Rorate Caeli

New Secretary General of International Theological Commission
Saint Thomas and the historical method

Named today by the Holy Father to fill the spot left by the new Bishop of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg (Bp. Charles Morerod, O.P.), Fr. Serge-Thomas Bonino, O.P., of the Institut Catholique de Toulouse, France, and director of the venerable Revue Thomiste. The region of Toulouse is, of course, the site of the first Dominican foundations - and the city itself is where the relics of the Angelic Doctor are located.

In the year 2000, Fr. Bonino gave the following interview to a Dutch Thomist institute:

What are you doing at this moment?

Since 1990 I teach at the faculty of philosophy of the Catholic University of Toulouse where I was recently elected as dean (June 1999). My regular teaching is on the history of medieval doctrines - from Saint Augustine to Nicholas of Cusa ! - and also on themes that revolve around the philosophical theology of Saint Thomas. 
I am also director of studies at the theological studium of the Dominicans in Toulouse and this involves the teaching of some treatises of dogmatic theology. Furthermore, in 1995 we established, with a number of Dominican fellow brothers, the 'Institut Saint-Thomas d'Aquin' (of Toulouse) which wants to be a centre of advanced studies in saint Thomas and the Thomistic tradition in the French-speaking regions. I teach there the history of Thomism and also some treatises from the Prima Pars
Finally, since 1991, I am director of the venerable journal Revue Thomiste, which celebrated its centennial in 1993. This responsibility has the advantage of putting me into contact with a number of scholars who promote Thomistic studies.

What research on Aquinas are you doing now?

The major part of my work consists in preparing (and improving) courses! I also spend much time on the book reviews for the Revue Thomiste. In particular, I try to make up, on a regular basis, a Thomistica chronicle which presents recent work and publications on Saint Thomas and the Thomistic tradition. 
I have been working for several years now on a fundamental study on the history of Thomistic tradition in the Middle Ages, which I hope will end up sooner or later as a book on the subject. It is within this perspective that in 1996 I organised a conference on 'Saint Thomas in the 14th century' in Toulouse. I am, in fact, convinced that the massive rejection of the 'commentators' by mid-20th century Thomism - even if it has good and multiple reasons for doing so - ignores, however, the fundamentally 'traditional' character of all exercise of thought, and especially, of Thomistic thought. Certainly, when it is about interpreting saint Thomas, nothing surpasses the direct reading of texts, but when it is about elaborating for today a way of thinking that is inspired by Thomas, it is difficult to economise on critical references to the living tradition, both doctrinal and institutional, which makes up the 'Thomistic School'. 
This rejection of the 'commentators' leaves unexplored the historico-doctrinal study of Thomistic traditions: it is so to say a virgin and totally fascinating path that opens up to the doctrinal historian. 
At present, I am preparing a new version of the translation of the treatises on creation and on evil in the Summa Theologiae and also a paper on the question of the limbos in saint Thomas for the conference that the 'Institut Saint-Thomas de Toulouse' organises on May 26-27, 2000, around the theme of the supernatural. It seems to me that the theory of the limbos, generally held during the 13th century, offers an interesting clarification for determining the precise nature of the natural longing to see God: indeed, on the one hand, the unbaptized children that have died lack the vision of the divine essence, but on the other hand, it has to be maintained that they do not suffer (and that they are happy?).

What is the most important thing you learned from Aquinas?

Saint Thomas is an old friend of mine. I started to frequent him since the age of 17. Trained in a secular school milieu, I soon discovered the need to appeal to a structured and structuring Christian way of thinking. And I have not been disappointed. 
Probably, Saint Thomas has not given me the answers to all questions, but he has taught me - at least, I hope so - to pose the philosophical and theological problems correctly and to place them in an overall perspective. I think that if he had not been a theologian, Saint Thomas would probably have been an architect: he has the genius of order, of architectonics. 
Furthermore, I remain profoundly attracted to the forma mentis that is typical of scholasticism: to seek conceptual clarity and precision, to exercise thought with constant reference to a cumulative tradition of interpretation. 
I also appreciate more and more the 'catholic' spirit of saint Thomas, that is to say, his concern not to lose something of the truth wherever it may be, to integrate that part of the truth that is present with the opponens.

