Although this text is relatively small compared to Woodbury’s major philosophical writings, it takes its place among the important texts of the Woodbury corpus. Its content is of the highest moment insofar as it deals with the most essential aspects of human living and existence.
Beginning with the quest for identifying the ultimate end of human existence and the means for obtaining this end, Woodbury looks at the very nature of human happiness, proving that it can only consist in our possession of God, the supreme good. Upon establishing this, Woodbury looks at the nature of the human or moral act, highlighting the notions of the free and the voluntary. Here too, he introduces the influences affecting the morality of our actions (violence, ignorance, fear and other passions, and habit). Woodbury then turns his attention to identifying the essential nature of morality, which leads him into looking at the objective and subjective rules of morality: law and conscience. In this Woodbury speaks of the different kinds of law and their essential characteristics, and the different kinds of conscience (true and erroneous, vincible and invincible).
After providing us with a beautiful exposition of moral obligation, wherein Woodbury outlines which laws bind in conscience and which bind under pain of penalty, Woodbury then turns his attention to a deeper investigation of the passions and the emotions for the sake of identifying their influence on the moral act. Woodbury then provides a beautiful explanation of the moral and intellectual virtues, showing their necessity for right living. He also speaks of sin and its ramifications, before concluding his text with a fascinating exploration of the nature and formation of Christian character; an aspect of the Christian life rarely spoken of today.
Who was Father Austin Maloney Woodbury?
Father Austin Maloney Woodbury S.M. (1899-1979) was a Marist priest and an Australian Thomistic philosopher and theologian, who in the 1920s received doctorates in both Philosophy and Theology at the Pontifical University of St Thomas Aquinas in the City (the Angelicum) in Rome under the renowned Dominican theologian Father Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange O.P. (1877-1964). Woodbury founded Sydney’s Aquinas Academy in 1945, a school of Philosophy and Theology aimed at educating lay people in the rich intellectual tradition of Christianity. He headed the Academy until 1975, teaching a strictly scholastic Philosophy and Theology based on the teachings of Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274). In his own lifetime Woodbury was distinguished by some of his scholarly contemporaries as having penned “one of the greatest courses in philosophy ever written in the English language.”