Thomism and hermeneutic violence: five Dominicans respond to Adriano Oliva

A few weeks ago on one of our contributors, Tom Osborne, shared some brief thoughts on Adriano Oliva's new book Amours. Oliva, a Dominican, is the president of the Leonine Commission. In Amours he argues for a number of controversial theses, including the moral goodness of some homosexual acts and the permissibility of the reception of communion by divorced and civilly remarried Catholics. He enlists Aquinas in making these arguments.

Prior to Osborne's negative evaluation there was also a highly critical review by Thibaud Collin in La Croix, which you can find here. One of Collin's criticisms has to do with Oliva's reading -- or radical misreading, rather -- of ST, Ia-IIae, q. 31, a. 7. His comments are sharp:

Une telle argumentation repose sur des contresens qu’il convient de manifester. Il semble y avoir ici une lecture sélective du texte de saint Thomas. On rompt la cohérence interne de la doctrine thomasienne pour mieux ensuite piocher ce dont on a besoin afin de reconstruire sa propre théorie, plus proche de celle de Michel Foucault que celle du saint dominicain.

Now, five Dominicans -- Bernhard Blankenhorn, Catherine Joseph Droste, Efrem Jindráček, Dominic Legge, and Thomas Joseph White -- have responded to Oliva at First Things. Like Collin, they also charge Oliva with a radical misreading of Aquinas (among other things). You can find their comments here. I can only (not without sadness) concur with their judgments.

Conference on Preaching in Paris on April 7, 2011

In from Adriano Oliva, OP, over in Paris, comes news of a one-day conference on preaching from antiquity to the modern age, “Prédications de l’antiquité à l’époque moderne,” to be held on April 7, and sponsored by the Institut de recherche et d’histoire des textes (PDF). This sounds like a great way to get ready for volume 44 of the Leonine Edition. Fr Oliva himself will speak on “Les Sermons de Thomas d’Aquin édités par le Père Louis Jacques Bataillon.”

Thomas Aquinas: St Albert's onetime lackey?

When my beloved teacher, James A. Weisheipl, OP, wrote his Friar Thomas d’Aquino back in 1974 he contended that Thomas Aquinas’s earliest scripture commentaries were cursory readings on Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Lamentations done while Thomas was with St. Albert the Great in Cologne, in the period 1248-1252. For Weisheipl these early works and their supposed sterilitas doctrinae were not the product of the precocious bachelor of the Sentences doing his work in Paris from 1252-1256, but were better considered the work of a talented young Dominican in St. Albert’s retinue in Cologne, a baccalaureus biblicus—even though no contemporary witness ever said that Thomas lectured on the Bible, even cursorie, while with Albert in Cologne. Besides, as the “dumb ox” (bos mutus) story indicated, Thomas was just too smart to have been with Albert only as a student or even as an—gasp!—assistant.

Or, as Fr Dewan put it to me once, “Fr Weisheipl couldn’t imagine that Thomas was ever Albert’s lackey”!

As it happens, in discoveries made this past decade it is now pretty clear that Thomas was indeed an assistant to St. Albert, doing some legwork so that Albert could have the best text available as he produced his commentaries on the works of Pseudo-Dionysius (a copy of whose Albertine commentaries we have in Thomas’s own autograph). In 2005 Maria Burger published some of the research she conducted as part of the Cologne edition of St. Albert’s works. She found a manuscript from Cologne’s Cathedral church library (Codex 30) that contained an 11th-century copy of the works of Pseudo-Dionysius, running the gamut from the Celestial Hierarchy to the Divine Names. But found in the margins and between the lines of this 11th-century hand were notes written in the telltale littera illegibilis of the young Thomas Aquinas. It turns out that his task had been to compare the Latin text found in Codex 30 (which contained the original Eriugena translation) with Eriugena’s revised translation and with John the Saracen’s translation—all of which Thomas did with diligence. As Burger showed in her original article (PDF), Albert then used Thomas’s marginal and interlinear notes in the course of composing his commentaries on Pseudo-Dionysius.