Whom do you consider to be your most important teacher in your thomistic education?

During my first years of Dominican religious life, I was fortunate to meet two masters in Thomism: Father M.-M. Labourdette, who is the author of a monumental commentary on the whole of the Secunda Pars and Father M.-V. Leroy, who taught dogmatic theology, but who, unfortunately, wrote very little. Both of them were profoundly marked by the friendship and the intellectual influence of 'Jacques', that is, of Jacques Maritain. 
They have passed on to me and to my Dominican fellow brothers from Toulouse, the doctrinal and institutional heritage of the venerable Thomistic school of Saint-Maximin. It is, in my view, a great privilege to be able to join in this way a living doctrinal tradition. 
It is true that the masters of Saint-Maximin - without being hostile to it - were hardly sensitive to the historical approach to the works of Saint Thomas. While working in Fribourg (Switzerland) with Father Jean-Pierre Torrell and Professor Rudi Imbach, whose assistant I had the chance to be for one year, I become more and more convinced of the importance of the application of the historical method to saint Thomas.

What works of Aquinas are you most familiar with?

As it is for most Thomists, the Summa Theologiae is my basic book, but the historical approach to the work of Saint Thomas clearly demands that it be used in relation to the whole of the 'Thomasian' corpus. 
When I worked on my thesis, under Father Torrell, on the second question of De Veritate (De scientia Dei), to which I wanted to propose a reading guide, I was led to scrutinise the whole of the disputed questions.
Should I state that the preacher, which I am by profession, is also very well nourished by the scriptural commentaries of Saint Thomas?

What is the importance of Aquinas-research for our times (especially in your discipline)?

It seems to me that Saint Thomas offers today an adequate model concerning the way of doing theology. Five points seem to me of special importance:
(1) the privileged instrument of the intellectus fidei is a philosophy of being
(2) Theology is the work of intelligence. It does not fear to have recourse to the concept
(3) The theologian elaborates his own doctrine in an ongoing confrontation with the preceding theological tradition. Contrary to the artificial opposition between the quid homines senserunt and the veritas rerum which a certain kind of Thomism wanted to establish, the theological practice of saint Thomas attests that the quid homines senserunt is the privileged way to the veritas rerum.
(4) Theology has a sapiential vocation. The intellectus fidei aims at a contemplative synthesis that is not content with the fragmentation of theological disciplines.
(5) Doing theology presupposes a permanent contact with the living sources of faith (Scripture, Tradition, the life of the Church) and shows itself to be a source of spiritual life.

22 comments:

Alan Aversa said...

Two things worry me about this: (1) He is a Maritainian, and (2) he has "become more and more convinced of the importance of the application of the historical method to saint Thomas."

Aren't New Theologians also obsessed with the relativistic "historical method"? Fr. Torell, in his biography of St. Thomas, even accuses St. Thomas of having no historical sense. Viz., St. Thomas was not a relativist; any attempt to make him so is not Thomistic.

Alan Aversa said...

Some other red flags: "living tradition" and "natural longing to see God"

Anonymous said...

I know Fr. Bonino. He is very very traditional. This is an excellent choice. Unexpected, but excellent. He is a friend of Tradition. And after all, a friend of Tradition knows history.

New Catholic said...

Anonymous, please repost your comment with a name, any name. We in Rorate never affirmed anything about Father Bonino.

NC

Sobieski said...

@Alan

I agree that we could do with less Gilson whom Fr. Bonino is most likely referring to. According to Gilson, the Dominican commentatorial tradition knew little about the central importance of St. Thomas's doctrine of the actus essendi, so he had little regard for it. I'm not a big fan of Maritain either, though I've read less of him. My impression is that he tries to blend a type of personalism with Thomism, at least in his political doctrine. Gilson and Maritain were to some degree concerned with making St. Thomas relevant, but in my view, they are more faithful than the Jesuit Transcendental Thomist tradition, which embraces a less literal reading of St. Thomas for harmonizing his thinking with modern philosophy (i.e., Kant). For those interested, Edward Feser has a brief and interesting history of Thomism on his website (Part 1, Part 2).

