Thomas Aquinas College is founded on two traditions: that of the Great Books and that of Catholic Education. Dr. Glen Coughlin, then the College dean, wrote in his 2001 Report on Instruction that the College is “committed to the proposition which animates all of truly Catholic liberal education …“faith seeking understanding.” St. Anselm used this phrase, fides quarens intellectum, in his Proslogion (which Sophomores will read this semester), to describe the relationship between human intellect and divine wisdom, between faith and reason. Theology is an attempt to articulate God’s ways in human words, but it is successful only to the extent that the theologian believes in the Faith. Pope Benedict (who better than most understood the relation of faith to reason) instituted our Year of Faith to underscore that faith is indispensable to the higher acts of the human intellect.
So declares our First Reading from the book of Wisdom. “The deliberations of mortals are timid, … the earthen shelter weighs down the mind.” You may experience this later tonight, in the library, as you try to get through your 80 pages of philosophy for tomorrow’s seminar. You will be tired, and hungry, and distracted, and homesick (some of you), and it will be hard to study. “Scarce do we guess the things on earth,” continues our reading, “and what is within our grasp we find with difficulty”—mathematics, astronomy, physics, and all the natural sciences, which are relatively simple, measurable, sensible—even these we must toil at. “But when things are in heaven, who can search them out … except you had given wisdom?” The highest discoveries of the intellect come only through God’s revelation.
Faith: A superior act of the intellect
Pope Francis in his first encyclical, Lumen fidei, says faith is an act of the intellect superior to that of unaided human reason, because it is illuminated not merely by empirical observation, but by love. Mother Teresa, for example, aided by her faith in the Love of God, understood reality on a grander scale than those who analyze things only in terms of power and economics. She could see the broader connections, the “mega-stories,” the deepest relationships between things and peoples. This kind of understanding is not achieved by men but given by God. And that is why Thomas Aquinas College spends great effort developing the student’s understanding of faith as well their understanding of intellect. Without faith, our intellects are hamstrung.
Only All for Jesus
In the Gospel, Jesus insists on the absolute primacy of God above every other created being. He goes so far as to say that we must “hate” our mother and father in order to love Him, and even hate ourselves. He uses sharp Semitic overstatement to press home his point: nothing must come before the things of God. Should my own mother mean more to me than God, I must “hate” her, that is, crucify my attachment to her. It is not my mother I hate, but my own disordered attachment to her that I hate. My own ways—my own “counsels” apart from God’s counsel—leads only to chaos and disappointment, and ultimately to death. Mother Teresa told her sisters that we must be “only all for Jesus,” and “nothing and nobody” must come between us and God.
This primacy of God’s wisdom over human wisdom bears on the current question of a military strike against Syria. Yesterday our College held a holy hour for the people of Syria, at just the time Pope Francis was holding his prayer vigil in Rome. 100,000 people prayed from 7pm to midnight in St. Peter’s Square, begging God to guide the deliberations of men in this difficult situation. God’s Church teaches that war must be a last resort, after all possible diplomatic negotiations have failed. War is an evil so great that scarcely any other evil justifies it. If men use only their own intellects, however, they will frequently resort to war; if men use their intellects assisted by God’s counsels, war will be a relatively rare occurrence in human history.
In 1991, both Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa begged the elder President Bush to refrain from war with Iraq. “War is always a failure,” the Pope wrote. In 2003, John Paul pleaded with the younger President Bush not to attack Bagdad. Three days ago Pope Francis pleaded with President Obama to refrain from attacking Syria. He wrote to the twenty richest nations meeting at the G20 summit in Moscow last week: “please lay aside the futile pursuit of a military solution.” He went on to say that the leaders of the G20 “cannot remain indifferent to the dramatic situation of the beloved Syrian people.” For a man of faith, the 6 million refugees and 110,000 dead are, each one of them, “beloved.” Only love can see the human faces in war; only faith can illuminate the intellect towards a real solution in difficult conflicts. Human reason must submit itself to the corrective influence of faith in order to succeed. For his part, Syrian President Assad is ready to pit his country against the entire American military, effectively using his own citizens as human shields in a futile and ridiculous attempt to maintain his own petty power.
Syria cannot win this war, but neither can the American Military. Everyone will lose if we depend on mere human intelligence to solve this problem. Only the intellect informed by faith and charity can see the path to a real solution.
Our Lady, Queen of Peace
Today, September 8, is the feast of the Birth of Mary, although because it is Sunday we don’t celebrate it this year. Our Lady is the Queen of Peace, the Mother of the Prince of Peace. Her Immaculate Heart understood what the human mind, crippled by original Sin, can never understand. Let us submit ourselves to her Heart, perfectly in accord with God’s Sacred Heart. Her wisdom is God’s wisdom; her love is his love. Without God, and his Holy Mother, humanity is condemned to destroy itself, as history has repeatedly shown.