Jean-Pierre Torrell's Research on Thomas Aquinas

Article excerpt

THE TWENTIETH CENTURY was a century that rediscovered Thomas Aquinas. The era was a time not only of various neo-Thomisms but of persons and schools whose labor and courage offered a deeper understanding of the medieval theologian's ideas and perspectives. The work of scholars as diverse as Marie-Dominique Chenu and Etiene Gilson, Bernard Lonergan and Yves Congar gave us extensive historical study of the Middle Ages while at the same time expanding our knowledge of the theological depths of Aquinas. Theological applications, whether to the psychology of faith or the reality of sacrament, have built on this century of research reaching from Martin Grabmann, Thomas Gilby, and Adolf Hofmann to Leonard Boyle, Ulrich Horst, Serge-Thomas Bonino, and the subject of this brief study, Jean-Pierre Torrell.

Many of theologians of Vatican II such as Chenu, Edward Schillebeeckx, and Karl Rahner enhanced the theological comprehension of Aquinas. The council brought a rapid decline of iterest in Thomism by admitting biblical, patristic, and modern theologies as it sources and thus ending the monopoly of neo-Scholasticsm in the Roman Catholic Church from 1860 to 1960. (1) In the years since the 700th anniversary in 1974 of Aquinas's death, an abundance of new studies have appeared. Otto Hermann Pesch speaks of books and articles on Aquinas "sprouting up like mushrooms" in recent years. One thinks of Pesch's own publications, essays by Walter Principe and Edourd-Henri Weber, and many volumes from congresses, particularly the more than 50 volumes of the Studi tomistici and the special issues of the Revue thomiste. Richard Ingardia's bibliography of two recent decades, Thomas Aquinas: International Bibliography, 1977-1990, lists over 4,000 entries. (2)


Jean-Pierre Torrel's two-volume study, Initiation a saint Thomas d'Aquin, is a kind of crown to all this research into Aquinas in the 20th century. Torrell, however, has written other valuable studies of Aquinas, and so the goal of this brief note is to make the breadth of Torrell's writings known, for only the Initiation's first volume, Saint Thomas Aquinas: The Person an His Work, is currently available to the English reader. Torrell has been present in French scholarly journals and collections drawn from symposia in Europe, but, at least in the United States, he has been generally unknown before the publication of his synthetic work on Thomas Aquinas's life, writings, and theology.

Born in 1927, Torrell is a priest of the Dominican province of Toulouse and holds doctorates from Le Saulchoir in Paris and the Institut d'etudes medievales in Montreal. In the late 1970s he taught at the Gregorian University in Rome and since 1981 has been professor at Fribourg (Switzerland) where he is now emeritus. He has also been a member of Leonine Commission preparing the critical text of the writings of Aquinas. A bibliography of his writings up through 1992 cites over 60 critical texts, books, and articles; a second list from 1993 to 1999 presents 30 more. (3) Along with some recent overviews of Catholicism and Catholic theology, Torrell in the 1960s and afterwards (4) published a dozen articles on ecclesiological questions such as the nature of the episcopacy and church authority (5) as well as important studies in other areas of medieval studies such as Peter the Venerable, Hugh of Saint-Cher, and the medieval understanding of prophecy. (6) I want to focus on his study of Aquinas, however.

Saint Thomas Aquinas: The Person and His Work, the first volume of Torrell's magisterial study, is, as he describes it, a guide to the person and the work. Hundreds of technical problems of chronology, context, and purpose for Aquinas's many writings are evaluated in order to provide a biographical tour of life and theology. Torrell gives more time to Aquinas's theology and career in the midst of medieval religion than did James Athanasius Weisheipl in his Friar Thomas d'Aquino (1974; 1983), the perspective of which was the history and philosophy of science. …