Tuesday, December 08, 2015

The Feast of the Immaculate Conception and Byzantine Theology


In my own devotional life and study, I follow both the traditional Roman liturgical calendar and the Byzantine calendar, specifically that published by the US Melkites, whom I regard as the 'other' traditional Catholics (more on that later).  It is a huge learning experience for me to compare the two calendars, as the arrangement of feasts reflects theological similarities and differences between East and West, illustrating the complexities of the faith and the richess of Catholicism.

Case in point: today, December 8th, we joyfully celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.  My Byzantine Melkite calendar, however, does not have the feast.  What it does have is the "Feast of the Conception of the Theotokos" or the "Feast of the Maternity of St. Anne", tomorrow, December 9th.  Moreover, the feast of the Conception of the Theotokos does not celebrate her holiness or her immaculate nature, but simply that, her Conception.  (The Byzantine feast that truly zeros in on her holiness is the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple when she was a child, which is celebrated on November 21.)

I did some research and apparently the East had this feast first. It seems to have originated in Palestine in the 5th Century, and started making its way into the West in the 8th Century, first in the liturgical traditions in northern Europe (Sarum, Gallican, etc.) and gradually adopted down south by the Roman liturgy.  At some point it was moved back one day to December 8th in the West.  Originally the Western feast was called the "Feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary," and much later the name was modified to the "Feast of the Immaculate Conception."  The feast on our calendar, on December 8th, is exactly 9 months before the Feast of the Nativity of the BVM, which falls on September 8th.  This is quite fitting, and actually mirrors the same reality in the case of the Conception of Our Lord and His Nativity, which are 9 months apart, on March 25 and December 25, respectively.

But the East does it slightly differently.  Whereas we celebrate two conceptions, Our Lord's and Our Lady's, they celebrate three, adding that of St. John the Baptist to the mix.  Moreover, the Conception of the Theotokos in the Byzantine calendar is on December 9th, so that it is not quite exactly 9 months prior to the feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos on September 8th, signifying by that fact that her conception, though a wondrous event in the history of salvation, was not perfect, not virginal.  Many of the icons that commemorate the event represent this fact by showing Sts. Joachim and Ann embracing with a bed in the background (see the icon above).  The same is true of the Byzantine feast of the Conception of the Forerunner, St. John the Baptist on September 23, which is 9 months minus one day before June 24 (the Nativity of St. John), and which is also represented in iconography by showing Sts. Elizabeth and Zacharias embracing.  

Now, whereas the Conception of the Theotokos and the Conception of St. John the Baptist are both 9 months minus a day away from the corresponding nativities, in the Byzantine calendar the Conception of Our Lord, celebrated on March 25, is exactly 9 months before the Feast of His Nativity, December 25.  This is to symbolize the perfect, divine, and virginal nature of His Conception, given that He was born not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

Now, all Easterners, Catholic and Orthodox alike, firmly believe, profess, and celebrate the fullness of grace of the Theotokos, whom they exuberantly call in the litanies of their Divine Liturgy "our all-holy, immaculate, most blessed and glorified Lady, the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary": Τῆς Παναγίας, ἀχράντου, ὑπερευλογημένης, ἐνδόξου, δεσποίνης ἡμῶν Θεοτόκου καὶ ἀειπαρθένου Μαρίας (I've memorized this Greek prayer as an ejaculatory prayer, as I just love how the words roll off the tongue...).  Also, in every Divine Liturgy they sing the wonderful hymn Άξιον Εστίν, which praises the Mother of God beyond all creatures for her excelling holiness:

It is truly meet to bless you, O Theotokos, who are ever blessed and all blameless, and the Mother of our God. More honorable than the Cherubim, and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim, you who without stain didst bear God the Word, you are truly Theotokos!  We magnify you! 

In other words, there is no doubt in the Eastern mind that the Theotokos was always completely free from sin and absolutely full of grace from the moment of her conception. This is Sacred Tradition and every corner of the universal Church is aware of that.  Even Muslims have this as part of their tradition!  But what Eastern Christians struggle with is the very idea of original sin, which although we believe it has been divinely revealed (Ecce enim in iniquitatibus conceptus sum: et in peccatis concepit me mater mea, Ps. 5o:7), the development of this dogma occured in the West without the participation of the East, and its subtleties have simply escaped them.  

As far as I can understand, the tendency among Orthodox theologians is to think that what is inherited from Adam and Eve are the effects of original sin: we inherit from Adam our concupiscence, our passibility, our mortality.  But it would be absurd, they think, to claim that the sin itself is inherited without personal consent.  In other words, they don't conceive of any other sin than actual sin, and they can't conceive of a 'stain' of sin that is inherited without personal consent.  Our nature is definitely fractured thanks to Adam's personal sin, but in their mind Adam's guilt is not our guilt.  As a consequence, most Orthodox theologians flat out reject the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.  That's one way in which some Orthodox undersand the matter.  But others reject the dogma for other reasons, many of which are not always coherent, nor do they even seem to have a sufficiently adequate grasp of the dogma that they criticize.  And above all they resent the West and its imperialist understanding of the papacy, so many will reject a priori any dogmas issued since the Great Schism, even if they have some equivalent doctrine within their tradition.

Byzantine Catholics, however, do not reject the dogma.  Ultimately they accept it (otherwise they wouldn't be Catholic), but they assess this extraordinary act of Pope Pius IX's magisterium in different ways.  Slavic Byzantines seem to have little problem with it, and some even celebrate the feast on December 8.  But the Greeks/Melkites, who are arguably the more staunchly Byzantine of the bunch, the 'purists' as it were, seem to have some reservations regarding the dogma's implications regarding original sin, as they are strongly attached to their Eastern way of thinking.  Not that they flat out deny the dogma: they are a lot more careful than that.  They admit the truth of the dogma in its own terms, but prefer their own tradition and theological language, and many further think that it was unnecessary, imprudent, or inconsiderate for Pius IX to define the dogma in the way he did, lacking sensitivity to Eastern ways of speaking and thinking.  Ultimately, as in other issues, they are walking a thin line between being fully faithful to their own tradition (which I as a traditional Catholic can certainly appreciate!) and being faithful to the pope, whom they profess to have primacy over the universal Church, despite the fact that he has often made decisions that have been detrimental to authentic Eastern modes of thinking.  This thin line that they are walking is remarkably similar to the line that many traditional Roman Catholics are walking between being faithful to tradition and being faithful to the pope, the only difference being that the Melkites have been walking it for much longer than we have, since the popes whom they profess fidelity to have been undermining their Eastern tradition for much longer.

Melkites have the courage to continue preserving their own tradition.  They will teach, profess, and celebrate Our Lady's perfection in grace, the "all-holy, immaculate, most blessed and glorified Lady, the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary," in their own language and according to their tradition on November 21; and they will commemorate her conception on December 9, without reference to the Western understanding of original sin.  It's the only way they can be traditional Catholics.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

A Thomistic Perspective on Worship


The following is a lecture I delivered at the 2015 Sacred Liturgy Conference: The Beauty and Spiritual Treasures of the Liturgy, at St. Stephen's Catholic Church, Portland, October 2015.  It was addressed to a non-specialist, mostly non-TLM audience.  You can download the PowerPoint here.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Ite ad Thomam publishes new edition of St. Peter Damian's Book of Gomorrah


Ite ad Thomam is pleased to announce the launch of its new publishing wing, Ite ad Thomam Books and Media, and its first book, The Book of Gomorrah and St. Peter Damian's Struggle Against Ecclesiastical Corruption, a denunciation of priestly homosexuality in the 11th century by St. Peter Damian, Italian Benedictine, cardinal, and Doctor of the Church.

