A Symposium: St. Thomas Aquinas and the Third Millennium:
For Dominican Educators in Higher Education
Dominican Conference Center
River Forest, Illinois
April 9-11, 1999

  Friday, April 9, 1999 7:30 p.m.
Opening Plenary Session

Dominican Education for the Third Millenium
Liam G. Walsh, OP

Let me begin by telling your something about the experience of Dominican education out of which I speak to you, and out of which come the questions I will discuss. I began with the experience of a classical Studium Generale during my formation in the Irish Province, and of the Studium that was also a Pontifical Faculty at Le Saulchoir in Paris. There was a doctoral year at the Angelicum University of the Order in Rome. Then there were years spent teaching in the Studium of my Province and later at the Angelicum. And now, for the past eleven years I have been a professor in the Faculty of theology of the University of Fribourg and for the last four years, I had the job of vice-Rector of the University, which gave me an opportunity to come to know the university across its complex structure and component parts. It is more immediately from these years in Fribourg that I draw my reflections about Dominican approaches to higher education.

The University of Fribourg is a State university, belonging to the Canton of Fribourg. Fribourg is confessionally Catholic, so its university has a Catholic character. The tradition of Catholicism is, by now, rather diluted, as it mingles with many other currents that flow in the contemporary Western world. There is nowadays much more of the secular than of the religious in its daily round of living, teaching and researching.

The place of Dominicans in the University has shifted with the tide of history. It began with the invitation to the Friars to provide staff for the Faculty of theology and to be responsible for the Faculty. That presence has been formalized by a convention between the Order and the cantonal government, which obliges us to provide teaching personnel in theology, and which makes the Master of the Order ecclesiastical chancellor of the Faculty. The Dominican presence was, incidentally, reinforced by the arrival of Rosary College in Fribourg in the 1920s, and by the subsequent participation of Providence College in the American College Program that is integrated in the University.

The University as such was never subject to canonical ecclesiastical authority., It was established by Catholic laypeople who, without yet being able to articulate the developed theology of the lay state that would come a half-century later, understood that an institution could be Catholic without being legally subject to hierarchical control. From the beginning, the Catholicism of the University was ensured in large measure by the importance given to the Faculty of Theology, and therefore to the Dominicans. Dominicans were often chosen as Rectors of the University..

The last Dominican Rector held office in 1968. Since then there have been no more than three Dominican Vice-Rectors in the government of the University. The influence of the Faculty of Theology has greatly diminished, and within the Faculty the Dominicans have, little by little, become no more than a sizable minority.

I am recounting this because it raises a number of the issues that we Dominicans have to deal with in education. And they are issues that touch our question of fundamentalism and pluralism. Forty years ago those who are now supporters of the fundamentalist schismatic community founded by Archbishop Marcel Lefevre would have been strong supporters and financial contributors to the University of Fribourg in the annual collection that was made among Swiss Catholics on behalf of 'their Catholic university'. The proceeds of that collection has been diminishing steadily in the last two decades and now cover less than zero point six of the annual budget of the University

As for the members of the University community - students, teachers, administrator, - there would still be a modest percentage who give some significance to the Catholic character of the University; there would be a much larger percentage who rarely if ever think of it and when they do attach very little significance to it; and there would be a small percentage who have some resentment against the suggestion that the University is Catholic - they would, for example, want the crucifixes that are put automatically in all the rooms of public buildings in Fribourg removed from the lecture rooms and offices of the University.

Dominicans in Higher Education Today

The Fribourg experience puts questions about our ministry as educators to us Dominicans who work there, questions that are not, I would think, dissimilar to the questions that many of you are facing out of your own experience. They are questions about the Catholic significance of what we do; about its Dominican character; about the merit of doing Theology in institutions that have a high degree of secularity in their current ethos; questions about the rôle that a Dominican theological tradition, and especially the theology that claims Thomas Aquinas as its principal master, can have in such a setting. They are questions that the title I inherited from Guido Vergauwen invites me to deal with in terms of a choice between Pluralism and Fundamentalism, and in relation to the millenium.

Fundamentalism/Pluralism in Education

The terms Fundamentalism and Pluralism obviously evoke a major philosophical debate. It is a debate that I suppose I know something about, but that I have no special competence to deal with technically. What I propose to do is to try another way of dealing with Pluralism and Fundamentalism, a way that has more of spirituality and theology to it than Philosophy. I will be trying to discover if there are indications in the lives and thinking of St. Dominic, and of St. Thomas Aquinas that might point a way for Dominicans to face the challenge of being educators, and to do so in a way that makes creative use of the tension between Fundamentalism and Pluralism. I think you will be able to detect here and there some bridges between what I am saying and the philosophical, hermeneutical debate in which terms like Fundamentalism and Pluralism have their place.

The Gospel Fundamentalism of Dominic

When you ask about things Dominican, especially in the field of education, you often find that it is Thomas who is invited to answer the question. Well and good. But I think the first answer that Thomas would give to question about things Dominican would be: 'Look at Dominic and what he did'. And that is what I propose to do in this paper, although I will come back to the Dominicanism of Thomas before the end.

