Pursuit of Truth on Campus

Photo: Fr. Ambrose Little, O.P., Assistant Director of the Thomistic Institute, talks with students at the Thomistic Institute’s Student Leadership Conference held in Washington, DC, this summer. Photo by Rui Barros.


Pursuit of Truth on Campus
By Blackfriars Staff

The purpose of life is to know God. Period. That is St. Thomas Aquinas’ central claim in his Summa Contra Gentiles, and it was Fr. James Brent, O.P.’s central claim as he opened the Thomistic Institute’s Student Leadership Conference, where over 100 university campus chapter student leaders gathered with the Dominican friars this past summer in Washington, DC.

Fr. James, who teaches philosophy at the Dominican House of Studies, put forth that there are two competing answers we often hear regarding how we can know God. One answer holds that we can only know God through our experience of him, then giving our heart to him. And the other posits we can only know God by reasoning our way to him.

“These are two absolutizations—the relational against the rational,” he argued, “and this is a false dichotomy.” It’s also not Catholic, because the Church is a both/ and. “So when we see this dichotomizing taking place, it’s a sign that the Catholic spirit has been lost or undermined in some way.” His point is that most Catholics today are in one camp or the other, and that is not good for the Church.

He challenged Thomistic Institute leaders to follow the path of integration in their walk in faith. He’s convinced this path of integration is something very much needed in the Church today and believes that it is a calling that Thomistic Institute student leaders have been given. “A complete Catholic life involves both relationality and rationality and the integration of all of these things—the affective, the relational, the rational, the analytical, the argumentative, the conceptual, the apologetic—all of it belongs together. All of it has its place in the life of the Church and in our lives.” He noted this kind of integration happened more naturally in previous generations, but today’s world calls for a more intentional integration of heart and mind.


Photo: Fr. Dominic Legge, O.P., Director of the Thomistic Institute, presenting to student leaders at this summer’s conference. Photo by Rui Barros.


St. Thomas also taught that this pursuit of truth is best lived in friendship. In fact, the vision Aquinas had is “friends pursuing truth together, together with God, who is the truth,” said Fr. James, which is the essence of the task of the Dominican friars at the Thomistic Institute. In their work with college students on over 80 college campuses throughout the US and internationally, the friars are pursuing truth together with students, in a very intentional way. And in this pursuit of truth, in this integration of heart and mind, they are helping form thousands of students in a mode that is not happening elsewhere in the Church or the culture. That’s the Dominican formation and charism at work—because of a rigorous intellectual and spiritual formation, they’re positioned for this task of walking with others in this search for truth, especially on college campuses.

Fr. Dominic Legge, O.P., Director of the Thomistic Institute, told student leaders that they are the protagonists of this work on their campuses because they know what their fellow college students need to hear. The Thomistic Institute chapters are an academic outreach which introduce students to this rich intellectual tradition, Fr. Dominic said. What a difference it makes when someone begins to taste this rich tradition and realizes that it is there, he continued. “That can be the spark that sets off the flame that will burn for a very long time. And that flame has the Holy Spirit as its source—that kind of divine desire for God that’s hiding there in that thirst for the truth. So we want to at least give students a taste. We want them to understand that there is no conflict between the truths of the faith and the very sophisticated natural science and other explorations of natural reason, rightly done. Those kinds of studies can never pose a challenge to the truths that God has revealed because God is the source of them all. This is the deepest impulse of what we’re doing.”

To learn more about the Thomistic Institute, please visit thomisticinstitute.org.

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