Marquette Warrior: Fr. Wild Screws Up History of Aquinas, Called to Account by Student Blog

Friday, May 12, 2006

Fr. Wild Screws Up History of Aquinas, Called to Account by Student Blog

In the most recent issue of Marquette Magazine, Marquette President Fr. Robert Wild defended Marquette’s refusal to fire the very heretical Professor Dan Maguire by making the following historical analogy.
Throughout history, Catholic universities have been asked why they would permit something to be studied or discussed that seemingly contradicts accepted church teaching. I can best respond to that with a story:

Once upon a time there was a Catholic university and at that university was a certain theology professor. He was truly brilliant and he was in touch with all the latest trends both in theology and in other relevant academic disciplines. He began to teach several viewpoints that were unfamiliar to many contemporary Catholics, and soon his name came to the attention of the local bishop. The bishop, disturbed by what he read and heard, began to believe that what this theologian was teaching his students was at odds with traditional Catholic doctrine. With that decided, his duty was clear. He would publicly condemn these teachings as false, an action that would lead, he presumed, to the university removing this professor from the faculty since he was not teaching authentic Catholic doctrine. And so the bishop did. But the university faculty, upon receiving the bishop’s decree of condemnation, refused to expel the theologian from their membership since they were not convinced by the bishop’s arguments and believed that decisions about faculty membership were theirs alone to make.

That sounds so much like what we hear from time to time these days, doesn’t it? But in fact these events took place in 1270; the bishop was the then archbishop of Paris, Étienne Tempier; the university was the University of Paris; and the theologian in question was Thomas of Aquino, better known as St. Thomas Aquinas.

Ironically, the supposedly heterodox theologian that Thomas was thought to be, not only by his archbishop but also by other contemporary Catholics, became recognized over time as perhaps the greatest of all Catholic theologians. All of which is a helpful reminder that the debates we have about the Catholicity of our universities are not at all a new thing in the life of the church.
So what’s the problem with this? Quite simply, it isn’t true.

Brian Collar of the GOP3.COM blog consulted a couple of bona fide Aquinas experts, who explained how Wild got it all screwed up.

Dr. John S. Grabowski of the Catholic University points out that the “condemnation” came three years after Aquinas died. The Bishop did condemn some propositions that at least sounded like some of the things that Aquinas taught. But Aquinas was not named by the Bishop, and the faculty could hardly defend the job of somebody who was dead.

Grabowski adds:
it is highly misleading to compare the innovation of St. Thomas who harmonized Augustinian theology with a newly re-introduced Aristotelian philosophy to Dan Maguire who has repudiated very authoritative and solemnly defined Church doctrine (such as the evil of direct abortion—cf. Evangelium Vitae, no. 62). In this regard Fr. Wild should know better. There simply is no parallel.
Collar also went to his Philosophy 104 professor, a fellow named Michael Jordan (yes, that’s right). Jordan pointed out that Aquinas as instrumental in opposing one heterdox movement of his day:
St. Thomas was recalled to the University of Paris for a second term (1268) in order to combat the Latin Averroists, most notably, Siger of Brabant and his followers.
As to whether Acquinas can be compared with Maguire, Jordan observed:
Whereas the teachings of St. Thomas later received the imprimatur from Bishop Tempier’s successor, I don’t think that Maguire will be receiving the Church’s imprimatur for his teachings on the non-divinity of Christ, permissibility of abortion, and other of his sundry doctrines.
While we don’t happen to agree with the guys at GOP3 that Maguire should be fired, it really does look bad when the President of Marquette University mangles history in an attempt to defend the institution’s policy.

Indeed, the form e-mail that the University sends out to people who write to complain about Maguire being on the faculty is cogent and well-reasoned.

Perhaps the PR people need to start fact checking Wild’s pronouncements before they publish them.


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