Public Lecture on the Ontological Status of Time in St. Thomas Aquinas

This past week at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (the "Angelicum") in Rome, the Faculty of Philosophy held a public lecture entitled "Thomas Aquinas on the Ontological Status of Time," given by Professor Cecilia Trifogli of All Souls College, Oxford.

The lecture is very insightful, as while it presupposes a general knowledge of Aristotelian philosophy, the speaker begins with the fundamental principles underpinning the question of time, thus allowing it to be accessible to all. Prof. Trifogli notes that for Aristotle time and space are not "absolute", existing apart from the existence of beings, as in Newtonian physics; rather, for Aristotle time is the numbering, or measure, of change of before and after. This, of course, is based upon Aristotle's understanding of motion, and the movement of substances from potency to actuality. The essential starting point for the lecture, then, is that in Aristotle's conception of time there must be a numberer in order for there to be a numbering - and therefore an intellective being doing the numbering provides the formal account of time.

Prof. Trifogli then proceeds to explore the understanding of Aquinas, both through Aquinas' Commentary on the Sentences and the later work, the Commentary on the Physics, while highlighting a possible development of his thought. Thus, a substantial portion of the lecture is dedicated to exploring whether Aquinas understands time to have any independent existence extra mentis. While a complete argument on the subject would perhaps make an excellent dissertation, Prof. Trifogli succeeds in showing at least the possibility of holding an affirmative position on the question from the Thomistic corpus, and in the process offers a good contribution to the medieval reception of Aristotle, as well as perhaps laying a groundwork for discussing the relationship between classical and modern conceptions of time.

PDF of Quotations for the Lecture


For those who are unaware, the Faculty of Philosophy at the Angelicum has gone through quite a growth and development in the past decade. The current Dean, Fr. Serge-Thomas Bonino, OP, is Secretary General for the International Theological Commission, as well as President of the Pontifical Academy of St. Thomas Aquinas. The international faculty is composed of philosophers who are firmly rooted in the Thomistic tradition, and include notable academics such as Fr. Walter Senner, OP (Germany, formerly of the Leonine Commission), Fr. Efram Jindráček, OP (Czech Republic), Fr. Joseph d’Amécourt, OP (France), and Fr. Dominic Holtz, OP (USA), as well as many other notable professors.

While it is a somewhat smaller faculty than many of the theology faculties in Rome, the faculty is united in the common goal of promoting Thomism, both in its historical and speculative/contemporary dimensions. They are rigorous in that they hold high expectations of student work (for instance, they absolutely demand a solid, working knowledge of Latin), but also the size of the faculty allows for a real mentorship between the professors and those students who are seeking it. For anyone looking to begin or continue their philosophical studies in the Thomist tradition, the Angelicum really is one of those bright places for the future of Thomism.

Special thanks go to Professor Trifogli for allowing the recording of the lecture, and also to Fr. Bonino, who on behalf of the Faculty of Philosophy allowed that it be made publicly available.

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Christopher Owens

Christopher is married with three children, and is currently an adjunct member of the Theology Faculty at St. John’s University, where he teaches for their Rome campus. He is also director of the St. Albert the Great Center for Scholastic Studies, which for five years has hosted an annual summer theology program in Norcia, Italy. Christopher is enrolled at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas ("the Angelicum”), where he will soon complete his Licentiate in Sacred Theology (S.T.L.) with a concentration in Thomism. His thesis investigates the question of predestination in the early Thomist school. During the 2015/2016 academic year, Christopher had the opportunity to take a postgraduate diploma in Medieval Studies offered through FIDEM. Christopher completed his Masters in Sacred Theology (S.T.M.) at the International Theological Institute in Trumau, Austria, where his thesis was on the question of the liturgy as a theological source in the Church Fathers and St. Thomas Aquinas. Originally from North Carolina, Christopher previously worked at the Maryvale Higher Institute for Religious Sciences in Birmingham, England. He spent a number of years in pastoral ministry, such as youth mission work in Scotland, university chaplaincy work in England, and also working as a director of religious education at a parish in Wyoming. In his free time, he likes to do a bit of photography and brew beer.