The Book of Gomorrah and St. Peter Damain's Struggle Against Ecclesiastical Corruption brings to the modern reader the text of St. Peter Damian's Book of Gomorrah, the most powerful denunciation of the vice of sodomy ever penned by a Catholic saint, one that addresses the crisis of homosexuality in the priesthood of the 11th century.  The Book of Gomorrah offers a scathing and impassioned analysis of the evil of homosexual behavior, while at the same time expressing compassion for those who have fallen into such vice and the possibility of their redemption by the aid of divine grace.  It explains the devastating effects of the vice both spiritually and psychologically, and warns that such behavior, particularly among the clergy, will bring down the wrath of God. It also urges the permanent defrocking of clerics who are habituated to the sin of sodomy, and endorses the permanent confinement those guilty of child sex abuse.

This new translation of the Book of Gomorrah by Catholic journalist and scholar Matthew Cullinan Hoffman includes a foreword by Cardinal Juan Sandoval Iñiguez, Archbishop Emeritus of Guadalajara, and a 10,000-word biography of Damian that recounts his struggle against the rampant corruption of the clergy and laity of his time, a struggle that in many ways provides a "distant mirror" to our own day. It also contains an extensive translator's preface that addresses and resolves certain modern controversies about the Book of Gomorrah and answers historical revisionists who have sought to minimize the importance of the text.

In addition to Cardinal Sandoval's foreword, the book has received accolades from academics and clergy. Oxford professor Joseph Shaw says that Hoffman "has done a great service to his readers in preparing this edition." L'Osservatore Romano reporter Dr. Michela Ferri calls it "an excellent and accurate translation, and the most reliable English Version of the Liber Gomorrhianus of Saint Peter Damian."  Fr. Shenan Boquet, President of Human Life International, calls it "a tremendous gift to the Church, at a time when she desperately needs to hear the undiluted truth, spoken with love, even at the risk of offending."

To purchase a copy of the Book of Gomorrah and St. Peter Damian's Struggle Against Ecclesiastical Corruption, click here.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

"Traditional Mass"? Or "Extraordinary Form," "Tridentine Mass", etc.?


The following is a reply to a recent comment in my other blog, Willamette Valley Latin Mass Society.  Please refer to that comment before reading this reply.

Since that other blog is mainly intended solely for the practical purpose of communicating  Mass times for my local area, and since Blogger won't allow me to post such a long reply in the comments section anyway, I am posting it as an independent post here on Ite ad Thomam, where followers can continue the discussion.

Dear Fr. Jaspers,

Thank you for your comment and for your opinion.  Respectfully, here are my two cents as a private person, and a layman.

You are right: I decided to put the WVLMS page together, not to make a theological statement, but just to communicate the times and places of the Masses in question within the Willamette Valley.  But now that you bring it up, I would like to take up this excellent opportunity to think about these issues more deeply together with you.

Of course, aside from any ideological consideration, to communicate Mass times for the ordo antiquus, I have to make a choice as to what to call it.  Without a term, people have no way of knowing what I'm talking about.  Naturally I have to decide on a term according to the custom of those who use the page, who are mostly people who are attached to it and who will travel long distances accross the Willammette Valley to attend these Masses.  And given that I have several names as options, I have to use my theological reasoning and my conscience---which I have striven to inform according to Catholic teaching and sound theological reasoning---to decide which term is the best.

In trying to figure out what term to use, three main terms come to mind: (1) "Tridentine Mass," (2) "Extraordinary Form (EF for short)," and (3) "Traditional Mass" or "Traditional Latin Mass (TLM)," and its variants.   But I think the terms "Tridentine Mass" and "Extraordinary Form" are a bit unfortunate, for different reasons, which I will explain.  I will also (4) address your comment that the novus ordo, too, is traditional, and (5) will make some concluding remarks.

(1) I think using the term "Tridentine Mass" is a disservice to the cause, in a way.  One of the marvellous aspects of the ordo antiquus is its patristic origins: it connects us in a living way to our fathers in the faith, to the way they lived it.  It was the Latin Church Fathers who bequeathed this amazing gift to us, and we see their stamp in the way we worship every Sunday in the ordo antiquus (or every day, in some parishes).  But the "Tridentine Mass" terminology blurrs this reality and promotes the erroneous idea that the ordo antiquus can only be traced back to the liturgical reforms after the Council of Trent (16th century), and that before then the Roman Rite was substantially different, and that therefore the current rite that we know as the "Tridentine Mass" has relatively modern origins.  If anything it would have to be called the "Gregorian Mass" to indicate that it is much older and can be traced at least as far back as St. Gregory the Great (6th cent.), just like we say "Gregorian Chant" to indicate the Latin Patristic origins of the music that belongs to that Rite.  That terminology would also mirror our Byzantine brothers and sisters who have the Liturgy of St. Basil, the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, etc.  I would in fact prefer the terminology of the "Gregorian Mass", but alas, it is not a very common or accepted terminology, and it is in fact already used to refer to something else (the 30 Gregorian Masses devotion).

(2) As far as 'Extraordinary Form' (which, of course, is one of Pope Benedict's many terminologies to resolve a canonical problem, never intended to be the single, official name for the rite), I have two issues with it: I am (a) a bit uncomfortable with it, to be frank, and (b) I think it is not broad enough to encompass what we are announcing.  The reason I am (a) uncomfortable with it is not that I do not think it is wrong, or that it implies something false.  Rather, I am slightly uncomfortable with it because it misses the essence of what it describes.  It is very much a relative term that does not signify its referent on the basis of its own nature but on account of a historical accident: if the antiquus ordo happens to be extraordinary, it is only because at this moment in history the novus ordo is more common or ordinary (and that is accidental to its nature).  For most of Church history it was the ordo antiquus which has been the ordinary form.  And in fact, I hope and pray that someday, hopefully sooner rather than later, it is the antiquus ordo which is considered the ordinary form again, leaving the novus ordo as something very much extraordinary.  If that were to happen, centuries down the road of history, this century will be but a mere hiccup in the history of the Roman Rite, a strange time when Roman Catholics momentarily forgot how they ordinarily worshipped throughout history. To put it differently, for traditional Catholics to call it the 'Extraordinary Form' would be analogous to starting a political party and calling it the 'Minority Party'.  Not only would it defeat the whole goal of the cause being promoted, but actually the name would fail to capture the essence of the thing named.  I do not usually object to someone using this term (since it comes from the Pope), but I do not prefer it and I do not use it myself normally.

And (b), the term 'EF' is too narrow, and not broad enough to encompass the other Latin rites.  In fact, one of the churches that commonly has Massses that are of our interest is Holy Rosary Parish, in Portland, where the Dominicans there have several Dominican Rite Masses every month.  These Masses are not technically in the EF, because that term applies exclusively to the Roman Rite, as per Summorum Pontificum.  Rather, the Dominican Rite has no extraordinary form.  The Dominican Rite has only an ordinary form which has remained substantially unchanged throughout its history and has not been touched by the recent liturgical reform.  So if we were to announce only "EF Masses" we would be leaving out these Dominican Rite Masses, which are of interest to the TLM community in our area.

