Pope Francis meets with participants in the International Thomistic Congress Pope Francis meets with participants in the International Thomistic Congress 

Pope Francis to International Thomistic Congress: Go to Thomas

Pope Francis invites participants in the Eleventh International Thomistic Congress, to build on and enrich the ancient teaching of St Thomas Aquinas through dialogue with the new things of the modern world.

By Vatican News staff reporters

In off-the-cuff remarks to participants in the Eleventh International Thomistic Congress, Pope Francis emphasized that following a great thinker like Saint Thomas means reflecting on a guide and master, not just another intellectual.

The danger of “instrumentalizing” Thomas

Pope Francis warned that within Thomism, there is a danger of “instrumentalizing” St Thomas; and gives the example of the many interpretations that make the saint a slave of “casuistic thinking." Such a procedure risks making a “mockery” of the master’s thought.

Instead, he insisted, a proper study of the master’s thought involves contemplation, which is followed by an explanation of his thought. Finally, cautiously, one can attempt to interpret his thought. Pope Francis cautions that one must never “use” or instrumentalise the master to advance one’s own position, but rather, place one’s own thoughts in the light of the master.

A lesson in Thomistic theology

To illustrate the point, Pope Francis points to Dominican Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, who, during the debate at the Synod of the family gave a lesson on Thomistic theology. Cardinal Schönborn, he said, “understood Thomas and explained him, without using him.”

From this example, the Pope indicated the correct procedure to follow: “Before speaking of St Thomas, before speaking of Thomism, before teaching, one must contemplate: contemplate the master, understand beyond intellectual thought what the master lived and what the master wanted to tell us.”

Saint Thomas, Pope Francis concluded, “was a light to the thought of the Church, and we must defend him from all these 'intellectualistic reductionisms' that imprison the greatness of his magisterial thought.”

“A faithful disciple of incarnate Wisdom”

A printed copy of the speech the Pope had prepared for the audience was also given to participants. In it, Pope Francis recalled St Thomas Aquinas as a “faithful disciple of incarnate Wisdom” and a “tireless seeker after the face of God,” in an address to participants of the XI International Thomistic Congress, sponsored by the Pontifical Academy of Saint Thomas Aquinas and the Angelicum Thomistic Institute.

Taking up the liturgical prayer for the saint’s feast, the Holy Father highlighted Thomas’ pursuit of holiness and passion for sacred doctrine. “Here we find also your spiritual programme,” he said: “to imitate the Saint and to allow yourselves to be illuminated and guided by the Doctor and Teacher.”

Engaging in dialogue with the modern world

The desire for a deeper understanding of the faith, he continued, is not “optional for the believer,” but rather “a part of the very dynamism of faith.” Seeking God must be undertaken in a spirit of prayer and contemplation, using the two “wings” of faith and adoration.

In doing so, the Pope said, “the Christian is not afraid to initiate a sincere, rational dialogue with the culture of their own time,” recognizing that “every truth, by whomever spoken, comes from the Holy Spirit."

An ever-living fount

Pope Francis also emphasized that the study of St Thomas must be “an ever-living fount, according to the theme of the Congress: 'Vetera novis augere' [Enhance the old with the new]: The resources of the Thomist tradition in the current context.” Thomism, he said, must be engaged both in studying Thomas’ thought in its original historical and cultural context, and then engaging in dialogue with the modern world.

Using just one example, the Pope pointed to St Thomas’ teaching on creation. For Thomas, he said, creation is the very first manifestation of God’s generosity and mercy. Thomas is able to contemplate the beauty of God in the diversity of the created order, in which every created thing comes from God and is directed to God, all working together to demonstrate God’s goodness.

“Go to Thomas!”

Pope Francis concluded his reflection by making his own recommendation: “Go to Thomas! Do not be afraid to increase and enrich with new things the ancient and ever fruitful things of the past.”

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22 September 2022, 13:56