Dominic lived in an age in which new ideas, and a variety of them, were competing in the public place, and challenging the established view of thing. You could hardly call what was happening pluralism, because it lacked the distinctive presupposition of pluralism, which is that no set of ideas should, or has any right to dominate the scene, but rather that a variety of systems and values can and should coexist. But there was a plurality: the social structures of Feudalism were no longer holding; communes and cities were emerging; art and architecture were entering the gothic period; psyche and imagination were finding new forms of expression; Europe was becoming aware of Islam and of the need to confront it not only about the Holy Places but in the arena of Philosophy.

There were also various kinds of fundamentalism in the air. There remained among some an un-budging clinging to old ways in social and ecclesiastical life. But there was also the offer of new fundamental certainties. There were new religious movements. One of them was a radical alternative to what the Church was purveying. Catharism knew where it stood on basics and had many more answers than questions. Its dualism was fundamental, and attachment to it, to the point of inviting persecution and being willing to suffer for it, was fundamentalist. Then, and more interestingly for our purposes, there were movements that set out to ground things radically in the Gospel. The Christian fundamentalists were, in some ways, trying to beat Catharism at its own game of absoluteness. Many of them were militantly aggressive against it.

The absolute towards which Catholic Christians turned was the Gospel. They wanted to be Gospel people, they wanted to live the Gospel, they wanted to preach the Gospel. The latin evangelicus was a buzz word in the religious and social movements of the early 13th century.

The Gospel was received as an event, an event that had to be told in a series of stories, about the coming, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. The people of Dominic's day illustrated the Gospel in their art; they celebrated it in their liturgy; and they were passionately interested in the places where it happened: they wanted to go there, to be free to go there, to wrest those places from Muslim hands so that they could have access to them and arrange them as they thought fit.

What made the coming, death and resurrection of Jesus the kind of foundational event it was in Dominic's age was not simply that it was historical fact. It was the recognition of these happening as the work of God, as God's definitive saving act in human history. The Gospel was the Gospel of God. It was the recognition of God, of the Holy Name of God that was the real Gospel issue in Dominic's day. The challenge of Albigensianism was basically a challenge about God. The God of Albigensianism could not be the God of Jesus Christ. The Christian Gospel could not longer be told if the Albigensian, Catharist vision of God prevailed.

But if there was a fundamentalism about the Gospel in the age of Dominic, there was a pluralism about what it looked like and what it meant. The Gospel was written about in books, and there were four inspired versions of it. These four books were not widely accessible. Not everybody among those who wanted to be evangelical were able to read Latin or Greek, which were the only languages in which the texts were then available. So they became aware and remained aware of the Gospel event through hearing it spoken about and seeing it illustrated. They were nourished by and, in their turn contributed to, a multi-media tradition. This tradition was marked by preferences and selectivity, spins and flourishes, by the additions and subtractions found in apocrypha and folklore. Interpretation was rife. There were indeed certain common canons of interpretation that had been determined authoritatively by the Church. They were in the Creeds and the dogmas. But around them there was a proliferation of thoughts and images and practices that kept the Gospel in touch with life.

In the field of praxis the Gospel was seen as a pattern to be followed, as a rule of life, as embodying values and standards. The patterns varied and each pattern was an interpretation. Wearing sandals and carrying a staff was critically important for some, going two by two for others. And they could theorize about this practice, and set up their image of Jesus in accordance with their theory. They were single-minded about the Gospel - and to that extent were fundamentalists. They gave together a kind of collective verification to the Gospel But they had different ways of being Gospel people, and to that extent had something of Pluralism about them.

Dominic was one of these Gospel people - vir factus evangelicus - as his liturgy says of him. He was a Gospel person in his own peculiar way. As a way of trying to understand what was special about his way it seems to me extremely important to recognize that Dominic came to the Gospel, not as something that overwhelmed him in his personal subjectivity, but as something objective, because something to be preached. He did not come to the Gospel by any kind of dramatic personal conversion. He had lived the Gospel from his infancy, even if in a rather conventional way that would never have merited him the title vir evangelicus. What brought Dominic to the Gospel, and to becoming part of the Gospel movement of his time, was something more objective, more outside of himself, than an experience of personal conversion. What brought him to the Gospel was preaching. He discovered the Gospel as a reality that should be in the preaching that was being done in the Church, and was not. He did not first become a Gospel person who then set out to preach the Gospel. It was because the Gospel called out to be preached that Dominic became the kind of Gospel person who could preach it.

I hope I can convince you that I am not playing with words here. I have a sense that there is a hermeneutical option in the life of Dominic, coming from his way of encountering the Gospel, that offers Dominicans an orientation for dealing with the kind of questions thrown up by the debate about Fundamentalism and Pluralism. I believe it is an orientation that has become part of our Dominican spirituality, our Dominican approach to education, and has marked the work of great teachers among us like Thomas. Dominic was something of a Fundamentalist about the Gospel. But he was a Fundamentalist about something that was not of himself nor for himself, but for others. The Gospel was not something to overwhelm people with in an all-absorbing fusion of subjectivities, but something to be communicated objectively.

Let me speculate a little on this communicativeness that comes into Dominican approaches to reality from the fact that the first Dominicans embraced the Gospel as something to be preached. It has everything to do with words and their place in our Dominican way of being.