(3) So it is mainly because of these reservations (which I believe are shared by many TLM communities), I naturally lean towards using the term TLM as the normal way to refer to the ordo antiquus.  But besides the fact that the other alternatives are not good choices, I  think the primary reason for using this term is that in itself it is clear enough simply because it is the way most people have referred to it in actual practice, at least in my experience in the last 15 years attending the old rite in the USA, Canada, Mexico, and Europe.  It is the term ordinarily given to the ordo antiquus by traditional Catholics.  (And by 'traditional Catholics' I mean those of us who are attached in an exclusive way to the ordo antiquus and the mode of thinking surrounding it, and who are steeped in it enough to let it be the basis of their faith in an exclusive, or nearly exclusive way.) See for example the terminology used in websites such as Coalition in Support of Ecclesia Dei: Promoting the Traditional Latin Mass as sanctioned by Summorum Pontificum, and its widely-used Directory of Latin Masses, as well as the normal terminology in the popular blog "Rorate Caeli," and specifically its discussion on this very issue of the terminology of the ordo antiquus.  It is the way it is called in the most widely-used Latin-English missalette (see picture above), and it is the way it is called by most members of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, the Institute of Christ the King, and similar orders that are devoted to the ordo antiquus and who celebrate the vast majority of Masses in the ordo antiquus.  So it is safe to say that I can hardly be blamed for doing the same.  In fact, no one who regularly uses the information on the site---which is usually traditinal Catholics who are willing to travel throughout the Willamette Valley to attend one of these Masses---have so much as hinted to me that there might be a problem with the term.  Although in conversation and in print I have become aware of many objections regarding the other terms.

(4) Now, I must confess I was a bit surprised by your comment that the novus ordo, too, is traditional (and not just the ordo antiquus).  I think we must make distinctions here.  In all philosophical objectivity, we have to recognize that the term 'traditional' is very much an analogical term.  It obviously does not mean the same thing when I say that the ordo antiquus is 'traditional' as when you say the novus ordo is 'traditional'.  

The ordo antiquus is traditional because it is the form of worship that Roman Catholics have been 'handing down' from generation to generation for close to two millenia.  This is the way the vast majority of popes and saints in our calendar have worshipped.  St. Jerome, St. Gregory, St. Leo, St. Isidore, St. Anselm, St. Bernard, St. Francis, St. Thomas, St. Catherine, St. Pius V, St. Ignatius, St. Frances, St. Joan of Arc, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Alphonsus, St. Margaret Mary, St. John Bosco, St. Therese, St. Pius X, St. Josemaria, just to mention a few, all worshipped according to the ordo antiquus (even if in the various Latin rites), and their faiths were formed exclusively by it.  Hence, it is in the strong sense that the ordo antiquus can be called the TLM, since it refers to the Mass according to the tradition of the Latin Rites.

But the novus ordo is not 'traditional' in the sense that the ordo antiquus is traditional.  It is quite discontinuous with the tradition of the Latin Rites; a careful comparison of the prayers (and options) illustrates this amply.  So if for the sake of argument we grant that the novus ordo is 'traditional', to make that a true statement we would have to change the meaning of 'traditional'.  But that meaning would definitely not be the normal use of the term, the sense in which most people use it.

To be clear, here I am simply making a descriptive claim, and not a normative one.  I am simply observing that the novus ordo is a significant departure from what has been handed down to us from time immemorial.  So it cannot be called 'traditional' in the sense in which the ordo antiquus is traditional.  I'm not saying that "the present Order of the Mass is an abomination" or anything of the sort.  And I actually admire you for your courage in saying the novus ordo in Latin in this diocese; may God reward you for that.  But obviously, you would agree that if you were to celebrate a novus ordo Mass in Latin and called it the "Traditional Latin Mass," and advertized it as a TLM (without telling them you really mean the novus ordo), you would really be confusing them, because that is not what everyone understands by that term.

(5) So, to summarize, since the other terms are not satisfactory, and since no one (rightly) thinks of the novus ordo as being traditional, at least not in the strong sense in which the ordo antiquus is traditional, and since most people who really care about it call it the TLM anyway, it seemed to me to be a sufficient and adquate term and to be preferable over all the others.  I do not usually object when people use the other terms, but I myself prefer TLM.

But ultimately, Father, I think you are right in saying that language matters, and in pointing out that the term "Traditional Latin Mass" is not perfect.  I would agree that it is not totally unambiguous.  And I would even grant that the particular variant "Latin Mass" is indeed very ambiguous.  In fact, given these reflections, I might therefore change the name of the site from "Willamette Valley Latin Mass Society" to "Willamette Valley Traditional Mass Society," or something like it.  I will pray about it.

But these, dear Father, are just my personal convictions.  I appreciate the opportunity to discuss these issues with you, and look forward to your feedback.  I wish you many blessings in your ministry.  I said a memorare for the victims in Roseburg and hope that our readers do the same.  Perhaps you can offer an old requiem Mass for them.  I would be happy to serve.

In Christo rege,
Dr. Francisco Romero Carrasquillo

Monday, September 28, 2015

Ite ad Thomam's 10th Anniversary; Or Apologia Pro Absentia Mea


Dear faithful readers,

This coming month, Ite ad Thomam turns 10 years old!  Hurray!  But perhaps more obviously, Ite ad Thomam has also been mostly dormant for the last four years, or since around 2012.  I would like to take the occasion of our 10th Anniversary to offer an apologia for my relative absence, together with a renewed resolution to continue the blog, announcing a change of focus in the content of future posts.

Apologia Pro Absentia Mea.  While in philosophy graduate school at Marquette University, I decided to take up medieval philosophy as my area of specialty for an obvious reason: my love of St. Thomas, which grew out of my love for the Church and for truth.  But within medieval philosophy, Divine Providence led me to great mentors at Marquette who among other projects led a research group called "Aquinas and the 'Arabs'", which as the name suggests focused on the relationship between St. Thomas Aquinas and his Arabic predecessors (Al-Farabi, Avicenna, Averroes, Maimonides, etc.).  During this time I was able to appreciate St. Thomas' thought under a new, historical light, and it gave me the opportunity to compare the insights of so-called 'historical' Thomist with more traditional Thomists like Cajetan, Hugon, Garrigou-Lagrange, and others.  Moreover, in grad school I had the leisure, intellectual curiosity, and freedom to do research outside of these areas, and to venture into traditional Catholic issues to my heart's content.  I even did an MA in Theology 'on the side', because I felt that since St. Thomas was a theologian by profession, he cannot be understood fully from an exclusively philosophical perspective.

That rich exchange of ideas filled my head and my heart and I had to find a way to communicate them, following the Dominican motto, contemplata tradere aliis ('to hand down the fruits of contemplation to others').  I knew that later, as a scholar, I would be able to do this, but at the moment I was not yet ripe enough to publish my ideas in academic journals.  Yet I felt that some things had to be said then, so that is how the blog came to be in 2005.  The basic idea of the blog was to share my research on issues that could be of interest to traditional Catholics.  

In 2009 my life started to change.  That year I finished my Ph.D. in medieval philosophy in May, and in July I moved with my family of 6 to Guadalajara, Mexico, to take a job as assistant professor at Universidad Panamericana (UP), a university affiliated with Opus Dei.  Taking that job in Mexico has proved to be the second-best decision of my life, the first being having married my lovely wife.  My first three years or so there (2009-2012) were spent in relative leisure, learning to be a professional philosopher and building my CV with publications and other research activities.  For the first time in my life my income was respectable, and I was able to rely on a stable paycheck and fringe benefits.  My growing family was experiencing relative stability for the first time.  From 2005 to 2012 the blog had plenty of posts on traditional Catholicism and Thomism and generated a significant readership.

