St Thomas Aquinas as a Model of Happiness

A Sermon Preached at the Katholische Hochschule ITI on the Feast of St Thomas Aquinas, Trumau, January 28th, 2023

I called upon God, and the spirit of wisdom came upon me: And I preferred her before kingdoms and thrones, and esteemed riches nothing in comparison of her. (Wisdom 7:7-8)

The Greek historian Herodotus recounts that Solon, the lawgiver of Athens, travelled through the world and saw many things. On travelling through Asia Minor, he visited the fabulously wealthy king Croesus of Lydia. Croesus had his servants show off his many treasures to Solon. Then Croesus asked Solon who the happiest man whom Solon has seen in all his travels might be, expecting that Solon will say that none is happier than Croesus himself. Solon, however, answered that Tellus the Athenian was the happiest, for he lived at a time when his city prospered, he had excellent sons and grandsons, and he died at last a glorious death fighting for his city. Rather surprised, Croesus asks him who the second happiest of men might be, expecting to at least get the second prize. But Solon answers that two Argive athletes, the brothers Cleobis and Biton, were the next happiest. These two had achieved a great feat of strength that gave great honor to their mother, she prayed to the gods that they might receive the greatest gift that mortals can receive. The gods heard her prayer and granted her sons the gift of death. Solon explains to Croesus that we should call no man happy until he has reached his end (telos), because only then is he out of reach of the capricious cruelty of the jealous gods. Whoever is lucky enough to escape misfortunes in life, and to prosper and see his city and his relatives prosper, and then die before his blessings can be snatched away from him: this is a happy man.[1]

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Pope Benedict XVI

In the latest episode of The Josias Podcast we reflect with gratitude on the life, death, and writings of Pope Benedict XVI. Urban Hannon and I also recount going to his funeral in Rome.

I also take the opportunity to read from my favorite book of Ratzinger’s, a small volume based on a retreat that he preached to priests of the Communion and Liberation Movement, entitled The Yes of Jesus Christ: Spiritual Exercises in Faith, Hope, and Love. It is one of Ratzinger’s most Thomistic books, being inspired in part by his re-reading of Josef Pieper’s trilogy on the theological virtues. The part on hope is particularly brilliant, anticipating some of the key points of by favorite of his encyclicals: Spe Salvi, but expressed with even greater simplicity and directness. The initial chapter on faith is also very good.

Here is the quote that I read on the Podcast:

[What] seems to be important is that the greatness of soul of the human vocation reaches beyond the individual aspect of human existence and cannot be squashed back into the merely private sphere. A society that turns what is specifically human into something purely private and defines itself in terms of a complete secularity (which moreover inevitably becomes a pseudo-religion and a new all-embracing system that enslaves people)—this kind of society will of its nature be sorrowful, a place of despair: it rests on a diminution of human dignity. A society whose public order is consistently determined by agnosticism is not a society that has become free but a society that has despaired, marked by the sorrow of man who is fleeing from God and in contradiction with himself. A Church that did not have the courage to underline the public status of its image of man would no longer be the salt of the earth, the light of the world, the city set on a hill.

Ratzinger Conference in Steubenville

I just attended a conference on the Josef Ratzinger’s/ Pope Benedict XVI’s theology of the Church in Steubenville, jointly organized by the Holy See’s Josef Ratzinger Foundation and Franciscan University of Steubenville (October 20th-21st). The conference was lively and extremely thought provoking, with a large number of scholars, of various schools of thought, addressing all aspects of Ratzinger’s ecclesial theology.

Fr. Lombardi reads the Pope Emeritus’s letter to the conference

The highlight of the conference came right at the start, when Father Federico Lombardi, SJ, of the Joseph Ratzinger Foundation reading a letter that the Pope Emeritus sent to the conference. The letter is a notable document of Ratzinger’s memory of Vatican II and its background. He wrote about the situation after World War I in Germany, recalling Guardini’s famous dictum about the Church awakening in souls. I could not help wondering, what Vatican II would have been like had it been held in the interwar period, with the strongly anti-individualistic, corporatist ethos of those days. Pope Benedict went on to discuss his own work on Augustine’s City of God after World War II. He sees that work, and the great Augustine Conference in Paris in 1954 as being essentially in continuity with the interwar “awakening of the Church,” but there are of course significant differences, to do (in part) with the anti-authoritarian reaction of the postwar period. In any event, Pope Benedict emphasized the way the new interpretation of Augustine to which he contributed decisively broke with the liberal reading of Augustine found, for example, in Heinrich Scholz. This was certainly an important achievement. Pope Benedict also, however, reiterated his acceptance of the Paris Conference’s rejection of medieval political Augustinianism’s interpretation of Augustine (a rejection that I myself find somewhat questionable).

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Upcoming Visit to the US

I am going to be traveling to the States soon.

On October 20th I will be presenting a paper entitled “Hierarchy and Synodality: Ratzinger and the Anti-Authoritarianism of Post-War German Theology” at the Ratzinger Conference in Steubenville.

And on October 28th I will be giving a lecture entitled “Universal Predicates and Universal Causes” at St John’s College in Annapolis.

It would be splendid to see any of you, readers, at either event.

St Thérèse and the Contemplative Heart of the Intellectual Life

A Sermon Preached at the Katholische Hochschule ITI on the Feast of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face, Trumau, October 1st, 2022. PDF.

Yesterday we already anticipated the Feast of St Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face. And today we celebrate again fittingly giving our patroness a double Feast. From the very beginning of the ITI, her holy countenance has watched over us with generous and benevolent love.

When the ITI was first planted, like a delicate seedling,[1] it more than once seemed that it would wither and fail. On each occasion, the intercession of St Thérèse saved us. For example, one occasion, when the ITI was about to be closed for lack of funds. The president was in America, making a last-ditch effort to find enough donations to keep the Institute going. The students prayed a novena to St Thérèse. And then, quite unexpectedly, help came from St Thérèse’s own country, from France, from Monsieur Michelin, the pious industrialist— a generous gift that kept the ITI in existence.

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Praise God

Thanks be to God for the overturning of Roe vs Wade. Abortion is one of the great evils of our time. As Pope St. John Paul II put it:

The moral gravity of procured abortion is apparent in all its truth if we recognize that we are dealing with murder and, in particular, when we consider the specific elements involved. The one eliminated is a human being at the very beginning of life. No one more absolutely innocent could be imagined. In no way could this human being ever be considered an aggressor, much less an unjust aggressor! He or she is weak, defenceless, even to the point of lacking that minimal form of defence consisting in the poignant power of a newborn baby’s cries and tears. The unborn child is totally entrusted to the protection and care of the woman carrying him or her in the womb. And yet sometimes it is precisely the mother herself who makes the decision and asks for the child to be eliminated, and who then goes about having it done.

Evangelium Vitae 58

Many innocent human beings will be saved from murder through the Court’s decision. Thank God!

I want to take this opportunity of eating a bit of humble pie: In 2016 I wrote that Catholics were mistaken who were voting for Donald Trump in the hope that he would appoint justices to the Supreme Court who would overturn Roe. I thought such strategic votes mistaken, because I did not expect the calculation to come off: I did not expect Trump to appoint judges who would actually overturn the decision. Well, those voters were right and I was wrong. Trump’s appointments to the Court were indeed key to attaining this long hoped-for victory.

Even if this victory is only a first step, it will surely save countless innocent lives, and will give hope for the continued struggle against the great evil of our times.