The philosophy department sponsored the annual Aquinas Lecture in Lynch Auditorium this past Wednesday, Jan. 28. The speaker for this year was Dr. Wayne Hankey, the chairman of the department of classics at Dalhousie University and a member of the faculty at King’s College, both located in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Hankey was awarded the university’s Aquinas Medal, and addressed a full house of students and faculty on the topic of the Neoplatonic structuring of St. Thomas Aquinas’ “Summa Theologiae.”
Hankey’s lecture dove to the depths of philosophy as he discussed metaphysics, the study of being itself. A running thread throughout the event was an understanding that seemingly abstract metaphysical ideas are actually tied to human ethics. In introducing the talk, Michael F. Olson, the bishop of the diocese of Fort Worth, mentioned meeting a bishop from Iraq during his retreat in Rome, and discovering a shared interest in philosophy. Olson discussed the importance of the conversation between faith and reason in the current age. He reminded the audience of areas such as Iraq and the Middle East, where violent Islamic persecution of native Christians and others has surged in the past year. Olson said he believes this is a place where our prayers and philosophy are desperately needed.
Hankey’s lecture discussed the role of reason. His lecture critiqued certain Thomist philosophers who have been overly accepting of modernity’s conception of reason as a tool simply for the empirical way of knowing. Hankey asserted that the Neoplatonic structuring of the “Summa” shows Aquinas as a teacher who is slowly bringing his students to see something of the face of God. This method of philosophy, Hankey said, seeks to imitate the life-journey toward the truth, where, by learning to exercise moral virtue through the experience of grace and the freely-given gift of existence, man enters more fully into communion with God.
In giving a response to the lecture, Dr. Matthew Walz of the philosophy department drew out metaphors for the connection between the philosophy and our own lives.
Walz clarified that Aquinas’ circles in the “Summa” are not of a logical sort, where one ends up back where he began without additional clarification. Rather, they are of a methodological sort that mark out a path on which one travel’s with God. Walz compared it to taking a walk with his wife, and his daughters’ perplexing question, “Where are you going?” Such a walk means coming back home again, but also taking time to grow together. Similarly, living a philosophical life means walking humbly with God. It means embracing what Walz called the “joy-filled generosity and hospitality [which] are etched into esse [existence] itself in its most complete instance, the pure existence of God.”