Papist Orthodoxy

September 27, 2009

St. Thomas Aquinas by Jacques Maritain

Filed under: Doctrine, Philosophy — Tags: , , , — Antiochian-Thomist @ 9:28 am

The entire treatise, including the chapter shown below, can be found here.

IV. The Common Doctor

Because Thomas illuminated the Church more than all
the other Doctors
. — John XXII (1318).

The Church declared Thomas’ doctrine to be her own.
— Benedict XV (1921).

I would wish that no one misunderstand the intention of this chapter, in which, considering the philosophy of Saint Thomas in abstraction from the theology, which latter maintains an intrinsic and essential relationship with faith, I try to characterize the attitude of the Catholic Church in regard to this philosophy. In publishing it I am fully aware that it would be absurd to try to replace by the argument from authority or by a kind of constraint the reasons of intrinsic evidence which alone can motivate scientific adherence to a system of philosophy. It is not in religious faith nor in the authority of the Church that Thomist philosophy has its principles and its raison d’être, and one would be greatly deceived if he were to see in it a doctrine reserved for clerics and for sacred offices. It is a philosophy, it is founded on evidence alone, it lives by reason alone. Of itself it belongs to the same secular cycle as the liberal arts. I even think that the time has come for it to spread into every order of secular speculative activity, to leave the walls of the school, the seminary or the college in order to assume in the whole world of culture the role that befits a wisdom of the natural order: its place is among its sister sciences, it must converse with politics and anthropology, history and poetry; formed in the open air, in the free conversations of peripateticism, it desires, though all the while remaining apart from the traffic of men, to take an interest in everything that concerns the life of men, it is essential for it to keep contact with sensible experience; to maintain its own vitality it needs a vast breathing space and incessant exchanges.

But the body politic, with all its secular culture, is enveloped by the Church as the earth is enveloped by the heavens; the Christian lay is part of the Church. The more lay it becomes, and the more it advances boldly toward the most exposed frontiers, the more will the perennial philosophy, to preserve its integrity, have to remain in continuity with the superhuman sources without which the human weakens, with the sacred wisdom which transcends it and whose native land is the contemplative activity of the Church. This is why it was normal and consonant with the eternal order that, venturing into the universe, it should first be commissioned by the Papacy.

This predilection of the Church, these recommendations, these exhortations of the Popes, do not constitute and do not claim to constitute an intrinsic demonstration of the truth of Thomism. They are extrinsic arguments and guarantees, signs which induce in the intelligence of the believer a well-founded confidence. Unbelievers, no doubt, are unmoved by them; nay more, such recommendations rather render suspect to them a philosophy thus patronized. For all that, the Church does not lower her voice; she does not mind compromising philosophers with her company and that of Jesus Christ; she doubtless considers that if these unbelievers do not listen to First Truth, they would listen still less to metaphysical reasonings, because their hearts are prejudiced; let them take scandal at seeing a science honored by faith, she regards their scandal as pharisaical. In any event, it would be ridiculous to present before them evidence based on the feeling of the Church in favor of one philosophy.

As for believers, they are well aware that a philosophy can in no way be imposed on them as a dogma. But if the philosophy of Saint Thomas does not thus receive in their eyes, by reason of its recommendation by the Church, either the supra-rational value of an article of faith or, in the proper order of rational disciplines, that evidence compelling assent which a philosophy has by itself or will never have — if this is so, the fact remains that among the extrinsic signs likely to lead to right judgment and capable of disposing a mind in good faith to place trust in a doctrine, then to examine it, to study it with respect and confidence, indeed with that joy which the reasonable hope of encountering the true gives, they can find no recommendation more persuasive and more notable than this one.

In the proper sphere of science, the argument from authority is the weakest of all.1 But in the sphere of apprenticeship, in the order of preparation for science, of the via ad scientiam, in which, precisely, the mind, supported by extrinsic signs and arguments, accustoms itself little by little to advance by itself with steps of evidence, the authority of a master has in fact a preponderant role. For we are not angel-mathematicians, constituted by the natural light of our reason in a virtual scientific state that we would only have to expand through discourse, we are, alas! children of men who learn in order to know, and who, knowing, keep on learning. Many misunderstandings concerning the attitude of the Church in regard to the philosophy of Saint Thomas would vanish of themselves, if it were understood that it is above all a question here of pedagogy and of education: of “educing,” of bringing to existence, of engendering philosophical knowledge from the potency of an intellect which is at first but a tabula rasa.