Dominic's concern for the preaching of the Gospel showed itself in a concern for words. It is a common-place, and one that many Dominicans find irritating, that Dominic's preaching was directed against the Albigensian heresy. But perhaps if we reflect on what heresy is we might be a little more reconciled to what are surely the facts. Heresy happens when people stop talking to one another. It does not happen when they simply disagree, even about the things of God. It is when an individual or group breaks off communion and communication with the community of believers, it is when a group believes that it alone is right and the rest of the Church is wrong about a matter of faith, that there is formal heresy. In Dominic's day the Albigensians and the Catholics had stopped talking to one another. If Dominic stayed up all night talking to an Albigensian innkeeper - and his biographer thought it worth recording the event - it must have been because he made it clear that the preaching of the Gospel required him to start talking to the heretics, and to keep talking, all night if necessary. Now you do not keep talking to someone all night if the only thing you have to say to them is "You are wrong". If the Gospel is salvation event, and that salvation is for all, it has to be something that people can talk about together. If they stop talking to one another then the Gospel is not present among them. And if it is the preaching of the Gospel itself that makes them stop talking to one another, one is entitled to look at the different components of communication to see where the fault might be.

In any analysis of failures in communication about the Gospel, different people will come up with answers that put the main accent on one or other of the components. A Fundamentalist will say that the problem is that the other party is not looking at the basic given of the Gospel, which is known in the Church. While Fundamentalism will always want to believe that it is being objective, that it is basing itself on reality and not on what anybody says about reality, it will inevitably fasten on some expressions of the truth, on some authorized forms of words, as the test of one's grasp of the basic event, and the anathematizing will be about this form of words. Questions about the meaning of the words, and the possibility of expressing the truth in other words will not be welcomed.

Dominic had some of the features of fundamentalism so described. But because he was a preacher, a communicative rather than an authoritarian person, he would not become a brandisher of formulas. Talking for him had also to be listening. It was recognizing that other people might have things to say that had a bearing on the way things were.

And yet this willingness to listen to others does not mean that Dominic was what we usually mean by 'Pluralist'. His commitment to the Gospel and his conviction that it had to be preached was such that he must have accepted that something was given, and that it was a ground not just for a polite, tolerant exchange of different opinions but for community-making consensus. About this Dominic had some of the absoluteness that we more usually associate with Fundamentalists. But his absoluteness was not about words or doctrinaire formulas: it was an absoluteness about an event that had to be happening in life.

Gospel Praxis and Gospel Books

In the contemporary discussion about Foundations, of which the discussion about fundamentalism and pluralism is part, the relationship between theory and praxis is a central issue. For Dominic the Gospel to be preached was the Gospel that was practiced. The Gospel way of life embraced so absolutely by Dominic and his first associates was woven into the communicative words that he spoke in preaching. The words about the Gospel event rang true in the fact that the Gospel was present in the praxis of the speaker. We have every right to imagine Dominic as a reader, a thoughtful person, a theoretician, a contemplative. But the call to preach the Gospel made a radical difference to the theory and to the significance of books. Dominic really becomes himself when, for the sake of preaching the Gospel he begins to do Gospel things, to live like the Apostles who first patterned Gospel telling, when he began to practice the Gospel in living the vita apostolica.

Yet there is every reason to think that the praxis remained reflective, and careful about being in tune with theory and thinking. Compared to other forms of evangelical life that emerged in his time Dominic's practice of Gospel living has something cool and modest about it. It is faithful rather than flamboyant. Again, I believe that it was because he found the Gospel as something to be preached that he was able to have this coolness and objectivity about Gospel practice. He found the Gospel as something given and to be given, before being something to take and be taken by. The way it was given had certain objective features that had to be respected. The Gospel came in an Apostolic tradition that had words in it and rites and even laws. As such, it gave people a way of being, and of being together, that did not come from a spur of the moment enthusiasm, generated by one or other text or image, but from a reasoned balancing of the totality of elements in which it had come to find its full expression. These were primarily the telling of the Gospel that is found in the four canonical Gospels, but also in elements that the transmission of the Gospel had drawn to itself and found useful, and even necessary, for the keeping alive of the Gospel in the kind of human community that the Church turned out to be. Dominic carried the Gospel of Matthew with him; but he also carried the Conferences of John Cassian, and this, too, mentored him in Gospel living. Dominic was not a biblical fundamentalist.. Certainly there was passion in Dominic's evangelism. But it was a cultured passion, modulated by a Gospel tradition that was ecclesial, monastic, canonical, humanistic and humane. Dominic's evangelism was music, not a scream. It was a taking hold and a proclamation of the Gospel that was humane and cultured. It gave an important place to schools.

Dominicans at School

If Dominic, as Preacher, represents a way with words that can navigate between Fundamentalism and Pluralism, it was due in large measure to the place books and schools had in his life. He sent his first preaching companions to school, and he himself went with them. The going to school, and the type of school they went to, was an important choice. There would have been people who said the words for preaching already existed: they were written in the Bible, and in the sentences of the Fathers; these words carried authority; and authority was the foundation of faith. All that was needed was for the preachers to read the established words and repeat what they read.

