A LADDER TO GOD
A Dominican university Angelicum has existed for nearly eight hundred years. It was established in 1222 near monastery Santa Sabina in order to educate future monks. Although it has had the university status for nearly over half a century, graduation from it has always been connected with a high prestige.
The beginnings of the Papal University of St. Thomas Aquinas, commonly known as Angelicum, reach back the General Study founded by St. Thomas, which had received the right to give the academic titles both to priests and laymen from Benedict XIII in the XVIII century. Whereas in the end of the XIX century two departments were established: first the department of philosophy, then Canonical Law. In 1906 pope Pius X raised the College to the range of the papal university. 20 years later, under the decision of Vatican, the College was changed into the Papal International Institute Angelicum. In 1963 John XXIII changed its status into: the Papal University of St. Thomas Aquinas.
The university is in the centre of Rome. And although it educates nearly a thousand students, it is known all over the world. In 70 per cent its students are priests and nuns from nearly a hundred countries. The others are laymen. At four departments: Canonical Law, Theology, Philosophy, Social Studies. Nearly 150 priests from all continents are lecturers at the university, including Polish priests, the Dominican Fathers: Wojciech Giertych, Ryszard Rybka and till the year 2016 Jacek Norkowski, as well as a Pauline Father Bacyli Degórski. Among many prominent, recognizable and appreciated students of the university the most famous person all over the world was the graduate Karol Wojtyła, studying at the Department of Theology in the years 1946-48.
Tasks which Angelicum is facing, were briefly presented by a longtime rector of the university Fr. Edward Kaczyński OP: ‘The basic inspiration of the University is loving the truth studied and expressed by St. Thomas and the Dominican tradition. (…) The main tasks of the University is: passing the richness of the past to young generations, searching for solutions for new problems of the Church and the world as well as expressing them in a language understandable for everybody. So, it must pass not only the deposit of faith to future generations, but also carry out academic studies and publish their results. (…) Angelicum University is trying to open a suitable environment for integral formation (…), environment which enables a sincere dialogue in aiming at civilization of love in the spirit of human and Christian communion. (…) This philosophical-theological tradition has been respected and appreciated by the Church for ages, and, first of all, by the last popes and the Vatican Council II. It was expressed particularly in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and in encyclicals of John Paul II: ‘Veritatis splendor’, ‘Evangelium vitae’ and ‘Fides et ratio’. One of the main tasks of the Church and also theology is undertake a dialogue with the contemporary culture, which, undergoing secularism, isolates the Church and religion as ‘relicts’ of the past, worth acknowledging, but being on the side of history. So, Catholic and papal universities should conduct a dialogue with private and state universities, so that in our world which is divided, it would be possible to avoid a danger of cultural isolations. The university is also called for a dialogue with other Christian and non-Christian religions.
An exceptional university
From the beginning I experienced exceptionality of this university. It also had a great value for me through a clear reference to St. Thomas – says Fr. Dr. Michał Mrozek OP, a graduate from the Angelicum, the current vice-director of the Thomist University. – Thanks to this reference, Angelicum creates a more coherent program. A wide range of lectures, both from moral theology and dogmatic or spirituality, which I had at the university, had a common denominator: a thought of St. Thomas. This is a great tradition of the Church, giving a feeling of a kind of continuance of Christianity. I think that it is worth reminding about it, because sometimes we hear that the Church has been existing since the Second Vatican Council. It seems to me a narrow thinking. I think that it is good to read the contemporary times through the prism of the whole great tradition of the Church. Through the prism of many texts and sources, particularly St. Augustine or St. Thomas. It gives us a deeper breath. Moreover, studying at this university was for me such a connection of studying ancient texts with Dominicans’ freedom, sense of humour and a kind of freedom. Internationality of students and lecturers created the atmosphere of freedom. I have nice memories about discussions during seminars. Our languages and cultures were different, but we were in the centre of the great tradition and also connecting St. Thomas with new problems. Works of St. Thomas turned out to be a school of brave and open attitude in searching for the truth. For us, the Dominicans, it is obvious that we are looking for the truth and love; that it is important to trust the reason and look for the truth, not be afraid of difficult questions or doubts. Because the reason is a ladder given from God in order to climb, search, explain doubtful things, go beyond limits. People often contrast spirituality and the reason, and our tradition has been connecting these things from the beginning.
Exceptionality of this university is also emphasized by Fr. Dr. of medical sciences Jacek Norkowski OP, a lecturer at Angelicum (2012 – 16) who ran classes in moral theology, including bioethics at the Department of Philosophy. He emphasizes that what fascinated and still fascinates him in the native school is the fact that people of all cultures from all over the world can study the teaching of the Church with great openness.
I am delighted particularly by the fact that they study the teaching of St. Thomas – says Fr. Norkowski. – They arrive from the steppe, savanna or from Europe and clarity of this teaching reaches to every man. This is fascinating openness and also the community of faith. Because our catholic university has just been established as well as the others, when modern philosophy began to appear. Philosophy which, in fact, is not philosophy in some trends at all, but only a kind of a pseudo-religion. The example here is Hegelianism and its all branches, which lead, among the others, to Marxism. It were them which strongly attacked the teaching of the Church and started to exist at German universities. Philosophical schools, similar in their subjectivism, appeared in Anglo-Saxon countries. Briefly speaking, these philosophies created an intellectual atmosphere in which it was impossible to show rationality of God’s word and accept the teaching of the Church. Therefore, it was necessary to create environments, universities where Thomism was shown anew and it was how neo-Thomism appeared. In other words – rational attitude to the issues of the world, according to Aristotle and St. Thomas. And, on the one hand, the idea of rationality and non-rationality of the world was suggested, but, on the other hand, a kind of realism was; that we can speak not only about the human being as the only certain being, but we can also speak about God rationally. All those ideologies negated the notion of God, soul as completely irrational, contrary to the reason. So, one can speak about theology as science which is to serve to deepen faith.