But by 2012 my research and publications were significant enough that I was granted membership in Mexico's National Research System (SNI).  This means receiving a significant stipend so long as a publication quota is met; the quota involves choosing a rather narrow line of research and to publish in prestigious academic journals on that line of research.  In addition to increasing my income, being a member of SNI also opened doors in the world of academia.  I now travel internationally once or twice a year to conferences on medieval philosophy to present my research papers and receive feedback from other experts in the field (expenses paid by UP).  This feedback has been of great help in preparing papers for publication.  My chosen line of research, given my heavy involvement with the aforementioned research group, could be summarized as "Aquinas and Medieval Arabic Philosophy of Religion."  Yet this narrowing down of my focus meant that what would be in my mind most of the time, with few exceptions, would be less and less related to the general themes of Ite ad Thomam.

Almost at the same time as I made it into SNI, I was asked by the higher-ups at UP to take on the duties of chair of the Humanities Department for a short period of time.  This was an amazing opportunity that I gladly took up.  My teaching duties were reduced so that I could continue my research trajectory and still handle the administrative burden.  From 2012 to 2014, I was successfully publishing in academic journals, meeting my research quotas, and at the same time doing (in my opinion) a respectable job as department chair, so I was promoted to Associate Professor.  All of this of course meant not only a higher salary and a greater sense of committment to UP, but also that my time was very limited and blogging would just have to be put on hold.  This was even more so the case as my family, by God's grace, kept growing. 

Yet despite my professional success, during all those years in Mexico my family, especially my wife, had not adjusted well to the culture there.  In 2014 my wife started to push very seriously for us to move back to the US.  She was badly missing her family and her home state, Oregon, with its beauty, its comforts, its great healthcare, and its people.  By that time we had a family of 8, and all the kids were rooting for her.  So I caved in and in May we moved back, without a clear idea of what I would be doing for a living in Oregon.  

After months of not having a job in the US, through the intercession of Our Lady and many other saints, I was able to work it out with UP to continue to work as a research professor there without any teaching duties, so that I could live away from the campus.  So as of right now I live in Oregon and continue as research professor at UP.  I can continue researching and publishing from here, as opposed to having to live there in Guadalajara, so long as I meet my research quotas and remain a member of SNI.  (If I drop out of SNI I might have to move back.)  Additionally, I may, and do, travel down to the Guadalajara and Mexico City campuses to teach intensive courses on an as-needed basis.  And that's what I've spent doing the last year: adjusting to our new life in Oregon and continuing to work on my research (in addition to having our seventh baby and putting two of my children through major surgeries, but that's another story.)  Point is, Ite ad Thomam had to be put on pause.

So that's what I've been up to, and that's why the blog has been mostly dormant since 2012.  My academic life has changed too much (plus it was just way too busy) for me to be posting frequently on traditional Catholic issues.  Also, I have too much pressure now as a scholar to produce a certain kind of publication in a research area that has only an indirect relationship with traditional Catholic issues.  So I just don't spend the majority of my time thinking about traddy issues anymore, like I used to in grad school and in my early years as an assistant professor.  And, besides, in my years studying those issues, through authors like Garrigou-Lagrange I was able to find answers to most of those preoccupations, at least to my satifaction.  Frankly, my study of providence and predestination was the key to them all, since it led me to "cast my cares upon the Lord," and that gives me the serenity to focus on other philosophical and theological problems that were on Aquinas' mind but which are less explored in the secondary literature (such as the nature of religious worship and sanctity), which provides me with the opportunity to do a bit more significant, or even groundbreaking research.

New Resolution.  I am still a traditional Catholic; I have not deserted the faith (may God grant me final perseverance!).  In fact lately I have dedicated some time to traditional Catholic projects of a more practical nature for my area, such as this one.  I also participate in traddy conferences like this one.  And I do still remain committed to promoting traditional Catholic thought through Ite ad Thomam.

But if I am going to continue posting, if I am going to continue contemplata aliis tradere, I have to share what is in my mind, and what is in my mind is what I research, and my life as a traditional Catholic professor of philosophy.  So after taking some time to think about it, I've decided to change the focus of Ite ad Thomam provisionally, in an experimental fashion.

Change of Focus.  I secretly envy my wife's blog because her posts are so simple, and yet so elegant and beautiful.  Whereas my blog posts so far have required lots of thinking, she has been able just to blog about her life, the way it comes at her.  She doesn't have to think much about it; she just takes a few pictures of the kids here and there, or of her garden, or her fitness progress, and tells the story behind it.  (To do justice to her, she often shares very insightful reflections about what she posts.)   Still, I don't see why a trad professor can't do the same with his own life as a professional.  There aren't that many traditional Catholic professors actually employed at universities nowadays, and from that very select minority, I can't think of many who blog about it.

In fact, in the 10 years that I've run the blog I have received a massive number of emails from young aspiring scholars (grad students, seminarians, young scholars, etc.) who want advice regarding the profession.  Not only where to study or what to study, but how to build their CV's, how to prepare for interviews, where to publish, what line of research to go into... a lot of what I do for Ite ad Thomam is help others deal with this odd profession.  I believe it may be of interest to at least some readers to share with them my life as a traditional Catholic who is trying to be a successful professional (actually, a saint) in academia.

So let's give it a try.  In the next months I am going to change the focus of the blog a bit, give it a more practical tone, so as to reflect what is really going on in my mind.  I will post about my current research, about the my conference travels (I have lots of pictures of Europe!), about my teaching, and whatever other academic topic comes to mind.  I will try to post frequently, about once a week, and the posts will mostly follow a stream-of-consciousnees style, like this one.  There will probably be an occasional heavy, academic, theoretical article on some philosophical or theological issue, but it will be related to my current research, and not necessarily to a traditional Catholic issue.  Given that my research has occasionally stumbles upon a traddy issue, like the issue of handing the death penalty to heretics, I'll post on that, too, at some point.  But most posts won't be that relevant to trad issues, and some will quite frankly seem somewhat bland.  But one thing is for sure; it will all relates back to St. Thomas somehow, and insofar as St. Thomas is the doctor communis, the Doctor of Doctors of the Church, it will hopefully be of interest to traditional Catholics.  Please leave your feedback in the comments section.

Sancte Thoma, ora pro nobis!

Dr. Francisco Romero
(aka, Don Paco)

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Call for Papers: Thomas Instituut te Utrecht Conference on the Moral Virtues

From 16 - 19 December 2015 the Thomas Instituut te Utrecht (Tilburg University) will organize its fifth international conference on the subject: “The Virtuous Life, Thomas Aquinas on the theological nature of moral virtues.” At this conference, the Thomas Instituut will celebrate its 25th anniversary. 

The teachings of the moral part of Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae continue to inspire and to enlighten theologians and ethicists. Especially for those who are interested in a specifically Christian account of human moral and spiritual life, Aquinas’ ethical investigations in the Summa are an inexhaustible source. In his rich and detailed treatment of both the moral and the theological virtues, however, Aquinas fails to explain unambiguously to what extent the Christian faith determines human moral life. As a result, this topic is the subject of an ongoing debate in the literature. The treatment of human moral life in the second part of the Summa is structured according to the scheme of the four cardinal virtues and the three theological virtues. The cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, temperance and courage are the four pillars of the moral practice of man in this life. The theological virtues, in contrast, direct human life towards the ultimate end beyond this world, which consists in the beatifying vision of God. These virtues are not acquired by human acts but are ‘infused’ by God, in such a way that through grace and the consequent virtues of hope, faith, and love the human person is initiated into a relationship with God himself. The division between the four cardinal virtues on the one hand, and the three ‘Christian’ virtues of grace on the other is complicated by the existence of moral virtues which are, together with charity, infused by God rather than acquired by our own efforts. In philosophical-ethical approaches to Aquinas, the existence of ‘infused moral virtues’ is often neglected or dismissed as a minor complication. However, in recent literature, several serious attempts have been made to revalue the infused moral virtues and to highlight the essential role they play, together with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, in Aquinas’ interpretation of the whole of human moral and spiritual life, following Jesus Christ. Some go so far as to contend that the discussion of the cardinal virtues in the second part of the Summa focuses exclusively on the infused virtues, which are an essential part of the Christian life. The interpretation of the infused moral virtues is the acid test of one’s general view on the nature and orientation of Thomas’ moral theory: how theological are the moral virtues?

