THE REVIVAL OF THOMISM
WHY MUST ST. THOMAS' SCHOLASTIC PHILOSOPHY BE RESTORED?
Let us look back for a while and see how seminaries were when they espoused
Thomistic philosophy and theology and what they became when they embraced
nouvelle philosophies. And having learned their lessons, why is the
Catholic intelligentsia initiating a revival of Thomism?
After seeing all
their mistakes in adapting nouvelle philosophies, Catholic thinkers began
revival of Thomism in the 19th century. Our worry is that every time there
is a significant revival or renewal in the Church, the seminaries are
always left behind, not to say dioceses and parishes and religious orders.
Before the revival of
Thomism, Catholic universities and seminaries were greatly influenced by
"modern" philosophies, non-scholastic thinkers, many of whom were
non-Catholics. And sincere Catholics, in their desire to make Catholic
doctrines acceptable to an age that is rationalist, skeptical, naturalist
and liberalized, brought down Divine doctrines to the level of the natural
instead of bringing up the natural to the level of the spiritual.
influence was Rene Descartes (1596-1650) who received a poor course on
Scholasticism from the Jesuits. Rejecting all previous Catholic thinkers
and writings of saints, Descartes elaborated a new philosophy, which he
hoped would be adopted by Catholic schools. The theologians of Sorbonne
death, his philosophy became popular; its basis, that attracts even people
today, is the rejection of all pre-17th century Catholic writers. It was
just what the Protestants wanted: a rejection of their greatest nemesis,
Scholasticism. Outside Scholasticism, you were on Protestant turf. From
that time on up to now, we ridicule whatever is before the 17th century not
even knowing why. And that is the tone of modern thought - irrational.
Gilbert K Testator, eminent Catholic writer, apologist and journalist,
would make this a central point of his writings in "What's Wrong with
the World." Seminaries abandoned Scholasticism without knowing what it
is and embraced Cartesian philosophy without knowing what it is.
seminaries during the first half of the 19th century the standard textbook
was written by Fr. Andrea de Guevara y Basoazabal following Cartesian metaphysics
and psychology where he taught that gravitational forces attracting bodies
at a distance was highly conducive to theism and religion.
Fr. George Hermes, a
brilliant mind with an exemplary life, worked out a rationalist
introduction to religion from within the Kantian system on the truths of
Catholicism. Almost everyone embraced his philosophy, even Lutheran
seminaries (which should have made us suspicious in the first place). True
enough Pope Gregory condemned the Hermesian system on September 1835 as
subversive to the Catholic Faith. And the Vatican Council repeated the
imposition of Scholasticism.
Anton Gunther, rejected Scholasticism completely and presented a
Hegelianism Christianity to prove Christian truths. Like the above they
were zealous priests who led good lives. But as St. Paul says "their
zeal is unenlightened" (Rom. 10:2). After interrogating Gunther,
the Holy Office found errors and Gunther submitted. But his followers
refused to submit and left the Church.
Add to the list
Abbe' de Lammenais and Fr. Rosmini; all were eminent and zealous priests
working for the highest Catholic ideals but without solid foundation in
philosophy, thus easily falling into heretical and dangerous expressions of
Catholic doctrine. As St. Augustine, of whom St. Thomas is a disciple,
wrote: "the path to hell is paved with good intentions."
Having learned their
lessons, Catholic thinkers returned to sounder philosophy, which everyone
found in the principles of St. Thomas of Aquinas.
The first signs of
the revival were in the Roman College in 1827 where the future Leo XIII was
then studying Philosophy. Fr. Curci, founder of Civilta' Cattolica, wrote
of the seminary:
"I was deploring
the Babylon to which the Roman College seemed to have been reduced. With
regard to Philosophy, everyone was free to teach what he liked best,
provided he detested and ridiculed the so-called 'Peripatus', although
nobody had ever told us what the 'Peripatus' was or what it pretended to
be." (Memorie del P. Curci, October 1891, quoted by Ignacio Narciso,
O.P. loc.cit., p.457)
In the forefront of
Thomistic revival, surprisingly enough, were two Jesuits, the Sordi
brothers. And this at a time when the Jesuits disliked everything
Dominican. In 1833 the Jesuit Visitator General, Fr. Giuseppe Ferrari, true
to Jesuit tradition, came from Rome and stopped all efforts of Thomistic
Jesuits to start a revival.
The one most
responsible for the revival of Thomism was a Diocesan priest, Gaetano
Sanseverino (1811-1865). He was at first a Cartesian but had too much
trouble with it. He read Rosellis' Summa Philosophica (1777-1837),
was sold to it and wrote in his renowned Philosophia Christiana of 1853:
"After many years of exclusive philosophical studies, I finally
arrived at the conclusion that for a restoration of philosophy it was
absolutely necessary to go back to the doctrine of the Fathers and Doctors
of the Church..." (with emphasis on St. Thomas of Aquinas).
(Philosophia Christiana cum antiqua et nova comparata, Naples 1873,
Elementa, ed. 2a, 1, 517, fn.)
Another diocesan priest, Fr. Nunzio Signoriello, continued his work.
Almost by an act of
Divine Providence, the Summa and the Catena Aurea, a
sentence-by-sentence interpretation of the four gospels taken from the
different writings of the Fathers of the Church (which we intend to use in
the theologate), begun to be very popular from 1845 onward (the first English
translation of the Catena had appeared in 1841 by Venerable John
Henry Newman of the Oratory).
Even as early as at
the Provincial Synod of Spoleto in 1849, the future Pope Leo XIII was well
aware of the serious errors promulgated by zealous "modern"
apologists and realized profoundly the importance of a sound Christian
philosophy for the modern world. As Pope he issued "Quod Apostolici
munens" in 1878 to emphasize this.
