On the afternoon of Tuesday Jan. 28, the Office for Mission and Ministry held its annual St. Thomas Aquinas Lecture. Nearly 50 students, faculty, and staff gathered in the Radnor and St. David’s Room, eager to hear the lecture given on the Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas. This lecture, titled “St. Thomas’s Views on the Economy and Human Happiness,” was given by Mary Hirschfeld, Ph.D., an Associate Professor of both Economics and Theology at the University.
Barbara Wall, Ph.D., Vice President for Mission & Ministry and Associate Professor at the University, opened the lecture. After welcoming the audience, she explained that St. Thomas Aquinas shows an understanding of the relationship between faith and reason.
“Our faith provides us with another lens to see the world,” Wall said.
After a brief blessing, Hirschfeld took the floor and began the lecture with an explanation of her background. Originally baptized as a Methodist, Hirschfeld earned her Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard University and then lived a secular life as a professor in California. However, she started to feel unhappy with economics.
“I went into economics thinking that prosperity is important to human happiness, but I realized that money didn’t have to do with happiness; God is the way,” Hirschfeld said.
At the age of 37, she converted to Catholicism. Following her conversion, Hirschfeld gave up her tenure and returned to school at the University of Notre Dame to earn her Ph.D. in Theology.
Hirschfeld explained that money is influential. Some believe that money is terrible for society. On the other hand, some people believe that money is great and these people are tempted to worship money instead of God. She explained that there can be a balance. Her talk was focused on two theological principles that she draws from St. Thomas Aquinas and how she uses them to think through human desire, economics and the good life.
The first theological principle is that the world was created by God, and therefore, everything has a purpose. This purpose applies to everything, including money. Hirschfeld explained that most people just want to be good people and economically prosperous, but it often feels like you have to decide between the two. However, Aquinas believes that material wealth and money are good things, just not by themselves. Money encourages socialization, promotes communication and sustains life, yet economic life is not an end in itself. “We need not think about the money but the means the money is used for and the ultimate goods that are meant to be served” Hirschfeld said.
The second theological principle that Hirschfeld identified is that the ultimate happiness is found in God and mankind’s ultimate purpose is to find themselves in God. Hirschfeld explained that everything one is and everything one sees is a reflection of God.
“The world is God’s love letter to us,” she said.
God reflects his love for mankind onto the world by creating a diversity of finite goods and by showing that all independent goods are related to each other through God. Hirschfeld explained that one can’t compare things to each other based off of quantitative and monetary value, as each thing is important as its own distinctive good.
Before inviting the audience to ask questions, Hirschfeld ended her lecture with the message, “Look around the world and appreciate the gift that it is.”