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Commitment of the Catholic Church to Dialogue

Monday brought us to the Angelicum with a welcome from Irish Dominican Michael Carragher, Vice-Rector and Canon Law Professor, and a brief tour from the new dean of the Theology faculty, Maltese Dominican Joseph Aguis. I learned more about the University in these 20 minutes than my time spent in its classrooms the last year. The university itself is the third oldest in rome, after Sapienza and the Gregorian, but its original location was next to the Pantheon in Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. The building that currently houses the university was originally a convent, repurchased from the government sometime after both sites had been taken in 1870. In what had been the chapter room, and serves now as the Sala de Senato, the full-body relic of an unnamed saint rests in the armor of an imperial roman soldier under the altar, unbeknownst to even some of the faculty who had joined us on our tour.

Fr. James Puglisi, SA, who serves as director of the ecumenical section and the Centro Pro Unione lead our first academic discussion on the “Commitment of the Catholic Church to Ecumenical and Interreligious Dialogue”. Like many of the presentations throughout the week, the content was review, but would certainly be helpful for those arriving without previous background in ecumenism and interreligious dialogue. We lunched at the Gregorian university bar, which is substantially larger than its Angelicum counterpart.

Thomas Casey, SJ pictured with NYU Professor Lawrence Schiffman

Following lunch, we ran into former Lay Centre resident Dimitrios Keramidas in his new role as secretary of the Missiology faculty at the Gregorian. He gave us an impromptu tour of his office and that of the Institute for the Interdisciplinary Study of Religion and Culture, as well as the Cardinal Bea Centre for Judaic Studies. We were joined there by Irish Jesuit Father Thomas Casey, director of the Bea centre, who introduced us to the research and work of the center, which includes 6000 volumes on Judaism in the Gregorian university library. This was followed by a 90-moinute introduction to the library there, which is the largest in Rome. At this point I calculated that if all the pontifical universities in Rome combined their libraries into a single collection, or at least a single system to which all pontifical students had access, it would be almost as large as the Hesburgh Memorial Library at Notre Dame.

Gerard O'Connell, Rome Correspondent for UCANews

We returned to the Lay Centre for celebration of the Eucharist with the Theologian of the Papal Household, Polish Dominican Wojciech Giertych. This was followed by a dual-presentation and discussion over dinner with Fr. Giertych and Gerard O’Connell, Rome correspondent for the Union of Catholic Asia News service and author of God’s Invisible Hand, a biography of Cardinal Francis Arinze. The topic of their presentations was, “Issues that Matter to the Holy See: Seeing Interreligious Dialogue in its Broader Context”.

Wojciech Giertych, OP

The views were decidedly different, but not necessarily in opposition. Clearly a journalist and a theologian have different constituencies, frames of reference, and sensitivities when observing the Holy See; both men have had several years of doing so. Fr. Giertych raised a few hackles among some fellows with comments that grace comes through Christ and not through Buddha or Muhammad, but others countered that this is simply classical Christocentricism, inclusivist though it may be and in contrast to a more pluralistic view that is popularly construed as the most popular approach. (Whether it is or not is another discussion). At the least, it is helpful to be reminded that even in the administration of a papacy that is clearly pro-dialogue, there exist different methodologies and approaches to dialogue.

One of the burning questions of the evening revolved around whether Jews and Muslisms, at least, worship the same God as Christians. The Catholic Church has authoritatively taught that they do, and this has been cited from Gregory VII in the eleventh century to Nostra Aetate in the twentieth. Still, the thesis is challenged even within the church, and this fact lead to some pretty interesting conversation the rest of the evening. That, and another debate which started with one of the European fellows noting, “There is nothing new in Nostra Aetate. It is fifty years old, and it shows. We should be much further along than this!”


St. Catherine of Siena and Cardinal Cláudio Hummes

Tomb of St. Catherine of Siena

Today is the feast of one of the most popular saints around here, St. Catherine of Siena. Lay woman, Dominican tertiary, ecclesial reformer and gifted with a charism that allowed her to put popes and antipopes in their proper place and get away with it, she serves as the patron saint of the caribinieri, Italy, Europe, and was the first woman named a Doctor of the Church.

Cardinal Hummes presiding at the Solemnity of St. Catherine of Siena

It was only at the end of my class day, just before 6pm, that I was able to run over to the church where she died, and where most of her remains remain, Chiesa Santa Maria Sopra Minerve, near the Pantheon. On her feast day every year they open the small doors under the high altar to allow devotees to access her marble tomb directly. After the liturgy, we were also able to get into the chapel built from the rooms in which St. Catherine lived her last years. (I ran into a couple friends at the church, one of whom, John Paul, took the photos I used for this blog. More can be found at his, Orbis Catholicvs Secvndvs)

Cardinal Claudio Hummes, the Brazilian Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy presided at a solemn vespers and Eucharist to commemorate the saint, with about forty Dominican friars, an equal number of sisters, and a handful of tertiaries, in attendance. It was an interesting liturgical experience in the fact that we started with the procession, went into the first half of vespers, after the psalms came the Gloria and the penitential rite followed by the rest of the Eucharist, only to return to the vespers canticle and the rest of that liturgy following the final blessing of the mass.