It is in this perspective, and in order to grasp more exactly how a philosophy which of itself relates only to evidence and to reason may nevertheless be recommended by the Church with a unique and extraordinarily significant insistence, that I offer the following observations. They will show, I hope, that it is equally false either to accuse the Catholic Church of imposing on its faithful an “ideological conformism” in matters of philosophy, or to regard the philosophy of Saint Thomas as something “indifferent” for a Catholic, and which would propose itself for his consideration in the same manner and under the same conditions as any other philosophical doctrine.

In this discussion-in which, as I indicated at the beginning of the chapter, I am considering simply what concerns Saint Thomas the philosopher, leaving aside what concerns Saint Thomas the theologian — my whole desire is to put the reader face to face with texts of the Supreme Pontiffs, texts of which the public does not always appear to be fully enough informed. We shall therefore above all consider, from the point of view of the facts, historically and documentarily, what has actually been the attitude of the Popes in regard to Saint Thomas.

However, to light us on our way, we must first try, by way of introduction, to attain a summary but the exact idea of the general truths which command the whole discussion, that is to say, the role and the authority of the Church in philosophical matters.


On this point certain elementary truths impose themselves logically on every man who admits a revelation from God, propounded by the Church of Christ, elementary truths which the Church herself has been careful to embody in dogmatic definitions.2 I recall them here for the sake of clarity.

1) Truth cannot contend against truth, for this would be to tear to pieces the very first principle of reason; and the theory of the double truth, invented in the Middle Ages by the Averroists and taken up again in our day by some “modernists”- the theory according to which the same thing can be true according to faith and false according to reason, or inversely — is a pure absurdity. “Although faith is above reason,” the Vatican Council declares, “yet there can be no genuine disagreement between faith and reason; for it is the same God Who, on the one hand, reveals the mysteries and infuses faith into souls and, on the other, has endowed the human mind with the light of reason, and God cannot possibly deny Himself or the true ever contradict the true. When the vain appearance of such a contradiction occasionally arises, it is above all because the dogmas of faith are not understood and expounded according to the mind of the Church, or because erroneous opinions are taken for affirmations of reason.” Whence it follows that:

2) Philosophy, like every science, is independent of revelation and faith in its own work and in its principles, and develops in an autonomous manner starting from these principles, having for its proper light the natural light of reason, and for sole criterion, evidence;

3) Philosophy is nevertheless subject to the magisterium of faith, every enunciation of a philosopher that is destructive of a revealed truth being clearly an error, and reason enlightened by faith alone having authority to judge whether such an enunciation of a philosopher (that is to say, of a man who uses more or less well natural reason alone) is or is not contrary to faith.

Thus revelation plays the role of norm or negative rule in regard to philosophy, which is to say that without encroaching on its principles or intervening in its procedures and in its own proper work, it has a right of inspection over its conclusions.

4) It is evident, from the moment one admits the fact of revelation, that philosophy cannot suffer any harm from this indirect subordination to faith. Like art and every human discipline, it is free and autonomous in its own sphere, but this sphere is limited and subordinate; it does not therefore enjoy an absolute freedom, but who then is absolutely free but God Himself? To be limited in one’s freedom to be wrong, to have an external reference-mark and a hand-rail, as it were, against error, is in reality a great benefit for philosophy. For if it is true, as Cicero says, that there is no folly in the world but has found some philosopher to maintain it — which comes to saying with Scripture that there is no end to the number of fools (even among philosophers)- then it must be admitted that philosophy, in order to perform successfully the work of reason, must have need — I do not say in itself, I say in man — of the help afforded it by the inspection exercised by revelation, protecting it against many unfortunate accidents.

The better to appreciate the importance and even, in a sense, the necessity of this benefit, let us recall that, according to the common teaching of theologians, confirmed by the Vatican Council, the natural weakness of man is so great that without a special help from God human reason is incapable of attaining to the possession, all at once (collective) and without admixture of error, of the great truths of the natural order, though each one, considered separately, is within its reach. We realize then that over and above the essential function of negative norm or external reference-mark I just spoke of, faith has also a positive office in regard to philosophical reason, that of indicating the goal and of orienting the mind, veluti stella rectrix, like a guiding star.

