|INTERVIEW WITH PROF.
you introduce yourself to our readers?
My name is Tracey Rowland.
I am the Dean of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family
(Melbourne) and Permanent Fellow in Political Philosophy and Continental
research are you doing at this moment and what courses are you teaching?
in the 21st Century” with Professor Hayden Ramsay; “The New
Evangelisation in Post-Modern Culture” with Dr Michael Casey, “
II and John Paul II” and introductory subjects in the areas of philosophical
and theological anthropology.
My areas of research include: the
Liberal Tradition, Genealogies of Modernity and Post-modernity, especially of
scholars associated with the Communio and Radical Orthodoxy circles,
interpretations of Vatican II, the philosophy of language and its relevance to
the New Evangelisation, and the relationship between the transcendentals and
is the most important thing you learned from Aquinas?
understanding of the image of the Trinity within the human person, that is,
the links between Trinitarian theology and anthropology.
which way were you introduced to the thought of Thomas and whom do you
consider to be your teacher in Aquinas?
my final year of secondary school I read an article by
Abbott in the Sydney Catholic Weekly about defending the faith at university.
Abbott was then a rugby playing Law graduate who had just won a Rhodes
scholarship. He is now an
Government Minister. His article
included a list of books he thought people ought to read if they wanted to
keep their faith at university. It
included quite a few works by Maritain. Once
at university I discovered Etienne Gilson, James V. Schall SJ, Frederick
Copelston SJ and Cornelio Fabro by myself.
Since my particular interest was in political philosophy I started
reading every article by Fr Schall I could find.
From time to time I also attended the classes of Fr Joe Johnson SJ at
His classes were a paradigm example of a tradition being handed on from
a master to novices. When I later
read Alasdair MacIntyre’s account of the way in which intellectual
traditions are transmitted from one generation to another I was reminded of
In 1989 I wrote my Masters
dissertation at the time when European Communism was imploding.
Francis Fukuyama had just published his famous article in which he
argued that with the fall of Communism, liberalism was internationally
triumphant. My dissertation,
, argued against
’s conclusion by demonstrating that many of the
intellectuals behind the Central European resistance movements were influenced
by Thomism and the ideals of Christian democracy, not secular liberalism.
I was strongly influenced in this context by the works of the Polish
Thomist Ryszard Legutko of the
about that time I was lecturing in the Politics Faculty of a secular
and here I came across Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue and Whose Justice?
Which Rationality? I then
developed an interest in MacIntyre’s works generally and I started to see
more clearly that there were problems with Maritain’s attempted
reapproachment with the Liberal tradition.
When I first went to
I was intending to write my doctoral dissertation on
MacIntyre’s notion of a tradition-dependent rationality.
I thus started to look at the issue of the rôle of culture within the
moral formation of persons and this ended in the publication of “Culture and
the Thomist Tradition: after
II” via a rather circumlocutious route through the
thought of the German romantics. My
dissertation was supervised at various times by John Milbank, Janet Martin
Soskice, Denys Turner and Anthony Fisher OP.
I am intellectually indebted to them all in different ways, but when it
comes to Thomism I am closer to the anti-Kantian Radical Orthodoxy view of
Milbank and Catherine Pickstock than to the sympathetic to Kant New Natural
Law position of Finnis and Grisez.
interest in the theological importance of culture also led me to von Balthasar
and I am therefore one of those types who believes that one can appreciate von
Balthasar without being some kind of traitor to the Thomist tradition.
This interest in continental theology also means that I feel a strong
affinity with Thomists like Aidan Nichols OP and Fergus Kerr OP who were my
Overall I would say that
the greatest influences on my appreciation of Thomism have been Schall (in the
context of political philosophy), Gilson (in the context of Thomist history),
Legutko (in the context of economic philosophy), and MacIntyre (in the context
of ethics and natural law).
is the importance of Aquinas for our times, especially in relationship to your
field of research?
think that Aquinas laid the foundations for an understanding of the human
person ie for theological and philosophical anthropology, which is
indispensable for the defence of the dignity of human life against Liberal and
Nietzschean alternatives. As John
Haldane has argued, ‘only an incarnational anthropology such as that
proposed by Aquinas can adequately explain the subjectivity of Heidegger’s Dasein,
and its very existence.’ I do
however believe that there were many problems with the presentation of the
human person in Leonine Thomism, in particular, that there was a tendency to
neglect a consideration of the rôle of history and culture in the formation
of persons or what is now called the dimension of relationality.
In this context the work of Karol Wojtyla as he was and M.A. Krapiec
O.P. of the
would you describe the current status of Thomism in your country and/or in
it is dismal. Thomism
is not on the radar screen of most academics.
The exceptions are Professor Hayden Ramsay of the John Paul II
Institute and the Catholic Institute of Sydney, Bishop Anthony Fisher OP of
the same institutions, and the Lonerganians such as Peter Beer SJ, Tom Daly SJ
and Matthew Ogilvie. There is also
a Centre for Thomistic Studies in
founded in 1985 for the purpose of continuing the work
begun by the late Dr Austin Woodbury, a Marist priest and a leading Australian
proponent of Thomism. Fr Peter
Joseph, Chancellor of the Maronite Diocese, and lecturer in Systematic
Theology at the John Paul II Institute (Melbourne), is a post-Conciliar
generation Thomist whose doctoral dissertation presented at the Gregorian was
on the topic of the resurrection of the body in the thought of St. Thomas; and
Dr Nicholas Tonti-Filipinni, a leading Australian bio-ethicist, is also
familiar with the territory of Thomism. Within the secular universities the
works of Finnis are usually taught in jurisprudence classes in law schools,
and MacIntyre is taken seriously in departments of politics and philosophy.
John Haldane’s works are also listed for reading in some philosophy
departments. In addition to the
above names, there are a number of Dominican scholars who keep alive aspects
of the Thomist tradition within theology departments.
publications of yourself do you consider to be the most important for
Aquinas’ researchers to read?
and the Thomist Tradition: after
Gifts to the
John Milbank’s Being
in Religion and Theology,
Vol. 11 (2), April, 2004.