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There is a connection between Holiness and Doing Theology

Interview Dr. T. Weinandy ofm cap. Greyfriars Oxford
Thomas Aquinas occupies an important place in your books. How did you discover Thomas?

I first came across Thomas Aquinas when I was an undergraduate at a capuchin seminary north of Pittsburgh and it was mainly in philosophical contexts that I met him: in the history of philosophy, epistemology, metaphysics. It was through the work of E. Gilson that I saw the philosophical importance of Thomas, his insistence on 'esse is act', on God as pure act. I did my doctorate with E.L. Mascal, King's College, London, and he was also very interested in Thomas' philosophy. So my first encounter with Thomas was linked to the thomistic revival in the work of Maritain, Gilson, Mascall. What I am trying to do now, is to carry over that type of philosophical analysis in the theological realm.

But why the dominican Thomas as your discussion partner? Would it not be more obvious for you as Franciscan to read theologians from your Franciscan tradition like Bonaventure or Scotus?

To my mind, Aquinas always had the better answers to the crucial question. He was clear and precise and I discovered that in the end I always went with him. He helps me in my thinking.

How do you see Thomas, do you treat Thomas?

Primarily as a man of faith, and therefore a person I can go to and a safe person to go to. We share basically the same faith. But he is also important as a representative of the catholic tradition and as a catholic theologian I have to take his work into account. I treat him as a discussion partner. I do not expect all the answers from him and I do not follow him always. I am sometimes quite critical, go a different way or develop his ideas further. In 'Does God change?' for example I have made, I think, his concept of relationship more coherent.

You stress that Thomas is a man of faith, is it important to you that he is a saint?

Yes. Like other doctors of the church he is first a saint. Only saints become doctors of the church. Aquinas, Bonaventure, Augustine could not have written their theology if they had not been saints. There is a connection between holiness and doing theology. The problem today is that many bright people are doing theology, but it is not always the theology of saints. Aquinas wrote out of his prayer. I think, prayer is part of doing theology. And see to often now a divorce between the two. If you want to be read for 200 years, you had better be a saint.

In your book 'In the likeness of all flesh' you say that you want to go beyond Thomas and go back to the biblical data. Do you see Thomas' theology as not so biblical or do you mean that he has overlooked some data?

I think Thomas is a biblical theologian: the biblical data certainly gave rise to his doctrinal thoughts. His biblical commentaries are read too little. But the biblical data are obvious to him and that is the difference with us, with the current situation. I have become more and more 'biblical' in my thinking. 'Does God change?' is mostly philosophical in inspiration and style, but the origins of the other books are insights I got from reading Scripture.

The topics you discuss are not exactly popular, or to put it perhaps better, you do not defend fashionable points of view. Why this prevalence and this stance?

Not because I have some general view of theology. I work theme-oriented: I take a point and develop that. When I defend that God does not change or does not suffer, as I do in the book that I just finished, I take a defensive or apologetic stance because I want to defend the catholic tradition and defend it against wrong interpretations. At the same time I want to promote a better understanding, I want to present what is given in the tradition in a better, more appealing way. That is the 'evangelistic' side of it. The themes are, as I said, inspired by reading Scripture and the decision to take up a theme and develop it is not just because it is a nice insight, but because is radically new and of major importance. 'In the likeness of sinful flesh' deals with a major theme from christology, touching upon the whole view we have of the incarnation: Christ has not accepted the sinful flesh in becoming man, how can it be put to death, as Paul claims in Rom. 6? And 'The Father's Spirit of Sonship' deals with the relationship between Son and Spirit and consequently with the relationships in the Trinity. I hope that my proposal to reconceive the Trinity is also helpful in the discussions between east and west. But you see, I am not just a conservative staying with the tradition. I get attacked from both sides: 'too traditional' and 'not traditional enough', so I guess there must be something right in what I am saying. I see myself as producing both old and new.

Herwi Rikhof