5) Lastly, philosophy can be considered no longer in itself and in its own proper sphere, but insofar as it enters into the contexture of a more exalted science: theology, the science of revealed truths, which is in us, Saint Thomas says, like a participation in the science proper to God and the blessed. Theology cannot develop in the human mind without making use of philosophical truths, which are established by reason, and which it puts in contact with the data of faith in order to have emerge from these data the consequences they virtually contain. It thus superelevates philosophy and then uses it as an instrument. One sees immediately that these living bonds confirm on still another ground the subordination of philosophy to the magisterium of revelation and faith: theology, independent in itself of every philosophical system, having to judge the enunciations of philosophers in its own light and to take up, from among the different philosophical systems, the one which will be in its hands the best instrument of truth.

Such are the elementary notions that impose themselves logically on the mind, once the fact of Catholic Revelation is posited.

What follows? It follows that those who have received the grace of faith cannot philosophize in utter disregard of this faith, stella rectrix, and of theology, by practicing a system of water-tight compartments. Philosophy remains in them rigorously distinct from faith and admits only the rational into its own proper structure, but it cannot be separated from faith. And it is clear that the natural inclination of every believer is to reject as false the philosophical opinions he sees to be contrary to revealed truth. Each one is bound to defend his goods and God’s goods against error.

But will the Church abandon each one here to his own individual resources? If she did, she would fail the mandate imposed on her to preserve the deposit of faith, fail her duty to protect souls. She will therefore intervene, and when confronted with a philosophical error she considers sufficiently grave (whether this error destroys directly a revealed truth, or destroys a truth connected with the deposit of revelation) she will condemn it; she will also recommend positively the philosophical doctrine she judges to be most capable of confirming and strengthening the mind in relation to faith; she will exercise her sacred magisterium over the sphere of philosophy.

When we speak of the Church — allow me this parenthesis — let us think of what she truly is. Let us not have an attenuated conception of her; let us not picture to ourselves a mere spiritual administration.

Let us remember that she is herself a mystery, that she is the Mystical Body of Christ, a living person, at once divine and human, whose head is Christ and all of whose members the Holy Ghost joins together, the great Contemplative who aspires to beget all men unto eternal life, and all of whose movements — so far as the Church herself is concerned (whatever the human frailty of individuals may be)- proceed from divine wisdom and the most pure gifts of grace. We shall not then bargain over the terms of our allegiance, we shall not follow her like peevish children who have to be dragged along; we shall understand that her doctrinal authority is not limited to defining solemnly what one cannot deny without being a heretic, but extends, on the contrary, according to all the degrees and all the nuances that what one calls the ordinary magisterium of the Church admits of in the tone of its voice and the authority of its affirmations, to all that concerns the integrity of faith in souls.

From the principles just laid down, a final conclusion emerges. When the Church exercises her authority over the philosophical sphere, she does this essentially with reference to faith, with reference to revealed truth, the deposit of which it is her mission to guard. But since faith presupposes reason, as grace presupposes nature, it happens that in order to accomplish perfectly her office of guardian of the faith the Church is also, and secondarily, constituted by God guardian of the health of reason, guardian of the natural order (as also of the natural law). Let us say then that she has a double mission: to safeguard the deposit of revelation and, secondarily, to safeguard the natural rectitude of reason itself. And it is in the name of this double mission that in exercising her authority over the philosophical sphere, she works in fact for the greater good of reason. The Church is not for the world, said Saint Augustine; and yet she acts as though she were there for the good of the world.


It is well known that the great doctrinal synthesis accomplished by Saint Thomas in the thirteenth century appeared to his contemporaries as a bold innovation. Why? Because Saint Thomas, following his master Albert the Great, had adopted the philosophy of Aristotle in order to bring it into the service of the faith, and Aristotle, who had but recently arrived in the Christian world through the compromising intermediary of Arab translators and commentators, had the worst reputation. Certain routine minds were so astounded that, a few years after the death of Saint Thomas, and in spite of the enormous influence already achieved by his doctrine, some of the theses he taught were censured by the Bishop of Paris, Etienne Tempier, and by two English bishops. But Etienne Tempier was not the Church. As for the novelty of Saint Thomas, it did not derive from the fact that he changed or altered the theological thought inherited from the Fathers and elaborated in the schools of the Middle Ages; it derived on the contrary from the fact that he brought theology to its point of scientific perfection, using for this as instrument, but not without superelevating and purifying it, the most vigorously rational, the most highly developed, the most analytical philosophy that the Greek genius was able to conceive.

