By Annamarie Adkins
SOUTH BEND, Indiana, 6 NOV. 2009 (ZENIT)
The renewed interest
in the works of St. Thomas Aquinas in the early-to-mid 20th
century produced a flowering of Catholic thought that formulated
a coherent intellectual critique and alternative to modernity.
But Thomism fell out of fashion after the Second Vatican Council
as the perennial philosophy and leading intellectual framework
for the Catholic synthesis of faith and reason.
Today, however, Thomism is experiencing somewhat of a revival,
and that can be attributed to the work of Thomists such as Ralph
McInerny, who, among others, kept the flame of Thomism burning
during the tumultuous intellectual milieu that followed the
Now, in an act of gratitude, McInerny seeks to introduce a new
generation to his own teacher
a man who helped lay the groundwork for the recent Thomistic
revival: Charles De Koninck.
McInerny is in the process of editing and translating into
English the collected works of De Koninck (Notre Dame Press), a
layman who inspired a whole generation of Thomists that
eventually took up positions in the philosophy departments of
many Catholic colleges and universities.
Those professors served as an intellectual bridge between an
earlier generation of Thomists and the revival going on today.
McInerny is a writer of philosophy, fiction, and cultural
criticism, who has taught at Notre Dame since 1955.
He spoke with ZENIT about his relationship with De Koninck, the
motivation for making the great professor's writings known to a
wider audience, and what they offer us in the challenge of
confronting contemporary problems.
ZENIT: Who was Charles De Koninck? What role did he play in your
own formation and intellectual training?
McInerny: De Koninck was dean of the Faculté de Philosophie at
the Université Laval in Quebec, and played an enormous role in
the formation of American Thomists who began to study there in
For almost two decades this phenomenon continued.
Easily recognizable “Laval Thomists” went on to join the
faculties of colleges throughout the nation.
I myself took a licentiate and doctorate at Laval, with
Professor De Koninck as my director, going there after taking a
master's in philosophy from the University of Minnesota.
There is a marvelous biographical essay by his son Thomas in
volume one of the Collected Writings.
ZENIT: Why did you decide to compile and translate his collected
works? For what reasons does he deserve a wider, contemporary
McInerny: One night I was rereading an essay by De Koninck on
the Eucharist and I fell back in my chair and thanked God that I
had studied under this man. But he is now all but unknown, his
writings are difficult to find, and few had been translated.
I conceived the project of the collected works as an instance of
pietas and gratitude.
ZENIT: How did De Koninck understand the task of philosophy and
McInerny: His principal mentors were Aristotle and Thomas
Aquinas. He taught by subjecting the texts to a close reading,
conveying a technique that one could continue to employ for a
ZENIT: De Koninck wrote eloquently about how the Mother of God
personifies Wisdom. What role did the Catholic faith play in his
McInerny: De Koninck was a Catholic philosopher, which meant
that the faith – the magisterium – was always the guide for his
His devotion to Mary followed the teaching of St Louis Grignion
de Monfort. His work "Ego Sapientia" is a florilegium of texts
brought together under titles of Mary drawn from the great
masters of Mariology: Bernard and Bonaventure.
ZENIT: His most notable work seems to be his treatise on the
common good. What did De Koninck have to say about this
often-misunderstood concept? In what contemporary context could
his insights have significant value?
McInerny: The book, "The Primacy of the Common Good," was aimed
at the personalists.
Who were they? Marx, Engels, various Renaissance figures whose
thought on the primacy of man De Koninck regarded as tempting to
The book was regarded as an attack on Jacques Maritain. This is
nonsense; Yves Simon saw the teaching of the two men as
identical on this matter.
Father I.T. Eschmann, OP, in a lengthy and condescending study,
sought to show that De Koninck's teaching was at variance with
that of St. Thomas. Eschmann called his essay "A Defense of
Maritain is not mentioned in the "Primacy," nor does he figure
much in Eschmann's defense. But the unfortunate myth was created
that De Koninck was attacking Maritain.
ZENIT: In the first volume, you've compiled a number of works
that address the philosophy of science, as well as themes
related to creation and evolution. What audiences might find
these writings particularly helpful?
McInerny: De Koninck's views of evolution are of fundamental
His account of the relation between natural philosophy and
natural science still awaits a serious appraisal by philosophers
ZENIT: Where is De Koninck's intellectual legacy found today?
McInerny: In many respects, his legacy is embodied in the
approach of Thomas Aquinas College, founded by De Koninck's
students and flourishing in a time of chaos in higher education.
And, of course, in his writings, which are ripe for
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On the Net:
For more information: http://undpress.nd.edu/book/P01230