Dr. Tracey Rowland

Interview with Dr. Tracey Rowland - 29-10-2004


1. Can you introduce yourself to our readers?

My name is Tracey Rowland.  I am the Dean of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family (Melbourne) and Permanent Fellow in Political Philosophy and Continental Theology.

2. What research are you doing at this moment and what courses are you teaching?

I teach " St Thomas in the 21st Century" with Professor Hayden Ramsay; "The New Evangelisation in Post-Modern Culture" with Dr Michael Casey, " Vatican II and John Paul II" and introductory subjects in the areas of philosophical and theological anthropology.

My areas of research include: the Liberal Tradition, Genealogies of Modernity and Post-modernity, especially of scholars associated with the Communio and Radical Orthodoxy circles, interpretations of Vatican II, the philosophy of language and its relevance to the New Evangelisation, and the relationship between the transcendentals and theological virtues.

3. What is the most important thing you learned from Aquinas?

His understanding of the image of the Trinity within the human person, that is, the links between Trinitarian theology and anthropology.

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

In my final year of secondary school I read an article by Tony Abbott in the Sydney Catholic Weekly about defending the faith at university.  Abbott was then a rugby playing Law graduate who had just won a Rhodes scholarship.  He is now an Australian Commonwealth Government Minister.  His article included a list of books he thought people ought to read if they wanted to keep their faith at university.  It included quite a few works by Maritain.  Once at university I discovered Etienne Gilson, James V. Schall SJ, Frederick Copelston SJ and Cornelio Fabro by myself.  Since my particular interest was in political philosophy I started reading every article by Fr Schall I could find.  From time to time I also attended the classes of Fr Joe Johnson SJ at the Jesuit Theological College in Melbourne .  His classes were a paradigm example of a tradition being handed on from a master to novices.  When I later read Alasdair MacIntyre's account of the way in which intellectual traditions are transmitted from one generation to another I was reminded of Joe's classes.

In 1989 I wrote my Masters dissertation at the time when European Communism was imploding.  Francis Fukuyama had just published his famous article in which he argued that with the fall of Communism, liberalism was internationally triumphant.  My dissertation, researched in Cracow , argued against Fukuyama 's conclusion by demonstrating that many of the intellectuals behind the Central European resistance movements were influenced by Thomism and the ideals of Christian democracy, not secular liberalism.  I was strongly influenced in this context by the works of the Polish Thomist Ryszard Legutko of the Jagiellonian University .

At about that time I was lecturing in the Politics Faculty of a secular Australian University and here I came across Alasdair MacIntyre's After Virtue and Whose Justice? Which Rationality?  I then developed an interest in MacIntyre's works generally and I started to see more clearly that there were problems with Maritain's attempted reapproachment with the Liberal tradition.

When I first went to Cambridge I was intending to write my doctoral dissertation on MacIntyre's notion of a tradition-dependent rationality.  I thus started to look at the issue of the rôle of culture within the moral formation of persons and this ended in the publication of "Culture and the Thomist Tradition: after Vatican II" via a rather circumlocutious route through the thought of the German romantics.   My dissertation was supervised at various times by John Milbank, Janet Martin Soskice, Denys Turner and Anthony Fisher OP.   I am intellectually indebted to them all in different ways, but when it comes to Thomism I am closer to the anti-Kantian Radical Orthodoxy view of Milbank and Catherine Pickstock than to the sympathetic to Kant New Natural Law position of Finnis and Grisez.

My interest in the theological importance of culture also led me to von Balthasar and I am therefore one of those types who believes that one can appreciate von Balthasar without being some kind of traitor to the Thomist tradition.  This interest in continental theology also means that I feel a strong affinity with Thomists like Aidan Nichols OP and Fergus Kerr OP who were my doctoral examiners.

Overall I would say that the greatest influences on my appreciation of Thomism have been Schall (in the context of political philosophy), Gilson (in the context of Thomist history), Legutko (in the context of economic philosophy), and MacIntyre (in the context of ethics and natural law).

5. What is the importance of Aquinas for our times, especially in relationship to your field of research?

I think that Aquinas laid the foundations for an understanding of the human person ie for theological and philosophical anthropology, which is indispensable for the defence of the dignity of human life against Liberal and Nietzschean alternatives.  As John Haldane has argued, ‘only an incarnational anthropology such as that proposed by Aquinas can adequately explain the subjectivity of Heidegger's Dasein, and its very existence.'  I do however believe that there were many problems with the presentation of the human person in Leonine Thomism, in particular, that there was a tendency to neglect a consideration of the rôle of history and culture in the formation of persons or what is now called the dimension of relationality.  In this context the work of Karol Wojtyla as he was and M.A. Krapiec O.P. of the Lublin School was a significant breakthrough.

6. How would you describe the current status of Thomism in your country and/or in general?

In Australia it is dismal.  Thomism is not on the radar screen of most academics.  The exceptions are Professor Hayden Ramsay of the John Paul II Institute and the Catholic Institute of Sydney, Bishop Anthony Fisher OP of the same institutions, and the Lonerganians such as Peter Beer SJ, Tom Daly SJ and Matthew Ogilvie.  There is also a Centre for Thomistic Studies in Sydney founded in 1985 for the purpose of continuing the work begun by the late Dr Austin Woodbury, a Marist priest and a leading Australian proponent of Thomism.  Fr Peter Joseph, Chancellor of the Maronite Diocese, and lecturer in Systematic Theology at the John Paul II Institute (Melbourne), is a post-Conciliar generation Thomist whose doctoral dissertation presented at the Gregorian was on the topic of the resurrection of the body in the thought of St. Thomas; and Dr Nicholas Tonti-Filipinni, a leading Australian bio-ethicist, is also familiar with the territory of Thomism. Within the secular universities the works of Finnis are usually taught in jurisprudence classes in law schools, and MacIntyre is taken seriously in departments of politics and philosophy.  John Haldane's works are also listed for reading in some philosophy departments.  In addition to the above names, there are a number of Dominican scholars who keep alive aspects of the Thomist tradition within theology departments.

7. Which publications of yourself do you consider to be the most important for Aquinas' researchers to read?

Culture and the Thomist Tradition: after Vatican II (Routledge: London , 2003)

‘Divine Gifts to the Secular Desert : John Milbank's Being Reconciled', Reviews in Religion and Theology, Vol. 11 (2), April, 2004.
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