Now it is highly significant that from the very beginning the Popes have not only encouraged Saint Thomas in his work3 but have also discerned in the Thomist synthesis an incomparable value and quality, and have considered that in this synthesis the whole of the Christian tradition bore its fruit. John XXII, who canonized Friar Thomas Aquinas in 1323, fifty years after his death, declared that his doctrine could have proceeded only from a miraculous intervention by God, “doctrina ejus non potuit esse sine miraculo,” and that by himself alone he enlightened the Church more than all the other Doctors. Twenty years later, on the 6th of February, 1344, Clement VI testified to the spread of Saint Thomas’ thought in the universal Church, and in 1346 he enjoined the Dominican Order not to deviate from his doctrine. The Dominicans, who had already in their general Chapters of 1279 and 1286 chosen Thomas Aquinas for their Doctor, were thus commissioned by the Pope to defend and maintain intact the teaching of Saint Thomas, the teaching rightfully appointed, under the sign of the Angelic Doctor, to the protection of the Catholic mind.

Urban V in 1368 ordered the University of Toulouse “to follow the doctrine of the blessed Thomas as being true and Catholic and to exert itself to the utmost to develop it.” There would be no end to reporting in detail the testimonies of the Supreme Pontiffs: Nicholas V, Pius IV, Saint Pius V (who proclaimed Thomas Aquinas a Doctor of the Church), Sixtus V, Clement VIII, Paul V, Alexander VII, Innocent XI, Innocent XII, Benedict XIII, Clement XII, Benedict XIV. . . . Let it suffice to recall Innocent VI’s declaration that “those who have a firm grasp of the doctrine of Saint Thomas are never found far astray from the path of truth, and whoever has opposed it has always been suspect of error,” and to observe that in the stout volume4 devoted by Father Berthier to St. Thomas Aquinas, the Common Doctor of the Church, these testimonies of the Popes fill no less than 280 octavo pages. Ever since the Council of Lyons, held in 1274, the very year of the death of Saint Thomas (he died at Fossanova on his way to the Council, but his thought was present there and it is from it that the Council borrowed the formulas with which it condemned the “errors of the Greeks”), and the Council of Vienna (1311 -1312), at which the Church defined the substantial unity of the human being in the very words of Saint Thomas, the Fathers of all the Councils, it may be asserted, have had recourse to the intellectual tools prepared by Thomas and have always shown themselves to be strictly faithful to his principles. This is nowhere more evident than in the definitions of the Council of Trent. “For ever since the glorious death of the saintly Doctor,” wrote Pius X, “the Church has not held a single Council in which Thomas has not participated through the treasures of his doctrine.”5 If, however, the mark of human limitations with regard to the divine mysteries was not lacking even in such a Doctor, in this respect that the privilege of the Immaculate Conception, much controverted in his time, was not taught by him (it was even bitterly opposed for some centuries by a part of his school), we must yet note that the reserve he maintained on this point derived from the fact that he kept (out of theological prudence and in order not to anticipate the judgment of the Roman Church) to the implicit, not pushing on to definitive assertions; this reserve discloses no defect in his principles, which, in reality, like a “rudder”6 ensuring the right course, prepared the way no less than the fervor and “steam” of Scotus and the Franciscan school for the dogmatic definition promulgated by Pius IX in 1854.

But let us come to the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Here things take on a new aspect. Saint Thomas no longer appears as simply the master of sacred science, whose doctrine presides over the solemn acts of the ecclesiastical magisterium and constitutes the theological store of the Church. The Pope addresses himself to human reason, he entreats it to return to the Angelic Doctor, to ask him the way of light; he entreats it — this human reason which has known so many negations, intoxications and revulsions — to restore the great affirmations of Thomist philosophy. On August 4, 1879, Leo XIII published the encyclical Aeterni Patris,7 and from this dates the renaissance of Scholastic studies. Everyone will find it profitable to read (or re-read) this whole encyclical, for it contains a defense of Philosophy, of its value as knowledge, of its dignity and its utility among men and in Christian society, which, coming from the Vicar of Christ speaking to the universe, has a singular gravity and nobility.

After a brief summary of the history of philosophy in the Christian centuries, in the ages of the Fathers and of the Scholastics, the Pope says:

Above all the Scholastic Doctors towers Thomas Aquinas, prince and master of them all, who, as Cajetan observes, “because he profoundly revered the holy Doctors who preceded him inherited in a way the intellect of all, intellectum omnium quodammodo sortitus est.” Thomas gathered their doctrines together, as if they were the scattered members of the same body, and knitted them into one whole. He assembled them in an admirable order, and so increased them with valuable additions that he is rightly and deservedly esteemed the special guardian and glory of the Catholic Church.

