FEATURE: â€˜St. Thomas Aquinasâ€™ Thought Is Present and Alive,â€™ Suggest Cardinals Parolin and Marx
June 11, 2019. Centesimus Annus Pro Pontifice Gives Award to American Professor Mary Hirschfeld for Work ‘Aquinas and the Market. Toward a Humane Economy’
“Thomas Aquinas’ thought is always present and alive in theological science and in all the Papal teachings, also in the social, but often it’s not placed in relation with basic concepts of the modern economy.”
With these words of esteem, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, recalled the wisdom of St. Thomas Aquinas, who was front and center of an international event, which also welcomed reflections of Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Archbishop of Freising and Munich, advisor to Pope Francis, and President of the German Bishops Conference.
The eminent prelates, delivered remarks at Rome’s Palazzo della Cancelleria, where the Centesimus Annus Pro Pontifice Foundation awarded their “Economy and Society” International Prize to Villanova University Professor, Dr. Mary L. Hirschfeld, for her book “Aquinas and the Market. Toward a Humane Economy” (Harvard University Press 2018) on May 30, 2019. ZENIT’s Deborah Castellano Lubov was there and spoke to the cardinals.
“Since Saint Thomas is a theologian,” Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Parolin, said: “God is very present in the whole work of Professor Hirschfeld, but in reality He is always present in all the activities of women and men of good will — academics, politicians, economists and other social operators — that sincerely seek the truth and the service of their neighbour, and work to build a more just world and fully respectful of human dignity.”
Cardinal Marx, the President of the German Bishops Conference, who serves as chairman of the jury of the International “Economy and Society” award noted that among the more than 45 works submitted from 12 countries and three continents, it was his special pleasure to announce that this time the jury has chosen an English text as the winner.
Hirshfeld, the work’s author, after having pursued in 1989 a doctorate in Economy at Harvard University and taught for 15 years Economics at the Occidentale College in Los Angeles, pursued in 2013 a doctorate in Theology at Notre Dame. Today, she is Associate Professor of Economy and Theology at Villanova University.
“The award has previously been given to books written in Italian, Spanish, French and German, therefore the jury was also happy to give the award to a book in English.” He noted there were many motives that moved the jury to confer the International Award to this text, including that it constitutes “a true dialogue” between theology and economics.+
To Overcome Dilemmas, Study St. Thomas Aquinas
“Another reason the jury choose this text was because this book on the vision of St. Thomas Aquinas helps to understand that the Social Doctrine of the Church doesn’t actually begin with Leo XIII, but is nourished by roots that reach much further back into Christian tradition.”
The German cardinal observed that the starting point of the book is the observation that “today, even in the so-called rich countries, lots of people are not happy; many live in fear or desperation and do not really rejoice in their life.” Hirschfeld, he said, thinks that many of these diffused problems have one of their roots in the fact that people have a pathological relationship with money.
“Often we accept in an uncritical way the power money has over ourselves and our society. We risk considering money not as a tool for our ends, but let money govern our life. With her book Aquinas and the Market. Toward a Humane Economy, Professor Hirschfeld proposes therefore to institute a new dialogue between economy and theology”
To overcome all these dilemmas, the Archbishop of Munich and Freising said, Hirschfeld recommends the study of St. Thomas of Aquinas as a favorable starting point for the dialogue between Theology and Economics.
“On one hand, in St. Thomas one finds a certain independence between the two areas of interests. Actually, not being connected directly to one of today’s dominant economic schools, his theological principles are not able to be ascribed a priori to one of them,” he said, adding: “On the other hand, the importance given to the theme of happiness within the morale doctrine of Thomas, offers a common starting place for both Theology and Economics, from which however Theology is able to correct a certain unilaterality in the economic position.”
“Happiness,” he reminded, “consists in a real relationship with the infinite, thus it cannot be reached through an indiscriminate accumulation of finite goods.”
Thomas’s thought, Cardinal Marx noted, “is not exclusively critical towards some of today’s fundamental convictions regarding the economy,” but, he said, “is actually able to gather their importance.”
“He sees, for example, private property as something in itself positive, corresponding to the nature of man. Furthermore, Thomas shares the conviction that self-love has a certain priority over altruism, indicating also a certain limit.”
The Cardinal then asked what, for Hirschfeld, are the central intuitions of a Thomistic anthropology, responding “she underlines especially the fact that man’s life has a precise meaning.” The meaning of human life, he suggested she emphasizes, “cannot consist in seeking after an infinite series of different ends; man needs to have one ultimate end that is clearly defined and able to confer a unity to his life.”
The Ultimate End for Thomas
“For Thomas the ultimate end of human life cannot be defined only subjectively,” he continued, saying: “The end has an objective sense, conferred from outside, that is subsequently also accepted subjectively.”
He recognized that such a thesis is not easily accepted in a pluralistic society.
“Thomas is also aware that in reality men have different conceptions concerning the sense of their life. He is convinced that not all the possible responses have the same rational evidence, and yet open to the possibility of discussing the question at hand.”
“For Thomas, the idea of life having an objective meaning is based on his conviction that it was created by God, and not a fruit of chaos. In the present era this conception is no longer universally shared, that being said it remains the vision that the Christian faith proposes.”