This was followed by
"Aeterni Patris" in 1879 in which he called for the
restoration of St. Thomas' basic doctrine as the only sound Christian
philosophy capable of answering modern needs. By the 1870s he had come to
see in St. Thomas the hope of the future. Paradoxically, the first draft of
"Aeterni Patris" was made by a Jesuit, Josef Kleutgen.
Pope Leo used St.
Thomas for all his encyclicals: on social problems, government, human
liberty, the religious question, Sacred Scripture, Catholic Action,
Education. He used St. Thomas to solve modern problems. By this time, St.
Thomas was back and, literally, all over the place.
B. THE HERESY OF MODERNISM
ENTERED SEMINARIES NOT FOUNDED IN THOMISTIC PHILOSOPHY AND THEOLOGY
As usual, only the intellectuals
embraced Thomism. The rest did not. After the death of Leo XIII, a young
generation of priests knowing neither Thomism nor the "modern"
schools wanted to live by the spirit of the age. The desire to be modern,
without knowing what is modern or whether it works, stemmed from German
Protestant thought. With the Abbe' Loisy of the Institute Catholique of
Paris, they were going to drag down Catholicism to the needs of today. (A.
Loisy, Simple Reflections, p. 13), the sort of thinking which would
say, "If the world today needs divorce, let's give it. Let's just
change the name to make it acceptable to all. If the priests need marriage,
let's give it to them and take away celibacy."
Modernism was an
intellectual movement by zealous priests in Europe who wished to be
up-to-date in a world that was liberal, rationalist and evolutionistic.
They tried to explain Catholic truths to this kind of world. They insisted
on the developmental character of Catholic dogma and modern man's ability
to demonstrate these truths rationally and historically. These persons with
inadequate talents did not have what it needs to deal with such difficult
In the decree "Lamentabili"
and Encyclical "Pascendi", the doctrine of Modernism was
declared an error. The Motu Proprio of St Pius X required all priests,
religious, superiors, preachers and professors to take an oath against
Modernism, an obligation which is still binding and which no seminary seems
to be doing (though when we made the oath in the 1960s we didn't know what
The damage caused by
Modernism to the Church was great because no one took "Aeterni
Patris" seriously. In fact nobody takes encyclicals seriously, sad
to say. Pius X himself fully realized that a fundamental cause of Modernism
was the failure to return to St. Thomas in the intellectual formation of
the clergy. Modernism, specially, crippled the Catholic Biblical movement.
an eclectic type of curriculum in seminaries. In his "Motu
proprio" of 1914 Doctoris Angelici, St. Pius explicitly
stated that by Scholasticism is meant the principal teachings of St. Thomas
"We desired that all teachers of philosophy and sacred theology should
be warned that if they deviated so much as an iota from Aquinas, especially
in metaphysics, they exposed themselves to grave risk... If the doctrine of
any writer or Saint has ever been approved by Us or Our Predecessors with
such singular commendation and in such a way that to that commendation were
added an invitation and order to propagate and defend it, it may easily be
understood that it was commended to the extent that it agreed with the
principles of Aquinas or was in no way opposed to them." (AAS, 6 (1914), 336-7)
Pius X went on to say that all institutions granting Pontifical Degrees
must use the Summa Theologica as a textbook in theology; and any
such institution failing to comply with these directives within three years
shall be deprived of all rights to grant pontifical degrees. This was, of
course, a problem for the Jesuits who disliked everything Dominican.
The Code of Canon
Law Under Benedict XV (1917) required that all professors of philosophy and
theology hold and teach the method, doctrine and principles of the Angelic
Doctor (c.I.C can 1366, par. 2).
Constitution "Deus Scientiarum Dominus" (1931) presented a
detailed curriculum of studies for all seminaries and St. Thomas was
imposed with the fullest apostolic authority. But the modernist tendency
continued in the writings of Kierkegaard, Bergson, Marcel, Blondel,
Bouillard and Teilhard de Chardin which were embraced by many seminaries
and universities. In 1962, the Holy Office issued a Monitum expressing the
ambiguities and even grave errors contained in the writings of the late Fr.
Teilhard de Chardin ("Patris Petri Teilhard de Chardin,"
AAS, 54, 1962, 526.)
So Pius XlI issued
his theological masterpiece "Humani Generis" (1950) where
he condemned all new theologies and emphasized the importance of returning
to the doctrine of St. Thomas in our own day ("Human Generis,"
AAS, 42 (1950), 573).
"If one considers all these well,
he will easily see why the Church demands that future priests be instructed
in philosophy according to the method, doctrine and principles of the
Angelic Doctor since, as we well know from the experience of centuries, the
method of Aquinas is singularly pre-eminent both for teaching
students and for bringing truth to light. How deplorable it is then that
this philosophy, received and honored by the Church is scorned by some who
shamelessly call it out-moded in form and, as they say, in its method of
thought." (AAS, 42,1950, 573)
program of Leo XIII was never implemented in Catholic colleges,
universities and seminaries. Not even the follow-up efforts of Pius X were
able to effect this. Though today hardly anyone knows St. Thomas and his
Scholasticism, most would argue that Thomism is irrelevant in our times.
But God, in His own mysterious ways, has started a marvelous revival of
patristic studies and the Doctors of the Church together with the fostering
of the liturgical life. The Church believes that the Fathers and the
Doctors of the Church, especially St. Thomas Aquinas, can save the modern
world for Christ. That is the movement of the Holy Spirit; we must move
with the Spirit.
We should seriously
consider, therefore, re-introducing Scholasticism during Philosophy that
the seminarians may have a solid foundation for their training in
spirituality during the theologate. We must study St. Thomas because he is
a great saint of the Church; his being a Dominican is a mere accident.