B.A., Xavier University, 1993; M.A., Boston College, 1996; Ph.D., Boston College, 2009; Graduate Fellowship, Institute for the Study of Politics and Religion (Boston College), 1994-98; Teaching Assistant, Boston College, 1998; Summer Research Stipend, Olin Foundation, 1998; German Culture Research Scholarship, Goethe-Institut Rothenburg, 1999; Graduate Fellowship, Institute of Medieval Philosophy and Theology (Boston College), 1999-2000; Teaching Fellow, Boston College, 2000-01; Research Assistant, Harvard Medical School, 2001-02; Tutor, Thomas Aquinas College, 2002-.
The name Niccolo Machiavelli has come down to us through the centuries as synonymous for amoral cunning and brute political force. His classic work, The Prince, describes the means by which a prince may gain and maintain power. One might wonder: what good can come from Machiavelli?
One answer: Phillip Wodzinski.
Born and raised in Pittsburgh, the oldest of five boys, Phillip graduated from high school with a love for literature that brought him to Xavier University in Cincinnati, where he thought he would major in it. Nathaniel Hawthorne, Thomas Wolfe, Franz Kafka, and F. Scott Fitzgerald were among his favorite authors.
But in his freshman year, he happened on a political science course, and the first text he read was The Prince. It captivated him. How should a ruler keep power? How do morals apply? Can one reign well without traditional virtue? He realized that the questions Machiavelli raised were lasting, and not of some passing trend. It got him thinking about the ultimate issues of life. In short, it turned him into a student of philosophy.
He devoured all the philosophy he could — Aristotle, Plato, Bacon, Descartes, Hobbes, Kant — and acquired a lifelong desire for truth in reading them. “I was fortunate to have several very good professors,” he explains. “Since Xavier has no graduate school, the professors would expend all their energies on undergrads, like me.” Phillip was one of only three philosophy majors in the school at the time of his decision to adopt the major.
While at Xavier, he racked up an impressive array of honors: The Archbishop McNicholas Philosophy Award, a National Endowment for the Humanities Young Scholars Summer Fellowship, the Thomas J. Savage, S.J., Scholarship for Study in the Humanities, and, for four years straight, the Xavier University Presidential Scholarship.
He was graduated magna cum laude and decided to pursue further studies in political philosophy at Boston College under the distinguished Plato scholar, Christopher Bruell, and under the noted Thomist, Fr. Ernest Fortin. He obtained his master’s degree in political science and then became interested in two modern philosophers, Immanuel Kant and Georg Friedrich Hegel.
Under Kant scholar Susan Shell, Phillip pursued his special interest in Kant. He became intrigued by certain under-appreciated texts of Kant that illuminated Kant’s thinking and influence on religion in public life. Phillip found in Kant (along with Baruch Spinoza) the fountainhead of modern religious studies — studies which have tended to cast doubt on traditional notions of Holy Scripture and which have generated the so-called “historical Jesus.”
Phillip was fascinated with this connection because he was disturbed by the many modern theologians who are bent on diluting matters of faith. “I couldn’t understand why they bothered to continue teaching theology. They don’t believe in God, the divinity of Christ, the possibility of miracles, the redemption of mankind, and they seem to relish the contortion of Scripture.”
But in studying Kant, he found out what animated them this way. “In Kant’s mind, and in the mind of so many theologians thereafter, religion is essentially a political, not a theological, matter,” he said. “The purpose of religion is not to ascend to God, but is geared toward practical social, or at best, moral, ends.
“For them, the sacramental meaning of the Eucharist is subordinated to the cause for feeding the hungry. Feeding the hungry becomes a paramount end, and Eucharistic devotion is either ignored, construed in relation to it, or reduced to a symbolism of ‘community.’ Hatred of hierarchy also follows. The political end to be served is egalitarianism. Any organization or religion based on a hierarchy, such as the Catholic Church, is bad and must be restructured. Any political agenda predicated on individual autonomy, such as abortion, contraception, euthanasia, must be tolerated.
“My dissertation, however, is not a polemic against modernist theology. Rather, it is an attempt to demonstrate the real depth and concreteness of Kant’s political philosophy. These can be grasped most clearly after a careful reading of his works on theology and religious practice. Although Kant is largely responsible for much of the disarray in theological studies, he really does see the problem of religion in more complexity than do his latter-day followers.”
Dr. Wodzinski has been sustained in his efforts by fellowships from Boston College and The Harry and Lynde Bradley Foundation. In 1999, he obtained a Scholarship for Culture Study in Germany, at the Goethe-Institut Rothenburg. In 2002, two of his papers were accepted at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, “Kant on War, Religion, and Eternal Peace” and “The Political Implications of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.”
On completing his graduate studies at Boston College, Dr. Wodzinski discerned that he would like to teach at the undergraduate level. One of his advisors, Dr. Steven Brown, suggested he would enjoy teaching at Thomas Aquinas College because of its inter-disciplinary curriculum. He took a trip to the College and got excited.
“I love philosophy, but I also thought it would be great to plunge into mathematics, science, literature, and theology. While philosophy is the highest human science, wisdom isn’t limited by departmental boundaries. The boundaries that pervade so much of American higher education are really artificial. Here, you get to see the life of the mind in full array.”
“Plus, to see the Catholic dimension to it is awe-inspiring. I was astounded when I got to take the Oath of Fidelity. Next to witnessing my children’s baptisms, it was the proudest thing I’ve ever done. Most of my peers in graduate school would have recoiled from doing that. I took it as a privilege.”
Dr. Wodzinski’s wife, Melissa, a native of Cleveland, has accompanied him throughout his intellectual and geographical journey. They met at Xavier where she was the “other one” of three philosophy majors. They married after graduation and she, too, pursued graduate studies at Boston College. Her interests were Aristotle and Hobbes, but those became subordinated to raising a family. She halted studies after obtaining her master’s degree and just before obtaining her doctorate, all for the sake of motherhood, just before the birth of the first of the Wodzinski’s three children.