Friday, July 9, 2010

Pope Benedict on St. Thomas Aquinas

When it comes to Pope Benedict and St. Thomas Aquinas, the general impression is that the two don't get along. Ratzinger has referred to himself as a "decided Augustinian" and that "from the beginning, St. Augustine interested me very much -- precisely insofar as he was, so to speak, a counterweight to Thomas Aquinas" (Salt of the Earth: The Church at the End of the Millennium p. 33 and p. 60), and that if he were trapped on a deserted island, his two choice picks would be the Holy Bible and the Confessions.

As John Allen Jr. notes in Pope Benedict XVI: A Biography of Joseph Ratzinger, his gravitation towards Augustine rather than the Angelic Doctor was itself "a minor act of rebellion ... a bit daring, though in keeping with the intellectual ferment [of ressourcement theology] in the pre-Vatican II era."

And in his own personal memoirs, Milestones, we find Ratzinger's admission that:

This encounter with personalism [in the thought of Martin Buber] was for me a spiritual experience that left an essential mark, especially since I spontaneously associated such personalism with the thought of St. Augustine, who in his Confessions had struck me with the power of all of his human passion and depth. By contrast, I had difficulty penetrating the thought of Thomas Aquinas, whose crystal-clear logic seemed to me to be too closed in on itself, too impersonal and ready-made.
Howbeit Ratzinger clarifies his remark by attributing his difficulties to "a rigid, neoscholastic Thomism that was simply too far afield from my own questions.")

In recent general audiences, the Pope turned his attention to the subject of St. Thomas Aquinas. Given that he has been devoting such occasions to exploring a good number of church fathers, theologians and saints throughout Church history, this may not be indicative of the Pope's support for a restoration of Thomism to the seminaries, as Rusty Reno speculates -- but in light of the (often overplayed) opposition between Benedict's Augustinianism and "neo-scholastic Thomism", those who appreciate the Pope and "The Dumb Ox" can't help but take notice:

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