Questions to be discussed: The general theme of the congress covers a broad range of topics and questions. Some relevant question to be discussed are, for example: do the cardinal virtues come in two versions: a natural version and a Christian version dependent on grace? How should the project of the moral part of the Summa be characterized? Is it a sort of phenomenology of the Christian life? Is it theological ethics in a restrictive sense? Or is it rather an inquiry into the intelligibility of the moral life from a Christian perspective? In what ways do the theological virtues orient human lives towards a transcendent, supernatural goal? What are Aquinas’ views on pagan virtue? Is there authentic virtue in man apart from charity?

Link to Call for Papers.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Quaeritur: Does the First Way Argue for a Personal God?

QuaeriturI am arguing with atheists about the existence of God using the First Way of St. Thomas Aquinas. One of them said that the First Cause does not have to be a living being. I know that this is absurd, but I just can't pinpoint the absurdity of the statement. Please help.

It all depends what they mean by 'living'. If by living they mean a biological entity with a body and vital/physiological functions, then no, the first mover doesn't have to be that. (In fact, it can't, ultimately.) But if they just mean a thinking or rational entity, i.e., a personal being, then eventually (through the fifth way) you can show that the first mover does have to be an intelligent being. But you have to be careful, especially with the first way, not to attempt to prove too much about God. It just shows that there has to be a first being that is the mover of everything else in the universe. Remember that the first way comes from the pagan Aristotle, who knew relatively little about God, compared to any Christian. (Note, though, that the first way is about the first mover, not the first cause; that is an important nuance.) 

One thing about the first way: it is not arguing about the first moment of creation, and it is not arguing that there must have been a temporally first event that came from God. Remember Aristotle believed in the eternity of the world (he thought, erroneously but through no fault of his own, that the world always was and always will be), so he cannot possibly be arguing that a temporally first mover is needed to explain the first temporal movement in history. In other words, there is no 'big bang' in Aristotle, nor is there anything remotely like a beginning in time. He is arguing instead that right here, right now, all this motion is coming from God, who is right now the first mover of the whole universe. That is, the computer keys are being moved right now by my fingers, which are in turn simultaneously being moved by my brain, which is in turn simultaneously being moved by my will, which is simultaneouly being moved by... the Unmoved Mover, whom everyone calls God. This is a very sophisticated argument, and almost invariably people get it wrong and read into it a temporal universe, something that is directly in contradiction with Aristotle's Physics. 

But hey, sounds like you got them to agree that there's a first mover. 

Thank you. I thought the First Way was the most common and easiest for people to understand. Which of the Five Ways do you recommend most then?

I love the fifth! 

I just want to be 100% clear. If someone says, using only the First Way to prove the existence of God, that the First Mover does NOT have to have an intelligence and can be just an infinite energy source, for example, then he is correct? 

No. It does not follow immediately from the first way that the first mover is intelligent, but if you delve into all the metaphysical implications of there being a first, unmoved mover, you will find out, as Aristotle did, that this first mover is the source of all actuality, and hence necessarily pure act; that is, it must possess all the act, all the perfections of everything that it moves. In other words, it is the source of all actuality; it is that which makes all potency actual. And hence if something in the universe is actual, if anything has an actualized potency, it owes this actualization to the unmoved mover. Consequently the unmoved mover, as pure act, must be intelligent, because intelligence is an actuality, and every actuality has its source in the pure act. If there were not a source of intelligence, there could not be intelligence in the universe. But there is intelligence in the universe (we have intellects). So the first being, pure act, includes the act of intelligence. This is how even Aristotle, 350 years before the coming of Christ and without the benefit of a monotheistic religion in his cultural background, concluded that God is noesis noeseos, "thought thinking itself." 

That is the truth of the matter, but since you are dealing with a non-believer who might not be overly eager to reach belief in a personal God by drawing out all the implications of every argument, you should make concessions for rhetorical purposes. You can tell him that you concede that the argument does not immediately imply the unmoved mover is a personal being. This can serve him very well, because by doing so you are showing him that you are an honest inquirer, and are not just trying to persuade him at all costs. 

But you can also say that there are other arguments that immediately conclude in a personal God, e.g., the fifth way. It concludes that there is an intelligent orderer (in Paley's words, a designer) of the universe. And that argument is as convincing, if not more, than the first. 

As far as your comment on the first way being easiest, I would point out that Aquinas is the original proponent of the fifth way, whereas the other four are taken from other thinkers. I believe Aquinas' is the best, but he humbly made it the last of the five, and gave Aristotle the credit for coming up with the one that is 'most evident': we all undeniably see (1) things moving, but we might not exactly see (2) causality, (3) contingency, (4) ontological gradation, or (5) teleology. But that doesn't mean it is the easiest to follow.  Actually, I think it is hard because it is the richest of them all; most divine attributes are implicit in it (more on that later).  But I think that as far as argumentative structure, the fifth one is the easiest by far. It is remarkably simple. And personally, it is the one that helped me the most to arrive at the belief in a personal God. And it is by far the most discussed by contemporary thinkers, especially theistic scientists. You should watch the documentary/movie Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, if you haven't already:

I thank you very much for taking the time to explain and elaborate. I must say that I am a bit disappointed with the First Way. I thought that each of the Five Ways was self-sufficient in immediately proving the existence of God and that God was an intelligent being. I guess I didn’t think it through well enough. I assumed that the First Mover is intelligent and that it would evident through each of the Five Ways. Thank you. I will try to learn well the Fifth Way and use it in the future. 

Yes, St. Thomas is very patient. He never tries to prove too much. Take a good look at the contents of the Prima Pars. Take in consideration the fact that Aquinas spends only one article (Ia, q. 2, a. 3) to prove the existence of a 'deity', "something we can call 'a god'," and then takes 20+ questions (Ia, qq. 3-26) to demonstrate what exactly He is like, what are His attributes. 

My experience with the first way has actually been quite the opposite: at first I encountered it as an atheist and it seemed modest enough that I could accept it without buying into the whole Catholic religion, which at the time sounded more like a mythology than anything else. But Divine Providence knew that that's exactly what I needed at the time. I needed to take baby steps towards belief in God. That was my first baby step. 

Then I continued to work my way through the five ways and each one enriched my notion of the deity, and the fifth one sealed the deal insofar as it helped me arrive explicitly at a personal God. As I kept on studying, and made my way through the whole treatise on De Deo Uno (Ia, qq. 2-26), I started realizing that most of the proofs for this and that attribute made reference time and again to the first way. God is simple because he is pure act, as was proven in the first way. He is omnipotent, omniscient, infinitely perfect, etc., etc...., because he is pure act, as proven in the first way. Almost all of the De Deo Uno all boils down to the first way. Even the whole topic of predestination (Ia, q. 23) is deducible mostly from the first way! The first way is truly foundational for St. Thomas' worldview. It is of immense importance. This is not surprising, as even in Aristotle, almost all of his theology in Metaphysics XII (aka, book Lambda) is deduced from the argument from motion discussed in Physics VIII. So what at first seemed like a modest enough argument for my poor atheistic mind to accept, now is for me the obvious foundation for my worldview.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Quaeritur: On the Nature of Moral Theology and Practical Propositions


Is Moral Theology a speculative or practical science?

