|Fr Contat (far right) with some professors from the philosophy department at the Regina Apostolorum (left to right: Fr Jesús Villagrasa, Fr Jason Mitchel, Fr Rafael Pascual, dean of the department).|
August 30, 2011. Rome, Italy. Fr Alain Contat, a
diocesan priest from Geneva, Switzerland, began studying philosophy at the
Faculty of Letters in Geneva, where he earned his licentiate
in 1978. Afterwards, he continued his studies in Rome, at
the University of St Thomas Aquinas, where he earned his
licentiate in theology in 1987, a licentiate in philosophy in
1989, and a doctorate in philosophy in 1994 (with a
thesis on “The relation of truth according to St. Thomas
Fr Contat has been a philosophy professor at the
Regina Apostolorum since 1993. He has also taught in various
Roman universities and in the International Seminary of St. Peter
of Wigratzbad, in Germany.
Q: Why did you choose to
teach at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum, the youngest pontifical
institution in Rome?
Fr Contat: In the nineties, while I
was an assistant to Fr Aberlardo Lobato, O.P., my thesis
director, many Legionaries attended a course on Aristotle’s philosophical theology.
Afterwards, I was invited to give a talk at the
congregation’s Center for Higher Studies on via Aurela. These circumstances
must have led the founders of the Athenaeum to require
my services in 1993. That was when the Athenaeum chose
me, and not the other way around! I am quite
glad for this choice, since the quality of the formation
and the lively interest in studies make the Athenaeum an
ideal place for research and teaching.
Q: Is it still necessary
to study philosophy in these times?
Fr Contat: Man, just
as St. Thomas Aquinas conceived of him, must honor the
two dimensions of his nature: that which immerses him in
history; but above all, that which “emerges” above time (cf.
Summa Theologica, I-II, q. 13, art. 7, ad 5). Philosophy
thus aims to examine the eternal within time, starting with
subsistent Being itself—that is, God—in order to understand next what
happens within time. This approach is even more necessary than
ever, now that the masses are alienated in the ephemeral
and dumbed down by the noise of the media.
Why should a seminarian have a degree in philosophy?
Contat: There is a threefold benefit for a student headed
for the priesthood to go through a second round of
philosophy. These studies help first to unify and go beyond
the knowledge he may have been able to acquire in
high school or in a liberal arts or scientific university
curriculum. Secondly, a systematic study that is both historical and
speculative of the great philosophical problems is still the royal
road to know the greatness and limits of human reason.
Finally, and above all, the metaphysics, anthropology, and ethics of
St. Thomas Aquinas are a matchless tool to delve deeper
into the revealed mysteries.
Q: How do you see your priestly
ministry as a professor?
Fr Contat: It is a fact that
the image of the priest-professor suffered from the terrible vocational
crisis that swept through Europe and France, while it had
once been one of the forms of priestly ministry, whether
religious or diocesan. Forming young men, mainly seminarians, in the
philosophy of being, is about preparing them to receive the
Word of God as a human mind should, while simultaneously
reflecting on creation.
Q: What is your experience with the students?
Fr Contat: Teaching in an ecclesiastical faculty in
Rome is a unique experience: you get a very concrete
experience of the catholicity of the Church, which gathers students
from all continents in the city of Peter’s successor. This
obliges professors to master various languages, for communication and for
research, which is a considerable source of enrichment. The Athenaeum
adds to this favorable situation with the young religious’ enthusiasm
for their studies, and the great courtesy of their interpersonal
Q: Is there anything left to
contribute to philosophy?
Fr Contat: Over twenty-three centuries
ago, Aristotle qualified the problem of being with the expression:
“the search for the eternal.” That is, each generation must
take philosophical legacy and inquiry into its own hands. As
for our times in particular, there is no lack of
projects. The 20th century created and then exploited a whole
series of new disciplines that have yet to be philosophically
evaluated: I am thinking of the human sciences and their
countless ramifications, literary or historical criticism, the new forms of
theology. The challenges of our times, especially in bioethics, require
fresh attention from philosophers and Christian theologians.
you working on any research projects?
Fr Contat: I am
working on two concrete projects. One is an analysis and
evaluation of different interpretations of Thomistic metaphysics that came up
in the 20th century and that engendered different theologies, some
of which are mutually opposed. The other is a synthesis
of the major positions on the be-know-say triangle that have
been set forth from Parmenides to our times.
interview was originally published in French on the Regnum
Christi web site.