Nearly 40 people from all across the country spent the week of August 12-16 in Wausau, Wisconsin studying St. Thomas Aquinas’s commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians. The event was a collaborative effort of The Aquinas Institute for the Study of Sacred Doctrine and the St. Albert the Great Center for Scholastic Studies. All participants received a copy of Aquinas’s commentary on Galatians and Ephesians.
Seminar Style Discussion of the Text
Our approach to studying theology prioritizes a close reading of the texts of the great masters of the theological tradition, with pride of place belonging to the common doctor St. Thomas Aquinas. Students were divided into three seminar groups, each of which was led by one of our faculty tutors, in order to go through the text carefully together, one chapter at a time.
The lecture series aimed to open up a deeper exploration of some of the central themes arising from Galatians, which is a particularly rich letter theologically. Rev. Dr. Thomas Crean, O.P. gave a paper (in absentia) in which he considered The Scope and Limits of Papal Power; Dr. Taylor Patrick O’Neill lectured on the topic of St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine contra Martin Luther on Grace, Freedom, and Justification by Works; and Dr. Alan P. Fimister gave a lecture entitled, Dead and Deadly: The Passing of the Old Law.
The highlight of the week was the culminating scholastic disputation. Students were divided into two teams and assigned to argue for or against several questions that were proposed in connection with Galatians. The questions disputed were: (1) whether the power of the pope is limited by more than divine and natural law; (2) whether man is justified by faith alone; and (3) whether all you need is love.
For each question proposed, the team arguing in the affirmative led off with their prepared arguments; the opposing team was then given 3 minutes to confer before attempting to rebut these arguments. Next, the second team delivered their prepared arguments and the first team then had 3 minutes to confer before giving their rebuttals. This process was repeated for all three questions and then the magister (yours truly, Dr. John P. Joy) retired to consider the arguments and compose his respondeo. Finally, in the last session of the week, the magister delivered his respondeo together with replies to all the objections made on both sides of the question.
In addition to the academic program, students were able to participate in the rich liturgical life of St. Mary’s Oratory with the canons of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest. This is an important part of the week, since our aim is not merely to study the sacred Scriptures but to contemplate the divine mysteries of the faith. Taking St. Thomas as our model both in study and in prayer, our academic work draws its life from the sacred liturgy of the Church.
The daily schedule included opportunities for confession and daily Mass in the usus antiquior (‘extraordinary form’) of the Roman Rite. We were also able to join the canons of the Institute in singing compline, the night prayer of the Church. But the highlight of the week liturgically was the solemn high Mass and procession with a relic of our Lady’s veil for the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin on August 15.
Special thanks to our hosts, the canons and people of St. Mary’s Oratory! They were incredibly warm and welcoming and made us all feel right at home.