|A Living Thomism for the Third Millennium|
In 1998, as the 20th century neared its end, Pope John Paul II issued an Encyclical Letter, Fides et Ratio, in which he called for a re-commitment on the part of philosophers and theologians to the study of the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas, according to the exigencies of a new situation.
In the 17th century, modern philosophy began with a “turn to the subject” that threatened a triumph of idealism over realism as the modern period developed. Addressing this situation in 1879, Pope Leo XIII issued his Encyclical Letter Aeterni Patris as a general call to return to realism in philosophy, particularly in the form taught by the Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas. This call brought about nothing less than a revival of Thomism, often called “neo-Thomism”, which became one of the principle intellectual forces shaping the circumstances in the Church and the world that led to the Second Vatican Council, 1962-1965. In the aftermath of the Council, many seemed to think that Thomism had done its work, and that thinkers had now to turn to the further task of assimilating the best of the late modern thought, as including neo-Thomism, in the light of the Council.
As the 21st century opened, Pope John Paul II directed our attention to the fact that contemporary thinkers opposed in other ways, seemed to agree that “modernity” was over and a new epoch of “postmodernity” was dawning. Stating clearly that the meaning of “postmodern” in “the philosophical field” has yet to be determined, both in its positive content and in its relation to “the demarcation of the different historical periods” preceding the postmodern epoch, John Paul II called upon us “to reiterate the value of the Angelic Doctor’s insights and insist on the study of his thought.”
Thus, while Pope Leo XIII well recognized that the modern age had brought with it a secular outlook whose great faith in human reason tended to undermine rather than confirm the rationality of religious faith, Pope John Paul II suggested that the transition to a postmodern age presents philosophy with an opportunity to move beyond modernity, and thereby to establish a positive meaning for rationality within postmodern intellectual culture. As “modernism” devolved into “postmodernism”, John Paul II reaffirmed the perennial value of Thomistic thought and the pre-eminent position of Aquinas among the guides to a correct understanding of the way in which faith builds upon the achievements of human reason. In so doing he challenged us to develop and demonstrate the relevance of the Angelic Doctor’s teaching, and to give a positive meaning to the situation of a postmodern intellectual culture in which we find ourselves.
The Center for Thomistic Studies at the University of St. Thomas, Houston, is founded upon the Church’s insistence upon the perennial value of the thought of Aquinas as the new millennium proceeds, with a commitment to meet the challenges and realize the opportunities pointed out by Pope John Paul II at the dawn of a new age in philosophy and intellectual culture. We take the constructive cross-cultural dialog that Aquinas presents in his writings as a model for the pursuit of truth across the ages. In our Center, a living Thomism is studied, both steeped in historical knowledge of tradition and engaged with contemporary culture in shaping the future.