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Jenkins speaks on Aquinas’ legacy

Sarah Gunn | Thursday, January 29, 2009

University president Fr. John Jenkins in a presentation entitled “Faith, Inquiry and Community” discussed the legacy left by St. Thomas Aquinas for Catholic universities. University president Fr. John Jenkins gave his presentation to a packed room at the college on the day of the Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas.

Jenkins emphasized the importance of Aquinas in unifying the communities of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s. Being a Catholic university and college, both institutions have a responsibility to properly integrate faith and inquiry in an intellectual community, he said. The schools are also responsible for teaching students how to live a good and virtuous life, he said.

St. Thomas Aquinas exemplified the role of faith and inquiry through his discussions and works done at the University of Paris, where he was engaged in disputations, Jenkins said. In these disputations, Aquinas, students and faculty would discuss questions about a given subject and their correlating objections, he said. The sessions of questioning and objecting were followed with analysis where past theologians and great thinkers were utilized for evidence.

This is one thing Jenkins stressed as a great importance in an intellectual community – the communion of past and present thinkers for analysis and disputations. Jenkins said that Aquinas had “an understanding of the inextricable connection between inquiry and community,” and this is shown in his works and records of the disputations.

The responsibility of Catholic institutions of education to provide moral and spiritual growth of its students and community was another critical point of the discussion. This can be done in many ways according to Jenkins, one being “holding students accountable.”

Students and the university should be committed to “seeking further truths” by inquiry and culminating past and present thinkers. Jenkins also said they must do this by “accepting key texts,” and moving forward with them to “enhance the intellectual community.”

This search for truth can help lead students to live a good and virtuous life as understood by the Catholic community. According to Jenkins, it is not necessary that all members of the University community be Catholic, for their diversity adds richness to the existing environment.

Prudence, justice, fortitude, temperance, and theological virtues are “outlines of an educational ideal we strive to cultivate” Jenkins said, and added that all are a part of the growth he feels is necessary for students at Catholic universities to attain.

“Good human life cannot be understood except in light of inquiry,” he said.

This is why Aquinas’ legacy is so integral to the Notre Dame community, because it is a manner of inquiry where questions are resolved in the intellectual community with current minds and the power of important texts and thinkers from the past Jenkins said. Previous key figures have shaped the tradition and their works are studied, not held as complete truths, but looked at seriously and add many dimensions to a question or a certain subject, he said.

Students, faculty, staff and community members were all present at Jenkins discussion.

An enthusiastic group of students from a fall class entitled “Aquinas’s Search for God – Faith Meets Philosophy” sported matching green T-shirts emblazoned with the words “Team Aquinas.”

Allison Greene, a junior member of the group, said “It was cool to be here at the lecture and have people recognize Aquinas’s impact on [Catholic] colleges and universities where we’re studying how faith meets philosophy.”

Junior, Lizzie Pugh added, “We’ve been anticipating this for months,” as she described Jenkin’s presentation to have a “Super Bowl-like” hype and excitement for their class.

Mary Gross, a junior, thought it was important because of Aquinas’ “inspiration for higher education.”

This group of students felt that Jenkins successfully communicated the purpose of their studies.