Reports on Previous Years’ Activities
The Institute has often sponsored or co-sponsored day- or half-day-conferences as the opportunity has presented itself.
“Healing Friendship: Human and Divine”: 20 May 2017
The Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues [give hyperlink to https://www.jubileecentre.ac.uk/ ] co-hosted this one-day conference together with the Aquinas Institute, held at Blackfriars Hall. The Institute is very grateful for the Jubilee Centre’s support in this venture. The conference was attended by over forty delegates, and was very successful in stimulating a range of thought-provoking questions from a diverse audience.
The Introduction to the Conference, and the Papers delivered, can be found at https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLoq88FOOcGB30K0FH1_APWV8CgBxnaec6
Speakers, titles, and links to recordings and abstracts of the papers
Rev Dr Richard Conrad, OP, Director of the Institute
Introduction to the Theme
Abstract>> Fr Richard welcomed the delegates and explained how a conference on healing friendship fits into the Jubilee Centre’s on-going project of exploring how communities can promote mature integrity. He mentioned the importance of amicitia for C S Lewis, for Aristotle, and for Mediaeval authors such as Aelred. He pointed out how Aquinas sees caritas as an amicitia towards God, which implies both an element of reciprocity between us and God, and the inseparability between love of God and love of neighbour. Fr Richard then explored briefly how the conference will contribute to the Aquinas and Las Casas Institutes’ research project on “Human Nature and Dignity”, especially the strand of research entitled “The ‘Acting Person’ As ‘Dependent Rational Animal’.” Our interdependence is part of our dignity, created as we are in the Triune God’s image. The Fall has sharpened our natural vulnerability, and the “core remedy” consists in the friendship with God for which we were originally made. But since some of the gifts lost in the Fall are “preternatural”, can the friendships Aristotle saw as contributing to our human fulfilment also be healing? – especially in the Church in whose Sacramental system our ministry becomes a channel of God’s healing friendship.
Professor Michael Pakaluk, The Catholic University of America
‘Friendship’s Contribution to Psychological Well-Being in Aristotle’
Abstract>> Prof Pakaluk proposed Books I-II and VII-X of the Nicomachean Ethics as the practical part, with the discussion of individual virtues in Books III-VI as a kind of appendix. Book I presents eudaimonia as “the actualisation of states of virtue in the soul over a complete life”, so that psychological health consists in the ability to work and love well. Book II covers the acquisition of virtue, Book VII explores pleasure as the sign of its actualisation, and Books VII and IX concern friendship – relationships characterised by love – as the context in which virtues are best actualised. The forms of friendship (pleasure, virtue and utility) arise naturally as one progresses from youth to one’s prime and to old age. In the friendship of virtue we share the joy of the other in acting virtuously, for the friend is “another self”. Friendships flourish in good institutional structures that give us a good concept of ourselves, and help us practise the habit of treating others as ourselves. Hence for Aristotle we live outside ourselves, and, for example, take a special interest in our beneficiaries.
Prof Pakaluk then explored the apparent paradox of condolence: friends show us love by sorrowing with us, and this lessens our sorrow, since we are pleased to have them with us – yet we ought to be saddened by their sharing our sadness! Part of the answer is to see the taking on or another’s pain as a gift. By the logic of gift, we should not force our friends to come when we are sorrowful, but we should not repulse them when they do; and we should be ready to visit them in their sorrow. Aquinas makes the concept of “the friend as another self” more fundamental, enlarging on how the lover is in the beloved recognising the other’s grief and joy as our own. Hence Aquinas accepts the metaphor of a shared weight seeming lighter; but by focusing on the reason why the friend is saddened by sharing our pain, he explains why we take delight in his/her doing so, and grief is alleviated. The paper concluded by analysing some pertinent stanzas of the Stabat Mater.
Dr Connie Svob, Columbia University, New York City
‘Divine Friendship in Times of Depression: Insights from Neuroscience’
Abstract>> Dr Svob proposed some theological perspectives on scientific findings relating to depression. After outlining depression as the opposite of “vitality”, she suggested that, if we are created for love, and need an emotional life in order to love, and be loved by, God and neighbour, then we are not made for depression, and its healing is possible. Original Sin broke off our intimacy with God, leaving space in our psyche for forms of sorrow; and though Baptism re-unites us with God, it does not undo all the effects of Original Sin, so that clinical depression is not usually the result of actual sin, and its healing is a joint work of medicine, psychology, philosophy and theology. Dr Svob asked whether cultivating friendship with God might affect depression, and described a 30-year study of the role of belief in the resilience of people at familial risk of depression. The study discovered a correlation between biological features that protect against depression, and how important religion was to people; for example, those in high-risk families who accorded religion a high importance tended to have thicker cortices. If people in their early 20s rated religion highly, their a-waves had greater amplitude, regardless of whether they did or did not rate religion highly 20 years later; becoming religious later in life did not have this effect. Maybe there is a critical phase for the development of a religious orientation, providing a biological, cognitive and emotional “space” for grace to be at work. Maybe the correlation observed is confined to the high-risk group because God becomes present where we are most vulnerable. Finally, Dr Svob suggested that depression – as well as other forms of sorrow – might have redemptive features, as a signal of a restless, holy longing, and a means of sharing Christ’s Cross; depression might even become a remedy for fallenness, through the cultivation of friendship with God.
