Editor’s note: in this far-ranging and prophetic interview with Crisis Magazine, Josef Pieper discusses the vocations crisis, the failure of catechesis, liberation theology, feminism, and something very much like the Benedict Option. The interview originally appeared in the March 1990 print edition of Crisis. It has been edited for brevity.
Crisis: Some people claim that St. Thomas is the apostle for our era. They say he is the person we must turn to in order to solve the problems of contemporary culture. Others claim that St. Thomas was meant to be an important voice in the Church prior to Vatican II and that the neo-Thomistic revival brought with it some good things, but now there is a new era in the Church and we don’t need to rely on St. Thomas as much as before. What do you think?
Pieper: It depends on what you want to learn from St. Thomas. What I have always been interested in is what idea of man he has: not what he thinks a man should do, but what a man should be.
I started my work on St. Thomas with a treatise on fortitude because of the Nazis and their wrong idea of fortitude and heroism. For them, the symbolic figure of fortitude was the conqueror and the muscleman. I said no, the proper symbolic figure is the martyr—the man who is ready to die if necessary for his faith.
Do you think that it is necessary for theology today to take a less historical approach? Would this make it less of a soft discipline and more the kind of deep, demanding, and rigorous pursuit it was in the middle ages and for St. Thomas? Would this help to restore it to its place as the queen of the sciences? …