Fr. S-T Bonino: "Contemporary Thomas Through the Prism of Predestination"

Fr. S-T Bonino: "Contemporary Thomas Through the Prism of Predestination"

Tuesday evening of the Aquinas Center’s symposium on Predestination and Thomism culminated with a keynote address delivered by Fr. Serge-Thomas Bonino, OP (Angelicum, Rome).

Fr. S-T Bonino entered the novitiate of the Dominicans in Toulouse in 1982 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1988. He earned a Ph.D. in Theology from the University of Fribourg, writing a translation—with introduction and commentary—on Question 2, “God’s Knowledge,” of St. Thomas Aquinas’ disputed question De Veritate.  Bonino’s research interests lie in Medieval Theology, from Augustine to Nicholas of Cusa, with a special emphasis on the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas. He is President of the Pontifical Academy of St. Thomas, where he has been since 1999. He is also Secretary General of the International Theological Commission. For many years, Bonino was editor of Revue thomiste, one of the most prestigious Thomistic journals in the world.

“He enjoys a profound mastery and appreciation for the teaching of Aquinas regarding predestination, and for the doctrinal history of this question in relation to the magisterium,” Dr. Steven Long, Professor of Theology at Ave Maria University, explained. Long is a great admirer of Bonino’s scholarship, and it seems the esteem is mutual. Bonino solicited from Long a major essay on predestination, which was subsequently published in Revue thomiste. The mutual esteem “seemed to me to augur well for the idea of his accepting an invitation here,” Long said. “It was also a joy to welcome Francis Rooney, former US Ambassador to the Holy See, to Ave Maria to introduce Fr. Bonino’s keynote address.”

Bonino opened his address, “Contemporary Thomism Through the Prism of the Theology of Predestination,” by offering Fr. Jean-Hervé Nicolas (1910-2001) as an example of the tendency for contemporary Thomists, when dealing with the matter of predestination, to give up on a classical understanding (articulated by Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, OP in his 1936 work, Predestination of the Saints and Grace), in favor of a more modern one (championed by Fr. Francisco Marin-Sola, OP, and Jacques Maritain).

In his four-part lecture, Bonino began by explicating the classical Thomist understanding of Predestination, including the doctrine of the antecedent permissive decree, which Lagrange (who was, as Bonino described him, “l’homme de la synthèse”), in a sense, inherited.

[Pictured above: Francis Rooney, former US Ambassador to the Holy See.]

Bonino went on to lay out how recent developments in Thomistic scholarship can be seen to influence the contemporary Thomist understanding of predestination. The “ressourcement scripturaire” of the 20th century, which encourages greater attention to scriptural roots in Aquinas’ texts, has loosened the issue of predestination from the individual, with the result of downplaying the issue as a “faux problème.” On the other hand, in spite of a “ressourcement patristique,” many contemporary Thomists resist seeing continuity between Thomas and the Church Fathers on the issue of predestination, Bonino pointed out. Recent trends in Thomist scholarship have led to the “diabolisation des commentateurs,” Bonino added, as well as the pitting of “l’esprit” of Thomas’ writings against “la lettre.”

In the third part of his address, Bonino explored whether it is possible to do away with the antecedent permissive decree. This dogma is a stumbling block for many, and, in the case of Maritain, “un objet de profonde indignation.” Bonino went through the variety of ways in which most Thomists attempt to get around the problem, and he explained how some few try to justify it.  

Fr. Bonino concluded by situating the issue of predestination within the larger struggle of faith and reason, neither sacrificing Theology for Metaphysics, nor vice versa, but believing in the harmony of the two. The “génie du thomisme,” he said, is the ability to embrace the mystery and to “d’orienter le regard vers l’essence sur-intelligible d’un Dieu en qui puissance, sagesse et bonté s’embrassent.”

[Above: Dr. Roger Nutt (Associate Professor of Theology at AMU) at left, with Dr. Thomas Osborne.]

On Tuesday night, Dr. Thomas Osborne, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Center for Thomistic Studies at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, was awarded the Aquinas Center’s annual book prize. 

The symposium wrapped up on Wednesday morning with a fifth and final panel, moderated by Sr. Albert Marie Surmanski, OP (Ave Maria University). Fr. Michael Sherwin, OP (University of Fribourg) presented his paper, “Whose Providence, Which Predestination? St. Thomas and the Ever-Changing Portrait of God the Father.” He was joined by Dr. Michael Waldstein (Ave Maria University), who spoke on “Balthasar on Predestination,” and Dr. Barry David (Ave Maria University), who presented “De Praedestinatione as Confessio.”

“Our conference on ‘Thomism and Predestination’ drew eminent scholars from around the world to address what remains for Catholics a truth of faith, and a necessarily central conditioning element in the development of theological science or sacra doctrina,” Dr. Long offered as a final reflection on the event last week. “Of course,” he continued, “the distinction of our speakers was remarkable—minds of international prominence known for their theological & philosophic engagement with the tradition. The conference was tremendously successful, and its proceedings will be published and doubtless will be cited in scholarly conversations for decades to come.”

[Below: Dr. Steven Long addresses conference attendees.]