Archbishop Léonard’s Pontifical High Mass (EF) in Brussels

Yesterday at 18:30, Mgr. André Léonard, archbishop of Mechelin-Brussels and primate of Belgium, celebrated a pontifical high mass according to the Extraordinary Form. The two hour long sung mass was celebrated in the church of Sts. Jean et Étienne aux Minimes, a church with quite a history, no doubt. Built in the early eighteenth-century in a style unique to the transition between the Baroque and the Classical, the Church found itself, first in the hands of St. Francis de Paola’s Order of Minims, (OM’s), then in the hands of the French Revolutionaries as a Temple of Reason, and now in the hands of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP). From now on, the FSSP-Beglium will say masses in the extraordinary form at this church every Fri., Sat., and Sun.

Given that the pontifical rite in the Extraordinary Form is perhaps one of the most complex liturgies to carry out, the FSSP should be commended for the mass’s solid execution, along with the cantors and one of the oldest organs in Belgium. Without knowing any definite numbers, it must also be said that the mass was very well attended. Not only was the church full, but the diversity of age was striking; notable was the amount of young families and teenagers.

The High Altar at L’Église des Saints Jean et Étienne aux Minimes

Happy Feast of St. Thomas, from Louvain

St. Thomas Aquinas

In Leuven, some traditions die hard. While most of the Catholic world is celebrating the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas today (28 January) according to the new calendar, the K.U.L. will celebrate its Thomas Feast closer to the saint’s old feast day, 7 March, the day he died. Nevertheless, any opportunity, nova et vetera, to remember Aquinas is welcome, especially in Leuven! Leuven has contributed much to reinvigorating the study of St. Thomas. The fact that there are “modern” Thomists, or scholars who believe that the comprehensive philosophical vision of St. Thomas is conducive to ever increasing scientific insights, is, in part, due to the work of l’Institut Supérieur de Philosophie, Louvain.

Cardinal Mercier (L.-G. Cambier, 1926)

Shortly after Leo XIII’s call, ite ad thomam, a chair of Thomistic philosophy was established in Louvain in 1882. It was promptly filled by one, who was later to become Desiré-Joseph Cardinal Mercier (1851-1926). In 1893, the Institut officially opened. Then, the campus still included Leo XIII Seminary.

The attitude which characterized the revival of Thomism in Louvain can be summed up in Mercier’s own words: “Pour qui philosophons-nous, sinon pour les hommes de notre temps?” For whom are we philosophizing, if not for the people of our age? (‘Les Origines de la Psychologie contemporaine.”) This set the tone for the entire project: there were things in modern scholarship and thought to embrace, and others to criticize. Mercier and the others who developed the Institut, for example, insisted on synthesizing Thomism with modern science. (Their students also took classes in physics, biology, and chemistry.) On the other hand, the Cartesian (dualistic) anthropology which dominated seminary text-books at the time was the subject of much criticism. The work of St. Thomas was used to fight other battles too. It’s an old song in modern theological circles today, to criticize the neo-Thomistic radical distinction between creature and Creator; between nature and supernature; such a “chasm” must be bridged and has been by 20th c. nouvelle theologians—so it is said. Lest we start thinking that such a distinction was made on the basis of a negative, pessimistic, and self-deprecating anthropology, it is worth noting that the neo-Thomists were re-appropriating such a distinction in order to combat a certain pantheism of the earlier Spinozian and 19th c. German/Hegelian type.

Mercier, President of the Institute        (J. Janssens, 1894)

Mercier and his collaborators at the institut, Louvain, at the very least, have shown that St. Thomas can still teach us something today. Quoting Mercier, Prof. De Wulf wrote, “Le thomisme n’est pas une borne, “un idéal que nous ne pourrions plus avoir l’ambition de dépasser”, mais une phare qui projette des clartés sur les avenues nouvelles ouvertes en philosophie.”

Thomism is not a boundary, ‘some ideal  which we shouldn’t have the ambition to transcend,’ but a lighthouse which projects brightness on the new avenues open to philosophy.

–Maurice De Wulf, professor and collaborator of Mercier’s.

Sancte Thoma, ora pro nobis!

The Newman–Louvain (Leuven) Connection

The Louvain Newman Society (LNS) is proud of both its patron and the University of which it is a part. Of all societies newmanian, the LNS has a unique and privileged connection to Newman.

In 1834, the Belgian bishops resurrected the Catholic University of Louvain. About two decades later, John Henry Newman led the project to establish the Catholic University of Ireland. Much has been written on this venture and the ultimate failure of the CUI. Quite obviously, Newman’s Idea of a University has outlived the institution which the writings inspired; but the institution which inspired the writings is still alive.