On another note, the reason St. Thomas wasn't into history is because in his view, as well as that of Plato and Aristotle, there can be no science of the historical. Science concerns what is necessary and universal, whereas history concerns what is contingent and singular (i.e., historical events). History might be useful for doing philosophy insofar as it assists the philosopher in understanding the mind of a certain writer, but ultimately science for St. Thomas is about pursuing truth, not what someone said. I think there can be instrumental value in historical studies and method, but all one has to do is consider scholars like Fr. Raymond Brown to be concerned. I would think and hope Dominicans like Frs. Torrell and Bonino are much better.

Finally, I don't think there is enough information in the interview to determine whether Fr. Bonino is traditional on the point about the natural desire for God. I think the Thomistic view is that such a desire is elicited based on natural knowledge of God as a first cause, whereas others like De Lubac say it is innate. Though I haven't had the chance to read it yet, I've heard that an excellent defense of the Thomistic position has been written by Lawrence Feingold in The Natural Desire to See God According to St. Thomas and His Interpreters.

Sobieski

Lee Faber said...

I don't think there is anything particularly relativistic about the historical method as applied to medieval theology and philosophy. All it means is paying attention to context. Aquinas didn't write in a vacuum, and he wasn't in dialogue only with Augustine and Aristotle. The H-C method means reading Aquinas, but also Bonaventure, Albert hte Great, Gerard of Abbevile, and so on.

Aric said...

The commentatorial position on the natural desire to see God IS the traditional position.

Real Catholic said...

Oh, how horrible! What we really need in theology is an unreconstructed manualist who will parrot all the rigid formulas developed by Jesuits in the 19th century. Then we will have a true revival of theology.

The appointment proves that Vatican II is the work of the devil. Let's face it, only a few of us, even on this blog are REAL CATHOLICS. This appointment proves that the Novus Ordo Church is nothing but a haven of Modernists.

Sobieski said...

Calm down, Real Catholic. Sing with me:

"Kum bay ya, my Lord, kum bay ya;
"Kum bay ya, my Lord, kum bay ya..."

I know something that might soothe your frazzled nerves after obssessing over all those traditional, manualist Catholics. A nice, new mug that you can drink a warm cup of Joe from while reading your dog-eared copy of McBrien's Catholicism:

Unreconstructed Ossified Manualist mug

Sobieski

Romualdus said...

"living tradition" and "natural longing to see God" is not the only red flags.

How about:

"The theologian elaborates his own doctrine in an ongoing confrontation with the preceding theological tradition.".

Of course HE is the theologian. And the five points of special importance are nothing but obfusication at its best.

Now, Fr. Benedict de Jorna SSPX, Superior of the of Franch District, wrote:

"Modernists are not concerned with true knowledge but rather with feelings [sentiments] and immanence - i.e., the teaching that the foundation of faith must be sought in an internal sense which arises from man's need of God."

Is not this "need of God" the "natural longing to see God" we find under Fr. Bonino's five points of special importance?

One characteristic of Thomistic scholars is a desire for true knowledge. In his interview, Fr. Bonino neither mentions nor expresses any such desire. He only exudes a cleverly concealed self. Pride! And in Pascendi St. Pius X shows pride as the cause of modernism.

Make no mistake, Fr. Serge-Thomas Bonino is a dyed-in-the-wool modernist/progressivist.

GQ Rep said...

"The appointment proves that Vatican II is the work of the devil. Let's face it, only a few of us, even on this blog are REAL CATHOLICS. This appointment proves that the Novus Ordo Church is nothing but a haven of Modernists"


Awesome! And 100# true.
That goes for the whole of the Vatican, and nearly all bishops ,priests, and nuns.

Geezzzzzzzzz, what's left after that?

Thomas Putnam said...

Sobieski: Thanks for this link. Who gets the dough from sales of this mug and the other UOM paraphernalia? I'd like to know before I buy, just in case this is some Maryknoller or U.S. Bishops Conference sucker ploy.

Reluctant Pessimist said...

