I’ll admit it, I’m probably one of the last people who ever expected to like an article from America Magazine given their usual slant. But this one has the distinct advantage of being an interview with a thoroughly orthodox Dominican – and one who even makes book recommendations! Now what’s not to love there? The interview with Fr. Romanus Cessario, O.P. centers largely around his view of the state of Thomism in the 21st century; suffice it to say he sees a bright future in spite of the sometimes negative connotation some people associate with the word. A few snippets of my favorite parts:
What is the goal of your theology?
Oh, that’s easy. I want to enter more fully into the life and contemplation of the divine mysteries and to draw people close to God. Like Saint Ignatius, I want people “to praise, reverence, and serve God,” so that they will become saints.
Some theologians, seeking to move the Catholic Church forward more quickly, have experienced tension with the magisterium since Vatican II. As a Thomist, in what sense do you believe Catholic theology needs to adapt itself to contemporary times?
I think theology can only be contemporary. Veritas Eternaliter Juvenis—the truth is eternally young. Like a good Thomist, I will distinguish. Catholic theology in order to survive has to adapt to the period in which it serves Catholic and divine truth. The history of Thomism, in my view, demonstrates this adaptability. If contemporary Thomists spent all their time examining what Capreolus said in the fifteenth century, no one, except those committed to historical studies, would pay attention to such soi-disant “Thomists.” I consider it a strength of Thomism that it displays the capacity to speak to each of the centuries that follows the death of Aquinas in 1274. The fact that you have asked for this interview, in a way, supports my contention. Americawould not want to waste its pages on the obscure and archaic. At the same time, it would be odd were one to assert flat out that Catholic theology should “adapt itself to contemporary times.” Such a project would canonize relativism. What I am saying applies, it seems to me, also to The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius. I have seen books that explain and, in a certain sense, adapt the Exercises for contemporary times. However no one would dare to alter radically the Exercises, even though few of our contemporaries accept Saint Ignatius’s principal and foundation for human existence. Likewise, I don’t see much about saving one’s soul in contemporary culture. And of course, Saint Ignatius urges us to think with the Church. The question should not be posed in terms of adaptation but in terms of mediation. How can theology today best mediate divine and Catholic truth? In this sense, my Thomism is very Ignatian and contemporary.
What do you hope people take away from your work?
Christ. As the experience that Aquinas underwent at the end of his life suggests, those who follow Aquinas should want for themselves and for others the same thing: “Non nisi Te, Domine!” Only you, Lord. I refer to that moment in Naples when Aquinas heard Christ speak to him from a crucifix. The Lord asked Aquinas what he wanted as a reward because, as Christ said, “You have written well of me, Thomas.” Most theologians and their readers fall short of Aquinas’s devotion and accomplishments, but each can aspire to the same reward that Aquinas received. Saint Ignatius expresses this aspiration well: “Good Jesus, hear me / Within the wounds, shelter me / from turning away, keep me / From the evil one, protect me / At the hour of my death, call me / Into your presence lead me / to praise you with all your saints / Forever and ever.”