Leo XIII then stressed very remarkably the outstanding importance of a Thomist renaissance, not only in regard to religious truth and the sacred goods to be protected in souls, but also in regard to secular culture and the whole movement of art and science. The arts indeed borrow from philosophy, as from the wisdom that moderates, their supreme regulation, and draw from it, as from a common source of life, the spirit which animates them.

As for the natural sciences,

supreme injustice is done to [Scholastic philosophy] to accuse it of putting obstacles in the path of the progress and development of these sciences. [On the contrary] as the Scholastics, following in this the teachings of the holy Fathers, teach at each step in anthropology that the intellect can rise to knowledge of immaterial things only through the intermediary of sensible things, they themselves have understood that nothing is more useful to the philosopher than to scrutinize diligently the secrets of nature, and to give much time and care to the study of physical things . . . Far from suffering the least harm, the sciences of nature themselves, which are held in such high esteem today, and which through so many splendid discoveries attract everywhere an admiration without parallel, would singularly gain from a restoration of the ancient philosophy . . . For to ascertain the facts does not suffice, one must rise to a higher plane . . . Scholastic philosophy, widely made use of, would bring to these investigations a marvelous increase of strength and light.

And the Pope concludes:

We most urgently exhort you, for the defense and the glory of the Catholic faith, for the good of society, for the advancement of all the sciences, to restore the precious wisdom of St. Thomas and to propagate it as far as possible.

We are witnessing today a great intellectual movement launched by the will and the words of the watchman at the summit of the Church’s towers; this is one of the best examples of what we might call the healing action of the papacy on wounded humanity.

Innumerable are the acts in which Leo XIII confirmed and further defined the exhortations contained in the encyclical Aeterni Patris. The defense of the faith, “the progress of science, the welfare of society are at stake.”8 Whether he was addressing the whole Church, or the Redemptorists, the Franciscans, the Dominicans, the Benedictines, the Jesuits, Bishops, universities, or seminaries, throughout twenty-five years he unceasingly urged — in encyclicals, briefs, letters and audiences — the return to Saint Thomas, and couched his recommendations, each time the occasion presented itself, in words as imperative as they are precise:

Those who are desirous of truly being philosophers — and religious especially ought to desire this — are obliged [he tells the Friars Minor]9 to establish the principles and bases of their doctrine on St. Thomas Aquinas.

If doctors are found who disagree with St. Thomas [he writes to the Jesuits]10, however great their merits be in other respects, hesitation is not permitted, the former must be sacrificed for the latter.

On January 18, 1880, he ordered the Dominicans to publish, at the expense of the Holy See, a monumental edition of Saint Thomas; on August 4 of the same year he placed “all Catholic universities, academies, faculties, and schools” under the patronage of Thomas Aquinas; and in the Brief he published on this occasion he affirmed his conviction that “Thomist doctrine possesses, with an eminent superiority, a singular force and virtue for curing the evils with which our age is afflicted.”

He continued:

The doctrine of St. Thomas is so vast that it contains, like a sea, all the wisdom that flows from the ancients. All the true that had been said, all that had been wisely sifted by the pagan philosophers, by the Fathers and the Doctors of the Church, by the eminent men who flourished before him, not only was Thomas fully acquainted with it all, but he added to it, perfected it, ordered it with such a penetrating grasp of the essential principles, with such a perfection of method and such a propriety of terms, that he seems to have left his successors only the possibility of imitating him, having deprived them of the possibility of rivaling him.

And there is this also to be considered: his doctrine, being formed and as it were armed with principles of great breadth of application, answers the needs, not of an age only, but of all time, and is sovereignly fitted to conquer the ever recurring errors.

Leo XIII himself, “to prove the timeliness of this doctrine and its suitableness for the problems of the day, made use of it continually in the teaching of the Church.”11 He encouraged and supported in every way institutions and enterprises designed to spread it, particularly the work pursued at Louvain, not without strenuous opposition by the courageous and dedicated man who would become Cardinal Mercier.

Finally, in his encyclical letter of September 8, 1899, to the French clergy, he insisted on the matter again and once more opposed Saint Thomas to subjectivism and Kantian rejection of metaphysics as knowledge, which he denounced as the danger par excellence:

We said in Our Encyclical Aeterni Patris, which We once more recommend your seminarians and their teachers carefully to peruse, and We based Ourselves on the authority of St. Paul to say it: it is through the vain subtleties of bad philosophy, per philosophiam et inanem fallaciam,12 that the minds of the faithful let themselves most often be deceived, and that the purity of the faith is corrupted among men. We added (and the events of the last twenty years have sadly confirmed the reflections and apprehensions We then expressed): “If one considers the critical conditions of the times in which we live, if he reflects the state of public and private affairs, he will easily perceive that the cause of the evils which oppress us, as of those which threaten us, consists in this, that erroneous theories on all things, divine and human, propounded in the schools of the philosophers, have little by little penetrated all ranks of society and have come to be accepted by a great number of minds.”

