Servais Theodore Pinckaers o.p. (1926 - 2008)


Servais Theodore Pinckaers was born in Liège (Belgium) in 1925 and raised in the village of Wonck (now part of the commune of Bassenge) in Belgium’s Walloon region. In 1945 he entered the Dominican Order and pursued his studies in theology at the Belgian Dominican Studium at La Sarte, obtaining his license in theology (1952) under the direction of Jérôme Hamer, writing his thesis (tesina) on Henri de Lubac’s Surnaturel. He pursued doctoral studies at the Pontificium Athenaeum Internationale Angelicum, the future Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Angelicum, attending the classes of such notables as Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, Paul Philippe and Mario Luigi Ciappi. His dissertation, written under the direction of Louis-Bertrand Gillon, was a study of the medieval theology of hope, entitled “La vertu d’espérance de Pierre Lombard à saint Thomas” (1954). Upon completion of his studies, Fr. Pinckaers returned to the Dominican Studium at La Sarte to teach moral theology from 1954-1965. (He was at La Sarte when in 1958 one of the friars of the community, Dominique Pire, won the Nobel Peace Prize for his labors on behalf of Europe's many war refugees (displaced persons)). It was also at La Sarte that Fr. Pinckaers undertook his first efforts to renew the contemporary understanding of moral theology, foreshadowing the Vatican Council’s call to renewal by several years. The fruits of these labors, which had been published as articles in various places, were subsequently drawn together in his groundbreaking study, Le renouveau de la morale (1964; Preface by Marie-Dominique Chenu). It was also at La Sarte that he wrote the textual analysis and commentary for Questions 6 through 21 of the Prima Secundae (i.e., Aquinas' treatise on Human Acts) for the Revue des Jeunes’ bilingual edition (Latin and French) of the Summa Theologiae (1961 and 1965). Fr. Pinckaers referred to his time at La Sarte, both as a student and later as a professor, as the time when he attained the insights that he would subsequently present and develop in his later work. These central insights for the renewal of moral theology are (1) the primacy of the Word of God, as a living Word that speaks to every generation and which is higher than any merely human word; (2) the foundational importance of the fathers of the Church, especially Augustine; and (3) the lasting value of St. Thomas’ method and insights.
After the Studium at La Sarte (Huy) was closed in 1965, Fr. Pinckaers went to the Dominican priory at Liège and engaged in pastoral ministry for the next eight years, years that shaped the pastoral concern expressed in much of his work. Then, in 1975 he was called to fill the French language chair in fundamental moral theology at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland, where he taught for the next twenty-five years. As emeritus professor he remained in Fribourg, in residence at the international Dominican priory of St. Albert the Great (the "Albertinum"), until his death on 7 April 2008. He was eighty-two.

His most well-known work in English is The Sources of Christian Ethics (1995), which has been well received by a surprisingly varied cross-section of the Church in America and in English-speaking countries. Other works in English include: his Introduction to moral thought entitled Morality: the Catholic View (2001; with Preface by Alasdair MacIntyre); The Pinckaers Reader: Renewing Thomistic Moral Theology (2005), a collection of his most significant essays, subsequent to the publication of The Sources of Christian Ethics. Moreover, of special interest are the essay, “The Sources of the Ethics of St. Thomas Aquinas” (in The Ethics of Aquinas, 2002), and his popular presentation of the Christian call to flourishing through the Beatitudes, The Pursuit of Happiness: Living the Beatitudes (1998).
Pinckaers labored to demonstrate a complete vision of Catholic theology. He has argued that the academic departmentalization of theological disciplines risks falsifying the nature of theology. Returning to Aquinas' model and insight by drawing from scriptural, patristic, magisterial and contemporary sources, he has recognized that an interconnection of philosophical, moral, spiritual, and theological perspectives is needed in order to do justice to Christian agency and the interplay of nature and grace, law and prudence, human and divine interaction in the pursuit of Christian flourishing. With attention turned to fully Christian moral agency, his 25 books and over 300 articles aim either at academic or popular audiences.
His more academic works include a large number of articles (in journals such as Nova et Vetera and Revue Thomiste) and the following books: Ce qu’on ne peut jamais faire. La question des actes intrinsèquement mauvais: Histoire et discussion (1986); L’Evangile et la morale (1991); La morale catholique (1991); and La vie selon l’Esprit: Essai de théologie spirituelle selon saint Paul et saint Thomas d’Aquin (1996). In 2001, he published a new textual analysis and commentary for the first five questions of the Prima Secundae (that is, Aquinas’ treatise on happiness) for the second edition of the Revue des Jeunes bilingual edition (Latin and French) of the Summa Theologiae (La béatitude [Ia-IIae, qq. 1-5]).
His more popular works include an even larger number of articles for journals such as Sources and Kerit, and as well as the following books: La faim de l’Evangile (1977); La quête du Bonheur (1979); La justice évangélique (1986); La Prière chrétienne (1989). A list of books and a selection of his articles are found below; for a complete bibliography, see below.
After a period of inactivity following a heart attack, Fr. Pinckaers published, A la découverte de Dieu dans les Confessions (2002), the first of a two volume study of St. Augustine whose general title is: En promenade avec saint Augustin. The second volume is forthcoming. He also published Plaidoyer pour la vertu (2007), which was one of three works to receive an honorable mention as runners up for the Grand Prix catholique de littérature for 2007. In the year before his death, Fr. Pinckaers prepared several texts for publication, including Passions et vertu (2009).