July 2005 (69.3)
Joseph Torchia, O.P.
I consider it a great honor to be named editor of a review which has defined itself as "Steward of the Thomistic tradition." As I begin my tenure in this capacity, I wish to comment briefly about my own sense of our mission, not in the language of some pronouncement, but merely as one man’s opinion about the task implicit in our somewhat lofty motto. In my reckoning, this task encompasses two complementary roles. On the one hand, we seek serious scholarly investigations into the sources and development of Christian wisdom that focus primarily (but not exclusively) upon the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas. But good stewardship involves more than a custodial role. Reflection on the riches of the past must also inspire and sustain a response to contemporary problems. This publication has consistently proceeded from the premise that Thomism is a living tradition that can speak to those issues that run to the core of our being as rational creatures made in the image and likeness of God.
Shortly after assuming the editorship, I examined The Thomist’s 1939 "Announcement of Publication." I was immediately struck by the enthusiasm for a new venture "launched on the postulate that Dominicans have something very special to offer this twentieth century of ours." As I consider these words some sixty-six years later, I propose the following question: what can a distinctively Dominican speculative review of theology and philosophy offer at the beginning of this new millennium? Indeed, the vision which inspired and guided our founders must be ours as well—nothing less than a contribution "to originality of thought, to solutions rather than compromises with immediately pressing questions." These goals, in fact, are wholly consistent with the Dominican charism and its commitment to learned preaching according to the ideal of contemplare et contemplata aliis tradere, that is, "to contemplate and bring what is contemplated to others." This ideal rests on the conviction that the life of the mind must translate into a passion to share its fruits in a concrete context.
Our model in this endeavor is St. Thomas Aquinas himself. Aquinas fixed his contemplative gaze on truth. But ever the teacher, he sought to communicate truth in conversance with all the intellectual currents of his time. In the process, he forged a bold new synthesis of faith and reason versatile enough to speak to a wide range of outlooks and horizons of inquiry. This is why he could adapt and harmonize traditions that his contemporaries perceived as wholly incommensurable with such creativity and imagination. If Aquinas is the "perennial philosopher," it is because his thought affirms an openness to truth, wherever it can be discerned. By the same token, he shows us that any search for truth must be guided by that Divine Wisdom whose ultimate source is in God, the ground of meaning and intelligibility. This is the Light that guided him throughout his inquiries, and it must be the Light that guides us in our own, as we confront the unique moral dilemmas that the present century opens to Catholic thinkers. This Light never undermines human reasoning; it only perfects it, and thereby raises the bar of our rational efforts to new heights.
We live in an age that presents great challenges to those committed to the intellectual enterprise of the Catholic Church. And for those who endorse the Thomistic vision of reality, the need for "originality of thought" and "solutions rather than compromises" is more compelling than ever before in the history of this review. At a time when pluralism is widely valued above objectivity, it is all too easy to take refuge in one’s own conceptual framework or ideological perspective, and thereby to exclude the possibility of genuine dialogue with one’s opponents at the outset. But in the spirit of Aquinas, we do not perceive disagreement as an insurmountable obstacle. Rather, we welcome it as the occasion to advance the debate, and in the process to explore the possibility of consensus and a resolution of problems, even while upholding those absolute principles that must be presupposed in any rational discussion.
In his encyclical Fides et Ratio, John Paul II spoke of a hermeneutical crisis in which "many people wonder whether it still makes sense to ask about meaning." By way of a response, he encouraged a recovery of philosophy’s sapiential dimension in the search for the ultimate meaning of human existence. From this standpoint, the medieval dictum fides quaerens intellectum provides a contemporary incentive to challenge the uncritical presuppositions of a postmodernist culture and its nihilist bent with the considerable dialectical resources at our disposal. In my estimation, The Thomist offers an excellent forum for engaging such issues and their wide-ranging implications with cogency, incisiveness, and depth. It is incumbent upon us to assume an active and even confrontational role in this endeavor, not necessarily in an adversarial manner, but in the best sense of Dominican disputatio.
This year, the Eastern Dominican Province of St. Joseph celebrates the Bicentennial of its founding in the United States. The Thomist stands as one of the most salient legacies of its intellectual apostolate. As we move toward our seventieth year of publication, we seek to maintain this legacy, and in the words of our founders, to furnish material "fitting the dignity of human nature and . . . the joyous work of Wisdom." But the ongoing excellence of this review depends, as always, on the input of our contributors, including that of my fellow Dominicans. As sons of St. Dominic, our common commitment lies in the pursuit of Veritas, with all its intriguing textures and nuances, wherever that pursuit may lead us and whatever the cost, "of one heart and mind in God."