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Dr. Christopher Kaczor

Interview with Dr. Christopher Kaczor - 3-11-2004

 

1. Can you introduce yourself to our readers?

I was born July 25, 1969 and raised in Seattle Washington (USA).  I studied at Boston College (A.B. 1992) and then in graduate school at the University of Notre Dame (Ph.D. 1996).  I spent the 1996-97 year as a von Humbolt Fellow at the Thomas-Insitut at the Universität zu Köln University of Cologne in Germany and returned there as a Fulbright Scholar in 2002-2003.  Currently, I live in Los Angeles , California with my wife and children and teach philosophy at Loyola Marymount University .  For further information, please see my web site (http://myweb.lmu.edu/ckaczor/).

2. What research are you doing at this moment and what courses are you teaching?

At the moment, I am working to complete two manuscripts, Aquinas on Faith, Hope and Love and also Aquinas on Justice, Courage, Temperance, and Practical Wisdom.   These works are similar to Peter Kreeft's Summa of the Summa in presenting selections from  the Summa theologiae and then offering commentary, explanation, and further suggested readings via footnotes to help students or others seeking an introduction to Thomas's thought on the virtues.  I am also finishing a book in applied ethics called The Morality of Abortion:  Human Life, Women's Rights, and the Question of Justice. I teach an introduction to medieval philosophy, philosophy of love and marriage, and a graduate course on the Summa contra Gentiles on a regular basis.

3. What is the most important thing you learned from Aquinas?

It is difficult for me to narrow down the single most important thing that I have learned from Thomas since he truly has so much to teach.   I try to read at least a little Thomas every day so my debt to him continues to grow.  If a one insight must be named, I would say the compatibility of faith and reason.  As a young student I had the unarticulated feeling that faith pertained to ignorance and that learning would eliminate or at the very least greatly weaken faith.   I could hardly imagine a faithful reason and a reasonable faith.  Thomas's insightful synthesis of what can be known by human reason and God's revelation is for me incredibly powerful.  Some seem to believe that having a firm faith undermines questioning and inquiry.  But through Thomas I have come to believe that just the opposite is the case.  If one does not believe in God, this closes the doors to innumerable questions and lines of inquiry.  If one does believe, this does not end but rather begins whole new vistas of possible questions:  What is God like?  What is the relationship between God and humanity?  How should I relate to God?  For the unbeliever, the most important questions may never even be asked having been excluded from consideration at the outset.

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

I first encounter Thomas Aquinas as a fourth grader rummaging in the attic through old books my mother had kept from college.  I started to read the article on whether theology is a science, but quickly found that although I could read each word the meaning of any given sentence was utterly mysterious.  While at Boston College from 1988-1992, in various required courses Karl Marx was assigned three times, but never St. Thomas .  My real introduction to Thomas Aquinas came at the Medieval Institute at the University of Notre Dame where I had gone with an interest primarily in Dante and Augustine.  The teacher was Ralph McInerny, this year celebrating his 50th year as a professor at Notre Dame.  His teaching in the classroom, as well as his many books and articles, continue to inform my understanding of the Angelic doctor.  Even more than his teaching and writing, the manner of his life, especially his kindness to students, inspires me.

5. What is the importance of Aquinas for our times, especially in relationship to your field of research?

I do a good deal of work in applied ethics and the relevance of Thomas here is not insignificant.  For instance, the conception of the human person held by a great many contemporary philosophers conceives of personal identity in terms of psychological continuity.  The body is not really a part of what makes "you" you and "me" me but rather just what takes place in our minds.  Thomas's emphasis on the unity of the person, on the soul as the substantial form of the body, brings a helpful corrective to these mistaken anthropologies.  Thomas's integration of theology, philosophy, spirituality, and happiness is also a much more integrative and attractive model for ethics than the deontological duties or utilitarian calculus brought to bear on many disputed questions in applied ethics today.

6. How would you describe the current status of Thomism in the US?

I never experienced a time when Thomism was the dominant force in philosophy as it was during the 1950s in the United States .  The Aquinas Center of Theological Renewal at Ave Maria University in Florida founded by 2001 by Michael Dauphinais and Matthew Levering is a wonderful development.  The University of Notre Dame, which recently hired the distinguished younger Thomist John O'Callaghan, remains the best place to study St. Thomas and Thomism with among others, Ralph McInerny, Alasdair MacIntyre, Fr. David Burrell CSC, John Finnis, and now Fr. John Jenkins CSC as the President of the University.  I am hoping that Fr. Jenkins helps the University to maintain its strength in this area.  In general, I find a deep respect for Thomas among colleagues throughout the United States , though "Thomism", "Neo-Thomism", and "Scholasticism" remain for too many labels of disparagement.  The view seems to be that to study Thomas as an archeologist might study him is acceptable, but to consider Thomas as a lodestar in an ongoing tradition is unacceptable.   I would not want to exclude the approach represented by Maritain (more contemporary, developmental) nor the approach represented by Gilson (more historical, reconstructive).

7. Which publications of yourself do you consider to be the most important for Aquinas' researchers to read?

My book Proportionalism and the Natural Law Tradition.  Washington, D.C.:  The Catholic University of America Press, 2002, was fortunate to recieve some kind reivews, such as the following from Fr. Michael Sherwin in The Thomist: "Does proportionalism mark a renewal of moral theology, as revisionist theologians claim, or is it a corruption? In his insightful and well-written analysis of proportionalism, Christopher Kaczor attempts to answer this question. ... Kaczor's study is a remarkable achievement. It is simply the best book-length critique of proportionalism currently available. Anyone wishing to understand proportionalism and why it fails as method of moral analysis would do well to read Kaczor's book."  This book might almost be considered a long obituary for proportionalism which I consider to be a movement with few younger practitioners.

In "Is the Sententia libri ethircorum of Thomas Aquinas only an Interpretation of Aristotle?" American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly Vol. 78, No. 3 (Summer 2004) pg. 353-378, I examine the controversy that has arisen about whether Thomas Aquinas' commentaries on Aristotle can be read as expressing Aquinas' own views rather than as simply an interpretation of Aristotle. This article examines the reasons given in favor of the view that the commentaries, in particular the commentary on the Nicomachean Ethics, are merely interpretations of Aristotle. Using Thomas' scripture commentaries, internal evidence, as well as the history of reception, it is concluded that the Sententia libri ethicorum presents Thomas' own views and not merely his understanding of Aristotle.

In "Thomas Aquinas on the Development of Doctrine" Theological Studies 62 (June 2001) pp. 283-302, I argue that Thomas did have an account of the development of doctrine.  Prima facie, there is a difficulty reconciling Thomas's belief that the apostles have the most full knowledge of the mysteries of faith and his teaching that earlier fathers of the Church closer to the apostles have a more implicit faith than later fathers.  Making use of various obiter dicta, I argue that Thomas, indeed, foreshadows aspects of the logical, organic, and historical approaches to development of doctrine elaborated by later theologians.  Though it would be exaggerated to suggest that Thomas handles the theme with the same
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