Hark, Hark, the Dogs Do Bark: The Catholic Philosophical Tradition and the Future of the West Print
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 20 November 2009 05:29
My brilliant former partner in crime, Fr. Michael Sweeney, OP, was waxing eloquent in Anchorage last month and as always, has lots of intriguing and important things to say.

He does so in the most traditional of Dominican roles: as a begger. Fr. Michael always insisted that the old nursery rhyme "Hark, Hark, the dogs do bark. The beggers are coming to town" really meant "hang on to your wallets, here come the Dom -i -canes" (dogs of the Lord).

It certainly mean that when he was working with the Institute and he is still begging today for the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology which he now serves as President.

Fr. Michael's address is long but worth the read. He is speaking directly to our situation as western Christians facing a western culture that is deeply hostile to our faith and understanding of reality.

"The last great cultural upheaval of the West began, arguably, about five centuries ago. Consider what is afoot in Europe in the year 1500: a new “humanism” focuses upon the individual; the first stirrings of the Protestant reformation are already being felt; the nation states are beginning to take shape, first in France and then elsewhere in Europe; the discovery of the new world and its colonization begin, raising questions of international law and also of human rights (are the North American natives to be regarded as human?); the new-found wealth pouring into Europe causes an inflation of the currency not ever experienced before, and raises commercial and ethical questions concerning inflation, currency and interest.

In the midst of all this Francisco de Vitoria, O.P. assumed the chair of theology at the University of Salamanca where, with the assistance of his Dominican confreres, he began to apply the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas to the challenges of the day. Together they founded what history now knows as the “school of Salamanca”. This was not a school in the sense of a separate institution –they were professors at the University of Salamanca. Rather, it was a school of thought: a common intellectual and scholarly enterprise to address the questions of their day, an initiative that lasted for at least a century, and whose impact is still felt. They articulated the humanism that is integral to the tradition of St. Thomas; in economic theory they introduced the ideas of just price, supply and demand and the scarcity theory of value; they argued, successfully, for the rights of native peoples applying St. Thomas' discussion of the ius gentium and offered the world the first systematic articulation of human rights; they advanced the just war theory, and were the first in history to propound the idea of international law."


Snip.

"Let us dwell for a moment on this point. In the Summa Theologiae St. Thomas asks whether prudence or holiness is to be sought on the part of someone who governs. He answers that prudence, the virtue by which one acts decisively and well in practical matters is the virtue that is proper to the one who governs; holiness adds nothing to right action. I might add, parenthetically, that everyone's experience bears him out: we have all encountered people of great holiness who have not fully mastered a practical approach to life! This has many ramifications today. So, for example, Catholic politicians who recuse themselves in moral questions on the grounds that they cannot represent the tradition in a pluralist society should be held to account, not on the grounds that they are disobedient to the magisterium, but on the grounds that they are negligent of the common good.

The hallmark of the Dominican tradition is to integrate philosophical and theological study both for the sake of advancing the tradition itself and for the sake of applying it, with authority, to contemporary questions. In the Dominican tradition, this is what it means to preach: not merely to exhort the faithful to a holy life, but to put the tradition at their disposal so that they may apply it with authority to contemporary life and therefore to undertake the work of Christ, which is to redeem the world."