The first Dominican preachers went to the school of Master Stavensby in Toulouse. What they learned was Theology. They read the Bible and heard the commentaries of the master. But something more than that was beginning to happen in the schools. The mastership in theology was a relatively new institution in the western world. It was an institution that invited pupils to think. The masters were beginning to try to put some systematic, as distinct from narrative order into the content of the tradition, by assembling texts of the Scriptures and sayings of the Fathers and teasing out dialectically the consistency of what they were saying. The training in dialectics was based on the assumption that the traditional texts would say different things - that there would be pluralism of theological positions. But its purpose was to ensure that people could put their heads together, could think together and arrive at a certain degree of basic agreement, which would prevent their differences from being destructive of community. It was a rigorous process, that required discipline and hard thinking.

The learning, the going to school, of the first Dominicans, made the Gospel of salvation be a matter, not just of words, which it already was in the Bible and in the writings of the Fathers, but a matter of thoughtful words. The Bible told them about the Gospel event of salvation that they were committed to experiencing in their lives and to preaching in their words. The schooling gave them words to talk about the Gospel to people who were having all sorts of new and different thoughts about the reality of their own experience, so that the Gospel could become again the ground of their existence.

Gospel, Word and Church

Dominic did not have to invent the preaching of the Gospel . The preaching ministry was already there. The Gospel event had been directly experienced by the Apostles and they had set up a tradition of keeping it in human memory that was still active in Christian communities, in the communities that formed the Church. Dominic had responsibilities for that tradition, had responsibilities in the Church: he was in medio ecclesiae. Like all Christians he was responsible for making and keeping the Church to be a manifestation of the Gospel. As a priest, exercising a ministry of word and sacrament for the sake of the keeping present of the Gospel, he was responsible for a particular feature of preaching. His passion for the Gospel made him discover that, in most of what passed for preaching in his time, the Gospel was not really present. The charism to which he felt himself called was to put the Gospel back into the words of the Church's preaching.

But once the grounded Gospel is put into words - preaching words, communicating words - it is inevitably pluralistic. From the beginning it was recognized that there had to be more than one way of saying (telling) the Gospel. The Church, generated by the preaching of the Gospel, is inevitably pluralistic, and the preaching that sustains it is necessarily pluralistic. The Gospel event does, indeed, dictate a fundamental unity. The Church is a universal community in which all exclusivities are removed. In its fundamental constitution there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, man nor woman.. This is the fundamental affirmation of Gospel preaching. And yet, paradoxically, what makes the Church be this kind of universal, inclusive community is that it is a communion of diversified gifts. It is a communion of individual gifts that makes up a local Church. And it is the diversity of local communities that makes up the universal Church. The preaching of the one Gospel has to be different. Paul preached differently in each of his letters, to the Church of Corinth, to the Church of Galatia, and to the Church of Rome. The Gospel preaching of universal inclusiveness requires pluralism in preaching.

Dominic was a churchman. He became a churchman in a conventional sense. He was baptized in a Christian family. He was educated in a Church school. He became a cleric of the Church. As a canon of Osma he took on a share in the pastoral responsibility which his bishop had for the people of the local church of Osma. He took his preaching call to Rome, to the Pope, because he knew that matters concerning the universal Church could be determined and promoted from there. But when the passion for preaching took hold of Dominic he became a different kind of Churchman. He discovered how the Church should be the fruit of the Gospel, not the Lord of the Gospel. He recognized that the Church's only mandate was to let itself be formed by the Gospel, and to let the Gospel be announced through it to the whole world, with all the variety of words that this would entail.

The call of Gospel preaching had consequences for the way Dominic dealt with Church structures. There seems to be no doubt that the sacra predicatio that Dominic put together was a group made up of lay men and women, as well as of clerics and priests. It was a Gospel church, devoted to making the Church be of the Gospel. His project was a Gospel Church in which hierarchy was to be positively harnessed. There were evangelical movements contemporary with Dominic that, seeing as he did that the clericalism of the Church was one of the major obstacles to its being of the Gospel, sought to un-clericalize the Church. But this could become the rejection of an old exclusivism by the introduction of a new one. There is certainly a rejection of clericalism in the project of Dominic. But there was no refusal of the ministerial structure of the Church, but rather an attempt to restore Gospel quality to the exercise of preaching in its totality. There is a Gospel non-exclusiveness about Dominic's project of preaching that would give their proper place to laypeople, and would include the ordained in a way that would recognize in their ordination a necessary element of ecclesiality. Priesthood would give the ordained preacher, and the sacra predicatio within which he ministered, a link with the Bishops, and with the Eucharist, and with the sacraments of return to the Eucharist. These links would make the preaching be fully ecclesial. And this ecclesiality would make the community of preachers be fully of the Gospel.

Dominic's calculated appeal to the authority of the Pope in support of his preaching project might seem to put him on the side of Catholic Fundamentalists, who like to confirm their positions with appeals, usually selective, to the authority of the Pope. Le me just invite you to reflect on the curious contrast between the highly centralized papacy which he took advantage of for the sake of his preaching project and the structural choices which he made for his own Gospel community. The Order was very quickly divided into Provinces, which were not primarily administrative units but units of mission, units of Gospel preaching. The Provinces were quite autonomous. Their autonomy was never thought of as a gift of the Order, a decentralizing from an all-powerful centre. It was the logic of the Gospel itself that required that its preaching should be locally diversified, and its units of preaching be free to be different. The communion coming from the Gospel was to be built from the ground up in the Order. And why not in the Church?