Vimpere (left), Deacons (center)

Cardinal Hummes presents a good example of the way lines are drawn differently in Rome than it often seems in the States, and a reminder not to judge a book by its cover, or too quickly, if at all. Vested in scarlet, lace and a heavily embroidered Baroque “fiddleback” chasuble he was the very image of the popular style of the Tridentine era and the “extraordinary form” movement of today.  Dual deacons with matching Baroque dalmatics and vimpere donned in vimp veils embroidered with the cardinalatial coat of arms reinforced the image of a very Roman prince of the church.

Cardinal Hummes is not his predecessor, however. Ordained a presbyter before the Council, he finished a doctorate in philosophy, in Rome, just as Vatican II was getting interesting. A Franciscan, he continued studies at the Ecumenical Institute in Bossey and has been known for his support of social justice, liberation theology, and being open about the theoretical possibility of doing away with mandatory clerical celibacy.

This is not the combination that comes easily to mind for most of my fellow North American Catholics, I think it is safe to say: “traditional” liturgical garb and “progressive” theological/ecclesiological tendencies!

The homily, I am sure, would be interesting… but I have not found a translation yet. In the mean time, blessed feast of Catherine to you!

Angelicum Quote of the Day


Thomas F. O'Meara, OP

One of my favorite professors from Notre Dame, an owlish Dominican ecclesiolgist named Tom O’Meara, published an autobiography a few years ago. I had noticed a copy for sale at the Angelicum bookstore the last couple weeks, but have not been inclined to buy too many extra books while here in Rome. Today, however, I discovered an entire table full of clearance priced texts as they get ready to wind down the academic year, including this paperback at about 85% off the previous price.

Randomly flipping through the book as I logged it into my library inventory, I came across this page describing his first days in Europe in the late summer of 1963:

“I spent my first days in Europe at the Angelicum, the Dominican graduate theological school and seminary. It was named after Thomas Aquinas but called the Angelicum because Aquinas’s theological acumen had resembled that of an angel. With a few eccentric scholars, some inedible meals, primitive toilets, officious porters and sacristans, the “Ange” lived up to what I had heard of it from my teachers who had studied there. A year or two before it had been an almost obligatory school to which Dominicans came from all over the world to gain expeditiously a doctorate. The study of dogmatic theology rarely ranged far from collecting passages from Aquinas on some major or minor topic and ignored other theologians from Origen to Maurice Blondel. Historical contexts and contemporary problems were neglected, for this was a citadel of a strict neo-Thomism where the salvation of Jesuit Suarezians was in only a little less doubt than that of Protestant Hussites. On the eve of the Council, one of the Dominican professors at a meeting of advisors to the Vatican had bemoaned the variety and looseness of theological opinions tolerated by the church, views held even in Rome, views such as those of the Redemptorists in moral theology or the Jesuits in the psychology of grace. He devoutly hoped that the Council would proclaim lists of clear positions on canon law and doctrine so that those vagaries opposed to the Dominican school of Thomism would end. Most of my teachers in the Midwest had received their doctorates from the Angelicum in philosophy, theology, and canon law. What soon amazed me was that American Dominicans had lived in Rome without becoming interested in history or art. Their graduate studies had been repetitive, boring, more memorized scholasticism, and the two years were physically and psychologically difficult, the life of prisoners whose goal was survival. Sadly, poverty, isolation, and rigidity of daily schedule – even in a cloister arranged around a fountain and palm trees and perched above the Roman forum- had for most blocked out the history and beauty around them.”

Thomas F. O’Meara, OP, A Theologian’s Journey, 70.

St. Thomas Aquinas

Seal of the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome

Today is the feast of San Tommaso d’Aquino, patron of my current university,  of academics and theologians everywhere. Unfortunately, as I was trying to beat a cold, I was unable to get to the celebration of our Patronal Feast at the Angelicum this morning, with Archbishop Agustin DiNoia, OP, but a friar friend has put some photos up on the university blog, so check them out!

I have never claimed to be a Thomist per se, for as one of my first university philosophy professors said, “If you are going to be a Thomist, you have to be a damn good one.” I am fascinated by the Angelic Doctor, but I see him as one (important) contributor to the Catholic, Christian theological tradition, rather than devoting all of my studies to him and his works, which is what it would take to be a “damn good” Thomist.

