Report on Previous Years’ Activities
An Aquinas Lecture is delivered every year by a distinguished speaker, around the date of St Thomas’ Feast (28 January – occasionally around the pre-1970 date, 7 March). The lecture is always well attended, and is followed by a question and discussion session, a reception, and Vespers of St. Thomas.
Speakers, titles, abstracts, and links to recordings of the lectures:
Dr Andrew Meszaros, 2018: “Vale of Tears or Kingdom of God? Augustine and Aquinas on a Theology of History”
Dr Andrew Meszaros, an alumnus of Blackfriars Hall and author of The Prophetic Church: History and Doctrinal Development in John Henry Newman and Yves Congar, analysed the 20th-Century debate on the relation of our earthly existence to that promised us in heaven. He contrasted the “eschatologists” who hold that this earthly life is but a pilgrimage, and that we ought to value the world only insofar it facilitates our drawing closer to God, with the “incarnationalists” who see mankind’s positive achievements and progress as a means of drawing closer to God and as willed by God and valuable in themselves. The position taken up affects one’s answer to the question whether pursuing social justice is essential for Christians. Dr Meszaros showed how this debate drew upon the legacy bequeathed by medieval authors: the “eschatologists” looked chiefly to St Augustine; the “incarnationalists” tended to cite St Thomas Aquinas.
A recording of the Lecture is available on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IF7bge_Q-kg
Prof Candace Vogler, 2017: “The Intellectual Animal”
Prof Vogler argued for a transformative rather than an additive understanding of how the human intellect relates to the capacities human beings share with other animals. The soul is the substantial form that maintains an organism as a single being throughout life, and Aquinas holds that the human soul is the only substantial form in the human being. He has a high view of the perceptive powers of the higher animals: they “share somewhat in reason”. Hence it is no surprise that we cannot easily identify a rigid boundary between our intellectual powers and the cognitive powers we share with other animals; rather, the powers not only interact, they qualify each other. As Stephen Brock put it, “Rationality is a mode of intellect… intrinsically connected to the life of the senses, and therefore to the sense-organs… and to matter itself.”
A recording of the Lecture is available on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4IhNm1fa8GE
Rev Professor Herwi Rikhof, 2016: “The Treasure of St Thomas’ Theology of the Trinity”
Prof Rikhof set the context by pointing out how Rahner has set the agenda for recent Trinitarian theology. This theology has focused on the Son’s Mission; but the present time is marked by over-use of the language of “economics”, so that, for example, we “invest in relationships”, and this makes speaking of the Gift of the Spirit challenging but timely. It is especially valuable to speak of the Holy Spirit in the Year of Mercy.
In Prima Pars 32, 1 ad 3, St Thomas says we need to know of the Divine Persons so as rightly to understand both creation and salvation. His commentary on Psalm 50, and Prima Pars 21, underline the importance of mercy; creation in its abundance is already a work of mercy and grace, realities appropriated to the Holy Spirit, for creation is gift, to be enjoyed with thanks, and shared.
Prof Rikhof emphasised the importance of uncreated grace for St Thomas; the Divine Persons, above all the Spirit, are given to us to “enjoy”! – something richer than our ability to “use” the gifts of the Spirit. In Prima Pars 43, St. Thomas is moved to use language he rarely employs, as he speaks of the indwelling of the Divine Wisdom as “bursting forth into the impulse of love”, that is, into a participation in the Holy Spirit.
The lecture concluded by reflecting on the implications of Jesus’ being conceived and anointed by the Holy Spirit.
The lecture was published in New Blackfriars 97 (May 2016) 250-265.
Rev Dr Thomas Joseph White, OP, 2015: “Divine Simplicity and the Holy Trinity”
Fr Thomas Joseph expounded the simplicity of God as defended by St Thomas in Prima Pars, Question 3, showing that the complexities or compositions found in creatures are not found in God. It follows, he argued, that God as God is not in history; nor does he react to the world; nor is he a “kind of thing”. Hence we cannot envisage God as, for example, “an acorporeal mind with infinite power”. As the Author of being, who alone does not need to receive being, God is “He Who Is” of Exodus 3, and is neither a member of the sum of all beings, nor the being within them. In line with the apophaticism of Exodus, and the Patristic theologies of East and West, Fr Thomas Joseph critiqued forms of Trinitarian theology that (albeit in a high way) are anthropomorphic. He also rejected attempts to prove the doctrine of the Holy Trinity on the basis of creation or on the basis of the essential attributes of goodness and of interpersonal communion. Rather, we should appreciate God’s graciousness in revealing a Mystery that transcends all natural knowledge, yet does not contradict or confound human reason. Authentic Christian Trinitarianism is in no tension with Old Testament revelation, nor does it do away with the sound philosophy that can attain to God’s simplicity.