I am looking to see whether I can make available the English translation of her article (which appeared just recently in “Thomas Aquinas’s Glosses on the Dionysius Commentaries of Albert the Great in Codex 30 of the Cologne Cathedral Library,” in Via Alberti Texte – Quellen – Interpretationen [Münster: Aschendorff, 2009] 561-582). Here is the abstract from that latter article:

Albertus Magnus commented on the works of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite in the years 1248–1250. The bases for these commentaries were the Latin translations by John Scotus Eriugena and John Sarracenus. Codex 30 of the Dombibliothek in Cologne conveys the Dionysius text in an older version of the Eriugena translation that Albert had evidently employed for purpose of comparison. Maria Burger finds numerous interlinear and marginal entries in this codex that, on the basis of careful handwriting analysis, can be assigned to Thomas Aquinas. He was Albert’s student and assistant in Cologne at that time and prepared a copy of the entire text in his own hand which is to this day preserved in the manuscript Naples, Biblioteca Nazionale I B 54. For this reason it is possible to make a more precise comparison of the entries in Codex 30 with Thomas’ handwriting. In addition, the marginalia in the Cologne Codex permit a more exact dating of Albert’s commentary on De caelesti hierarchia, the text with which the corpus of commentaries begins.

The people in Cologne have placed hi-res images of Codex 30, among others, available on a website devoted to church manuscripts from Cologne (link to main site). If you’d like to see some folios, click here, and then scoot ahead to, say, folio 35r, and hunt around from there (note that the images come in three sizes, the highest resolution of which zooms in tremendously).

So it does seem that Thomas was a trusted assistant—hardly a lackey—to St. Albert.

PS: Adriano Oliva dealt with Weisheipl’s dating of the cursory biblical works with great care in his Les débuts de l’enseignement de Thomas d’Aquin et sa conception de la Sacra doctrina (Paris: J. Vrin, 2006), 207-224. The three commentaries, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Lamentations, should be dated to Paris in the early 1250’s (most likely starting around 1252).

Journée Thomas d’Aquin for 2009 (December 5 2009)

In from Adriano Oliva, OP, praeses of the Leonine Commission, the announcement for this winter’s “Journée Thomas d’Aquin” in Paris. Dedicated to the memory of Louis-Jacques Bataillon, OP, the program is heavy on medieval preaching and the contributions of Fr Bataillon:

  • Gilbert DAHAN (Paris) : Exégèse et prédication au moyen âge
  • Nicole BÉRIOU (Lyon) : Le Père Bataillon et les « maîtres de la Parole » : des sermons de Thomas d’Aquin à l’histoire de la prédication médiévale
  • Concetta LUNA (Pise) : Le Père Bataillon et le renouveau des études médiévales
  • G. BERCEVILLE, M. BORGO, I. COSTA, R. IMBACH, A. OLIVA: Présentation de quelques ouvrages de philosophie et de théologie médiévales

A lovely PDF of the conference program, with details and notification of the new location for the conference, can be found here.

An interview with Adriano Oliva, OP, president of the Leonine Commission

Eek! It’s just embarrassing, how behind I am with my posts on the site! Almost a year ago we here at Marquette University had the honor of the presence of Adriano Oliva, OP, head of the Leonine Commission, who had come stateside to participate in the SIEPM conference at Notre Dame, and in our Aquinas and the Arabs conference here at Marquette.

Fr Oliva graciously agreed to do an interview with me about the work of the Commission, and about how our Project (link) might be of use to the efforts of the Leonine Commission. We chose to do the interview in Italian (apologies for my occasionally “airport Italian”—it was a long week), which may prove to be a challenge for some viewers. But Fr Oliva speaks so carefully that I suspect many will get the gist of what he is saying (I’d be thrilled if any visitors had the time and inclination to do a translation [contact me]). One particular highlight: Fr Oliva gives an update on the status of the work of the Commission.

Our audio/visual people here at Marquette worked hard to produce the video, which is hosted on our media server (QuickTime required). So, with apologies for my tardiness, happy viewing.

PS: when they tell you that the camera adds 10 lbs, they lie: it adds 20—and I’ve gone on a diet.