Moral Theology is not 'one science', i.e., a whole science. It is an integral part of Sacred Theology, which is one, whole science. So the question is whether the science of Sacred Theology is practical or speculative. One can't really ask whether an elephant trunk, elephant legs, or an elephant tail is a quadruped.  It only really makes sense to ask whether an elephant is a quadruped.

Now, Aquinas answers this question in the first question of the Summa Theologiae (ST Ia, q. 1, a. 4)His answer may seem slightly strange at first but as you read on in the Summa it starts making more sense: he says that Sacred Theology is both speculative and practical, but that it is primarily speculative.  We ought to study it primarily for the sake of knowing God (hence it is speculative, for speculative sciences exist for the sake of knowledge), although it also helps us order our actions toward God (and hence is secondarily practical, for practical sciences exist in order to guide our actions). 

But I suppose you could say that moral theology is the practical part par excellence of Sacred Theology, as its whole function is to guide our actions toward God.

So is it accurate to say that doctrines concerning Faith are speculative and hence of the speculative intellect, whereas doctrines concerning Morals are practical and hence of the practical intellect?

Mostly, although in reality the use of both is intertwined in the different parts of Theology. Just to cite two examples, in dogmatic theology we speak of God's providence, which has lots of practical ramifications for our moral and spiritual life, and in moral theology we speak of the passions, which help us understand Christology (dogma) in a speculative way.  

Note that the very terms dogmatic and moral theology are not used by St. Thomas. Not only are they posterior to him in origin, but they are somewhat inadequate as they give the impression that there are different 'theologies' or theological sciences.  According to him there is only one Sacred Theology (sacra doctrina) and it has parts or treatises that are more or less speculative/practical. The moral part (IIa Pars) is naturally more practical, but there is lots of speculative thought in it, and the predominantly speculative parts (Ia, IIIa) which we now call 'dogmatic theology' have lots of practical applications. Moreover there are treatises, like that on grace and the one the sacraments, which are both specualtive and practical to such equal extents that some scholastic authors disagree as to whether they consider them dogmatic theology or moral theology. (St. Thomas treats of grace in his predominantly practical IIa pars, and of the sacraments in his predominantly speculative IIIa pars, but you can't really blame other authors for thinking that the treatise on grace is speculative or that the treatise on the sacraments is practical.)

One good author to consult here is Garrigou-Lagrange, esp. his introductions to his commentaries on the Summa. He was perfectly faithful to the thought and principles of St. Thomas in a time when many scholastic (and non-scholastic) authors were less consistently Thomistic, at least insofar as they lost sight of some of the nuances of Aquinas' understanding of science and of sacred theology.

Thank you, Doctor.  One more question: Is this accurate?  "Abortion is morally evil" – speculative intellect (doctrine of Faith).  "You shall not commit abortion" – practical intellect (doctrine of Morals). 

Both are practical because they both have to do with moral actions. It's not just a question of grammar ('is' vs. 'shall not') but a question of being vs. action ('is the case' vs. 'should be the case'). Something more speculative would be 'abortion is the killing of a fetus', whereas 'abortion is wrong' is practical.

So ‘abortion is the killing of a fetus’ is a doctrine of Faith, whereas ‘abortion is wrong’ is a doctrine of Morals?

Yes, one could say that.

Thank you. I have been struggling with this Faith/speculative vs. Morals/practical distinction for some time. I knew that I could come to you for a clearer understanding. God bless.

You're welcome.  I'm glad I could help a bit.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Collection of Essays on Garrigou-Lagrange


Jude Chua Soo Meng, Thomas Crean OP (Eds.) 
Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange OP: Teacher of Thomism.  

Link to free pdf on Thomistica.net

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

"The Intertwining of Multiplicity and Unity in Dionysius’ Metaphysical Mysticism" by Don Paco


"The Intertwining of Multiplicity and Unity 
In Dionysius’ Metaphysical Mysticism"
Tópicos 44 (2013), 207-236

Francisco J. Romero Carrasquillo, PhD
Universidad Panamericana
(Guadalajara, Mexico)

Abstract: In St. Dionysius, the procession of things from, and their reversion to, the One, far from being distinct and clear-cut events, can be understood as intertwined, simultaneous, and co-eternal ‘moments’ of the same cosmic reality, whereby a given thing oscillates, or spirals, between unity and multiplicity. Moreover, St. Dionysius’ mystical itinerary is a special case of his procession-reversion metaphysics: mysticism is the soul’s own reversion to the One. This explains why the mind also intertwines cataphatic and apophatic mystical discourses, as it spirals between unity and multiplicity. This analysis has the advantage of bringing added coherence and realism to St. Dionysius’ metaphysical and mystical doctrines.

Key Words: Dionysius, Cataphatic, Apophatic, Affirmative and Negative Theology, Henosis.

Link to full article on PDF on Tópicos website.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

In Memoriam R. P. Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange, OP (1877-1964)

Share/Bookmark On the 50th Anniversary of his Transitus (passage into heaven).

Taken from Mass of Ages, August 2006, The Latin Mass Society's quarterly magazine:
Original Source: www.latin-mass-society.org (now the article is available here.)

A Saint in Heaven

Who was the greatest theologian of the twentieth century? Many, seduced by the glamour of personality (which obtains even among theologians), would answer Karl Rahner SJ. But some who know how ferociously certain pre-Vatican II thinkers were buried by the liberals and reformers would look elsewhere entirely. One who loomed like a giant was Pére Garrigou-Lagrange, OP who is now being slowly rediscovered, not least by Fr Aidan Nichols, OP who has accepted a new lectureship at Oxford University in part to reassess his work. Here Fr Thomas Crean OP introduces Garrigou-Lagrange's life and thought.

John Henry Newman, in his Plain and Parochial Sermons, said this: "Great saints, great events, great privileges, like the everlasting mountains, grow as we recede from them." As we leave behind the twentieth century it becomes easier for us to see who the great men of that time within the Church truly were, and any list of such men would surely include the French Dominican theologian, Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange. Father Garrigou-Lagrange's works would once have been highly esteemed by seminarians and theologians alike; after the Second Vatican Council they fell largely into neglect, but more recently there have been some small signs that he is being read again, e.g. a new book published by an American Dominican introducing his life and work, and the inclusion of his name among the lecture topics scheduled for this coming year at Oxford University.

So who was this man, described rudely enough by the novelist François Mauriac as "that sacred monster of Thomism", but by Pope Paul VI as "this illustrious theologian, faithful servant of the Church and of the Holy See"? (The phrase "monstre sacré" is not easy to translate. It may be used colloquially of a 'legendary' media personality, such as a film star. Used of a theologian it was certainly meant ironically. I am grateful to Mr Brian Sudlow for supplying this information.)

Absolute truth
Gontran-Marie Garrigou-Lagrange was born in 1877 into a solid Catholic family living in the south-west of France. In 1896 he began studies in medicine at the university of Bordeaux, but whilst there he read a book by the Catholic philosopher Ernest Hello which changed the direction of his life. Years later Fr Garrigou described the impression this one book made upon him: "I glimpsed how the doctrine of the Catholic Church is the absolute Truth about God, about His inner life, and about man, his origins and his supernatural destiny. As if in an instant of time, I saw how this doctrine is not simply 'the best we can put forward based on our present knowledge', but the absolute truth which shall not pass away..."

