Dominicans figure into the mission and life of the Church in the contemporary world? These are the questions that were brought forward throughout the conference. The challenge for us Dominicans, as for Christians in every era, is to fearlessly and unreservedly promote the Kingdom of Heaven despite the evils that beset us. In the face of rising indifference to God, legislation that turns away from natural law and human dignity, and the rabid pullulation of agnosticism, atheism, relativism, and secularism, the Dominicans, following the orthodox and comprehensive vision of St. Thomas Aquinas, must act with pious aggression to check the work of the Deceiver. Dominicans genuinely committed to the Truth can help spread the light of Christ through teaching and preaching, nourished by prayer and study. It is our challenge to rise to this occasion, and to find in our minds and hearts the courage of Christ's grace and the undying power of the Holy Spirit. By genuine, bold Catholic dialogue and preaching, aimed at the strengthening of our own faith and the conversion of others to the True Faith, Dominicans, armed with St. Thomas, strive to advance the light of Christ into a darkening world.