Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Did Bacon write Aquinas?

Amongst the more unusual books in my library is one that I picked up a number of years ago when passing through London. Popping into a second-hand bookstore a few streets away from Westminster Cathedral, I was pleasantly surprised to come across quite a selection of theology books recently acquired from the estate of a deceased priest of the Archdiocese. As well as laying my hands on a couple of the early translations of Congar’s works and a first edition of Louis Bouyer’s ‘The Eternal Son’ I stumbled across a genuine rarity. ‘A Compendium of Theological Curiosities’ was privately published by Rev. James Hobin SJ in 1953. Hobin was a master at Stoneyhurst and it seems that the printing of 1,000 copies (by the Ptarmigan Press, Oxford) was funded by subscriptions solicited from Fr Hobin’s former students. Fr Hobin’s main interest seems to have been in the more abstruse theological propositions of various non-Catholic denominations and authors such as the Mormons, the Irvingites and Swedenborg. He also has chapters on some of the more esoteric fringes of Judaism and Mohamedism (sic), as well as what seems to contemporary eyes a slightly mocking treatment of Coptic hagiographic legends. He also gathers together some Catholic material, consisting mainly of various Millenarian theories, heretical oddities and one or two peculiarities from more recent time. I was particularly tickled to come across the following:
It is rare to find humour on the pages of the theological journals, but an exception is a monograph of P. Dubonnier in the Revue Theologique of Louvain. In a parody of the the Higher Critical methods of the modernist school, P. Dubonnier penned ‘On the Authorship of the Summa Theologica’ wherein he proposed that the most significant works of the Angelic Doctor were penned by a committee of no fewer than three Dominican Scholars, including ‘A’ (an original and speculative thinker and follower of St Augustine), ‘P’ (the ‘philosopher’ who was held responsible for the integration of Aristotelian philosophy with the thought of ‘A’) and ‘S’ (the ‘Scholastic’, a somewhat pedantic thinker, albeit with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Fathers). Dubonnier wittily proposed that what is disclosed by the historical sciences about St Thomas is more consistent with the ‘Dumb Ox’ of the famous anecdote than the more conventionally accepted view. The pseudonymous authorship was justified by the desire of the committee to avoid the censure of the Universities for their novel theological venture. It is said that P Dubonnier’s skill at framing this audacious proposition was such that not a few ecclesiastics are known to have expressed their displeasure with the thesis to the Magnificent Rector of the University of Louvain before it was revealed to have been a hoax. (pp 94-95)

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