“Thomas Aquinas and Church Fathers”

Thomas Aquinas and the Greek Fathers, January 26-27, 2018

On January 26-27, 2018 an international conference was held at the Ave Maria University in Ave Maria, Florida (USA), organized by The Aquinas Center for Theological Renewal at Ave Maria University and The Thomistic Institute in Washington D.C. The conference, entitled “Thomas Aquinas and the Greek Fathers” aimed at exploring and analyzing the renewed interest in the Greek Church Fathers as an important source of St. Thomas’ thought. For St. Thomas, the study of Sacred Scripture as the “soul of theology” (Vatican II, Dei Verbum 6), is inextricably connected to the study of the Church Fathers: “One not only has to conserve what has been given in Sacred Scriptures but also what has been said by the saintly Doctors who have conserved Sacred Scripture in its integrity.” (In Div. Nom. 2, l. 1, no. 125).

It has long been argued that Aquinas both had a remarkable knowledge of a wide range of the Greek Church Fathers but also that he was actively engaged in acquiring new material from hitherto unknown Fathers, in particular when composing his Catena Aurea. Due to Thomas’ profound commitment to these Greek patristic sources, he was not only able to draw on the rich tradition of the past but also explore new possibilities and solutions. How all this concretely was developed by St. Thomas remained to studied, however.

The conference brought together more than fifty scholars, Catholic and Orthodox, mostly from the United States, but also from Switzerland, Italy, the Netherlands, Croatia and France. The keynote lectures were given by Prof. Joseph Wawrykow (University of Notre Dame), who magisterially drew together Thomas’ engagement with the Greek Fathers on the participation in the Eucharist, and by Notre Dame Professor Fr. Khaled Anatolios of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, who examined the compatibility of St. Thomas and St. Athanasius with regard to the salvific work of Christ.

John Damascene was studied by ten scholars and Maximus the Confessor and his relation to St. Thomas was the object of no less than seven papers. Other Greek Fathers included Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nanzianzus, John Chrysostom, Pseudo-Dionysius, Ignatius of Antioch, Irenaeus of Lyon but also later authors such as Theophylact of Bulgaria, Gregory Palamas and Manuel Calecas received attention. I myself had the privilege to deliver a paper on St. Thomas’ reception of Origen.

One cannot but be impressed by the astonishing interest of all these scholars in St. Thomas’ engagement with his Greek sources. This conference, whose proceedings will undoubtedly become highly influential, has demonstrated Thomas’ commitment and interaction between the Greek tradition and speculative reason and has resulted in a significant corroboration of Marcus Plested claim that “one might even go so far as to characterize his theology as being ad mentem patrum.” (Marcus Plested, Orthodox Readings of Aquinas (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2012, 20).

It also emphasizes the importance of and concurs entirely with the research project ‘Identity and Tradition. The Patristic Sources of Thomas Aquinas' Thought’ (2017-2020), funded by the National Science Centre (Poland) (UMO-2016/23/B/HS1/02679), which is currently being directed by Prof. Piotr Roszak at the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Torun, Poland.

As part of this research project an international conference on Thomas and the Church Fathers will be organized in April of 2019.

Jörgen Vijgen