Dr Richard Conrad, OP, Director of the Aquinas Institute
‘Nature and Grace in the Sacramental Encounter’
Abstract>> Fr Richard set the context by indicating briefly St Thomas’ importance in the development of sacramental theology, and pointing out that, in his mature account, Sacraments are means of communication, while the New Testament Sacraments “effect what they signify” through instrumental efficient causality. He suggested we explore why they are fitting instruments, and asked whether we can relate their character as means of communication to their causal power. One thing they symbolise and effect is the unity of Christ’s Mystical Body. Aquinas’ reasons why we need Sacraments, in a fallen world, is that we have “subjected our affections to bodily things”, and it’s fitting to apply the remedy to the wound. Fr Richard asked whether we can include human interaction under “bodily things”, since Sacraments require human ministers. He proposed that we see Sacraments as God’s “gestures”. We are naturally open to giving and receiving gestures, as well as words, and deeds that “speak”; these can promote love, but we are liable to speak false words, deeds and gestures, which damage relationships, and are vulnerable to others who speak falsely. This openness is a natural basis for our receptivity towards God’s words, deeds and gestures (which are “echoes” of the one Word, Jesus). Our vulnerability is “met” by the ways in which interaction with human ministers mediate to us the power of God’s healing words, deeds and gestures, while our liability to speak falsely is countered by the way a minister’s sinfulness cannot thwart the divine power at work. Further, we are naturally open – and therefore vulnerable – to society’s language and rituals, some of which go back to The Founder(s). Christ the Founder has given us a sacramental system and structure into which we are inculturated and which objectively ministers to us truth and grace, and this speaks against sinful structures. Thus God’s use of the Sacraments, with their social and interpersonal dimensions, proclaims and enacts the healing of relationships that will be complete in the Kingdom.
Rev Dr Andrew Pinsent, Research Director, Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion
‘Joint Attention and Virtue Infusion, in Nature and Grace’
Abstract>> Fr Pinsent offered “the second-person perspective”, the phenomenon of joint attention, as a means of bringing together modern psychology/neuroscience and traditional virtue ethics, and placing them in a new and illuminating context. Virtue ethics, which focuses on habituation, is incomplete (how does one learn courage in battle by habituation?) A neo-Thomism which extends into the theological realm the Aristotelian model of moral virtues misses a great deal of Aquinas’ Theological Anthropology. Buber’s I and Thou is now accepted, having been placed on an empirical basis. The study of conditions such as autism, in which the child is not moved to align him/herself with the other, helps us see the importance of a shared focus for normal habituation and for learning how to use the “you” form. Aquinas’ account of the infused virtues is rather different from Aristotle’s account of the acquired ones. The former can be perfect in children; their presence is compatible with contrary dispositions due to original or repeated sins; they are lost by one act of mortal sin. They come with the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, which enable us, in friendship, to share God’s outlook, and lead to the Fruits in which we come to “resonate” with the Holy Spirit. The concept of “habituation” is not a particularly useful metaphor for the infusion of virtues, while the concept of the “second-person perspective” and the phenomenon of “joint attention” are more illuminating. They explain why the infused virtues are lost by one act of mortal sin, since such sin can be seen as covenant-breaking and thus as destroying the inter-personal context in which a shared perspective can truly operate. Fr Pinsent concluded by analysing the Capital Vices (“deadly sins”) with the help of the second-person perspective. For example, acedia, boredom with the Divine Good, is analogous to someone who wants to add a spouse to a life that will basically remain unchanged, instead of being willing to die to an old life and grow into a new, shared life. And Aquinas’ account of gluttony concerns much more than the mere quantity of food; appropriate patterns of dining are learned through the second-person perspective.
Dr Liz Gulliford, The Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues
‘Imagining With and Hoping In’
Abstract>> Dr Gulliford distinguished hope from optimism, as regards their ground, the nature of their confidence, the way they picture the future, the role of the imagination, and the extent to which they are qualities of individuals. She explained that “Positive Psychology” has tended to envisage hope (not well distinguished from optimism) as an individual matter involving one’s own agency, will, planning, goal-setting and self-control, so that optimism can be learned. This is true to a certain extent, since where goals are specific, and where it is possible to exercise a high degree of control over events, it may be possible to translate the waiting of hope into action by making plans and strategies. This requires a degree of imagination.