A Millenium: The Word and the World

My titles requires me to talk about the millennium and and its effect on education in a Dominican perspective. A millennium is a measure of an age. It evokes the Gospel, because it is the Gospel event that inaugurates this new measure of time. With the Gospel the end days have begun. The days of humanity are counted. But for that reason, the Gospel also marks a beginning of time, of the saeculum. You can really start counting when you know there is an end in sight. You don't count something that has no end and that might be infinite. And so we make the Gospel event, the coming of Christ, be the beginning and we count from that beginning. But the counting of the Gospel era is also a count-down towards the end. The big numbers, especially the thousands, have brought evocations of the end as well as of the beginning. They have an Apocalyptic flavour.

There were millenarian ideas abroad in Dominic's days. Joachim of Fiore died in 1202. These ideas gave a certain interpretation of human life in the saeculum. They either gave it short shift, in thinking that it would soon be over; or they foretold a glorious transformation that would take most of the hard work, and therefore the tyranny of time, out of it. Joachim of Fiore seemed to say that the Holy Spirit would take over from the Word and that the active life would give way to the purely contemplative. There is no reason to think that Dominic shared millenarian ideas. He took his time about the Gospel and its preaching, and probably wished he had more of it. He made time by staying up most of the night to pray. He took time about words, about reading them in books, about minting them in study, about speaking them in the time it took to communicate with others. He wanted to give enduring structures that would stand the test of time to the Gospel way of life that was to be lived by his preachers; so, he gave them Constitutions, and provided for the adapting of those Constitutions in the course of time to new circumstances. And he built schooling, which takes time, into that way of life, and teaching into the way of preaching. Dominic was a religious and therefore canonically speaking not a secular. But as a preacher of the Gospel and as an educated and educating preacher of the Gospel, he had a huge concern for all that is measured by the saeculum inaugurated by the Gospel, that is to say, for what Christianity calls the secular.

As a preacher of the Gospel, Dominic had to know what to do with secularity, with the secularity of the Church no less than with that of social and political institutions. One of the manifestations of Dominic's refusal of apocalyptic millenarianism was that he was prepared to give time to the changing of the things of time. And he was prepared to be proved wrong and to have to start again. He let go of a pet idea of his that the temporal administration of communities of the brethren be in the hands of the lay brothers. He was a revolutionary, but not of the explosive sort. He navigated within the ecclesiastical and social structures of his time, leaving many established things in place, once they were not intrinsically alien to the Gospel, but introducing new Gospel forces that would eventually transform institutions. There were limits to his ability to break through institutional patterns that reflected the secular values of his time. It is possible, for example, to see in the way Dominic related to women in the putting together of the original praedicatio Jesu Christi a recovery of a foundational value belonging to the Gospel ('in Christ there is neither male nor female'); and yet Dominic seems to have accepted that it was only in the structure of enclosed contemplative life that women could find an ecclesial way being canonically associated with the preaching mission. And relations with secular authorities did not always develop in accordance with his vision. For example, it is possible to see how a care to bring theological competence and due process into the way society dealt with heresy may have eventually led, some years after Dominic's death, to the Order's ill-fated involvement in that most secularized of Church institutions, the Inquisition. But one would like to think that it was in the attention he gave to books, and to schooling, and to teachers that Dominic, the Preacher, made his most authentically Gospel contribution to the saeculum, to the presence of the Gospel in the age of this world.

Dominican Education: from Dominic to Thomas

I have been suggesting that Dominic lived and charismed a distinctive combination of Gospel, Word, Church, World. I believe these elements, in that combination, must be found in anything we call Dominican. Let me now try to suggest what that entails when we discuss Dominican approaches to education. And it is at this stage that I will bring Thomas into the Dominican picture.

I have already offered some reflections about the place that Dominic gave to education, to schools and going to school and to the study of theology, in his charism of evangelical preaching. His intuition and initial example took time to establish itself. Thomas was one of those who took it up, who thought about it, and who said and did important things about it.

Thomas, like Dominic, was, in the most fundamental sense, a Preacher of the Gospel. When, in the course of his thinking about the Gospel, he studies Christ's way of life, he read the texts through his Domincan eyes. If you compare his analysis of Christ's way of life in the IIIa Pars with his analysis of the active life devoted to teaching and preaching in the IIa-IIae, a way of life which, Thomas says there, is lived in the Ordo Praedicatorum, you will find they are practically identical. For Thomas, Christ is the prototypical Dominican! Because he was a preacher, Thomashad to be objective about the Gospel, in the way I suggested Dominic was. There is surely a philosophical source for Thomas's care for the objective, but I would suspect that his philosophical option was not a little influenced by his Dominican option to be a preacher. For the Preacher, the Gospel is for others. It has first to be received from others. The receiving of it is complex and pluralistic, and a lot of thinking has to be done in its reception. But then, a lot of thinking has to be done about how what is received can be transmitted to others. The otherness of the listener has to be taken into account. The teacher that Thomas was had to be reflective and theoretical about how the objectivity of the Gospel is maintained in its transmission between subjects.

