Philosophy department at FUS needs a better theological base

by Steve Kellmeyer

Dr. Lee’s article in the last issue criticizing the view he has heard expressed at FUS that St. Thomas’ philosophy/theology is basically egoistical is quite telling.

It is the case that St. Thomas, unlike Duns Scotus, is both a declared saint and a doctor of the Church. Both of these declarations are infallible Magisterial expressions. Thomas was declared a doctor on the basis of his penetrating philosophical and theological insights. Thus, to say that the philosophy and theology of this doctor of the Church is essentially egoistical is to say at least one of the following three things: 1) The philosophy/theology of the Church is essentially egoistical 2) the Church was wrong to pronounce Thomas a doctor of the Church on the basis of his philosophical/theological writings, or 3) the Church’s own philosophy/theology is self-contradictory and absurdist.

Now, it is certainly the case that a doctor of the Church can be wrong on specific issues: Augustine was not necessarily correct to say that unbaptized babies go to hell, nor was Thomas correct to say that the infused soul goes through vegetative, animal and human stages during the development of the human being in utero. However, the charge Dr. Lee describes as being laid against Thomas is much more sweeping than these specific instances of error. This charge, laid against a doctor of the Church, assumes that the whole basis of Thomas’s thought is not just insufficiently deep, but actually erroneous. It assumes Thomas failed to understand the theological virtue of love, which means he could not have understood in any basic sense the God, who is love, or man, who is made in the image of God. Any FUS person who lays out such a charge is essentially denigrating not only Thomas, but also the Church’s understanding of and judgement on Thomas’ work.

Now, it is not the case that anyone at FUS would knowingly lay such a charge at the door of the Church. In my experience, students of philosophy at FUS, both beginning and even many who are advanced in their knowledge, tend to have an inadequate grasp of theology. Thus, those who hold this position in regards to Thomas do so for two reasons 1) they don’t understand Thomas and 2) their grasp of theology is so weak that they do not realize the implications of their argument. It is disheartening to see Dr. Lee confirm what many theology graduates have long suspected—the philosophy program at FUS needs stronger theological underpinnings.

Steve Kellmeyer graduated from the FUS MA Theology Program in 1999. He currently serves as Director of Adult Formation at Sacred Heart Parish in Norfolk, NE.