To this intuition the young university student would remain faithful for the remaining sixty-eight years of his life.
Medical studies abandoned, Gontran-Marie entered the French Dominicans at the age of twenty, and received the religious name Reginald. (Blessed Reginald of Orleans was a contemporary of St Dominic: our Lady appeared to him in a vision, cured him of a mortal sickness and gave to him a white scapular that thereupon became part of the Dominican habit.) Friar Reginald had the good fortune to receive his initial training from Dominicans committed to implementing Pope Leo XIII's encyclical letter Aeterni Patris, the document that insisted upon the unique place of St Thomas Aquinas in philosophy and theology. It was by studying the angelic doctor that the young Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange nourished the conviction that had brought him to the cloister: the unchangeableness of revealed truth.

His superiors clearly perceived his abilities, for after ordination in 1902 Fr Reginald was enrolled for further philosophical studies at the Sorbonne in Paris. It was a mark of the trust that his superiors placed in him that he was sent to so aggressively secular an environment while still a young priest. Among his lecturers were Henri Bergson, Emile Durkheim, and the not yet excommunicated Alfred Loïsy, 'father of Modernism'. His fellow students included the future philosopher Jacques Maritain, not yet a Catholic and indeed driven almost to despair by the prevailing nihilism of the great French university. Father Garrigou's relations with Maritain were later to be both fruitful and troubled.

In 1906, Fr Reginald was assigned to teach philosophy at Le Saulchoir, the house of studies of the French Dominicans. His pedagogic skill was such that in 1909, at the age of thirty-two, he was sent to teach at the Dominican University in Rome, the Angelicum. Here he remained for the next fifty years, teaching three courses: Aristotle, apologetics and spiritual theology. He had the gift of making the most difficult subjects clear, and of showing how sound philosophy and revealed truth fit together in a wonderful harmony. Father Garrigou clearly loved his work: one of his students remembered him exclaiming, "I could teach Aristotle for three hundred years and never grow tired!" He also possessed what is perhaps the rarer gift of communicating his own zest for a subject to his listeners, for his lectures, abstract though they were, were not dull affairs. One student paints this portrait of Fr Garrigou lecturing: "His small eyes were filled with mischief and laughter, his body was constantly moving, his face was able to assume attitudes of horror, anger, irony, indignation and wonder."

The watchman
Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange was by nature and conviction a controversialist. He believed that the theologian's task was not simply to teach Catholic doctrine but also to be, in the scriptural phrase, a watchman, on guard against whatever might undermine it. In the spirit of St Pius X and his encyclical Pascendi, published in 1907, Fr Garrigou considered that the greatest threat to the Catholic faith was what is called 'Modernism' – that confused effort, made sometimes with good intentions and sometimes with bad, to 'reinterpret' Catholic doctrines in line with prevailing trends in history, philosophy and the natural sciences. Into the combat with Modernism he entered with vigour, attacking not people but errors, and desiring to lead those in error back to the integral truth of the Catholic Faith.

Two of the 'great names' of the day with whom Garrigou-Lagrange crossed swords early on were his former professor Henri Bergson and Maurice Blondel. Bergson, now almost forgotten, was then a greatly celebrated Jewish philosopher who seemed to many Catholics a useful ally in the struggle against materialism. Father Garrigou showed that Bergson's writings were incompatible with the Catholic belief that by our concepts we can grasp the unchanging natures of things, and thus can form dogmas that will never need to be revised. In the end Bergson was brought, in part by Garrigou's efforts, to the very brink of the Catholic Church, though he died unbaptised.

Blondel was another widely-fêted philosopher who was a Catholic. His explanation of how only Christianity could fulfil the deepest human longings compromised what is called 'the supernatural order': the fact that God by sanctifying grace and the gift of the Holy Spirit raises us infinitely beyond anything that our nature itself requires. For Fr Garrigou, the distinction between the natural and supernatural orders was of the essence of Christianity – he loved to quote a dictum of St Thomas Aquinas, that "the smallest amount of grace in one person is greater than the whole of creation". One child with a baptised soul is of more value than all the angelic hierarchies, naturally considered. It was because Blondel's ideas threatened to undermine this distinction that Garrigou-Lagrange resisted them. In so doing he anticipated the teaching that Pope Pius XII was later to issue in the encylical, Humani Generis.

In his defence of Catholic doctrine according to the principles of St Thomas, Fr Garrigou was greatly aided by Jacques Maritain. Maritain, originally from a markedly anti-clerical family, entered the Church in 1906 and was to become the most brilliant Thomist philosopher of the twentieth century, dying in 1973. Between the two wars, Garrigou-Lagrange and Maritain organised the 'Thomist Study Circles'. These were groups of laymen committed to the spiritual life who studied St Thomas and the Thomist tradition, and who met once a year for a five-day retreat preached by Fr Garrigou at the Maritains' house in Meudon. The study circles were highly successful, and Meudon became a seed-bed of vocations. The young Yves Congar, who was later to write somewhat bitterly about Garrigou-Lagrange, was present at some of the retreats preached by the Dominican friar at Meudon, and later recalled: "He made a profound impression on me. Some of his sermons filled me with enthusiasm and greatly satisfied me by their clarity, their rigour, their breadth and their spirit of faith."

Throughout this period Garrigou-Lagrange's reputation grew and became international. His lectures at the Angelicum on the spiritual life were particularly in demand. According to one author they became "one of the unofficial tourist sites for theologically-minded visitors to Rome", attracting students from other universities and even experienced priests who wished to learn more about spiritual direction. (Father Garrigou himself was a sought-after spiritual director, valued alike for his knowledge, his firmness and his compassion.)

Call to holiness
It is perhaps in this field of mystical, or spiritual, theology that Garrigou's most original work was done. As early as 1917, a special professorship in 'ascetical and mystical theology' had been created for him at the Angelicum, the first of its kind anywhere in the world. His great achievement was to synthesise the highly abstract writings of St Thomas Aquinas with the 'experiential' writings of St John of the Cross, showing how they are in perfect harmony with each other. The one describes the spiritual life from the point of view, so to speak, of God, analysing the manifold graces that He gives to the soul to bring it into union with Himself; the other describes the same process from the point of view of man, showing the 'attitudes' that a faithful soul should adopt at various stages of the spiritual journey. It must have been particularly pleasing for Fr Garrigou when St John of the Cross, whose orthodoxy had once been doubted by some writers, was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius XI.

The other great theme of Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange's spiritual theology was the universality of God's call to the mystical life. He argued convincingly that while the more dramatic mystical phenomena such as visions and locutions are obviously reserved to a few, all the baptised are invited not just to a life of virtue, but to a life of close union with God in prayer. This union is in the most proper sense of the word mystical, since it is founded on the gifts of the Holy Ghost and on our sharing in God's own life by sanctifying grace. He went so far as to say that the transforming union as described by such saints as St John of the Cross and St Teresa of Avila was simply the full flowering of the grace of baptism. At the same time, Fr Garrigou's writings contain useful warnings against abusing this doctrine, for he often points out that any so-called mysticism not based on the practice of the virtues and on meditation on Christ and His Passion is an illusion.

