August 29, 2020

A Philosophy Class

“Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.”

John Paul II, Fides et Ratio

As part of our program of continuing formation, we were blessed to welcome Fr. Anselm Rodriguez, O.Praem, from St. Michael’s Abbey in California, to Casa Maria during the week of August 10-15 to teach us a course entitled “Introduction to Philosophy: Themes in Aquinas.”

Just as a bird needs two wings to fly, man needs both faith and reason to soar to the truth.  As Christians, we are blessed with God’s Revelation, the contents of our Faith to which we adhere by the gift of faith.  But faith does not exclude man’s reason; rather, since grace builds upon nature, the two work in harmony to provide an accurate understanding of reality; therefore, each is indispensable in our flight to heaven.

The teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas, called by the Church the “Common Doctor” (meaning, a master teacher in every respect: prayer, doctrine, morality, etc..), presents a most perfect balance and harmonization of both faith and reason.  In the three-fold division of all things knowable, Theology studies the order which God has revealed to reason, the speculative sciences study the order discovered by reason, and the practical sciences study the order produced by reason. While we regularly study Theology, this week was an immersion in St. Thomas’s philosophy (the speculative and practical sciences) which builds upon the wisdom of Aristotle to examine reality according to reason alone.

Philosophy is defined as an account of the ultimate causes of things according to reason, and seeks to give explanations for our common experiences, answering the question “why?”  The study of philosophy is not something reserved to the elite few. Instead, it is accessible to all, perfective of our human nature, and good in itself.

Lectures sparked many lively discussions regarding the application of philosophy in daily life!

We spent much of our time on the speculative science called natural philosophy, examining knowledge gained through the senses.  This included the principles and causes (explanations) of nature, coming to know God’s existence through reason, and the philosophy of man with a special emphasis on the powers of the soul.

After discovering the nature of man, we examined the practical science called ethics, which seeks both to identify man’s ultimate end (or purpose), and to determine the best means to reach that end.  After arriving at the conclusion that man is made for happiness, which is the activity of contemplating God by means of virtue, we took a brief survey of the different kind of virtues and the best means of acquiring them.

Father Anselm, ordained in June, celebrated a solemn Mass of Thanksgiving at Casa Maria and imparted to each sister his first Priestly blessing. This was a tremendous joy for us!

Why should Religious Sisters study philosophy?  Philosophy, in addition to being good in itself, and perfective of our human nature, is known as the “handmaid of Theology,” for Theological truths are better apprehended when built upon the solid foundation of philosophy. The Church values the philosophy of St. Thomas so much that priestly candidates study it for several years before diving into Theology.  Additionally, philosophy is useful for apologetics, for in a world so confused about the nature and purpose of man, it equips one to defend basic truths by reason alone to those without faith.

We are immensely grateful for this week and pray that it may bear abundant fruit in our lives and in the lives of those we serve.

For an accessible introduction to the Theological and philosophical thought of St. Thomas Aquinas, we recommend “My Way of Life” by Fr. Walter Farrell, OP, and Fr. Martin Healy, available from our bookstore.