Thomas International Center Mission
The goal of the Thomas International Center is a broad one: cultural renewal in light of the Western and Christian intellectual traditions. This broad goal is made concrete in more specific objectives, focused especially on the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area, which include:
• first, working with students at nationally-renowned universities (such as Duke University, the University of North Carolina, and North Carolina State University), to help them achieve a more integrated education, drawing on the classical and Christian heritage of Western civilization;
• second, promoting scholarship in the classical and Christian intellectual tradition, especially as represented by Thomas Aquinas, which offers a sound framework for addressing the many social problems we face in our world today; and
• third, sponsoring programs open to the public to clarify important issues facing our society, especially in light of the principles of classical and Christian Western civilization and the American founding.
Walking the Path of Tradition
The Thomistic Tradition
Aquinas and the Contemporary World
The Special Place of Thomas Aquinas in the Catholic Intellectual Tradition
“A quite special place in this long development belongs to Saint Thomas, not only because of what he taught but also because of the dialogue which he undertook with the Arab and Jewish thought of his time. In an age when Christian thinkers were rediscovering the treasures of ancient philosophy, and more particularly of Aristotle, Thomas had the great merit of giving pride of place to the harmony which exists between faith and reason. Both the light of reason and the light of faith come from God, he argued; hence there can be no contradiction between them.
More radically, Thomas recognized that nature, philosophy's proper concern, could contribute to the understanding of divine Revelation. Faith therefore has no fear of reason, but seeks it out and has trust in it. Just as grace builds on nature and brings it to fulfillment, so faith builds upon and perfects reason. Illumined by faith, reason is set free from the fragility and limitations deriving from the disobedience of sin and finds the strength required to rise to the knowledge of the Triune God. Although he made much of the supernatural character of faith, the Angelic Doctor did not overlook the importance of its reasonableness; indeed he was able to plumb the depths and explain the meaning of this reasonableness. Faith is in a sense an “exercise of thought”; and human reason is neither annulled nor debased in assenting to the contents of faith, which are in any case attained by way of free and informed choice.
This is why the Church has been justified in consistently proposing Saint Thomas as a master of thought and a model of the right way to do theology. In this connection, I would recall what my Predecessor, the Servant of God Paul VI, wrote on the occasion of the seventh centenary of the death of the Angelic Doctor: “Without doubt, Thomas possessed supremely the courage of the truth, a freedom of spirit in confronting new problems, the intellectual honesty of those who allow Christianity to be contaminated neither by secular philosophy nor by a prejudiced rejection of it. He passed therefore into the history of Christian thought as a pioneer of the new path of philosophy and universal culture. The key point and almost the kernel of the solution which, with all the brilliance of his prophetic intuition, he gave to the new encounter of faith and reason was a reconciliation between the secularity of the world and the radicality of the Gospel, thus avoiding the unnatural tendency to negate the world and its values while at the same time keeping faith with the supreme and inexorable demands of the supernatural order.”
John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, 43
Aquinas is the cornerstone of Catholic thought, not just for his doctrine, but for his fidelity and prayer; for his constant and humble attitude of inclusion instead of exclusion—always open both to the truths coming from the faith and to those coming from every other thinker and tradition. He did not create a closed philosophical or theological system that would exclude truths from other sources; rather, he was always ready to welcome new philosophical insights, and to see the constant need for finding harmony between them and the Catholic tradition.
Aquinas is the model of Catholic thinkers also because he was an authentic citizen of his time: the Medieval Renaissance. He traveled all around the XIII-century European world and participated in the most difficult political, legal, and ethical debates in his culture. Due to his exceptional problem-solving capacity, he was asked for advice regarding difficult political missions and legal tasks. Indeed, his knowledge of law and politics matched his knowledge of theology and philosophy. Today, in a culture that has lost unity of knowledge and is far from being universal; in a society that has to face the new challenges of relativism and nihilism, on the one hand, and of globalization, on the other, Aquinas’s life and thought set the right direction for a revival of truth in ethics and metaphysics.
The Thomistic Tradition
Since the 13th century, Aquinas’ spirit lived on through the centuries in other exceptional people who not only studied what he wrote, but incarnated his same love for God and for “the world and its values;” people with the same “courage of the truth,” “freedom of spirit in confronting new problems,” and “the intellectual honesty of those who allow Christianity to be contaminated neither by secular philosophy nor by a prejudiced rejection of it;” people who pass as well “into the history of Christian thought” as pioneers of the new paths of “philosophy and universal culture” (Fides et Ratio, 43). These men and women have kept Aquinas alive for many generations and for other generations to come. They connect the past to the future by leaving behind them, not just their priceless writings, but also many good students and young scholars trained in fidelity to the faith, intellectual freedom, and open mindedness. In recent history, we can think of Cornelio Fabro, Etienne Gilson, and Jacques Maritain. These “Thomists” have always had greater love for the tradition than for themselves: they have looked to each other, respected each other, worked with each other.
Aquinas and the Contemporary World
The renewal of Thomistic studies in the contemporary world starts with philosophy and theology but it cannot be limited to them. Neither can it be limited to one country and to one language, nor to just Thomists and Catholics. The thought and spirit of Aquinas needs to be spread throughout the world and in all branches of human knowledge, beliefs and activities.
The renewal of Thomistic studies in the contemporary world means recovering the unity of knowledge and creating a wide international community of intellectuals and professionals working in all fields and disciplines. Sometimes philosophers and theologians speak a language that scientists, politicians, economists, lawyers, sociologists, etc., do not understand. Sometimes the former do not have clear and reasonable answers to the questions of the latter. It is intrinsic to the authentic nature of Thomistic studies to foster a constant dialogue with contemporary culture and science.
The Thomas International Center aims at promoting a strong and accurate rereading of Aquinas’ philosophy and theology but, at the same time, it aims at making Aquinas’ thought fruitfully converse with contemporary culture, especially in the areas of bioethics, legal theory, economics, political theory, literature, science, and sociology.