The role of university professor naturally brought with it the obligation of supervising doctoral students. It is said that Garrigou considered his best student to have been his fellow French Dominican, Marie-Dominique Chenu. Chenu's later career, however, must have been a disappointment to his mentor, for he went on to distance himself from the kind of Thomism traditionally practised in the Dominican Order in favour of a far more 'historical' approach to the subject. Fr Garrigou, however, was always less interested in historical questions of who influenced whom than in discovering where truth in itself lay. It also seems unlikely that Garrigou would have been impressed by Chenu's involvement in the 'worker-priest movement'. Another doctoral student of Father Garrigou's, and one destined for an even more prominent role in the Church than Chenu, was a young Polish priest named Karol Wojtyla. Under Garrigou-Lagrange's direction the future Pope wrote a thesis on 'The meaning of Faith in the Writings of St John of the Cross.'

Kingship of Christ
The disaster of world war in 1939 brought a special, personal suffering to Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange: estrangement from Maritain. When France fell, Fr Garrigou, in common with many Frenchmen, continued to recognise Marshal Pétain, the hero of the Great War, as the rightful head of state. It followed that Charles de Gaulle was a mere rebellious soldier attempting to usurp authority. Father Garrigou did not shrink from publicly stating the logical conclusion: objectively speaking, to support de Gaulle was a mortal sin. But Maritain was a Gaullist, and made radio broadcasts from America in favour of the Free French.

This practical disagreement was matched by a theoretical one: Maritain had come to advocate a 'pluralist' model of society, in which adherents of different religions or of none would be granted equal freedom of expression and of public practice; a shared 'sense of human brotherhood' would be enough, he argued, to create a basically just society. Garrigou-Lagrange considered that Maritain was compromising the social doctrine of the Church by his writings on this subject, and also that he was overly optimistic about the spiritual state of those outside the Church. He wrote a solemn letter to Maritain asking him to change course, but Maritain, despite the great esteem he had for Fr Garrigou as a theologian and as a man of prayer, refused to do so. The friendship between the two men was wounded, and could not be healed, or not in this life.

After the war Fr Garrigou continued to teach in Rome. Over the years, his lecture notes were turned into an impressive array of books, the more technical ones being published in Latin and the more popular ones in French. In particular he commented on St Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologiæ, taking his place in the line of the great commentators on that work, a line that stretches back to the Middle Ages. All the time, he was conscious, like Pope Pius XII, of how the dangerous tendencies against which he had striven in the days of St Pius X were still alive in the Church, threatening to undermine the integrity of doctrine. A famous article of his, called, 'Where is the New Theology Headed?' was written shortly after World War II. It contains this shrewd comment about Catholics who were unwittingly harming the Catholic cause: "They go to 'the masters of modern thought' because they want to convert them to the faith, and they finish by being converted by them". An interesting remark, perhaps, for these days of inter-religious dialogue.

No portrait of Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange would be complete without reference to his religious life. For if he was an internationally renowned professor (and a feared opponent), he was above all a friar of the Order of Preachers. He was known, in fact, for his fidelity to the regular life. Although dispensations from the choral office were readily available in the Dominican Order for someone with his teaching load, Fr Reginald was habitually present in choir. He would have gladly echoed a remark made by St John Bosco to his religious: "Liturgy is our entertainment". We are told that he was very modest in matters of food and drink and that he felt that it was hardly compatible with religious poverty to smoke. His 'cell' at the Angelicum was the most spartan in the priory, with no ornamentation, and a bed that was, in the words of one contemporary, "a pallet and a mattress so thin that it was virtually just an empty sack". It was not that he had no attraction for the things of the senses – as a young man he had learned to love the music of Beethoven, a love that remained with him through life. Yet – as he taught generations of Roman students – ascetism is a permanent necessity in this life, both because our fallen nature inclines us to sin, and also because we have to be made capable of the infinite good which is God.

Father Garrigou liked to emphasise that there is no incompatibility between external works such as teaching, preaching and retreat-giving and the monastic life that he had learned to live within the cloister. Following a dictum of St Thomas, he would remark that a friar's external activity should flow "from an abundance of contemplation", especially from liturgical prayer, mental prayer and above all the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. He was always troubled when anyone seemed to rank action more highly than contemplation, or spoke of the latter as a mere means to an end. He liked to emphasise that contemplation is an end in itself, a higher good, from the fulness of which preaching comes forth. To explain this idea, he would use the analogy of the Incarnation of the Word and man's redemption. From all eternity God willed the Incarnation, not as a means subordinated to our redemption, but as a greater good, from which our redemption would, so to speak, overflow.

In short, Fr Garrigou-Lagrange was not only a master of spiritual theology: he lived what he taught. Yet if his vocation lay principally in what are called 'the spiritual works of mercy', he did not forget the corporal ones. In his room he kept a box with the inscription, 'Pour mes pauvres', and into this he would invite his many visitors to put alms. When it was full he might be seen doing the rounds of the city of Rome, distributing the contents to the poor.

Final years
Father Garrigou had worked in various capacities for the Holy Office from the days of Benedict XV onwards, and in the late 1950s Pope John XXIII invited him to join the theological commission that was preparing documents for the Second Vatican Council. But by this time his strength was failing, and he had to decline. He gave his last lecture at the Angelicum shortly before Christmas, 1959. For the next five years Friar Reginald lived in a serene decline of his mental faculties. As his mind and his eyes failed, this great theologian who had once written so subtly of potentiality and act, of sufficient and efficacious grace, of the inner life of God and the glory of Heaven, would remain in his bare cell or in the priory church, praying his Rosary and awaiting his own transitus. He died on 15 February 1964, the feast of one of the greatest of Dominican mystics, Blessed Henry Suso.

Unanswerable questions are the most fascinating. What would Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange have said, what would he have done, if he had lived a little longer with his faculties intact? What would he have thought of the Second Vatican Council, and of the liturgical reform? Might he, like his confrère Roger-Thomas Calmel, have become an early ally of Archbishop Lefebvre in the struggle to maintain orthodoxy? Or would he perhaps, like Cardinal Ottaviani, have spoken once and then resigned himself and the Church to God? Who shall say? A merciful Providence spared him all such puzzles: he had fought the good fight long enough, and he was called home.

Let the last word be given to Jacques Maritain. In 1937 Maritain recorded in his diary a disagreement which he had had with Fr Garrigou over the Spanish Civil War. Years later, when Maritain published his diaries, the following note was appended to the passage in question: "This great theologian, little versed in the things of the world, had an admirably candid heart, which God finally purified by a long and very painful physical trial, a cross of complete annihilation, which he had expected and had accepted in advance. I pray to him now with the saints in heaven."

Suggested Reading
I should like to acknowledge my indebtedness for this article to a recent book by an American Dominican, Fr Richard Peddicord, entitled, The Sacred Monster of Thomism. As far as I know, it is the only book that has been written expressly on Fr Garrigou-Lagrange's life and legacy. It is published by St Augustine's Press.

Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange wrote 28 books and over 600 articles. His best-known work of mystical theology is the two-volume study, The Three Ages of the Interior Life. This is in effect a summa of his research in this field. Many people, laymen, religious and priests, have found it very valuable. It has recently been reprinted in English by TAN Books.

For those interested in apologetics, De Revelatione is an austere masterpiece. It was in large part translated into English in 1926 by Thomas Walshe under the title, The Principles of Catholic Apologetics. A companion work, though more philosophical in content, is God: His Existence and Nature, published originally by St Louis. The same publishing house produced translations (from Latin) of Fr Garrigou's commentaries on the Summa Theologiæ of St Thomas.

TAN Books have also reprinted various other of the more 'popular' works of Garrigou-Lagrange, including The Mother of our Saviour and Everlasting Life. These are full of solid doctrine, whilst also being suitable for devotional use.

Finally, there is a work called The Last Writings of Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, published in 1969 by the New City Press. This contains retreat talks given by Fr Reginald in his last years.