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Being attentive to 'ideological usurpation' of Aquinas' thought - Interview with Rochus Leonhardt

Rochus Leonhardt (1965) belongs to the theologians who have studied Aquinas from a non-Catholic perspective. He studied Lutheran Theology in Naumburg and Leipzig (Germany). In 1996 he wrote a dissertation on Thomas Aquinas' doctrine of beatitude. In 2001 he published his 'Habilitationsschrift'. At this moment he teaches in Rostock.
What are you doing at this moment? Are you currently doing any research on Aquinas?

Since the publication of my dissertation on the Thomistic doctrine of beatitude, I haven't done much research on Aquinas. At this moment, however, I am writing a paper on human happiness against the background of Modernity. Doing this I notice the topicality of many (not all!) aspects of Aquinas' thought today. It is my impression that many a modern reflection on the subject of happiness or a happy life is weakened by a partial knowledge of the older tradition in which Aquinas is, without any doubt, one of the highlights.

What courses are you teaching this semester?

In the coming (Winter) semester 2001/02 I shall teach an introduction to Christian dogmatics. Together with a colleague I shall also present a seminar on questions regarding sociology of religion.

In what way were you introduced to the thought of Thomas and whom do you consider to be your teacher in Aquinas?

Already during my study I dealt with Aquinas from time to time, although his thought hardly plays any role in Lutheran theology. The reason why I wrote my dissertation on Aquinas nevertheless has (among other things) to do with Ulrich Kühn (Leipzig). In the 1960s Kühn made an important contribution with his Habilitationsschrift 'Via Caritatis'. He encouraged me to interpret Aquinas' beatitude-doctrine from a Lutheran perspective.

What is the most important thing you learned from Aquinas?

Thomas Aquinas stands for a culture of discourse with ultimate rationality. Especially the Disputed Questions make this clear. Until today one can learn from Aquinas how important and reasonable it is to take serious other arguments and deal with them extensively once one’s own position has been developed. Contemporary debating-culture in public, but also in an academic setting, reaches the level of the 13th century only by exception.

What works of Aquinas are you most familiar with?

I worked intensively on the texts from the Commentary on the Sentences, the Summa contra Gentiles and the Summa Theologiae where the theme of beatitude and felicity and all that is related to it are treated. Besides these I know the Commentary on the Nicomachean Ethics (Sententia libri Ethicorum, Ed. Leonina, Band XLVII) quite well. In connection with a course in Winter 1996/97 I have also read parts of the Commentary on Job (Parma-Ausgabe, Band XIV).

What is the importance of research in Aquinas for our times?

Aquinas research gives contemporary theology and philosophy the opportunity to (self-)critical confrontation with a way of thinking in which plurality is approached as a differentiation of unity. Showing how the unity of truth can be maintained as a sort of regulative idea is, in my view, an important task for contemporary Aquinas research.

What are your expectations of the Thomas Instituut?

In my opinion, the main task of the Thomas Institute is to continuously counteract possible tendencies of 'ideological usurpation' of Aquinas' thought and ask for an 'open-ended' and scholarly solid study of Aquinas' thought.

What do you think of the Internet in general and of the Thomas Instituut website in particular?

The Internet has both the advantages and disadvantages of modern media: they enable an enormous amount of possibilities. At the same time, however, they put a strain on the user who has to learn to make competent choices. The website of the Thomas Institute is exemplary because it facilitates the choice by its clear organisation.