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A New Center for Thomistic Studies

5/11/2006 - 6:00 AM PST

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Interview With Christopher Wolfe

MILWAUKEE, Wisconsin, MAY 10, 2006 (Zenit) - The Ralph McInerny Center for Thomistic Studies is opening with the heady goal of tackling modern-day problems with, in part, time-tested reasoning.

Christopher Wolfe, a director of the Washington, D.C.-based center, presents the ideas of Thomas Aquinas in this interview as the foundation for understanding reality through the study of Thomistic thought as an attempt to combat modern day skepticism.

Wolfe is a professor of political science at Marquette University, in Milwaukee.

Q: What is the mission and purpose of the McInerny Center?

Wolfe: The Ralph McInerny Center for Thomistic Studies is one of the projects sponsored by Thomas International project, which has also established a similar center in Italy.

Its purpose is to foster a renewal of Thomistic studies in the contemporary world. We want to promote a strong and accurate rereading of Aquinas' philosophy and theology.

At the same time, we want to make Aquinas' thought fruitfully converse with contemporary culture, especially in the areas of bioethics, legal theory, economics, political theory, literature, science and sociology.

Q: What exactly does a 13th-century thinker have to offer the 21st century?

Wolfe: Truth! -- a great deal of truth, and the commitment to pursue it further.

Thomas' philosophy and theology provide a broad framework for intellectual life, an understanding of "science" -- in the broader sense in which he used that term -- in its many forms, and in their relation to one another.

The thought of Aquinas is not an ideology that has pat answers to all questions. But it provides essential foundations for achieving a better understanding of reality, and especially of the place of man in the universe, in creation.

Q: If Aquinas were alive today, what would most strike him about modern thought?

Wolfe: Two things, I think. First, he would be greatly impressed by the extraordinary growth in knowledge gained through the modern natural sciences. While recognizing that practitioners of the natural sciences have sometimes overstepped their bounds, I'm sure he'd be delighted to know so much more about the universe.

Second, I think he would be surprised by modern man's lack of faith in reason, and especially the widespread skepticism that we can really know anything about human ends.

The contrast between the growth of knowledge in the natural sciences and the shriveling up of philosophy would astound him. He would certainly applaud John Paul II's "Fides et Ratio," with its vigorous call to modern man to have a strong, but humble, faith in his reason.

Q: Observers lament that the West is steeped in "weak thought." Where is this most prevalent, and how could Thomism help?

Wolfe: "Weak thought" -- an example of postmodernist despair of reason -- is found most often -- should I say "ironically" or "unsurprisingly"? -- in the academy and among intellectuals.

Ordinary people don't usually have the luxury of time and resources for constructing sophisticated intellectual arguments to show that no intellectual argument, however sophisticated, gets us very far in understanding reality. So weak thought is a symptom of the current malaise.

Thomism offers a way of reaffirming the capacity of the human intellect to understand reality, in its many dimensions. For all our limitations and imperfections, human beings can attain a deeper and deeper knowledge of themselves, of the universe they inhabit, and of the Creator.

Q: What are some of the "bridges" that can be built between Thomism and modern philosophy? What would be a point of departure?

Wolfe: That might vary, depending on the area of philosophy. I think there are aspects of contemporary analytical philosophy that can be appreciated by Thomists -- and indeed there is even a school of "analytical Thomism," for example, John Haldane.

In ethics, there is a renewed interest in natural law, in its more traditional form -- for instance, Ralph McInerny and Russell Hittinger -- and more modern forms -- for example, John Finnis and Robert George.

In many cases, it is a question of going back to starting points, to discuss and make more intelligible the self-evident principles that ground speculative and practical philosophy.

Q: How does Thomism apply to specific problems such as same-sex marriage?

Wolfe: Thomism, especially its natural law teaching, offers us an understanding of human ends, and, in particular, knowledge of the nature and purpose of human sexuality.

Only a conception of sexuality that integrates body and soul and that understands the intrinsic finality of sexual ...

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