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Above: Rev. Michael J. Dodds, O.P. discusses his lecture with physics
professor Dr. Stephen J. Mecca ’64 & ’66G. Below, Dr. Giuseppe Butera
with Lisska prize winners Robert Gervasini, Jr., ’15, left, and seminarian
Kevin Chalifoux.

Feast day of St. Thomas Aquinas celebrated with lecture, prizes, and post-Mass bash

Providence College celebrated the feast day of St. Thomas Aquinas, patron saint of universities and college students, with a lecture by a prominent theologian, the awarding of prizes for the best theology and philosophy papers, and a party in the Campus Ministry Center.

In Aquinas Hall Lounge, Rev. Michael J. Dodds, O.P., professor of philosophy and theology at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley, Calif., spoke about “Divine Action Unlocked: Thomas Aquinas and Contemporary Science.” In presenting the St. Thomas Aquinas Lecture on Philosophy and Theology, he proposed that advances in modern science make it possible to consider new ways of understanding divine action in the world.

Father Dodds, a native of Iowa, was ordained to the Dominican Order of Preachers in 1977 and has taught at the Dominican House of Studies since 1985. He received a doctorate in theology from the University of Fribourg in Switzerland and is the author of The Unchanging God of Love: Thomas Aquinas and Contemporary Theology (The Catholic University of America Press, 2008) and Unlocking Divine Action: Contemporary Science and Thomas Aquinas (The Catholic University of America Press, 2012). 

The lecture is one of four lectures offered each year through the generosity of Edward J. Aquinas Quinn ’63 and his wife, Kathleen Reilly Quinn, and sponsored by the Center for Catholic and Dominican Studies

A way to affirm “God’s action in the world”

Father Dodds said that discoveries in contemporary science have broadened our understanding of causality — the relation between a cause and its effect. While Aquinas and Aristotle understood causality in terms of material, formal, efficient, and final causes, modern physics reduced it to efficient and material causes only — the energy that moves atoms, Father Dodds noted.

Today, science has broadened the notion of causality through the influence of quantum mechanics, emergence, the Big Bang, and anthropic principle, said Father Dodds — an understanding that is “curiously reminiscent of the four causes of classical philosophy.”

“Contemporary science offers theologians two fundamentally new options for speaking about divine action,” said Father Dodds. “One is to import the new discoveries of science themselves into theology and use them to speak of divine action. The other is to employ not the discoveries themselves but the expanded notion of causality that they imply, as a way of conceptualizing God’s action. The second way invites a retrieval of certain classical notions of causality.”

The change unlocks a way to allow theologians to “affirm God’s action in the world, God’s intimate presence in all creation, and God’s providential care of all things,” Father Dodds said.

“The material stuff of the universe is a cause, but so are ideas in the mind of God,” said Father Dodds. “The sculptor is the cause of a statue, but so is the statue’s form or shape and the purpose or goal that motivates the artist.”

Student papers receive awards

Before the lecture, Dr. Giuseppe Butera, associate professor of philosophy, presented the annual Lisska Book Awards to the students who wrote the best philosophy paper and the best theology paper in the previous year, as judged by the Department of Philosophy and the Department of Theology.

The awards were established by Dr. Anthony Lisska ’63 and Lawrence Lisska ’66. Each winner received a $200 gift certificate.

Robert Gervasini, Jr. ’15 (Westerly, R.I.) was awarded the prize for the best philosophy paper, “Wittgenstein: The Mind and the Illusion of Private Language.” Kevin Chalifoux, a seminarian from Our Lady of Providence Seminary who is studying at the College, received the prize for the best theology paper, “‘In this Twilight Our Choices Seal Our Fate’: The Necessity of Faith in Jesus Christ for Salvation, as Understood by St. Thomas Aquinas and Current Catholic Doctrine.” 

Students also celebrated the feast day of St. Thomas Aquinas with a post-Mass bash in the Campus Ministry Center that featured A-quinoa salad, oxen cake pops, Summa alphabet soup, and sun cupcakes.

Two more Quinn family lectures are scheduled this semester.

On Tuesday, March 25, at 7 p.m. in Aquinas Hall Lounge, the St. Joseph Lecture on History, Justice, and Peace will be presented. “Can You Do Well While Doing Good” will be the topic of Rev. Oliver F. Williams, C.S.C., associate professor of management at the University of Notre Dame, where he also is a fellow at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Studies and director of the Center for Ethics and Religious Values.

On Wednesday, April 23, at 4 p.m. in Aquinas Hall Lounge, the St. Catherine of Siena Lecture on Spirituality and the Frontiers of Evangelization will be presented by Rev. Paul Murray, O.P., professor of spiritual theology at the Pontifical Faculty of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome. His topic will be “‘I am Myself Alone’: Shakespeare and the Human Casualty.”

In November, the St. Albert the Great Lecture on Faith, Reason, and Science was presented by Rev. Christopher J. Corbally, S.J., president of the Vatican’s National Committee for Astronomy. His topic was “Imagine That: Twenty Years of an Innovative Telescope for the Vatican.”


— Vicki-Ann Downing​​​​​​​​

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