Suggestions from the Summa

It is at the beginning of the Summa that I find the most interesting indications of how Thomas saw the task of the teacher. The texts I will analyse come from there, rather than from the more abstract pages devoted to the process of teaching (De magistro) in other parts of his work.

Catholicae veritatis doctor

Thomas starts his Prologue to the Summa by identifying himself, discreetly, as a catholicae veritatis doctor. He is giving himself a teaching rôle, using the professional title, doctor. Incidentally, the only other use of this title I can find in the Summa is when it is attributed to Christ, in one of those questions where Thomas is dealing with what the Gospel tells about Christ. There, Thomas calls Christ spiritualis doctrinae et fidei primus et principalis Doctor. Thomas puts his doctoral rôle in an ecclesial setting by using the word catholica. But notice the adjective does not go with doctor, but with veritas. It is the truth that is Catholic, not the teacher. For Dominic, too, it was the Gospel that was Catholic, and the Catholic credentials of the teacher were to be settled in function of that. For Thomas objectivity, content, comes before personal status and institution.

Is there not here a first, foundational Dominican answer to the questions we might have about what we are doing in Catholic education. What makes education Catholic, and what has us involved in it, is fundamentally the Gospel, which is the ground of Catholic truth and Christian religion. If we are not teachers of the Gospel, proclaimers of the Gospel event of salvation, we are not Catholic teachers, even if the institution we belong to is canonically Catholic and we are ecclesiastically authorized to teach. This obliges us to ask fundamental questions about the objective visibility of the Gospel in our personal and community life - and this not just for reasons of piety but for strictly educational reasons. I will dare to say, on the grounds that I have given, that we need a touch of evangelical fundamentalism in our lives as much as in our thinking, if we are to be Catholic teachers, in the Dominican sense. And we are also challenged to make our teaching be Catholic even when we are teaching in institutions that have little or no canonical Catholic character.

Ea quae pertinent ad

A few lines further on in the Prologue, Thomas describes the content of what he wants to teach as ea quae ad christianem religionem pertinent. The first things this suggest to me is that Thomas believes teaching concerns praxis as well as in theory. The Summa does indeed bear this out. In its moral, ecclesiastical, sacramental questions it is clear that reflection on praxis is as much part of theology as reflection on the articles of faith. What the ea quae pertinent ad also suggest to me is that Thomas does not consider the work of the teacher of theology to be confined to narrowly evangelical and religious themes. The use of quae pertinent ad in the description of the field Thomas wants to study and teach about, suggests a rather wide-ranging scope for catholica veritas. In fact, the Summa gathers within itself material from many disciplines. There is, of course, Philosophy in it; there is, also, Psychology and Cosmology; there is History and Geography; it consciously employs Logic in its procedures of reasoning; and it is a work of literature, replete with literary references - you have to know your letters to be able to read it.

Thomas was teaching within a university setting, with a structured curriculum that gave its place to recognized human sciences and arts. These sciences and arts belonged to human time; they brought secular reality into the range of Gospel teaching. Thomas, like Dominic, accepted this secular reality. He accepted it as a dimension of the working out of the Gospel. The preaching and teaching of the Gospel took it into account and the university gave it its rights. In working out a philosophy of science that put the human sciences in ordered relationship with the ultimate science, which had the Gospel formally as its subject, and at the same time put that ultimate science in relation to the other sciences, Thomas was taking the world seriously. He was doing explicitly in the field of education what Dominic did in the broad field of preaching.


Thomas was taking with particular seriousness the fact the future was in the hands of young people. He calls them novitii in the Prologue, the beginners. The Prologue to the Summa gives remarkable attention to the students for whose education the book is being written. What seemed to have worried Thomas most is that they might be bored, have felt they were wasting time.Thomas recognizes that they have good reason to be bored when they are being given lectures about questions that are not questions at all for them, and asked to follow books that have a structure that does not correspond to the way their own minds work; and when they find certain things being repeated endlessly and obsessively. Thomas has been listening to his students! He wants to do a new and different theology with them. No question for him that there can be a new and different theology. And he will do it one way, knowing that Bonaventure does it differently.

Thomas is echoing the respect for peoples' capacity to think for themselves that Dominic made a mark of Gospel preaching. They both say that a Dominican approach to education cannot be a doctrinaire presentation of pre-established truth. It is a matter of making the Gospel live in the minds of others, with a hermeneutically sensitive respect not only for the objectivity of the Gospel, but also for what is going on in the minds of those who are listening. And the results will be marked by the differences there are among the hearers. Thomas was quite firm about stating his own theological positions. But, he does recognize, in another text of the Quodlibet, that his hearers are entitled to follow the differing views of other doctors - as long as what they are saying is not contrary to the faith of the Church.

