The Centre for Thomistic Studies Inc was formed by a group of Sydney lay Catholics in 1985 for the purpose of continuing the work begun in 1945 by the late Rev Dr A.M. Woodbury SM. Dr Woodbury, affectionately known as 'the Doc', more than any other person was responsible for bringing to the lay people of Australia the wealth of wisdom and understanding to be found in the writings of St Thomas Aquinas.
Pope John Paul II, in an address to Catholic youth, endorsed the value for our own day of St Thomas' thought. 'The philosophy of St Thomas', he said, 'deserves to be attentively studied and accepted with conviction by the youth of our day by reason of its spirit of openness and universalism: characteristics which are hard to find in many trends of contemporary thought ... As a Catholic you are heir to mankind's supreme intellectual tradition'.
Cardinal George Pell has described the Centre for Thomistic Studies 'as a superb example of the initiative of laymen and women in promoting the study and understanding of philosophy and theology under the wise guidance of St Thomas Aquinas', adding that it made 'a valuable contribution to the life of the Church in this city' and that he was 'happy to be known as a supporter of the Centre'.
Everyone today is acutely aware of the concerted secular 'push', at all levels of popular and academic education, to set in opposition both faith and reason, and religion and science. The most effective way to counter this is to draw on the insights of the great Catholic defenders of the faith who are also acknowledged as champions of reason.
Dr Woodbury in his own day encountered these sorts of attacks upon our ability to attain to the truth of things, though then it was not done is such a brazenly anti-religious way as today. Some may recall his confrontations with the academic philosophers at Sydney University, notably Professor John Anderson, who had an enormous influence on the thinking of many of the leading lights of our Australian culture in the latter half of the 20th century.
Well before Vatican II Dr Woodbury saw the need to make available to the laity what had for too long been the preserve of a few, the treasures of Catholic wisdom to be found in the works of Thomas Aquinas. In doing so, he echoed the wishes of Benedict XV, who said in 1916, 'We esteem that it is also a most opportune work to draw out, so to speak, the Angelic Doctor from the enclosure of the School, in order to permit him to radiate outside and to project the almost divine light of his genius on all those who wish to make their religion more profound.'
We must be careful, of course, in the way we present St Thomas. The mode of presentation that the scholastics of St Thomas' time used needs to be adapted to the different mode of thinking that applies today.
The same Pope also stressed something that is often misunderstood about the study of 'the truth that the Catholic faith professes' - the freedom of thought and expression that is part and parcel of its discussion by all, laity and clergy alike. In his first encyclical Benedict XV made a point of saying: 'As regards matters in which without harm to faith or discipline - in the absence of any authoritative intervention of the Apostolic See - there is room for divergent opinions, it is clearly the right of everyone to express and defend his own opinion'.
Search for truth
Truth and freedom necessarily go together. Those who come to the Centre in Sydney will find that it is marked by a spirit of free communication of ideas in the search for truth. As one of our former students put it, 'I go to CTS because it is a real community of scholars.'
It is not necessary, of course, to study St Thomas in order to advance in our understanding of the truth that the Catholic faith professes. St Thomas himself says somewhere that an unlearned person of simple faith can be holier and wiser than the most learned theologian. It is in charity, or the love of Christ, that true wisdom is to be found. But, as the present Pope has said, 'A true love of Christ ... expresses itself also in the will to know Him and everything that pertains to Him.' That is what St Thomas' philosophy and theology are all about.
We should not feel that the study of these is too deep for us. For Thomas was a great saint and so had the gifts of humility and simplicity. What he has to say is suprisingly easy to understand, especially for one familiar with the Scriptures. The experience of one of our students is typical. 'What impresses us most', he said, 'is the depth of knowledge of the subject matter, but presented in an easy to understand manner."'
The courses at the Centre are generally of 30 one hour lectures over four terms held on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings commencing at 5pm, 6pm and 7pm. Full details of the program of studies for 2008, lectures of which commenced on 25 February 2008, can be found on the website below.
Fees are kept to an absolute minimum, starting at just $200 for a one year course for non-degree students, with significant concessions for students, etc. By reason of an affiliation with a Pontifical University in Rome the Centre has the faculty to provide courses towards a degree. Interested students may enrol to obtain credits towards such a pontifical degree. Additional fees are applicable here, details of which can be obtained on application.
The Centre is open to everyone, with no prior qualifications needed. It attracts people from all walks of life and all ages. Why not come and find out more about the truth that the Catholic faith professes?
Formerly a lawyer, Dr Donald Boland studied under Dr Woodbury at the Aquinas Academy and from 1970 to 1985 taught philosophy at various Catholic educational institutions in and around Sydney. He has also taught Law at the University of Newcastle and Ethics at the University of Technology, Sydney.
Since 1986 he has lectured at the Centre for Thomistic Studies and many of his articles are available on the CTS website.