In this essay I show how the discussion of creation by students of Saint Thomas led many to undertake the Pickwickian effort of separating Thomas from his sources, especially from Aristotle, and that this, in conjunction with interpretations of the meaning of ‘Christian philoso- phy,’ has had the effect of calling into question whether Thomism is a philosophy at all. The study of St. Thomas Aquinas was given a quantum boost in 1879 when Pope Leo XIII issued his encyclical Aeterni Patris.1 Meant to restore Christian philosophy in the schools, the encyclical crowned a long pro- cession of previous papal recommendations of Thomas Aquinas as guide par excellence in philosophy as well as theology; furthermore, the encyclical pointed to the teaching of the Angelic Doctor as the rem- edy for what ails the modern world. Although the primary addressees of the encyclical were Roman Catholics, the revival Leo set in motion was from the beginning praised by non-Catholics. The American phi- losopher Josiah Royce took to the pages of the Boston Evening Transcript to record his approval of what the pope had set afoot.2 In the wake of Aeterni Patris new schools were formed, old curricula revised, jour- nals founded, associations formed, interpretations of Thomas written in abundance. Now, nearly a century and a quarter after Leo’s call for a revival of Thomism, it is possible to tell the story, at least in its main lines, of the Leonine Thomistic Revival. In this essay, I shall review the main phases of the Revival and indicate the work that I think lies ahead for students of Thomas Aquinas. Lest what I set out to do seem a wertfrei narrative that might have been told by a mildly interested Martian, I will state at the outset my
1 I make use of L’Enciclica Aeterni Patris di Leone XIII nel Primo Centenario. Edizione Domenicane Italiane: Napoli, 1979. This edition includes the Latin text, a preface by Cardinal Poupard, an essay on the contemporary relevance of the encyclical by Giuseppe Perini, editor of Divus Thomas, as well as the address of Pope John Paul II of November 17, 1979. 2 Fugitive Essays by Josiah Royce, ed. J. Loewenberg (Cambridge, 1925), pp. 408–429. 296 ralph mcinerny
judgment of the trajectory described by the Thomistic Revival.3 In its rst phases, the revival, taking its cue from the encyclical, confronted what it took to be the central assumption of the modern turn in philoso- phy and presented Thomism as a salutary corrective of it. Call this the anti-Cartesian phase where the modern Thomistic descent into subjec- tivity was read as the logical unfolding of the Cogito. During this phase the philosophical thought of Thomas Aquinas was regularly charac- terized by the phrase Aristotelico-Thomistic Philosophy. Because the philosophical thought of St. Thomas was taken to be all but identical with that of Aristotle, the Thomistic Revival entailed an Aristotelian Revival as well. If the rst phase can be so characterized, the second phase of the Thomistic Revival is marked by a gradual separation of Thomas from Aristotle which ends nally in a repudiation of Aristotle’s thought as incompatible with that of Thomas Aquinas. This nal stage of the sec- ond phase is best represented by Etienne Gilson. Gilson’s scholarly work began with establishing what philosophy as well as theology had been engaged in during the Middle Ages.4 But the concept of creation and the debate over Christian Philosophy led him to a view diametrically opposed to his beginning. Unlike Thomas Aquinas, whose thought he seeks to present, Gilson denies that Aristotle taught that the world is created. How could Aristotle teach creation if it is a revealed truth? For the mature and late Gilson, medieval philosophy, and a fortiori that of Thomas Aquinas, is inseparable from the theological setting in which it is found. The second phase of the Thomistic Revival, accordingly, ended by smudging the distinction between philosophy and theology
3 The history of the Thomistic Revival is yet to be written. But important partial attempts have been made to tell what happened. See Thomas J.A. Hartley, Thomistic Revival and the Modernist Crisis (Toronto, 1971); Helen James John, The Thomist Spectrum (New York, 1966); Gery Prouvost, Thomas d’Aquin et les thomismes (Paris, 1996). On the occasion of the seventh centenary of the death of Thomas in 1974, many conferences were held at most of which some attention was paid to the history of the Thomistic Revival. For example, Atti del Congresso Internazionale, Roma/Napoli (Naples, 1974) and Studi Tomistici, 4 vols., ed. Antonio Piolanti (Rome, 1974). Monsignor Piolanti also edited a series called Classici del Tomismo, a valuable resource for the history of Thomism. See too Cornelio Fabro, Introduzione a San Tommaso (Milan, 1983). Gerald McCool has written several volumes on the subject: From Unity to Pluralism: The Internal Evolution of Thomism and Nineteenth Century Scholasticism: The Search for a Unitary Method, both from Fordham University Press, 1989. See also his The Neo-Thomists (Milwaukee, 1994). 4 Serge-Thomas Bonino, OP, ‘Historiographie de l’école thomiste: le cas Gilson,’ in Saint Thomas au XXe siècle (Paris: Editions Saint-Paul, Paris, 1994), pp. 299–313.