Father Matthew Lamb of Ave Maria

Fr Matt Lamb, with philosophers, Naples Florida

Father Matthew Lamb, now at Ave Maria University as director of Theology program, is one of the great but gentle lights of authentic renewal of the Catholic intellectual life. Recently I had the privilege of spending some time with him in Florida at a conference. Presently I am reading his book Eternity, Time and the Life of Wisdom (Sapientia Press of Ave maria University, 2007). It is not an easy read, but it is a profound and exhilarating one.

Father Lamb was one of the first presenters in the prototype of the John Paul II Forum at Orchard Lake in 2002. He gave a challenging and inspiring talk on Fides et ratio. His presence and his guidance of the program at Ave Maria University is sufficient for that University’s approbation, in my estimation.

In the short Preface to the book, Fr. Lamb provides with a few words a manifesto for Catholic intellectual life.

First he explains that he was formed by life in a contemplative monastic community. Through his immersion in the Church Fathers and the lectio divina he had his heart and mind opened “to the reality of Jesus Christ, the risen Lord of all that is.” He states: “The light of charity informed faith in no way darkened or narrowed the light of intelligence and reason.” The opposite is the case, he came to learn — “Faith enlightened, healed, and intensified the light of reason.” Historically, the monastic and Cathedral schools established the basis for the universities — Aquinas and Bonaventure did not sever their reason from attention to wisdom and holiness. But in our day “empirical science and scholarship had been drastically severed from wisdom and holiness.” The classics of philosophy and theology are now thrown out “as if they were fit only for museum reliquaries of long dead minds.”

The disorder of the modern age are related to this severance of reason from wisdom and holiness. The modern mind has become relativist and historicist.  This means that he life of study hides within itself a nihilistic venture that can only serve to increase human power and the pretension of mastery, but not guide it or order it. Fr Lamb said he came to the realization from his monastic vocation that “the light of faith was needed to rescue human intelligence and culture from what St Augustine calls  ‘the disordered desire for domination’ (libido dominandi).”

As Fr Lamb made his way through graduate study of theology he encountered the great teachers such as Bernard Lonergan, Josef Ratzinger, Josef Pieper, and J. B. Metz. All confirmed in his mind and heart this conviction: “If the Catholic intellectual apostolate was to begin the task of evangelizing contemporary cultures in line with the invitation of Vatican II, one had to show where the abandonment of faith and wisdom had led, not to the liberation and flourishing of human life, but to its degradation.”

Fr Lamb was not interested in a merely historical study of source such as Augustine and Aquinas, but he read them for their “trans-cultural truth,” indeed to learn from them “the truth of their achievements as they baptized the philosophical wisdom of the Greeks and Romans with the light of faith and the friendship of Jesus Christ.”  The “dialectic of the ancient and medievals vis-a-vis the moderns,” helps us to better understand how wisdom and faith were relegated to the side.

The essays in this volume are milestones in this journey of a monk through the “dialectic” of the ancients and moderns as guided by the light of faith in the risen Christ. And they reflect his thrity years in academia as a professor at Marquette and Boston College.

Fr. Lamb humbly acknowledges that Blessed John Henry Newman set the true task for the Catholic in the modern world — it is to struggle against the spirit of liberalism in religion, that denial that revealed faith is true but only a “sentiment and taste.” It teaches that faith is “not an objective fact, not miraculous.” (See his Bigleitto Speech). The challenge to Catholic higher education is to “enlighten post-Enlightenment cultures with the light of revealed truth and metaphysical wisdom, as Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI teach.”

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