We again condemn these doctrines, which have of true philosophy only the name, and which, shaking the very foundations of human knowledge, lead logically to universal scepticism and to irreligion. We are profoundly grieved to learn that for some years now some Catholics have been thinking that they can follow a philosophy which, under the specious pretext of freeing the human reason of every preconceived idea and of every illusion, affirm anything beyond its own operations, thus sacrificing to a radical subjectivism all the certitidues that the traditional metaphysics, consecrated by the authority of the most vigorous minds, laid down as necessary and unshakeable foundations for the demonstration of the existence of God, of the spirituality and the immortality of the soul, and of the objective reality of the external world.

Let us note that about the same time Rudolf Eucken, on the Protestant side, was also contrasting

Saint Thomas with Kant as two worlds in irreducible conflict.13

We have not finished. Pius X, Benedict XV, Pius XI, and Pius XII have continued and confirmed in every way the intellectual work of Leo XIII. It is more than ever important here to have the texts themselves before our eyes.14 Let us call to mind again these lines from the encyclical Pascendi (September 8, 1907):

In the first place, with regard to studies, We will and expressly order that the Scholastic philosophy constitute the foundation of sacred studies. It goes without saying that “if anything is taken up with too great subtlety by the Scholastic doctors, or too carelessly stated — if there be anything that ill agrees with the discoveries of a later age, or, in a word, improbable in whatever way — it does not enter Our mind to propose that for imitation to Our age.”15 But what is of capital importance is that when We prescribe that the Scholastic philosophy is to be followed, We mean especially that philosophy which has been bequeathed to us by St. Thomas Aquinas. We therefore declare that all that has been laid down by Our Predecessor remains in full force, and, if need be, We renew it again and confirm it, and order that it be rigorously observed by all. Let Bishops impose and require its observance in any seminary in which it may have been neglected. The same injunction applies also to Superiors of religious orders. And let teachers bear in mind that to deviate from St. Thomas, especially in metaphysical questions, is always attended by grave detriment.

In his Motu Proprio Sacrorum Antistitum (September 1, 1910), addressed to all Bishops and to the Superiors-General of religious Orders charged with the duty of supervising the development of young clerics, Pius X reiterated these instructions:

With regard to studies, We will and expressly order that the Scholastic philosophy constitute the foundation of sacred studies . . . And what is of capital importance is that when We prescribe that the Scholastic philosophy is to be followed, We mean especially that philosophy which has been bequeathed to us by St. Thomas Aquinas.

Especially, the Pope said.

In the Motu Proprio Doctoris Angelici,16 which gathers together and sums up all the pontifical teachings on Saint Thomas, and which powerfully testifies to the indivisibility of his doctrine, the Pope was to insist:

Now because We said [in the Encyclical Pascendi and in the Motu Proprio Sacrorum Antistitum] that the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas especially was to be followed, without saying that it exclusively was to be followed, many have persuaded themselves that they were complying with Our will, or at least were not acting contrary to it, if they indiscriminately adopted and adhered to what any other of the Scholastic doctors taught in philosophy, even though this might be in opposition with the principles of St. Thomas. But in this way they have been gravely mistaken. When We gave St. Thomas to Our own as supreme guide in Scholastic philosophy, it goes without saying that We wanted this to be understood as referring above all to the principles taught by him, which principles are the foundations on which this philosophy rests. For just as, in fact, the opinion of certain ancients is to be rejected, according to which it makes no difference to the truth of the Faith that one have such or such a view on the subject of created things, provided only that one thinks correctly on the subject of God, for error concerning nature entails a false knowledge about God: so must the principles of philosophy laid down by Thomas Aquinas be religiously and inviolably safeguarded — thanks to which principles there is conjointly procured of created things a science which accords fully with the Faith (Contra Gent. II, 3, 4); all the errors of all times are refuted; one is enabled to discern with certitude what must be attributed to God alone and to no other (Ibid., 3; Sum. Theol., I, 12, 4; 54, 1); and, lastly, both the diversity and the analogy between God and His works are admirably brought to light . . .

