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Dr. Matthew Levering

 

Interview with Dr. Matthew Levering (Ave Maria University) - 01-03-2008

 

leveringWe resume our series of interviews with leading Thomists of the 21th century. In doing so, we are honored to interview Dr. Matthew Levering, associate professor of theology at Ave Maria University (Florida) and author of

Christ's Fulfillment of Torah and Temple: Salvation According to Thomas Aquinas (Notre Dame, 2002)

Scripture and Metaphysics: Aquinas and the Renewal of Trinitarian Theology (Malden, 2004)

Sacrifice and Community: Jewish Offering and Christian Eucharist (Oxford, 2005)

Participatory biblical exegesis (Notre Dame, 2008)

Biblical natural law (Oxford, 2008)

He is the coeditor and cofounder with Dr. Dauphinais of the English version of the international theological and philosophical journal Nova et Vetera, published by the Aquinas Center for Theological Renewal, at Ave Maria University.

 

1. In which way were you introduced to the thought of Thomas and whom do you consider to be your teacher in Aquinas?

My first course that drew heavily upon St. Thomas was taught by Stanley Hauerwas at Duke Divinity School . What impressed me was how "contemporary" Stanley found Aquinas to be. There was also an excitement about doing theology with Aquinas that Stanley conveyed. However, at that time I was still reading von Balthasar much more than Aquinas; I had not yet seen the dogmatic richness of Aquinas's theology. I was introduced to this dogmatic richness by my mentor in Aquinas, a great teacher and scholar, Fr. Romanus Cessario, O.P. In my first year as a doctoral student in theology, I took a year-long course with Fr. Cessario on Christ (Summa theologiae III, qq. 1-59).

 

2. Reading your latest publications, I noticed you've been working in such diverse fields as theological exegesis, natural law, ecclesiology. Could you inform us somewhat more on your current projects?

Currently I am attempting to research the doctrine of providence: a very exciting project for me! I have only just begun, however. I also completed a draft of a manuscript titled Jews, Christians, and the Life of Wisdom: Engagements with the Theology of David Novak. I am still working on improving that work, which takes up such themes as the nature of Jewish-Christian dialogue, supersessionism, Messianic Judaism, providence and theonomy, the image of God, natural law, and the relationship between covenantal revelation and the human quest for wisdom.

I see my primary task as one of contemplation of the realities that faith illumines: Christ, the Trinity, the Eucharist, the created order (natural law), the Church, providence .... From what I gather, the insights of Aquinas into many of these topics came to be seen as insufficiently historical and insufficiently biblical. From perspectives influenced to varying degrees by Kant and Hegel, theologians sought instead to reconstitute Catholic dogmatic reflection, leaving to the side Aquinas's theological reflections. A better path, however, is to probe more deeply and ask what Aquinas's insights truly are: perhaps the effort to reconstitute Catholic dogmatic reflection in fact is carrying theologians further away from Scripture and the Fathers, and perhaps a better way to see more deeply into the realities of faith, guided by Scripture and informed by the Fathers, is through exploring Aquinas's teachings? This is what seems to me to be the case.

Contemporary Thomistic theology opens up many doors, and thanks to the work of many scholars, we now are no longer faced with the alternative between Concilium and Communio, as if these represented the only two modes of doing contemporary Catholic theology.

 

3. The readers of your monographs on soteriology, the Trinity and the Eucharist in Aquinas have noticed the ecumenical approach of your writings. What is the most important thing contemporary theology could learn from Aquinas?

Aquinas was a believer. He was a faithful lover of Christ, who lived out his vocation in fidelity to the teachings of the Church and her sacramental ministry. The fact that Aquinas was a believer means that his theology is full of dogmatic and moral reflection on Scripture, drawing upon the insights of the Fathers and Greek philosophy. His theology is therefore a rich field for dialogue with a wide array of believing theologians and exegetes, because they find in Aquinas's theology resources that speak to their own faith. Aquinas's theology has enormous ecumenical potential because it is the fruit of such deep contemplation and love of Christ. I also find in Aquinas the resources for fruitful Jewish-Christian dialogue. His work is better understood by attending to his appreciation for such things as the unity of God, sacrificial worship, the Mosaic law, theonomy, and Jesus as Israel 's Messiah than by attempting to turn him into a Kantian or a neo-rationalist.