Argumentum and Auctoritas

Where does this appeal to the faith of the Church that I have just quoted leave Thomas in the Fundamentalist/Pluralist spectrum? There are magisterial documents nowadays about almost everything, and there are Fundamentalists who are very ready to equate this corpus with the faith of the Church. The scope for Pluralism is minimal. When Thomas discusses sacra doctrina in Ia Pars, q. 1 he is, without doubt, talking about teaching the faith of the Church. It is interesting, however, to see how and where he finds this faith, and consequently how he sees the Church in which it is given. I believe Thomas sees the Church as Dominic saw it. The articles of this first question of the Summa announce that Thomas wants to do Theology in a community of thinking believers, in which questions are asked about the way things are, in which books are read and interpreted, in which differences of opinion between authors are teased out. He sees believers gathered in a community that has a place for teachers, for those who work at sacra doctrina. Like Dominic, Thomas accepts that the community of believers is bound together in belief by the acceptance of various authorities. From these authorities the teacher gets basic data, in the form of books and texts. It is on these texts that the believing community, teachers and students, uses its mind. The Books of Scripture are the primary school texts, because they are the Spirit-inspired work of the Apostles and Prophets, to whom the Gospel of God has been revealed. The teacher assumes that the students believe the Gospel that is written in the Scriptures. The Teacher is a reader, and the task of teaching is to help students to bring all the skills of reading to bear on the Scriptures. There are times when one has the impression that for Thomas sacra doctrina is nothing more or less than the well-educated reading of Scripture.

There are other texts that the Teacher will present to be read, because they express the faith in the Gospel that unites Christians. They are texts drawn from the Fathers and the Doctors that are recognized in the Church. And the Philosophers have to be read. As you know, Thomas examines carefully the different authority that these different kinds of text have for believers and how that authority relates to the authority of Scripture.

It will seem odd to a certain kind of contemporary theologian, that Thomas does not seem to give any place in sacra doctrina to what would today be called 'documents of the magisterium'. I think his discretion is revealing and is typically Dominican. What we today call the magisterium is, indeed, recognized in q. 1 of the Prima Pars, because the analysis gives a structural place to what Thomas calls the articuli fidei. These are the credal series of statements that sum up in an orderly and synthetic way the reality of the Gospel for those who believe in the Gospel. Thomas gives them scientific status by assigning to them the rôle of principles in sacra doctrina. He makes it clear elsewhere that it is those who hold teaching authority in the Church - the Bishops and the Pope - who authorize the formulation of these articles. But the authority of these articles does not come from those who exercise magisterium but from their intrinsic quality of expressing the revelation that is believed in the Church. The Doctor's task is to manifest that faith, in its logical coherence and intelligibility, as it is lived and transmitted in the Church. The distinction that Thomas makes in Quodlibet 3, q.4, a.1 [9]between the cathedra magistralis of the Teacher and the cathedrea pontificalis of the Bishop makes it clear that the Teacher is meant to rely on scientific skills for presenting the faith of the Church to the minds of believers. There is no trace in Thomas of a conception of sacra doctrina that would make the Teacher dependent at every step on monitoring and prompting and obliging interventions, coming from the cathedra pastoralis. The rôle of the cathedra pastoralis is to make decisive judgements on major issues that threaten, or promote, the Church's communion of faith. One can gather from Thomas that he thinks the cathedra magistralis is normally quite capable of caring for the faith of the Church. It has access to all the relevant authorities that transmit that faith. It has a task that is irreplaceable in the life of the believing community. It has the task of meeting the minds and questions of the young and the new who are forever joining the community of believers. It deals with those questions through a reading of the Scriptures and the traditional literature of the Church in a way that will build up a renewed communion of faith in which those whose new questions might have made them seem outsiders can find a home. This had been Dominic's way. He had seen that Church doctrine had no power to draw people back to communion unless it were talked about and taught as intelligible and truthful, and therefore in a way that could quite often be new. Dominic had been convinced that the communion-restoring force of the Gospel came from within itself and not from a prelacy that imposed it. Thomas gives theoretical coherence to the practice of Dominic.


There is another feature of Thomas's statement about how he sees his task as a Teacher in the Summa, that bears on our catholic education and the place of Theology in it. It concerns the setting of foundations, and the range of thinking that the question of foundations has to take into account. The proposal to make the Gospel, and the Church in which the Gospel is received and taught, the foundation of teaching, could be narrowing and even sectarian. Thomas, like Dominic, was having to address minds that were beginning to be quite different to those formed in what was up to his time traditional Christian faith. He probably did not have any declared heretics among his students. But what he did have were students formed in Faculties of Arts, where they had been exposed to the new learning becoming known in Greek, Arabic and Jewish literature; the Augustinian tradition was having rivals. With this new learning the prospects of a more radical theological pluralism were becoming real. It could now be a pluralism that would call into question the foundational consensus about the Gospel that grounded traditional theological pluralism. Thomas will still look for a common ground of Christian faith, but will recognize that the search must go deeper than heretofore. In art 8 of the first question of the Summa he establishes the different levels of theological discourse that are required to take account of debate when it occurs between Catholic theologians, when it occurs between them and those who are outside the communion of Catholic faith, and when it occurs between believers and those who do not accept any truth beyond what human intelligence can discover.

Thomas's solution to the question of how to ground inter-religious debate and the debate with non-believers will seem simplistic, and even false to some of the people who carry on the contemporary hermeneutical debate. Others will find it still profound and fruitful. That is an argument that must go on, and Thomas would not want it otherwise. But in the meantime, the fact that he faces the issue, and the way he faces it, is, I believe, an important statement of intent and a headline for us who are asking about Dominican approaches to education. We must open our schools to everyone, not just as an exercise of a liberal policy of registration, but as an educational exercise that is prepared to do a speaking of the Gospel that is at the same time a listening to the pluralism of views and perceptions that is going on in the minds of different hearers.