Referring to authors in the psycho-analytic tradition, including some who may well have been influenced by Aquinas, Dr Gulliford argued that, crucially, hope exists between agents too; it is kindled especially among friends. Someone trapped in a closed system of fantasy and feeling needs another’s imagination to work with his/her own. Hoping-in is a key aspect of hope in psychoanalytic psychologies; the therapist is the proximate ground of hope-in. Aquinas validates this, so long as God remains the First Cause of the journey to happiness. Kobler and Stotland’s psychoanalytic “field theoretical” study brought out how hope is greatly affected by significant others in a person’s immediate environment. Dr Gulliford concluded that imagination enlivens our individual and collective hopes, and we may well, in trust, need to “put on the imagination of another” (William F. Lynch, S.J., Images of Hope: Imagination as Healer of the Hopeless (Notre Dame, 1974), p. 24).
“Mourning”: 3 March 2016
This half-day conference addressing the meaning and significance of mourning was jointly sponsored by the Humane Philosophy Project [give hyperlink to https://www.humanephilosophy.com/ ] and the Aquinas Institute. Topics included the theological justification of grief in Thomas Aquinas, the role of community in the psychology of mourning, connections between grief and the sense of self, the obligations of piety, and tensions in modern understandings of mortality and bereavement.
Speakers, titles, and links to recordings of the papers
Richard Conrad, OP
‘Aquinas on How Not to Resign Ourselves to God’s Will’
‘Grieving and Mourning: The psychology of bereavement’
‘The Difficult Art of Outliving’
“A Millennium of Christian Biblical Exegesis: Augustine to Aquinas”: 27 June 2015
This conference was jointly organised by Mr Cyril Chilson and the Director of the Institute. Aquinas launches his Summa Theologiae by quoting II Tim. 3:16: “Every divinely inspired Scripture is useful for teaching…” Focusing on significant exegetes, this conference examined how great theologians of East and West drew on the Scriptures, and so illustrate continuities and contrasts within the tradition they represent.
Speakers and titles
Dr Stan Rosenberg, SCIO and Wycliffe Hall, Oxford
‘After the Beginning: Genesis 1-3 in Augustine’s Thought’
Cyril Chilson, Blackfriars, Oxford
‘Theodoret’s Commentary on Daniel’
Prof Frans van Liere, Calvin College, Grand Rapids
‘Victorine Exegesis and Hebraica Veritas’
Very Rev Prof Emeritus Andrew Louth, Durham
‘Maximos the Confessor: Symbol and Allegory’
Rev Prof Piotr Roszak, Toru?
‘Exploration & Contemplation in Aquinas’ Exegesis’
“Is the Polis a Fit Place for a Good Man?” 20 June, 2015
This half-day conference was jointly sponsored by the Humane Philosophy Project [give hyperlink to https://www.humanephilosophy.com/ ] and the Aquinas Institute. It concerned a topic of mutual interest, namely whether the human political community should be seen basically as a natural good and a force for good which in a fallen world is spoiled but not “totally corrupt”.
Speakers and titles
Mr Jonathan Price
“The ‘classical’ tragic vision; Aristotle’s comic vision of the ‘political animal’; the Stoic-Augustinian ‘fall back’.”
Dr Richard Conrad, OP
“Aquinas’ vision of trustworthy political goodness, healed, enlarged and affirmed by Caritas.”
The papers were followed by a seminar: “Is the political community a place where good people typically flourish, or where they are persecuted?”
“Welcoming the Gift, Acknowledging the Giver: Theologies of Gratitude”: 17 May 2014
The philosophy, psychology and theology of gratitude have not received a great deal of attention, and the Aquinas Institute was pleased to sponsor a conference on Theologies of Gratitude jointly with the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues [give hyperlink to https://www.jubileecentre.ac.uk/ ]. The Jubilee Centre was engaged in a project of research on gratitude, and this conference was designed to enable theologians and people of all faiths reflect on the subject of gratitude towards God and towards others.
Speakers and titles
Dr Tali Chilson, formerly of the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies
‘ “…we will pay instead of bulls the offerings of our lips”: The Sublimation of Sacrificial Service in Judaism from the Second Temple Era to the Spanish ‘Golden Age’
Professor Tom Greggs, King’s College, University of Aberdeen
‘In gratitude for grace: praise, worship and the sanctified life’
Dr Reza Shah-Kazemi, Institute of Ismaili Studies, London
‘From Gratitude to Beatitude: A Qur’anic Theology of Thanksgiving’
Richard Conrad, OP
‘The Cycle of Blessing: Thanksgiving as a Means of Consecration’