 

4. Another element readers might have noticed in your work is that you're actively drawing upon the research of what some have called the 'School of Toulouse', the French Dominicans responsible for editing the Revue Thomiste. How can contemporary theology profit from such an American-French dialogue and what can both sides of the Atlantic learn from their reading of St. Thomas ?

The French Dominicans, who also influenced my teacher Fr. Cessario, deserve much of the credit for the current renewal of contemporary Thomistic theology. My own understanding of how to read Aquinas's theology obviously owes a profound debt to Servais Pinckaers, O.P., who I consider the greatest moral theologian of the twentieth century. Then there are great theologians such as Jean-Pierre Torrell, O.P., who makes manifest the spiritual profundity of Aquinas's theology, and the crystal-clear, unusually profound Gilles Emery, O.P. In the area of ecclesiology, Fr. Charles Morerod , O.P., stands out for his ecumenical engagement and Thomistic depth, as does Fr. Benoit-Dominique de la Soujeole, O.P., and behind them all is Serge-Thomas Bonino, O.P., who restored the speculative depth of the Revue Thomiste. Truly the list of profound, deeply Catholic, contemporary French-speaking Catholic theologians could go on and on. Getting their thought into the "bloodstream" of contemporary English-speaking theology is a crucial task, and in this venture Michael Sherwin, O.P. stands out as a key figure. He is from America but teaches moral theology in Fribourg, and is a master theologian. What is clear is that there is a theological renaissance going on, and that it is necessary for us to tap into it.

 

5. The two most notable projects of the Aquinas Center for Theological Renewal, founded by Michael Dauphinais and yourself in 2001, are the journal Nova & Vetera and the international conferences. Looking back at the first few years of the Center, could you tell us about the experience of creating such a 'Thomistic community'. Also, what are the future projects of the Center?

The projects of the Aquinas Center envision Thomistic theology as a cutting-edge (in the best sense of this term) enterprise. When I began to study Catholic theology with Aquinas as a guide, I began to notice that other theologians felt that they could not speak about Aquinas because they were not "experts in Aquinas." It reached the point where experts in Augustine -- Aquinas's theological master, if not his philosophical master -- and experts in Aquinas could not talk together, nor could experts in Aquinas talk with contemporary biblical exegetes or contemporary sacramental theologians, etc. By contrast, contemporary theologians could all talk with each other about Rahner, for example, because he understood the "modern mind". All this seemed to Michael Dauphinais and me to be topsy-turvy. The key then is to advance forums in which contemporary Thomistic theology and contemporary Thomistic philosophy (which go together because of the necessary integration of faith and reason) are in dialogue with each other, and with other schools of thought, in a way that bears upon the central discussions in theology today.


6. How would you describe the current status of Thomism in the United States and/or in general?

A friend of mine who teaches at a leading Catholic university recently told me that his department of theology had its one expert in the theology of Aquinas (beyond which it would not go), and then it had a set of contemporary theologians. Likewise at another leading Catholic university all the experts in the theology of Aquinas consider themselves "historical theologians": they are not among the professors of systematic theology. The university from which I earned my doctorate has no Thomistic theologians, although it does have moral theologians who associate their views -- deeply informed by the Zeitgeist -- with Aquinas. From what I can tell, Thomistic philosophers seem to be doing a little better, but whenever I ask a Thomistic philosopher whether this is the case, the answer is no!

On the other hand, the recent conversion to Catholicism of a number of serious Lutheran and Episcopalian theologians is a sign of great hope. These converts find in Aquinas a profoundly patristic, and metaphysically rich, dogmatic thinker.

 

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