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Hillbilly Thomists founding band member granted title of ‘master of sacred theology’

Dominican Father Thomas Joseph White was awarded the title of master of sacred theology by the Dominican Order. / Credit: The Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas

CNA Staff, Oct 31, 2023 / 13:45 pm (CNA).

Father Thomas Joseph White, a bestselling author, professor, and a core member of Dominican music group The Hillbilly Thomists, has been awarded the title of master of sacred theology, an accolade of the order that recognizes an individual’s achievements of scholarship and theological work. 

“I’m very grateful to the master of the order and his council as well as the friars of the Province of St. Joseph (East Coast, USA) for their fraternal support and encouragement, in awarding me this undeserved honor,” White told CNA in an email Tuesday.

White is currently the rector at the Angelicum, or the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, in Rome. The Angelicum announced the award on Monday.

The title master of sacred theology, which dates back to 1303, was granted to him by Dominican Father Gerard Timoner, master of the order.

White said the title “represents a calling to greater service and fraternal cooperation in the work of theology on behalf of the Church and the order.”

“Of course the award also suggests that theology is done at an international level in the Church in collaboration between individuals and institutions in different countries, in the service of a common Catholic faith,” he said.

He added that the American Church plays a “vital role in this process.”

“I think the award also suggests that the Angelicum and its personnel have a vital role in the contemporary Church in teaching and promoting theology and the other ecclesiastical disciplines,” he said, also mentioning that his predecessor as rector, Father Michal Paluch, was awarded the degree.

About five to 10 individuals in the order receive the title each year, White said.

A Georgia native, White converted to Catholicism during his undergraduate studies at Brown University in Rhode Island. He completed doctoral studies in theology at Oxford University and joined the Order of Preachers in 2003. 

He was ordained a priest in 2008 and completed a licentiate in sacred theology at the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception at the Dominican House of Studies.

White, who has taught at the Angelicum since 2018, was named rector in 2021, becoming the first American friar to hold the position.

At the time, he told CNA he was “deeply honored” to take on the role and added: “It’s an opportunity to serve the whole Church and an opportunity to help advance the mission of the Dominican order, which is to seek the truth and to communicate with truth, charity, and in the light of Christ.”

Much of his scholarship focuses on Thomistic metaphysics, Christology, and Roman Catholic-Reformed ecumenical dialogue.

White is the author of several works including “Wisdom in the Face of Modernity: A Study in Thomistic Natural Theology,” “The Incarnate Lord: A Study in Thomistic Christology,” and others.

His most recent book “The Trinity: On the Nature and Mystery of the One God,” published in 2022, explores the development of the patristic fathers on the Trinity and further contributions of St. Thomas Aquinas.

In addition to his academic pursuits, White is also a musician, being one of the founding members of the Hillbilly Thomists, a group of Dominican friars who specialize in bluegrass music and have achieved success and recognition for their work.

White, who plays the banjo, the steel guitar, and the dulcimer, told the National Catholic Register in 2022 that the band was formed from recreational music sessions “as a way to relax during fraternal events, sometimes on the weekends.”

Then once more experienced musicians began joining the group, “it just formed organically over time.”

The Hillbilly Thomists were the opening act at the world famous Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee, during the Knights of Columbus annual convention in 2022.

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