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Monday, October 6, 2008

0039: Pope Benedict XVI on Aquinas (III)

Entry 0039:

On 17 January 2008, Pope Benedict XVI had intended to visit the University of La Sapienza in Rome. He was not able to make this trip. The Roman Pontiff, however, asked one of his collaborators to read the speech he had prepared for the visit.

As he has done on similar occasions when addressing University professors and students, the Holy Father chose to reflect on the relationship between faith and reason. An extensive part of the speech was devoted to praise the enduring originality of the thought of Saint Thomas Aquinas. Here is what the Holy Father said.

It is the historical merit of Saint Thomas Aquinas—in the face of the rather different answer offered by the Fathers, owing to their historical context—to have highlighted the autonomy of philosophy, and with it the laws and the responsibility proper to reason, which enquires on the basis of its own dynamic. Distancing themselves from neo-Platonic philosophies, in which religion and philosophy were inseparably interconnected, the Fathers had presented the Christian faith as the true philosophy, and had emphasized that this faith fulfils the demands of reason in search of truth; that faith is the “yes” to the truth, in comparison with the mythical religions that had become mere custom. By the time the university came to birth, though, those religions no longer existed in the West—there was only Christianity, and thus it was necessary to give new emphasis to the specific responsibility of reason, which is not absorbed by faith. Thomas was writing at a privileged moment: for the first time, the philosophical works of Aristotle were accessible in their entirety; the Jewish and Arab philosophies were available as specific appropriations and continuations of Greek philosophy. Christianity, in a new dialogue with the reasoning of the interlocutors it was now encountering, was thus obliged to argue a case for its own reasonableness. The faculty of philosophy, which as a so-called “arts faculty” had until then been no more than a preparation for theology, now became a faculty in its own right, an autonomous partner of theology and the faith on which theology reflected. We cannot digress to consider the fascinating consequences of this development. I would say that Saint Thomas’s idea concerning the relationship between philosophy and theology could be expressed using the formula that the Council of Chalcedon adopted for Christology: philosophy and theology must be interrelated “without confusion and without separation”. “Without confusion” means that each of the two must preserve its own identity. Philosophy must truly remain a quest conducted by reason with freedom and responsibility; it must recognize its limits and likewise its greatness and immensity. (Excerpt from the Lecture by the Holy Father Benedict XVI at the University of Rome ‘La Sapienza,’ 17 January 2008.)

The Pope identifies the birth of the faculty of philosophy as an independent faculty within the organization of the universities with the intervention of Aquinas who underscored a legitimate distinction between philosophical wisdom and theological wisdom as two complementary forms of learning. Significant in this regard is the fact that Benedict XVI credits Aquinas with this development.