Vatican Official Considers Aquinas' Comeback

Recalls How Morality Was Scorned in the 60s

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By Antonio Gaspari

ROME, DEC. 3, 2008 ( Moral theology based on St. Thomas Aquinas is among one of theology’s most popular branches today, says a Vatican official, but this popularity has come about only after decades of disdain.

Archbishop Jean Louis Bruguès, secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education, spoke about his journey with moral theology when he delivered an address at a conference last Friday in Rome, which marked the 30th anniversary of the St. Thomas Aquinas International Society.

Archbishop Bruguès contended that «after May of ’68, moral theology, at least in France, fell into profound neglect.»

«During two years, the seminarians of Toulouse received no classes on this subject, considered disagreeable and boring, as no one was found who was willing to teach them,» he said. It fell to then Father Bruguès, a young priest with a doctorate in morality, to take up these courses.

The prelate recalled that his spiritual assistant, Father Michel Labourdette, tried to encourage him with these words: «You are concerned with a subject that today is disparaged, but have patience: The day will come when it will be envied by others.»

Indeed, Archbishop Bruguès noted, by the beginning of the 80s, many issues referring to ecology and the development of medical techniques began to be at the center of attention of bioethics.

«So, from one day to another, ethicists — that dreadful neologism coined to avoid saying ‘moralist,’ as the word ‘morality’ still caused fear — were in demand everywhere,» he said. «My professor had understood [the situation] well. Moral theology was becoming the most appreciated subject, the only branch of theology that was really taken into account in a secularized society.»

Archbishop Bruguès pointed out that in the 60s students were characterized by an essentially critical mentality.

«The very idea of making reference to the masters of Tradition stirred in them allergic reactions,» he quipped. «It was impossible even to mention the name of Thomas Aquinas: One ran the risk of having people plug their ears.»

Father Labourdette also offered advice in this regard, the Vatican official remembered, encouraging him to «always teach [Aquinas] but without mentioning his name.»

«Hence, for years I practiced so to speak an ‘amphibious Thomism,» recalled the archbishop, until «finally, one day […] they asked me for classes on the moral theology of St. Thomas: The time of ‘clandestine’ Thomism had ended.»

Archbishop Bruguès commented that «the generation of May ’68, which described itself as critical, rejected the transmission of Christian culture and tradition. The following generation was practically deprived of any Christian culture — it knew that it didn’t know. This led to not sharing the prejudices of their predecessors; now we can start again and share the great masters.»

The prelate proposed the Catechism of the Catholic Church as the text that best reflects this change.

The «Catechism is based on a conviction that further reflection is necessary: The great institutions of St. Thomas’ morality are the best instrument of critical dialogue with modernity,» continued the secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education.

«The theory of virtue will stimulate a renewal of moral theology,» he affirmed, and thus «the teaching of moral theology stemming from the great institutions of Thomism, still has a luminous future before it.»

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