SASKATOON — A Foundations: Exploring Our Faith series underway in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon is focused on several Great Catholic Thinkers.
Dr. Jordan Olver, a recent PhD graduate from the University of St. Thomas Centre for Thomistic Studies in Houston, Tex., presented the first session.
The series opened Sept. 29 with a presentation about the life and philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, a brilliant thinker and profoundly influential theologian of the 13th century recognized as a Doctor of the Church — a title given to those providing particularly important insights into doctrine or theology.
Olver opened his talk with a quotation from Aquinas: “Better to illuminate than merely to shine.” In the discussion that followed, participants determined that the words indicate a strong belief in the importance of contemplating truths and sharing them with others, shining light on the glory of God, rather than simply pursuing or holding on to truth for one’s own benefit.
“This is closely connected to St. Thomas Aquinas’ own activity as a teacher,” said Olver.
Introducing Aquinas in the context of his time and place, Olver explored his personality and life story, before diving into the writings, thought and influence of the Dominican friar known both as “the Dumb Ox” (probably because he was a large, quiet man), and “the Angelic Doctor” (recognizing his great brilliance and faith).
St. Thomas Aquinas held that philosophy and reason benefit theology, and used Aristotle and his methods to discover truths. Aquinas explored Christian revelation through rational insights and argument while also recognizing that some theological truths exceed a human being’s reason, and that faith and charity are also needed to achieve wisdom.
Aquinas maintained that “there are certain elements of faith that can be proved through reason and philosophy, and some that can’t,” said Olver.
Summa Theologica is his masterpiece of theological thought and writing, and the saint also wrote reflections and hymns, such as Pange Lingua, written for the feast of Corpus Christi, related Olver.
He also described how, after a spiritual experience at prayer, Aquinas said everything he had written “now seems like straw.” He died in March 1274 after sustaining a head injury en route to the second Council of Lyons.
Not everyone was in agreement with all that Aquinas wrote, noted Olver. “Aquinas didn’t become the common teacher of Catholic faith right away.”
However, in subsequent years, the philosophy, writings and thought of St. Thomas Aquinas exerted enormous influence on the theology of the Catholic Church. Thomistic thought eventually was used as the core of studies undertaken by priests or those studying Catholic theology, he noted.
Olver then walked participants through Aquinas’ arguments for proving the existence of God, and presented several discussion questions to consider the saint’s teachings.
The Great Catholic Thinkers series continued Oct. 6 with a look at another Doctor of the Church, St. Augustine of Hippo, led by Dr. Christopher Hrynkow, assistant professor in the department of religion and culture at St. Thomas More College in Saskatoon, where he also contributes to the minors in Catholic studies and in social justice and the common good.
Augustine’s writings and philosophy have greatly influenced the church and western civilization for millennia, and it would be hard to say whether he or Aquinas was the greatest influence, said Hrynkow.
Entitled A Restless Heart’s Contribution to Catholic Thought, Hrynkow’s talk included a description of the faithfulness of the mother of St. Augustine of Hippo, St. Monica, who prayed for 20 years that her son would return to the Catholic faith.
Hrynkow described the life of Augustine, who was the son of a Roman pagan father and a Christian mother, born in North Africa, raised in the Catholic faith, but who left the church at the age of 19, taking a mistress, fathering a son and exploring various faiths and heretical sects before converting back to Christianity some 20 years later, being baptized in 387. He was a professor of rhetoric and a brilliant thinker.
Like Aquinas, Augustine of Hippo drew upon the works of philosophers to enhance understanding of the world and of Christine doctrine.
“Augustine baptizes Plato, as Aquinas baptizes Aristotle,” Hrynkow said.
Confessions is Augustine’s personal account of his early life and conversion — and a remarkable document that serves as one of the first examples of autobiography in the western world, said Hrynkow.
In Confessions, the saint addresses God with the words: “You move us to delight in praising You; for You have formed us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in You” — a summary of the longings that are part of human experience for so many over the centuries, Hrynkow said.
With the Roman Empire declining — and some blaming Christianity — Augustine developed the concept of the Catholic Church as the City of God, as opposed to an earthly city. His writing was grounded in the doctrines that were addressed at the Council of Nicaea and the Council of Constantinople.
Augustine’s thoughts on the doctrine of God’s grace, on predestination, on original sin and on the fall continue to echo in the Christian worldview and among different Christian denominations, said Hrynkow, taking participants through some of the saint’s philosophy and thinking, especially as outlined in The City of God.
Hrynkow also led a session about Dorothy Day Oct. 27, mapping her contributions to Catholic thought and practice.
Other Upcoming sessions in the series will include a presentation on the theology of Rev. Karl Rahner, SJ, with guest speaker Bishop Emeritus Gerald Wiesner at 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 17, at the Cathedral of the Holy Family in Saskatoon. Blake Sittler, MDiv, will introduce the theology of Hans Urs von Balthazar in the final session of the series at 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 24, also at the cathedral.
Foundations: Exploring Our Faith Together is one of the ministries supported by the Bishop’s Annual Appeal in the Diocese of Saskatoon.