Thomism

Thomist, n., adj.Thomistic, adj.
/toh"miz euhm/, n.
the theological and philosophical system of Thomas Aquinas.
[THOM(AS AQUINAS) + -ISM]

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Philosophical and theological system developed by St. Thomas Aquinas.

It holds that the human soul is immortal and is a unique subsistent form, that human knowledge is based on sensory experience but also depends on the mind's reflective capacity, and that all creatures have a natural tendency to love God that can be perfected and elevated by grace and application. In the 20th century, Thomism was developed by Étienne Gilson (1884–1978) and Jacques Maritain. After World War II, Thomists faced three major tasks: to develop an adequate philosophy of science, to account for phenomenological and psychiatric findings, and to evaluate the ontologies of existentialism and naturalism.

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Introduction

      philosophical and theological system developed by Thomas Aquinas, by his later commentators, and by modern revivalists of the system, known as neo-Thomists.

Aquinas' position
      Although making respectful use of Aristotle and the Platonists, Augustine and the Fathers, Thomas Aquinas developed a distinctive position. His originality was shown in treating existence (esse) as the supreme act or perfection of being in God as well as in created things, in reserving the creative act to God alone, in denying the presence of matter in angels, and thus in distinguishing between God and creatures by a real composition of existence and essence as principles in all created beings. Also characteristic was his teaching that the human soul is a unique subsistent form, substantially united with matter to constitute human nature. Aquinas maintained that the immortality of the human soul can be strictly demonstrated, that there is a real distinction of principles between the soul and its powers of knowing and willing, and that human knowledge is based upon sense experience leading to the mind's reflective activity. He held that both man and lower creatures have a natural tendency or love toward God, that supernatural grace perfects and elevates our natural abilities, and that blessedness consists formally in knowing God Himself, a knowledge accompanied by our full love of God.

      This coherent but complex body of Thomistic doctrines was critically explained and developed during subsequent centuries. Views of St. Thomas on individuation and the localization of angels, man's nature and the unity of the world, appeared among the theses condemned in 1277 by Bishop Étienne Tempier at Paris and by Archbishop Robert Kilwardby at Oxford. At stake were the manner and extent of using Aristotle and his Arabian commentators in explaining Christian theology. The later 13th century was crowded with “correctorial” literature—treatises attacking and defending basic positions of St. Thomas, especially on the unicity of the human substantial form and the distinction of essence and existence. His precise meaning was lost even by some Thomists, who treated essence and existence as distinct things and overlooked the unifying relation between the substantial form and existence.

Commentators
      Encouragement toward consulting Aquinas' own writings came with the adoption of his doctrine by the Dominican Order (1278, 1279, 1286), his canonization by Pope John XXII (1323), and the special place accorded to his works at the Council of Trent. The scientific task of analyzing his thought was executed by a line of devoted commentators during the period 1400–1650. The first was the Dominican Jean Capréolus (c. 1380–1444), called the Prince of the Thomists, who recognized the need to make a direct integral study of the texts of St. Thomas. In his Four Books of Defenses of the Theology of St. Thomas Aquinas, Capréolus made a systematic use of the sources against the Scotists and Ockhamists. Another major Dominican commentator was Tomaso de Vio, Cardinal Cajetan, who made elaborate expositions of St. Thomas' Summa theologiae and On Being and Essence. He made his own restatement of the Thomistic arguments and drew upon many other writings of St. Thomas. Cajetan's independence was displayed in his work On the Analogy of Names, where he proposed the influential division of kinds of analogy into inequality, attribution, and proportionality, as well as in his opinion that the human soul's immortality can be supported only by probable reasons.

      The classical commentary on St. Thomas' Summa contra gentiles was done by the Dominican Francesco Sylvestri of Ferrara (c. 1474–1528), who showed the importance of this work for the relation of faith and philosophy, the meaning of person, and the desire of God. After the mid-16th century, the Thomistic commentators became involved in the intricate theological controversies on grace and premotion. Highly systematized presentations of opposing views were introduced into the commentaries on the Summa theologiae made by the Spanish Dominican theologian Domingo Bañez and the Spanish Jesuit authors Francis Toletus and Gabriel Vázquez. But the new Renaissance tendency to give separate treatment to philosophical and theological issues, as well as the pressures of seminary education, undermined the usefulness of the commentary form of approach to St. Thomas. A new trend is present in the Dominican John of St. Thomas (1589–1644), who issued a separate Cursus Philosophicus (“Course in Philosophy”) and then a Cursus Theologicus (“Course in Theology”) in Thomistic thought. Using the framework of logic, philosophy of nature, and metaphysics, John assembled the philosophical teachings of St. Thomas under these systematic headings and reformulated the material for students who would then study theology. There were original features in his logic, including the distinction between formal and objective concepts and the stress on intentional signs.

