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The Ministry of a University Professor and Priest
Interview with Fr Alain Contat, philosophy professor at the Regina Apostolorum.

El P. Contat (primero de derecha a izquierda) con algunos profesores de la facultad de filosofía (de izquierda a derecha: P. Jesús Villagrasa, P. Jason Mitchel, P. Rafael Pascual, decano de la facultad).
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 Aquinas”).  
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.

Q: Why should a seminarian have a degree in philosophy?

Fr 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 dealings. 
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.
Q: Are 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.
This interview was originally published in French on the Regnum Christi web site.



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