Alan Aversa, Sobieski, and Romualdus: May I add another red flag to your list? Father Bonino begins the fifth of his five points with "doing theology," an expression eerily reminiscent of the Cambridge analytic philosophers of a century ago and their description of what they were up to as "doing philosophy," a turn of phrase then new to that discipline's vocabulary.

Unless Fr. Bonino is here the victim of a translator (not an impossibility, of course), his lapse into such an odd formula—odd for a Thomist, certainly—ought to give one pause and should at the very least have prompted a question from his interlocutor.

Sobieski said...

Mr. Putnam,

The original reference to this paraphernalia was on Fr. Z's blog. I assume the proceeds go to him or a charity.

HTH,
Sobieski

Thomas Putnam said...

Thank you, Sobieski.

Luca Gili said...

I am a Dominican friar, who is writing his dissertation on St. Thomas, and I hardly see how the historical approach to his texts may lead to relativism - that we all reject.
The historical study simply involves a certain attention to the sources, to the texts (with their variants etc.) and, more generally, to all that may bring a new light on what Aquinas really meant.
The alternative way (namely, not to care about historical context) may be misleading. Of course, we should compare Aquinas's thought with contemporary philosophy, in order to judge the latter etc., but the historical approach is preliminary to this second task. How can you use Aquinas for arguing in favor or agaist some topics at issue, if you don't know what he thought?
Yes, one may wonder whether fr. Bonino's approach entails a certain (negative) prejudice against a competitive approach to Aquinas, which pays more attentions to his philosophical arguments, and which is more common in the English speaking sholarship- however, I really can't see how the historical approach may still be regarded with suspect and fear.
Luca Gili op

Doc said...

I don't think there's anything wrong with the idea of a natural desire to see God. St. Bernard taught that infants desired God the same way they desired their mother.

The human race has a common end or destiny (cf. Pius XII Summi Pontificatus 38, 45). The natural desire for God is merely evidence of this.

That being said, this natural desire is not enough for salvation--the desire sufficient for salvation must be motivated by supernatural faith.

Affirming a natural desire for God does not necessarily mean modernism any more than affirming man's natural hunger for food means man will create his own food within himself as a result of this desire or that any substance at all can be consumed healthily.

Modernism is not the affirmation of man's need of God. Modernism is drawing a false conclusion from this premise.

As an aside, I understand a lot of people have been hurt by churchmen and it is very easy to allow ones heart to be clouded by suspicion. But it isn't spiritually healthy to be a heresy hunter and try and ferret out any possible thing that could be interpreted as heresy in another's statements.

St. Vincent Ferrer says when something is ambiguous and if there is any possibility at all of interpreting it in a good manner, we must. He gives the very example of Our Lord, Who, when accused of being a Samaritan and having a devil, only denies having a devil. St. Vincent points out that His accuser most likely had malicious intent and meant a heretic with the word Samaritan. However, since Samaritan can also be interpreted as a watchman, Our Lord does not deny it since He could rightly be considered a watchman.

Sobieski said...

I don't get the impression from this interview alone that Fr. Bonino is a progressive or modernist. It seems to me that he is saying theology (1) uses a realist, as opposed to an idealist or materialist, metaphysic, presumably Thomistic, as an instrument to elucidate its subject matter, namely God and creatures related to him. (2) It proceeds with a realist epistemology which holds for knowledge as being conceptual (i.e., as consisting of concepts and their relationships) and presumably grounded in reality (as opposed to the mind alone). (3) Here I take Fr. Bonino to be saying that theology is dialectical in the sense that it engages what has been previously said by other theologians or authorities as a way of refining or gaining a deeper insight into the truth of the matter. "Dialectic" could be interpreted negatively as Hegelian, I suppose, but dialetics as used by Aristotle (or Socrates and Plato for that matter), for example, was a survey of opinions on a subject matter for the purpose of arriving at the principles of a science. Once the principles are determined, then scientific demonstration (in theory) proceeds from the principles. It seems to me that St. Thomas proceeds in this manner in the Summa Theologiae, for example, by raising objections, citing authorities, giving his reasoned account and then responding to objections. (5) A part of theology is to engage current day issues or consider current Magisterial teaching. Again, one could interpret his statement here as historicist or relativistic, but it is true that new issues come up in the course of human events, and theological principles have to be applied to those situations (e.g., licitness of the use of nuclear weapons, feminism, proportionalism, etc.). Again, this could be interpreted in a historicist or relativistic way, but I would give Fr. Bonino the benefit of the doubt unless he says or does something to the contrary.

