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A Program of Spiritual Formation for Candidates to the Priesthood

The Lay Monastic Community of Caryana













           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.

          Of damaging 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 were unimpressed.

          After Descartes' 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.

          In Spanish 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.

          Another priest, 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.



          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 religious questions.

          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 modernism was).

          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.

          Modernism introduced 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 of Aquinas.

          "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).

          The Apostolic 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) 

           The 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.





(updated 01-02-02)

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