St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the intellectual luminaries of our Order, is a model thinker. He integrated the thought of diverse intellectuals in and out of the Church, arranging them into what John Paul II calls “the most elevated synthesis [of faith and reason] ever attained by human thought” (Fides et Ratio §78).
Aquinas cited authorities firmly within the Christian Tradition (Augustine, Hilary, Peter Lombard, etc.), but he also cited intellectuals from outside of the Catholic faith. He cited Jewish thinkers (e.g., Maimonides), Muslim thinkers (e.g., Averroes, Avicenna), and Greek thinkers (e.g., Plato, Aristotle). Aquinas understood their arguments at a nuanced level. He perhaps understood the implications of their arguments better than they did!
John Paul II praised St. Thomas’ approach in Fides et Ratio when he wrote, “Saint Thomas was impartial in his love of truth. He sought truth wherever it might be found and gave consummate demonstration of its universality” (§44). Furthermore, John Paul II calls him “an authentic model for all who seek the truth” (§78).
Searching for truth is a difficult process. It does not mean jettisoning the idea of objective truth and settling for a kind of subjective ‘opinion.’ It means hard work—deeply understanding various views on a topic and putting in the work to think through them. It takes humility, respect, patience, and honesty.
There are many reasons why it is difficult to take the arguments of the ‘other’ seriously. We risk alienation from our ‘tribe.’ We may be intellectually lazy and unwilling to invest the time needed to understand the other’s arguments. We can be prideful of our own positions. We might fear a loss of face. We might simply be angry or reacting to hurt.
It is easy for us to become ‘siloed’ in our own intellectual, economic, or political echo chambers where we filter the content we hear, such that we only hear content that agrees with what we already think. Technology sometimes helps this filtration process, since many search engines, for instance, give us results based on our existing browsing history and intellectual preferences.
Our present situation marked by ecclesial, political, economic, and racial tension offers us many opportunities (and challenges!) to learn from other vantage points. We should not open our minds so widely that everything falls out, but, in humility, maintain a willingness to learn from others, as St. Thomas did.
Br. Scott Norgaard, O.P. | Meet the Student Brothers in Formation HERE