. . . Sound reason will not sanction anyone’s neglecting, and religion will not permit anyone’s attenuating such a magnificent patrimony of wisdom, which Thomas, after receiving it from the ancients, perfected and increased by the power of his genius — a genius worthy of the angels, and which he applied to preparing, illustrating and protecting Sacred Doctrine in human intelligences (In librum Boethii de Trinitate, q. 2, a. 3). This is especially true since, if Catholic truth is once deprived of this powerful support, it would be in vain that in order to defend it one would ask help from a philosophy whose principles are either in common with materialist, monist, pantheist, socialist errors, and with the different forms of modernism, or, in any case, are not opposed to them. The fact is that the capital points of St. Thomas’ philosophy must not be placed in the category of opinions that can be debated one way or the other, but they must rather be regarded as the foundations on which the whole science of natural and divine things is established; and if they are removed or altered in any way whatsoever, it necessarily follows that the students of the sacred sciences no longer even perceive the meaning of the words through which the dogmas God has revealed are proposed by the Church’s magisterium.

It is for this reason that We desired that all who are teaching philosophy and sacred theology be warned that if they deviated so much as a step, especially in metaphysics, from Thomas Aquinas, they would not do so without grave detriment. — We now go further and declare that those who pervert in their interpretations or hold in complete scorn what in this philosophy constitutes the principles and the great theses (principia et pronuntiata, majora), not only do not follow St. Thomas, but they stray very far from the holy Doctor. And We declare that if the doctrine of any writer or any saint has ever been recommended by Us or by Our predecessors with such singular commendation and in such a way that to the commendation were added the invitation and the order to spread it and defend it, it is easy to understand that it was recommended in the measure in which it was in accord with the principles of St. Thomas Aquinas or was in no way opposed to them.

One step only remained to be taken: to make, for professors appointed to Church institutions, the teaching of the philosophy of Saint Thomas an obligation of their office, by a law inscribed in the very Code of the decrees of the Church. This was done; and such an enactment goes further still than all that the Popes had done up till then. In the new Code of Canon Law promulgated by Benedict XV, teachers in Catholic schools are ordered:

to treat in every particular the studies of rational philosophy and theology, and the formation of students in these sciences, according to the method, the doctrine, and the principles of the Angelic Doctor, and to adhere religiously to them.17

Thus Thomas Aquinas is no longer proposed only as a doctor eminent among others. He is the Doctor par excellence, he occupies an absolutely unique place. He now realizes in its fullness the title of Doctor Communis Ecclesiae which had already been given to him. Insofar as a philosopher carries to an exceptionally eminent degree the characteristics of a certain spiritual community, we can say that Descartes, Malebranche or Auguste Comte are philosophers specifically French, Fichte or Hegel philosophers specifically German. Saint Thomas, for his part, is the Doctor specifically Catholic; he is the philosopher and the theologian of Peter and of Catholicity.

Later Benedict XV was to write — and this is one of the highest commendations that have been bestowed on Saint Thomas — that “the Church has proclaimed that the doctrine of Thomas Aquinas is her own,” cum Thomae doctrinam Ecclesia suam propriam edixit esse.18 Then Pius XI, in his Apostolic Letter on the education of the clergy:19

Once the program of literary studies has been completed, the young clerics must, as a preparation for theology, apply themselves with the greatest care, for two years at least, to the study of philosophy. We mean the Scholastic philosophy, which has been diligently worked out by the labors of the holy Fathers and the Doctors of the School, and which the labor and the genius of Thomas Aquinas carried to its highest perfection, that philosophy which Our illustrious Predecessor Leo XIII did not hesitate to call “the rampart of the Faith and the solid fortress of religion.”20 It is, in fact, the glory of Leo XIII to have restored to honor the Christian philosophy, by rekindling love and devotion for the Angelic Doctor; and We are so convinced that this was the greatest of all the so precious services which in the course of his long pontificate he rendered to the Church and to civil society, that, even if he lacked other merits, this alone would suffice to immortalize the name of this great Pope.