I agree with Friar Luca that the historical method is valuable insofar as it may enable one to better understand a writer's meaning and intention. Gilson was an advocate of historical studies, as well, so the history of philosophy is not foreign to the English speaking world. Granted, analytic philosophy, which is mostly an Anglo phenomenon, can be woefully ignorant of the history of philosophy and rather closed in on itself, but I would say it is just the opposite in English-speaking Catholic circles today. If anything, we could probably do with less bickering over what people said and engage in more theologizing and philosophizing. The great Garrigou-Lagrange comes to mind here. For all of Gilson's historical studies, I think he sometimes muddied the waters more than clarified things (e.g., "Christian philosophy" debate, the debate over the grounding of metaphysics, etc.). Again, while I think historical studies can be useful for elucidating St. Thomas's thought, they are not primary. Like St. Thomas said, the most important thing is truth, not what someone said. I think historians can get too caught up in the latter to the detriment of arriving at the former. History proceeds with facts accepted on authority, which are considered through an interpretive lense. What principles are in play? Naturalistic ones, like those used by Brown or Bultmann, for example, should certainly be avoided.

(continued)

Sobieski said...

Finally, a danger with the natural desire for God, if meant by that a natural desire for God as our supernatural end, is that the distinction between grace and nature and the gratuity of grace is destroyed. If I am not mistaken and someone can correct me if I'm wrong, De Lubac held that we have an innate natural desire for God as our supernatural end, which is problematic. Contrary to this, the traditional Thomistic position is that a natural desire for God can be understood as something elicited from our natural knowledge of God as the first principle. This knowledge arouses a desire to know more about this being, though it is ultimately beyond the capacity of our nature to attain without the aid of Divine Revelation and the unmerited gift of God's grace. So while speaking about a natural desire to know God is certainly Thomistic and not necessarily modernist, it has to be understood in such a way as to maintain the distinction between grace and nature and the gratuity of grace. It's my understanding that the book I referenced above gives a good survey of the debate and defense of the traditional Thomistic teaching on the matter. Another book that I have not read, but have heard is informative is The Natural Desire for God by William O'Connor.

Sobieski

Luca Gili said...

@Sobieski.
I can't say to have read much of fr. Bonino's work, but my impression was, on the contrary, that he is a rather 'traditional' Thomist.
As far as the question of the 'desiderium naturale videndi Deum' is concerned, it should be reminded that Aquinas merely says that from the effects of God's creative act, we naturally desire to see the cause, namely we naturally want to see God. 'to see God' is of course something supernatural, but we desire it naturally, for the above reason (and only if that would be possible, Thomists add). From that, De Lubac inferred in his 'Surnaturel' that Aquinas too implicitly holds that we have some natural power or disposition to the acquisition of grace. Of course, this is not Aquinas's doctrine at all, as Sobieski rightly notes.
Gilson is rather confused, I agree, but my impression is that English-speaking scholarship (I think to scholars like Brian Davies, John Wippel, Eleanore Stump) is perfectly aware of this; fr. Bonino is unfortunately more influenced by Gilson's views, even when it is more difficult to defend them (one example: Aquinas is merely a theologian, and not a philosopher too: both Gilson and Bonino maintain this, which seems to me completely misleading, even though it could have some justification in Gilson's idea of a 'Crhsitian philosophy' - there is certainly a lack of historical evidence for this claim, though some celebrated scholars like fr. Gauthier defended this view too). However, this does not make him 'a modernist', but, again, has instead a rather 'traditional' fashion.

Sobieski said...

