Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Notes on the Memorial of St. Thomas Aquinas.

It has been the general custom of this blog to observe today's Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas with a post on the Angelic Doctor. This year's feast day post has a Toronto connection, insofar as it involves a lecture by Father Leonard Boyle, O.P., a longtime member of the faculty at the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies who went on to serve as prefect of the Vatican Library. A few months before his death in 1999, Father Boyle gave a talk entitled "St. Thomas Aquinas and the Third Millennium" in which he offered various thoughts on the scholarly charism of the Dominicans and St. Thomas' role in its development. Father Boyle begins with some wonderful commentary on a fragment of Thomas' early work as an ordinary student, which Boyle reproduced as a handout for talk's original audience:
Because of his towering reputation, it is easy to forget that Thomas was once an ordinary student, and that he was not at all perfect from the outset of his Dominican life. Recently I came across and published a fragment of a commentary on the Pseudo-Dionysian De caelesti hierarchia by Albert the Great, Thomas' teacher, that Thomas had copied while a student at Paris, under Albert in 1245 to 1248, when he was in his 20's. This fragment, of which you each now have a copy as a souvenir, is in a reliquary in Salerno Cathedral and it was taken centuries ago from an autograph manuscript of Thomas now in the Biblioteca Nazionale in Naples, a manuscript which once had belonged to the Dominicans of San Domenico, Naples, Thomas’ last abode.

Now it is reasonably certain that the commentary of Albert on the De caelesti hierarchia is from the years that he and the young Thomas of Aquino were together in the Dominican studium at Paris at Saint Jacques, 1245 to 1248. For the many scholars who have worked on this period of the careers of Albert and Thomas, this Naples autograph is the textual source, directly or indirectly the archetype, if you wish, of all the known copies of this commentary of Albert, and the editors of the recent Cologne edition — four or five years ago — of that commentary of Albert have taken this for granted.

Now I have never seen — examined — the whole autograph at Naples, but only this fragment of some 38 lines. What you've got in front of you is 19 lines on one side, 19 on the other I didn’t give you. Now from an examination of these 38 lines, against the surviving manuscripts of Albert’s commentary on the De caelesti hierarchia, all of which are supposed to depend upon that Naples manuscript, there can be no doubt whatsoever that the Naples autograph is a very wayward copy of Albert's commentary. It's just not correct. Even in the short 38 lines here in the Salerno fragment, it's quite clear that this is a very personal copy which Thomas made for himself, and that that less than brilliantly. There are notable lapses and at least one instance where he skipped a line, through homoioteleuton, which, as you all know, means "lines with similar endings," so you skip, as you do in typing. On one occasion he added a phrase or two for his own benefit, to make more explicit what Albert had said. So in no way can the Naples manuscript be the exemplar, the archetype on which all these other manuscripts depend, as all scholars and the recent edition have maintained to that.

This is the young Thomas, industrious, but far from infallible. And it is one of the few occasions when we see Thomas as an ordinary Dominican, struggling along like the rest of us, and not always getting things right. He misspells horribly. Later on we shall see if he improved with age.
To read the rest - and I hope you will - click here. On this Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, I hope that you will also join me in seeking the Angelic Doctor's intercession, that his prayerful aid may benefit all students and teachers of philosophy and theology. AMDG.

Friday, January 16, 2015

On the Waterfront.

This blog has been fairly silent so far this year, and I can't promise that posting will become much more frequent in the coming weeks. That said, I would like to call your attention to a new venture by a fellow Jesuit scholastic here in Toronto, John O'Brien, who is currently curating a winter film series at Regis College. John will be posting spiritual reflections and questions on each of the films in the series on his blog, Veritas Liberabit, so readers who cannot attend the screenings in Toronto can still participate in the series vicariously by watching the films on their own and considering John's interpretations of them.

The first film in the series at Regis is Elia Kazan's 1954 classic On the Waterfront, which was shown this past Wednesday. I encourage you to read what John O'Brien has to say about the film, but I would also like to add one additional note: Father Peter Barry, the waterfront priest portrayed in the film by Karl Malden, was based upon a New York Jesuit, Father John M. "Pete" Corridan. Father Corridan's life and the larger story behind the film were both chronicled by a former professor of mine, Dr. James T. Fisher, in a book entitled On the Irish Waterfront: The Crusader, the Movie, and the Soul of the Port of New York. I have some personal history with this book, which I read in draft form during a course I took with Jim Fisher at Fordham; I can also remember watching On the Waterfront in class with the benefit of Jim's expert commentary, and a couple of fieldtrips we took to the New York waterfront helped to bring the story to life. To learn a bit more, read this 2009 interview in which Jim Fisher discusses Pete Corridan and On the Waterfront. For more on the Regis Film Series, keep an eye on John O'Brien's blog Veritas Liberabit. AMDG.