Flickr photo by Sandy Roberts

Catholic Intellectual Tradition explained Monday at Gonzaga lecture


By Megan Carroll

In order to profess their faith and defend their beliefs, Christians must pursue knowledge that stems from an ancient tradition rooted in Greek history, Michael Tkacz said during a lecture at Gonzaga University on Monday.

Around 1346, two young men from the Greek provinces ran into one another. They had recently left home to pursue higher education in the city of philosophers.  A city of great learning: Athens, Greece.

Tkacz identified the two travelers as Saints Basil and Gregory Nazianzen, pioneers of the Catholic Intellectual Tradition, in his  lecture  titled “Why We Need to Know the Catholic Intellectual Tradition.”

Gonzaga’s College Hall Room 101 filled with students, community members and faculty in seven long rows of desks by the start of the  inaugural Coughlin Professorship lecture. Douglas Kries, professor of philosophy, announced the event and its sponsors: the Gonzaga Socratics Club and Gonzaga Institute for Faith and Reason.

Tkacz, the Bernard J. Coughlin, S.J. Professor of Christian Philosophy at Gonzaga, supports the philosophical teachings of traditional thinkers Aristotle, Saint Augustine of Hippo and Saint Thomas Aquinas in his role.

He opened with two rhetorical questions for the audience: Why does a Christian need a liberal arts education? Why does a Christian need to know anything about the sciences?

Tkacz said people around the world often claim that the sciences refute Christian beliefs when, in actuality, the idea of and value of science stems from Christian culture.

“Many today would say that what ancient thinkers were trying to do only seemed possible because of the undeveloped, prescientific knowledge of their day,” he said.

New atheists, or modern atheists, perpetuate these beliefs, including the prominent group of thinkers ‘The Four Horsemen’ formed by Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett.

Dawkins described existence of God as plausible as, “the existence of a flying spaghetti monster.”

“These men view Christianity as the very antithesis of the intellectual life,” Tkacz said. “Most of what they have to say has already been argued by…other modern thinkers. What is new is their [new atheists’] nasty tone and condescension toward religious believers.”

New atheism asserts that belief in God is “dehumanizing, dangerous, a destruction of human culture and a toxin,” Tkacz said.

He claims, though, that the problems with new atheist beliefs are rooted in ignorance to Christian teachings, particularly those articulated in the Catholic Intellectual Tradition. New atheist arguments deem Christianity “irrational due to a conception of God not taught in the church.”

But Tkacz explained that God is not the “God of gaps,” or used to “explain the unexplainable,” in Christian thought, a popular belief among some atheists. Saint Thomas Aquinas’s works, for example, expressed agnosticism about the nature of God. He understood the deity as a transcendent reality, distinct from what he created and a reality beyond any other.

Christians are “careful not to claim more than what can be claimed by analogy,” Tkacz explained.

“God’s creation is simply the reason why the world exists at all,” he said. “Why there is something rather than nothing.”

Tkacz believes modern culture suffers from a lack of appreciation of the intellectual tradition. New atheists’ intellectual formation in particular, he argued, has not included elements of the Catholic Intellectual Tradition.

“Because they’ve lost track of the tradition, it’s not as well known as it once was,” he said. “It’s not as frequently studied as it once was.”

Those who advance the tradition, however, are trained in both theology and classics, in order to refrain from misrepresenting Christian beliefs and clearly articulate church teachings.

“The Catholic Intellectual Tradition is not just a narrow theological tradition,” Tkacz said. “It is meant to be an intellectual tradition and to preserve the riches of a classical heritage that underpins our western civilization.”


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