Angelicum rector outlines obstacles to Christian worldview in modern society


PROVIDENCE — Catholic theologian, professor and Dominican friar Father Thomas Joseph White, O.P., rector of the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, also known as the Angelicum, in Rome, delivered a special lecture recently at McVinney Auditorium in which he outlined the various obstacles to spreading the Christian worldview in modern society.
In his Feb. 3 lecture, titled, “Catholicism in the 21st Century: What Should Catholics Be Doing in Theology Today to Prepare For Tomorrow?” Father Thomas Joseph pointed to the loss of the uniquely Catholic understanding of the human person as being the first obstacle.
He noted that this was one of the most defining elements of contemporary theological and philosophical debate.
“You could say that in the first thousand years of the Church, the biggest debates in the Church, the biggest controversies, were about Who God is, the Trinity and Who Christ is [as] God and man,” Father Thomas Joseph said, adding, “The second thousand years you could say, schematically, a lot of it was about the Church: the nature of the Papacy, in our conversations with the Eastern Orthodox churches, and especially, of course, with the Protestant communities, the nature of the Sacraments, the nature of justification and grace and forgiveness.”
“But I think in the 21st century…we are in an age of crisis regarding what a human being is, anthropology.”
Father Thomas Joseph asserted that many of the anthropological debates of the contemporary period trace their roots to debates surrounding the relationship between the theory of evolution and the Catholic doctrine of creation, the nature and existence of the soul, and the foundations of human dignity, debates that were only further complicated by discussions on transgenderism and the relationship between technology and human biology.
The second defining obstacle Father Thomas Joseph noted was the loss of a systematic approach to theology.
He pointed out that whereas the Church in the ancient and medieval periods saw theology as the analysis of Divine Revelation guided by certain foundational principles, the leaders of the Reformation rejected such an approach to theology, believing most of the teachings of the Catholic Church at that time to be rooted more in human speculation rather than Scripture.
This trend was further compounded during the Enlightenment, which contrasted theology with philosophy and science, seeing the former as merely a subjective reflection on one’s personal spiritual intuitions.
Father Thomas Joseph thus suggested a reclaiming of a Catholic approach to theology, which sees the truths of theology as objective realities which can be understood as intelligible through theology’s own distinctive methodology.
“The science of theology begins to look at the deeper, you may say Divine, logic or Divine Wisdom in [Church teaching]...and it’s just as objective as chemistry or the periodic table, but it is much more profound,” he said.
“You’re getting into, ‘What is God really doing, and who are we, and what are we doing and where are we going?’ And that is a beautiful thing to know and to transmit it to other people.”
The final obstacle to evangelization that Father Thomas Joseph noted was the pluralistic and ever more interconnected nature of modern society.
He pointed out that, along with Catholicism, the most widespread religions in the modern world are those with radically different spiritual and philosophical outlooks than that of Catholicism, including Hinduism and Islam.

One of the most important responsibilities that Catholics have in such a world is to learn how to peacefully coexist with members of non-Catholic religions, as well as learn ways to intelligently engage with non-Catholic beliefs.
The son of a Protestant mother and a Jewish father, Father Thomas Joseph converted to Catholicism while in college.
Studying at Brown University, Oxford University and the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C., he took his final vows as a member of the Dominican Order in 2007, shortly after which he was appointed as a professor at the Dominican House of Studies as well as the Pontifical Academy of St. Thomas Aquinas (a distinct institute of study from the Angelicum).
During this time, Father Thomas Joseph founded the Thomistic Institute, an organization dedicated to promoting awareness and understanding of the theology and philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas. It was as the director of this organization that Father Thomas Joseph served from 2009 to 2018, when he was appointed to teach at the Angelicum, appointed as its rector in 2021. Since 2015, he has also served as the editor-in-chief of “Nova et Vetera,” a Catholic academic journal specializing in theology.
Father Thomas Joseph’s lecture, which was organized by the Office of Stewardship and Development, was well-received among those in attendance, including members of the faithful, priests and seminarians, and local professors, teachers and scholars.
Father Ryan Connors, a priest of the Diocese of Providence who holds a doctorate in moral theology from the Angelicum, led those present in prayer at the beginning of the lecture.
“I would say that it was great,” said David Del Bonis, a college seminarian at Our Lady of Providence seminary. “He had deep wisdom into how to bridge the gap between different faiths.”
Clark Merrill, a parishioner of Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish in Bristol and a retired professor of political science at Salve Regina University appreciated Father Thomas Joseph’s emphasis on “the importance of the intellectual life for the Church, and for the future of the Church, and, well, for the future of humanity.”