Friday, January 28, 2005

My Thomist Moment(s)

Today is the feast of Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), Doctor of the Church. An "official" account of his life can be found in the old Catholic Encyclopedia.

But anybody can link to that. You're all out there (well, both of you anyway), begging for more.

You will invariably find it on any Dominican's website in the Catholic blogosphere -- including Disputations, who last year at this time, produced two excellent pieces on "The Angelic Doctor," entitled Lord, make me a humble idiot, and How to study

But enough of that. Let's talk about me.

I learned about "Thomism" at the dinner table.

Dad was in the seminary for high school and the first half of college. Not that there was a lot of theology taught at that level. "We learned an awful lot of Latin," is the most he'll say. But the experience did whet his appetite to learn more of the meaning of life, and so while finishing college at Xavier University (the one in Cincinnati, not New Orleans), he studied the philosophy and theology of Thomism. In those days, a graduate of a Catholic university required an academic minor in philosophy, so it was gonna happen.

In the years that followed, this carried over into the evening discussions over dinner. I can still hear him saying, "Everything you do in life is either a plus or a minus." This merely reinforces a fundamental truth about nature, in that it abhors a vacuum. Indeed, not just nature, but supernature. So all of us learned how to "think in a straight line." My brother and I are as different as two brothers could be. But to this day, when talking to him about a serious topic, I hear a version of myself.

I wanted to pass this on to my son. His mother succeeded in calling most of the shots (while dear old Dad got to do his share the first of every month). But when Paul decided to study philosophy in his senior year of high school, I reviewed the required texts. This confirmed my suspicions that a public high school was not the place for a Catholic gentleman to learn philosophy. After all, anybody can read out of a text that tells you what other people think. I wanted Paul to learn how to think.

So I obtained a lecture series on audiotape and accompanying text, from a religious center in New Hampshire operated by a group of Feeneyites. The series, called Philosophia Perennis, was a part of our monthly meetings. We managed to get about halfway through the cirriculum.

But Paul managed to take it from there.

He used the arguments of Thomas to debate in favor of the existence of God. And, as an up-and-coming artist in the DC hip-hop scene, the good Doctor found his way into Paul's lyrics:

The naysaying comes with ease,
I guiess that's just the cost to be,
A teenaged tossed salad of pop culture and philosophy.
Public enemy taught me,
"Always hate on the establishment."
Aquinas taught me
Didn't kill off all the Catholics.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent post! I too took philosophy in public school (latin and philosophy were required to graduate.) Had it not been for a priest who was staying at our parish and working on a LCL at Catholic U at the time, I would have been dumb enough to buy into the leftist socialism/ existentialism of the teacher. Anyway, the priest took a look at the texts and handed me a concise Summa. It still sits on my shelf.