Truth be told, though, even that would not be enough – I am not convinced Thomas would approve of such narrowed focus! He was, after all, the Great Synthesizer, and did not hesitate to use a variety of Christian sources, as well as Jewish, Muslim and pagan ones.

When I was an undergraduate, I had a friend who was studying medieval philosophy, almost exclusively with the late Ralph McInerny – who is a Thomist. He and I would have many long debates some of which revolved around the maxim of the Papal Theologian: “Never mix philosophy and theology, because philosophy always wins!” My friend felt that, as a medieval philosophy with a particular focus, he was therefore an adept theologian. As a theologian with a much broader view of Tradition, I often had to remind him that this was not the case! No matter how profound and how great the tradition, no one theologian encompasses the whole of Catholic theology, much less the attendant pastoral, liturgical, historical and other issues that interact with theology in the lived experience of the Church.

I have always had a great affinity for Thomas, first as a theologian, and in more recent years as a patron for “new” vocations, such as lay ecclesial ministry.

As a theologian and student, his peers dubbed him the “Dumb Ox” – dumb as in mute – to which Albertus Magnus supposedly retorted, “That ‘dumb ox’ will one day fill the world with his bellowing!” Thomas was no quick wit. He would not have made it as official Catholic commentator on Fox News or CNN. He was big, slow to move and slow to speak, and as with any good introvert, would fix you with a stare in response to unexpected questions that probably left less astute contemporaries wondering if he really was all that bright. He is an inspiration to any systemitizing introvert who has been caught in the spotlight by “think out loud” extravert peers!

As a candidate for patron of “new” vocations, consider his story:

According to his father, the Count of Aquino, Thomas was going to be groomed as the Abbot of Montecassino, an old, established, and wealthy Benedictine Abbey not too far from Rome. This was the normal sort of ecclesial vocation of his era – monastic life. It was how you served the church successfully. It was expected. It was “just the way things were done”. You want to serve the church? Fine, join the monastery.

But he would have none of it. At 19 he ran off to join some newfangled wannabes who were kind of like monks, but not really monks – and I doubt the real monastics would have been too happy if you called these mendicant friars “monks”! They had only been around for 40 years. They did not spend their time at the monastery but wandered around the countryside preaching, teaching, and doing God-only-knows what else that was properly the ministry of monks and diocesan clergy.

This was not right!! How dare they? So, his family did the only respectable thing to do – they arranged for him to be rescued from this cult, threw him in a locked room and commenced a serious deprogramming effort.

A year later, he remained committed to his vocation. He was called to serve the church, clearly, just not in the way that his parents and grandparents generations took for granted. It looked a little different. The charism was a little different. New terminology had to be used to explain it. There were bishops who did not support it. People worried about the confusion of identity of traditional monastic life – of monks and nuns – with this itinerant innovation of mendicant life – these friars. Even a few years later, after being ordained in this “new order”, he spent time writing defense of the vocation he was living. Some critics argued that real ministers would be spending their time in prayer and sacramental service, not defending and defining a “new” vocation!

The parallels to the present age, to lay ecclesial ministry and even to the restoration of a real diaconate, are overwhelming! (Though, I admit I am not aware of any pastoral associate being kidnapped by family to consider the diocesan presbyterate or religious life instead.) We are 50 years into the present form of lay ecclesial ministry in the U.S., and it never ceases to amaze me how much suspicion, ignorance, misunderstanding and outright vitriol is out there. I completely understand this minister’s plea, “Don’t dis lay ecclesial ministry!”

St. Thomas Aquinas, patron of “new” vocations, pray for us!

The Rector Magnificus

It is said that the Dominicans have the best sense of humor, and this is because humor is a necessary part of Dominican spirituality. Without question the funniest guest we have had yet at the Lay Centre is the Rector Magnificus (read: President) of the Angelicum, Father Charles Morerod.


Charles Morerod, OP (Facebook photo)

After celebrating the Eucharist with us, the topic of Father Charles’ discussion was on what it means to be a Dominican. A Swiss Dominican serving as rector of the Angelcium, Secretary of the International Theological Commission, and one of three Catholic representatives on the ongoing dialogue with the schismatic sect of Marcel Lefebvre, there was plenty beyond the Order of Preachers to ask about. (as if that resume is not enough, Fr. Morerod is actually on Facebook! Yes, you can find him on my friend list!)

St Dominic was a Cathedral canon with the Bishop of Osma, Spain on a journey to make arrangements for a royal wedding which never happened. Passing through regions of France dominated by the Albigensians/Cathars, Dominic was taken by the lack of good preaching in the region, which lead the poorly catechized residents to gravitate toward the dualist heresies. Further, he was disturbed by the fact that many of the preachers that were available to the people of the region were failry weatlthy monastics or papal legates. So, instead of returning home, he stayed to preach and eventually a following grew.