Modern Thomism
      Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, Thomism continued to be presented in philosophy and theology courses or manuals, especially in the Dominican Order. Most Thomistic manuals of this period were watered with the opinions of other Schoolmen and remained remote from modern problems. In most Catholic seminaries and universities of the early 19th century, eclecticism was the rule and more attention was paid to Descartes, Locke, and Wolff than to Aquinas. The modern revival of authentic Thomism began at this time in Italy. Vincent Buzzetti (1777–1824) and the Jesuit teacher Serafino Sordi (1793–1865) were instrumental in urging a direct study of the text of Aristotle and Aquinas. The revolutions of 1848 had a decisive influence upon both the Holy See and the Society of Jesus toward finding sound principles on God, man, and society in the works of St. Thomas. In editions of their philosophy manuals appearing after 1850, this renewal of Thomistic thought was advocated by three influential Jesuit writers in Italy and Germany: Luigi Taparelli d'Azeglio, Matteo Liberatore, and Joseph Kleutgen. Their own positions in epistemology, metaphysics, and social theory remained eclectic, but they did give impetus to the work of studying St. Thomas and the other Schoolmen in the light of modern intellectual and social issues.

      Decisive support for this movement came with Pope Leo XIII's encyclical Aeterni Patris (1879). It noted the importance of sound doctrine for meeting today's problems and called for a restoration of the Christian philosophy of the Fathers and medieval Doctors, augmented where necessary by the reliable advances of modern research. Leo asked especially for a recovery of the wisdom of St. Thomas, whom he hailed as “the special bulwark and glory of the Catholic Faith.” This program required an accurate historical study of St. Thomas himself and his major commentators, combined with a readiness to use the evidences and resources of modern learning and science. St. Thomas was declared the universal patron of Catholic schools, and a canon (1366, par. 2) in the new Code of Canon Law (1917) required philosophy and theology teachers to adhere to the method, doctrine, and principles of St. Thomas. This established the special authority of the Common Doctor in the church's teaching institutions, without impairing the recovery of all the other sources of Christian thought, the careful discussion of commonly recognized difficulties, and the effort to evaluate modern teachings.

      Thomists of the 20th century concentrated upon two major tasks: a historical investigation of St. Thomas' doctrine in its medieval context and a rethinking of that doctrine in reference to contemporary problems. Pioneer historians were Pierre Mandonnet and Martin Grabmann, who investigated the life of Aquinas, the canon of his writings, and his historical relationships. The setting of Thomistic doctrine in the wider medieval intellectual currents was described by Maurice de Wulf and Étienne Gilson. The latter also brought out the basic role of existence in Thomistic metaphysics, which he contrasted with other historical forms of metaphysics. Some general presentations of Thomistic thought were made by showing the development of the principles of act and potency in the major areas of philosophy. The Dominican R. Garrigou-Lagrange stressed the problem of God and providence; A. Sertillanges, another Dominican, made the act of creation central to his exposition; the Jesuit Martin D'Arcy brought out the dynamic and effective aspects in the mind of Aquinas.

      At the University of Louvain, Désiré-Joseph Cardinal Mercier and his associates concentrated on the challenge of modern thought for Thomism. They treated the epistemological issue at the outset of philosophy, so that metaphysics might have the support of a well-founded realism. The aim of Joseph Maréchal was to reformulate the major thinkers, especially St. Thomas, in terms of the mind's dynamic affirmation of being and ultimate reference to the reality of God. Francesco Olgiati used a metaphysical realism of substance to establish the critical relevance of Thomism to Cartesian and empiricist thinkers. How to unite the various kinds of methods and knowledges in a human order was the main concern of Jacques Maritain, but he also applied the Thomistic concept of person and community to the problem of democracy.

      After World War II, Thomists faced three major tasks: to develop an adequate philosophy of science, to take account of the phenomenological and psychiatric findings on man, and to evaluate the ontologies of existentialism and naturalism.

James Daniel Collins

Additional Reading
The following studies of Aquinas' theology and philosophy are worth consulting: Étienne Gilson, The Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas (1956, reprinted 1983; originally published in French, 1922); M.D. Chenu, Toward Understanding St. Thomas (1964; originally published in French, 1950); Martin C. D'Arcy, St. Thomas Aquinas (1953); Oliva Blanchette, The Perfection of the Universe According to Aquinas: A Teleological Cosmology (1992); John F. Wippel, Metaphysical Themes in Thomas Aquinas (1984), on Aquinas as a Christian philosopher; Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, St. Thomas Aquinas, 1274–1974: Commemorative Studies, 2 vol. (1974), 35 essays by neo-Scholastic scholars; Norman Kretzmann and Eleonore Stump (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Aquinas (1993), a collection of scholarly essays; David B. Burrell, Aquinas: God and Action (1979), an advanced linguistic discussion of St. Thomas' Summa theologica; Fernand van Steenberghen, Thomas Aquinas and Radical Aristotelianism (1980), a study of major aspects of St. Thomas' thought; Ralph McInerny, Aquinas on Human Action: A Theory of Practice (1992), on his moral philosophy; Jean Porter, The Recovery of Virtue: The Relevance of Aquinas for Christian Ethics (1990); Anthony Kenny, Aquinas on Mind (1993), an analytic perspective on his philosophical psychology; and Umberto Eco, The Aesthetics of Thomas Aquinas (1988; originally published in Italian, 1956), examining his writings and other medieval theories.

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Universalium. 2010.

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