Deus est subiectum huius scientiae

Many learned articles have been written about the first question of the Summa, about what St. Thomas meant by sacra doctrina and about why he put a discussion about it there. My own way of understanding the question is to think of Thomas as doing something that most of us feel the need to do at one time or another in our academic careers - a bit of academic special pleading for our own subject. Taking the university to be a place of science he wants to establish that his own discipline has a legitimate place in that institution. I am inclined to think that his discussion about sacra doctrina being a science is as much a political issue of university curriculum as it is a theoretical question of the philosophy of science. The question is real and practical for all Dominicans - for those who teach theology, but also for the many among us whose expertise and teaching is in secular subjects. All of us believe that in our teaching we are preachers of the Gospel. Our educational tradition, including our involvement in schools and colleges, surely bears out the fact that great numbers of our sisters and brothers have preached the Gospel in teaching secular subjects.

I have already suggested that the phrase ea quae pertinent ad christianam religionem, which Thomas uses to define the scope of the Summa in the Prologue, is a pointer to the huge amount of secular learning that the work contains. The Summa would fall apart without the huge blocks of secular learning that pervade it. I want to look at one such place in the Summa. It is a place where secular learning plays a truly foundational rôle, one which, I believe, shows where secular learning belongs to the preaching of the Gospel, and shows how the preaching of the Gospel would not be achieved, would not be achieved in a Dominican way. without it. It is the question Utrum Deus sit, "Is there a God?"

The Gospel is the Gospel of God. Take the perception of God away from it and it is, indeed, a moving and thought provoking story, but not Gospel. Dominic was a God person - and I believe that the preaching of the Holy Name of God that was developed in our tradition was profoundly Dominican. Thomas says quite firmly that the subject of Theology is none other than God. And God is the first question he deals with after he has had his say about sacra doctrina. For the Gospel, this is the most foundational of all questions. It is what lets the Gospel be itself foundational. The preliminary question about sacra doctrina makes it clear that Thomas is going to be talking to believers about their faith. In question 2 he starts his Theology by saying: "Now see here, sister, brother in the faith: do you really think there is a God; and if there is, how do you know it?". He is being deadly serious. If he cannot come up with a good answer there will be no Gospel to preach.

Thomas answers his question about God in what we call the Five Ways. Bearing in mind my theme and my title I want to say just two things about them. Firstly they are drawn from sciences that would today be called secular. I suspect one could group all the sciences and arts that figure in the curricula of our universities under one of other of the Five Ways. I have never done it, but I think it would be an interesting exercise. Without the sciences - the physical and metaphysical ones, the mathematical and measuring ones, the arts that make things and make sense of beauty and order, the social and political ones that examine the finalities of human existence - the Five Ways are child's play and lead nowhere. For Thomas they are scientific explorations that chart a way to the discovery of there being an ultimate foundation of reality. The foundation has various scientific names, like First Mover. The believer makes the connection: Yes, this is what we believe God to be, so there is a ground in reality for confessing that the God of our faith is really there. The Gospel is not un-grounded nonsense. And it can be preached to those who are using their intelligence scientifically in a way that respects them as intelligent and scientific - as higher education - people, and so welcome them into the community of believers. The Gospel can be foundational for thinking people, coinciding as it does with things that are foundational in the scientific analysis of human experience.

The other thing I want to say about the Five Ways bears on Pluralism. There are five, and therefore a plurality of Ways. Their plurality is at the starting point rather than at what is ended up with. We are familiar with an imaging of Pluralism as the branches of a tree. But roots are also an image of Pluralism. Different starting points swell and grow and draw closer together until eventually they unite in nourishing a single trunk.. The Five Ways are such a pluralism of roots. Different starting points converge on a common affirmation that ensures the foundation of the Gospel, who is God, for thinking people. Each of the Ways is, in fact, nourished by dozens of other roots. These are the findings of the different sciences that feed into the main roots. The connections are as knotty and ugly and unpredictable as any roots can be, and at times some of them do not nourish the tree. Thomas did the best he could with the scientific data and hypotheses available to him. He accepted them in all their secularity and plurality as having something to say to the Gospel of God. He could walk the streets of Paris and look his university colleagues from other faculties straight in the eye, unashamed of his Gospel; he could invite them to find in the Gospel a convergence that would allow them, in all their differences, to be together and to talk together in the community of the Gospel that is the Church.

The centrality of the God question, for faith and for science, is the ultimate reason why Theology must be always present in our Dominican educational activity, and why it must be a Theology that takes all the other branches of education seriously. Theological attention to the God question will help us to know where and how to be Fundamentalist, and where and how to be Pluralist. It will help us to have that objective hold on the Gospel that Dominic had, and to make our educational practice be that of Preachers.


I have mused about what is Dominican by looking back to Dominic and Thomas. I have tried to find in them some pointers to how we might deal with issues of Pluralism and Fundamentalism in our educational activity. I have not attempted to provide specific answers, neither to my own questions about Fribourg, nor still less to the questions you may have about Dominican educational activity in the United States. There are still hermeneutical 'fusions of horizons' to be done. I trust that what I have been saying to you may have given some colour to the Dominican horizon.