Cardinal Marx also observed that the Thomistic conception of the virtue of prudence offers itself as a contrast with economic thought. “For Aquinas prudence is the central cardinal virtue ….[with] its principle task is that of ordering the various goods together coherently. From this perspective the singular decisions are not so much a question of calculation (quantitative), as much as it is a question of discernment (qualitative).”
“Through prudence,” he continued, “man participates in a certain way in God’s creativity. Although it has the task of recognizing the will of God, this does not consist simply in applying a schema, but in determining a singular way, or rather, a truly personal way of realizing that will.”
In Aquinas’ view of economics, he also noted, it is important to order lower ends to higher ends.
“Aquinas does not deny that the market has positive function: it conveys, for example, information to both producers and consumers. He postulates however that economic exchanges should be just…”
Cardinal Marx concluded his remarks, noting Thomas’s framework has two major implications for economic practice. “It invites the economists to embed their analysis in a holistic account of happiness. Insofar as human fulfilment does not require only an adequate provision of material goods, but also relationship and social standing, economists have to learn through interdisciplinary studies from sociologists, psychologists and anthropologists.”
“The second implication,” he argued, “consists in the intuition that the economists inevitably contribute to the culture’s understanding of human nature and the corresponding conceptions of the good life. Economists have to realize that their insights are based on a partial view of human nature that should be completed by others.”
Thomas Thought Is Always Present and Alive
Cardinal Parolin congratulated Professor Hirschfeld on her choice of subject, which, he said, is of great importance for the Social Doctrine of the Church and, more in general, “for the making of a more human economy, for the effort made in its elaboration, as well as for the particular point of view in which she sought to focus on the great principles of modern Western economic thought.”
“In fact, Thomas Aquinas’ thought is always present and alive in theological science and in all the Papal teachings, also in the social, but often it’s not placed in relation with basic concepts of the modern economy.”
Professor Hirschfeld, he noted, makes evident the risk of the economic theorizing of promoting an anthropological reductionism and she sets it against Aquinas’ concept of man.
“Such opposition between a reductive concept of man and his vocation to transcendence is useful to understand the wide breadth of criticisms and of proposals of the Pope in political and economic matters and to see their inclusion in the more authentic tradition of Patristic and Medieval thought, magnificently synthesized by Saint Thomas Aquinas.
“In fact, the Pope and with him the whole of the Social Doctrine of the Church, starts from an integral concept of man, whose happiness is realized not in options of consumption, but in the effective openness to and in sharing with others, and in true love of God. The work now awarded offers a theoretic, philosophic and economic basis to reflect further and develop these teachings of the Church, and to create economic logics that reflect an integral concept of man.”
In focusing on the differences between Thomas Aquinas’ concept of money and that generalized in today’s world, Professor Hirschfeld’s work, the Vatican Secretary of State added, also offers elements to understand the continuity of Pope Francis’ thought with that of the saint.
“Chapter 5 “Economic Life as Ordered to Happiness,” shows the distinction that Aquinas makes between true happiness or a good life, which consists in the exercise of the virtues, and the false hope of a happiness consisting in having ever more material goods. Thus, for the Angelic Doctor, greed, even if coordinated by the market, always tends to the deification of the mirage of infinite access to material goods.”
Professor Hirschfeld’s work points out some coincidences of the conclusions that are deduced from Saint Thomas’ thought with those of economists that refer to other religious traditions, such as Indian Amartya Sen. Noted is the existence of common conclusions of Amartya and of Aristotle, despite their being separated by more than two thousand years.
In this connection, one could add that Thomas Aquinas does not feed his thought only from Aristotle, but also and a lot from Saint Augustine and from thinkers of the Platonic School, such as Pseudo-Dionysius, or from Arab philosophers, such as Avicenna and Averroes. The study of relationships between the thought of the Angelic Doctor and modern economic thought, so well developed in the work awarded, could become, therefore, a fertile field of inter-religious and cultural dialogue, as well as of the common influence of the various religions on the social reality.
“The treatise “Aquinas and the Market, Towards a Humane Economy,” he suggested, offers the opportunity to revive forcefully a renewed study of the social and anthropological aspects of contemporary Thomist thought.”
“By putting rigorously in focus” some aspects of Saint Thomas’ thought, Cardinal Parolin said, Professor Hirschfeld has succeeded in offering a consistent model of the economy-theology dialogue, which opens a wide scientific panorama. “I’m sure that the author is aware that her book is inserted in a rich cultural tradition and that it will be useful to renew and reinforce, with solid philosophical and theological elements, the debate on today’s global economic and political attitude.”
The Vatican Secretary of State thanked Mary Hirschfeld, also in the name of His Holiness Francis, for “the outstanding work carried out,” applauding the “highly opportune” decision of the Centesimus Annus – Pro Pontifice Foundation to award “Aquinas and the Market, Towards a Humane Economy.”
Cardinal Parolin encouraged the foundation to continue being committed “in promoting a social Christian thought of high scientific depth and capable of dialoguing validly with the academic and university realms.”