St. Dominic, Founder of the Order of Preachers

He was an efficient organizer, and conscientious that the community not become “his” community (reminds me of Father Scott!) – In fact, his humility was so complete that when he died, his order buried him and promptly forgot which grave was his. When, 13 years later, Pope Gregory IX wanted to formally canonize Dominic, the Order was not entirely sure where to find him. Making their best guess, they opened a sarcophagus and discovered “the smell was quite pleasant, so, it must be the saint!”

Santa Prassede and Episcopa Theodora

MariaMinervaMonday, we went exploring. Eveline consented to allow Matthew and me, two lowly Angelicum students, to meet her at the august and incomparable Pontifical Gregorian University, right around the corner, for pranzo and some church-hopping.

First stop was a pizzeria near the Gregorian rumored to have pizza at €1 per slice, but alas, for us Anglophones they could only slice €2.40 worth of pizza. But, it was still good, and the first Roman pizza I’ve had since I got here, so I think worth it.

We then ventured to the Chiesa Santa Maria sopra Minervae (Church of St. Mary over Minerva). It is the only gothic church among Rome’s 900 places of worship, and is recognizable by the small Egyptian obelisk mounted on top of a Baroque Bernini elephant, and the fact that it is literally built over (sopra) a temple dedicated to Isis, who was later assimilated in worship to Minerva. The obelisk is one of several found buried on the site.


Saint Catherine of Siena

Two Medici popes and the artist, Blessed Fra Angelico are buried here, along with a number of other once-famous Italian nobility. One of Michelangelo’s sculptures is found inside, Christ bearing the Cross.

The church is probably better known, though, for the saint who died in a small room past the sacristy and who is entombed under the altar: St. Catherine of Siena. Catherine was a lay oblate/tertiary of the Dominicans and known for her extensive reform efforts in the church, including campaigning for the return of the papacy to Rome from Avignon. St. Catherine enjoys a particular devotion from our Eveline, and we had been talking about coming to visit for most of the last week.

As a Dominican church, it was here too that Galileo was tried for his Copernican cosmology, and where he reportedly uttered his famous exit-line, “but it does move.”

Afterwards we set out east, in the direction of Santa Maria Maggiore to find a smaller but no less important minor basilica, Santa Prassede. As we were there sometime before the 4:00pm end of lunch-break, we spent some time over at Mary Major, and then opted for gelato on the Piazza in front of the church. It was there where we were flocked by birds, goaded on by a toothless Roma who wanted coins in return for having taken pictures of the pigeons he was feeding.

On returning to the basilica, I discovered a small plaque next to the entrance of the adjacent monastery. In Slavonic and Italian, the plaque identified this humble building as the place where the saints Cyril and Methodius developed the written Cyrillic alphabet and the form of the Byzantine Liturgy used by the Slavic churches, like the Russian Orthodox, during the years 867-869. (Incidentally, Cyril was born in Thessalonica, the same city where two of my housemates are from, Dimitrios and Theodosius).

The basilica was built in 822, and is filled with Byzantine mosaics, including the Chapel of St. Zeno. In addition to the two first-century saints who inspired for whom the church is dedicated, Sts. Praxeses and Pudentia, you can see Pope Paschal and his mother Episcopa Theodora.

Theodora’s image is an intriguing one, for it figures strongly in the debate about the role of women in the church, especially regarding ordination and jurisdiction.

Given that episcopa is the feminine form of the word used for bishop from the sub-Apostolic age onward (and usually translated that way in the Bible), the simplest way to read the inscription is Bishop Theodora, providing one of a handful of first-millennium images interpreted to indicate the ordination of women in the earlier church.

Current practice in both Catholic and Orthodox churches of the Byzantine tradition is that wives of clergy are given the feminized title of their husband’s order, presbytera or deaconess, and this leads to the interpretation that Theodora is so named as the wife of a bishop (and mother of another).

A third possibility is based on the fact that many medieval abbeys held more influence and jurisdictional authority than some dioceses, and the abbess could in many places be the ordinary for several parishes, and entitled to various episcopal regalia, such as the pectoral cross, mitre, and crozier. And given the early beginning of the development of this time of an ecclesiology that saw the episcopate as a jurisdictional category rather than as a holy order in itself, it seems reasonable that a woman with the juridical office basically identical to bishop might be named episcopa.

After all that, we decided it was time to head home, so we walked Matthew to Termini, and Eveline and I hoped on a bus for home. Actually, the bus we chose turned out to be an express, and we overshot our destination and ended up in Largo Argentina, so we then switched busses to get back to Piazza Venezia, the switched again to get to the Coliseo and walk home from there. A long day, but well worth the walk!

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