“Clothe Yourselves in Regal Gowns”
by the Most Rev. Robert E. Barron
Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles
August 19, 2016
Thank you all very much, and thank you, Dr. McLean, for that very kind introduction, that very gracious introduction, which I fear will be longer than my speech! Thank you for that. It is always a joy to come here.
I came to Thomas Aquinas College before I was a bishop. I have told this story before, but I gave this talk that I thought was going to be a little too heavy. It was late at night; I had flown in from Chicago and driven here; and I thought, “Oh, this talk is going to bomb.” And when I finished it, and there was this hour of questions from all of you! So I got a direct taste of the intellectual vitality of this place, which has always been a joy.
One of the joys when I received the news I was coming out here to this region was that Thomas Aquinas College is in the region. So, always a privilege. Let me just share a few simple thoughts with you, focusing especially on this incoming Freshman Class.
It is my privilege to welcome the incoming Freshman Class at Thomas Aquinas College, one of the premier liberal arts colleges in the country and the pride and joy of the Santa Barbara Pastoral Region. You have come to a great place — and to a pivotal moment in your lives. For the next four years, you will have the opportunity to immerse yourselves in the best minds that the Western World has produced: Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Augustine, Boethius, Anselm, Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotus, Dante, Newton, Lincoln, and Einstein — among many others.
In doing so, you will be standing very much athwart the contemporary culture, which holds that truth, both theoretical and moral, is relative and that personal freedom trumps objective value. Your instructors here don’t drift with the cultural mainstream; they believe, with G.K. Chesterton, that an open mind is not an end in itself but rather is like an open mouth, designed to bite down on something solid and nourishing. And they maintain, with Pope John Paul II, that authentic freedom always subsists in tight correlation with the truth. In light of this, please know that you are going to be formed, whether you like it or not, as warriors; for the vision of life that you will take in here will not be widely shared by your contemporaries. Expect opposition; expect a struggle; but enter into the lists with what the French call the joie de combat.
Young friends, know that you will engage in a study of the great minds of the West precisely because this college is dedicated to Jesus Christ and His Gospel. St. John tells us explicitly that “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” It is crucially important to grasp — especially in our relativistic time — that Jesus is not one teacher among many, one more in a long line of prophets and sages, but the very truth that every teacher, prophet, and sage has sought. But if he is the Logos in person, then every particular expression of the Logos — whether it is found in mathematics, poetry, chemistry, physics, or metaphysics — speaks, in some way, of him. This is the ground of Christian humanism and the explanation as to why the best representatives of the Catholic tradition never drove a wedge between faith and reason. It is also why the patron of this school, when asked by the Lord Himself what he desired as a reward for his service, famously responded, “Non nisi te, Domine (Nothing but you, Lord). Thomas Aquinas understood that in receiving Christ, he would receive everything else of value besides.
A final consideration, which might seem a tad trivial after all of this high-flying talk. The study of the greatest minds is, quite simply, a delight. Machiavelli is a thinker with whom I rarely agree, but he said something that I have always treasured. He observed that when he entered his study to read the most sublime philosophers, he took off his mud-spattered workaday clothes and put on a regal gown, for he knew that he was entering into communion with masters. For the next four years, you will set aside mere practicality, clothe yourselves in regal gowns and become participants, however humble, in the most stimulating conversation of all.
Blessings on you all as you commence this adventure! Please pray for me!