Yes, I agree that Gilson's notion of "Christian philosophy" is confused insofar as he says, for example, that the supernatural must become a "constituent element" of a Christian philosophy. Well, if that is the case, he would appear to be theologizing philosophy, even though he probably didn't intend to do that. I think the Catholic faith would be better considered as a guide or context for philosophy without contributing principles. If philosophy becomes based on what is accepted on the authority of God in faith, then it is no longer philosophy.

I do think, however, that St. Thomas was primarily a theologian and not a philosopher. Since a science is distinguished by the formality under which it considers its subject-matter (e.g., material being vs. quantified being vs. being qua being), both philosophy and theology can consider the same subject-matter. As a result, theology can proceed according to its own method and under its own formality (i.e., God and creatures related to Him vs. being qua being and its ontological principles) and consider (in part) the same subject matter as philosophy. Further, since it is the chief science, it can use philosophy as an instrument. So while the arguments in the Summa Theologiae are theological, some of them, namely those available to reason, could also be developed in philosophy as well and have been. Examples would be proofs for the existence of God, enumeration of the Divine attributes, the consideration of natural law, etc. On the other hand, St. Thomas did write commentaries on Aristotle and works like On the Principles of Nature, so he did engage in philosophy as well.

In any event, I am not familiar with Fr. Bonino either, but the placement of a traditional Dominican and Thomist as Secretary General of the ITC would be good thing. It is noteworthy too because my understanding is that Pope Benedict is more of an Augustinian. I am also glad that Fr. Bonino wants to revive interest in the Dominican Thomist tradition.

Sobieski

Romualdus said...

For all his outwardly traditionalist appearance Fr. Bonino does not abode good, if we carefully look at some of the statements that he made during his interview.

"Trained in a secular school milieu, I soon discovered the need to appeal to a structured and structuring Christian way of thinking."

Fr. Bonino, was never led by a love or thirst for knowledge and truth, but by a mere need to fulfil some sort of longing or feeling, if you like.

"Probably, Saint Thomas has not given me the answers to all questions but he has taught me to pose the philosophical and theological problems correctly and to place them in an overall perspective."

The monumental genius of the angelic doctor, St. Thomas, which has provided answers to fundamentally difficult philosophical and theological problems through out the history of the Church, and whose teachings, St. Pius X, declared must be the foundation of all newly formed priests, is just not good enough for Fr. Bonino. He can barely conceal his contempt for St. Thomas whose teachings he probably seeks to "reform". Modernists are "reformers" and Fr. Bonino is a Modernist.

But, to hear Fr. Bonino talk like this about the angelic doctor in which he seems to have been able to discover so much that is lacking, one would imagine that before him, nobody ever even glanced through the pages of the Summa. Whereas the truth is that a whole multitude of bishops, priests, monks, and scholars, infinitely superior to Fr. Bonino in genius, erudition, sanctity, have sifted the Books of St. Thomas in every way, and so far from finding imperfections in them, have thanked God more and more the deeper they have gone into them, for His divine bounty in having vouchsafed to speak thus to men. Unfortunately, these great Doctors did not enjoy the same aids to study that are possessed by the Modernists for their guide and rule i.e. the historical method - a philosophy borrowed from the negation of God, and a criterion which consists of themselves. This is nothing but pure unmitigated PRIDE!

"I also appreciate more and more the 'catholic' spirit of saint Thomas, that is to say, his concern not to lose something of the truth wherever it may be, to integrate that part of the truth that is present with the opponens."

Modernists assert that something of the truth can be found in other faiths, false as they may be. Fr. Bonino is clearly promoting religious syncretism here. Can you see that.

"During my first years of Dominican religious life, I was fortunate to meet two masters in Thomism: Father M.M. Labourdette, and Father M.V. Leroy. Both of them were profoundly marked by the friendship and the intellectual influence of Jacques Maritain."

Jacques Maritain, raised Protestant and later converted to Catholicism, was a prominent drafter of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Now, this alone speaks volumes but suffice to say that this nefarious document enshrines the creature's declaration of independence from the Creator. Drafted by the leaders of Judaism and Freemasonry it is basically a collective cry of Non Serviam.

As can be cleary deduced, Jacques Maritain brought with him into the Catholic Church his protestant spirit of rebellion.