This document was first published in 1969 as a proposal for Thomas Aquinas College. In the years since its founding, and thanks to God’s infinite generosity, the College has reached its full enrollment of 350 students and nearly completed its campus in Santa Paula, California. More important is the fact that the College has remained completely faithful to the vision of genuine Catholic liberal education outlined in this proposal, and, God willing, will do so as long as it continues to exist.
In one of its most important parts, the proposal speaks of faith as a “light … which illumines understanding and serves as an indispensable guide in the intellectual life….” “Contrary to what is often assumed,” it continues, “liberal education does not take place in spite of or even apart from the Christian faith. Rather, the Christian student, because of his faith, can be liberally educated in the most perfect and complete way.”
Catholic liberal education is best characterized as faith seeking understanding. Both the teacher and learner believe the fullness of the Christian message and desire to understand it more perfectly … to see, as much as is possible, what is first believed. At Thomas Aquinas College, we pursue this understanding guided by our patron, St. Thomas Aquinas, as has been encouraged by the Church for many centuries, up to and including the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Pope Leo XIII said that St. Thomas’ theology was a “definitive exposition of the Christian faith;” the first Vatican Council elevated St. Thomas to the preeminent status of “teacher of the Church;” and in Fides et Ratio, John Paul II said “the Church has been justified in consistently proposing St. Thomas as a master of thought and a model of the right way to pursue theology …”
St. Thomas is so important because his principles, methods, and chief doctrines, as well as those of Aristotle, on whom the work of St. Thomas securely rests, are true in their own right, and are sure ways to a deeper understanding of our Catholic faith and to a deeper appropriation of the life-giving mysteries revealed in the Scriptures, in the tradition of the Church, and in the world God has created.
Students at Thomas Aquinas College are greatly aided in their pursuit of wisdom by their study of the other principal disciplines — language, logic, literature, music, mathematics, and natural science — which themselves are sources of knowledge, and by which, in the words of Hugh of St. Victor, “the lively soul enters into the secrets of philosophy.” Because these disciplines are ordered to the study of philosophy and theology, the College’s unified and coherent curriculum enables our students to see the unity of all truth and the harmony between faith and reason.
Those who pursue this curriculum are aided as well by reading the greatest books, the books which best enable us to address the difficult questions we all must confront, the books which speak to our deepest yearnings, touch our most profound tribulations, and celebrate our greatest joys.
Finally, classes at Thomas Aquinas College typically involve lively conversation and serious engagement with the thoughts of others, helping students acquire the intellectual and moral virtues, increasing their knowledge and love of God, and fitting them for lives of service to Church, country, and community, no matter what vocations or professions they choose to pursue.
The proposal expounded in this document was drafted in the spring of 1968 by the late Ronald P. McArthur and the late Marcus R. Berquist, and was later revised with the help of John W. Neumayr. Dr. McArthur subsequently served as president of Thomas Aquinas College for its first twenty years and then as a member of the College’s faculty, as was Mr. Berquist. Dr. Neumayr is now an emeritus member of the faculty. The discussion of wonder as the proper motive for leading the intellectual life was contributed by Edmund Dolan, F.S.C., late Professor of Philosophy at St. Mary’s College of California
Thomas Aquinas College continues to attract students and faculty of exemplary character and noble aspirations who pursue its educational program energetically and with great joy. As the College continues in its work, we pray that God will continue to bless its efforts as He has so abundantly in the past.
Michael F. McLean, Ph.D.