It is well known that Newman’s University project was, in large part, inspired by the Catholic University of Louvain. Upon the recent success of Louvain’s re-establishment, Newman and the Irish bishops looked at Belgium as the home to a model institution, Louvain, the Catholic University par excellence!

Throughout the development of the CUI, Newman was in correspondence with the then rector of Louvain, Mgr. De Ram. In a letter to him, Newman wrote, “I find that the Sacred Congregation of Progaganda much approves the anxiety I have ever felt to conform our University to that of Louvain…Under these circumstances, I shall do well to draw the lines closer still, which unite your great institution with those, with which I…am …connected here.” (Letter to Mgr. de Ram 1856)

Why was Louvain, for Newman, such a “great institution” worthy of being emulated? In point of fact, one should rephrase: Considering Louvain as a model instantiation of a Catholic University ideal, what was there not to like? In addition to Louvain’s governmental structure, its academics and student life appealed to Newman.


The C.U.I.'s Sedes Sapientiae

The intellectual character

On the academic side of things, Newman revered Louvain because it had successfully maintained the medieval ideal of a unity of knowledge. The university sought to teach universal knowledge and, as such, was called to cover the whole field of human knowledge, including the liberal arts. Such maintenance manifested itself in the curriculum which directed the intercourse between the traditional faculties of law, medicine, theology, and their prerequisite, the arts (letters and sciences).  Developing the culture of the mind, for Newman, was the primary end of the university. It was through liberal education that one was to develop this ‘philosophical habit of mind’; any university which deviated from this task by dismissing the necessity of the liberal arts compromised its claim to be a university.

The moral character

It may sound absurd today, but (believe it or not) Newman admired the management of student discipline at Louvain as “combining freedom in the students with the safeguard of Catholic morality.” (Letters, 1853). Newman believed that recreation was essential to fostering a constructive social life of students, which in turn, would contribute to expanding the mind and developing moral character. Newman himself insisted upon encouraging students to attend the theatre; he made sure there was a billiard table and cricket grounds; he encouraged a free spirit of student debate in a society precisely because the University was Catholic; Newman also, no doubt, gave pride of place to music and the cultivation which accompanies both its listening and performance. And finally, he saw to it that a few rooms be reserved for “private parties, breakfast,  or wine extra.”


The K.U.L.'s Sedes Sapientiae

Here in Leuven, we can substitute ‘beer’ for ‘wine’ and already be one step closer to Newman’s ideal. The K.U.L. has an incredible tradition, not just in its theology, but in its academic culture generally, and in its ability to coordinate the discourse between faith and reason– between fidelity and inquiry. Newman and others in the 19th c. witnessed this, and the LNS today seeks to continue this witness.

I’ll let Newman have the last word. He says that the mind,

As intellectual…apprehends truth; as moral, it apprehends duty. The perfection of the intellect is called ability and talent; the perfection of our moral nature is virtue. And it is our great misfortune here, and our trial, that, as things are found in the world, the two are separated, and independent of each other; that, where power of intellect is, there need not be virtue; and that where right, and goodness, and moral greatness are, there need not be talent. It was not so in the beginning…

(Preached before the CUI (at High Mass!).  “Intellect, the Instrument of Religious Training”, published in Sermons Preached on Various Occasions)

Andrew Meszaros (president of the LNS)

Further Reading

Colin Barr Paul Cullen, John Henry Newman, and the Catholic Unviersity of Ireland, 1845-1865 (UND Press, 2003).

Angelo Bottone The Philosophical Habit of Mind: Rhetoric and Person in John Henry Newman’s Dublin Writings (Zeta Books, 2010).

A. Dwight Culler The Imperial Intellect: A Study of Newman’s Educational Ideal, (YUP, 1955).

Alasdair MacIntyre, “The Very Idea of a University: Aristotle, Newman and Us,” New Blackfriars 91 (2010) 4-19.

Fergal McGrath Newman’s University, Idea and Reality (Richview Press, 1951).

The LNS’s new site!

Welcome to the new site of the Louvain Newman Society! Blog posts will be following shortly. In addition to being a platform for the exchange of ideas, the site also aims to  be a resource for students seeking to integrate their university studies with the Catholic faith.

The Louvain Newman Society (LNS) sponsors a weekly mass at the Pope’s College Chapel every Wednesday at 1:10 pm.  The mass is novus ordo in English (with some Latin of course!)

This semester, the masses will begin Wed., January 19th.