The teachers of philosophy, therefore, in teaching this science to seminarians, will take special pains to follow not only the method of St. Thomas, but also his doctrine and his principles; they will put all the more fervor into being faithful to him, the more they realize that the modernists and the other enemies of the Catholic Faith fear and dread no Doctor of the Church as much as St. Thomas.21

Finally, the encyclical Studiorum Ducem, by clearly revealing the union of sanctity and doctrine in the Angelic Doctor, and pointing out in him, with the grace of the eloquence of wisdom, “the union of the two wisdoms, the acquired and the infused,” renders sensibly present to us, as it were, all that there is of love, of holy apostolic vigor, and of ever-present vitality in the thought of Saint Thomas. It insists also on the catholicity of this thought, and, taking up the very important phrase of Benedict XV, it gives an official consecration to the oldest, and doubtless the most beautiful, of the titles of Saint Thomas:

We Ourselves find so justified the magnificent tributes of praise bestowed on this truly divine genius, that We think it proper to call, not only the Angelic Doctor, but also the Common or Universal Doctor of the Church, him whose doctrines the Church has made her own, as so many documents of every kind show.22

At the same time this Encyclical, by emphasizing and sanctioning with its authority certain points taught by Saint Thomas, gives us some notable statements of the reasons for the adoption of his doctrine by the Church:

Accustomed [writes Pius XI] to contemplating all things in God, the first cause and last end of all that has been made, Thomas was naturally inclined to guide himself in his life, as in the Summa Theologiae, according to the two wisdoms We have spoken of and which he describes in these words: “The wisdom that man acquires through study . . . enables him to bring to bear on divine things a right judgment according to the perfect use of reason . . . But the other wisdom is a gift which comes down from heaven . . . and it judges of divine things in virtue of a certain community of nature (connaturality) with them. It is a gift of the Holy Ghost . . . through which man is rendered perfect in the order of divine things, not learning only, but experiencing these things within himself” (II-II, 45, 1, ad 2; 2, c.).

This wisdom emanating from God, this infused wisdom, accompanied by the other gifts of the Holy Ghost, continually grew and increased in St. Thomas, in the same measure as charity, mistress and queen of all the virtues. Indeed it was for him a most certain doctrine that the love of God must never cease to increase, “as the very words of the precept imply: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart; with thy whole heart or perfectly come to the same thing . . . Charity, says the Apostle, is the end of the precept: now it is not the end which admits of a measure, but only the means which lead to it” (Ibid.,184, 3). It is for this reason that the perfection of charity is included in the precept, as the end towards which all must tend, each according to his condition.

Thus are affirmed two important theses of the Common Doctor — one distinguishing the wisdom acquired through study (philosophical and theological wisdom) from the infused wisdom, which is a gift of the Holy Ghost and is linked with charity; the other declaring that the perfection of charity falls under the precept as the end towards which each must tend according to his condition.

As far as philosophy in particular is concerned, the Encyclical unreservedly commends Saint Thomas’ conception (quite Aristotelian) of the structure and essential divisions of the highest knowledge of the natural order, and it cites these fundamental sentences of the Commentary on the Ethics:

“It belongs to the wise man to make order. The reason is that wisdom is the most mighty perfection of reason, whose property it is to know order. For though the sensitive powers know some things taken absolutely, it belongs to intellect alone or to reason to know the order of one thing to another . . . Now there are as many different sciences as there are different orders which reason considers. The order that speculative reason establishes in its own act belongs to the philosophy of reason, or logic, which considers the order of the parts of the discourse among themselves, and the order that the principles have among themselves and with respect to the conclusions. To the philosophy of nature, or physics, it belongs to consider the order which human reason observes in things but does not itself make; and in this respect we may here link metaphysics with the philosophy of nature. Finally, the order of voluntary acts pertains to the sphere of moral philosophy, or ethics, which is divided into three parts: the first considers the operations of the individual in their relation to the end, and is called monastics (or individual ethics); the second, the operations of the family collectivity, and is called economics; the third, the operations of the civil collectivity, and is called politics” (In I Ethic., lect. 1).

All these parts of philosophy [the Pope continues], St. Thomas studied deeply, each according to its proper method — starting with that which is nearest to human reason in order to rise gradually to that which is farthest from it, and to stop finally “at the pinnacle of all things,” in supremo rerum omnium vertice (Contra Gent., II, 56; IV, 1).

His teaching on the power or the value of the human mind must be held as irrefragable (sanctum). “By nature, our intelligence knows being and that which, in virtue of its very notion, holds of being as such, and it is on this knowledge that the certitude of first principles is based” (Contra Gent., II, 83). This insight reduces to naught the theories and the errors of modern philosophers who maintain that in the act of intellection it is not being itself which is perceived, but the modification in the one perceiving — errors that end in agnosticism, which was so vigorously condemned in the Encyclical Pascendi.

As to the arguments through which St. Thomas shows that God exists and that He alone is Subsisting Being Itself, they remain today as in the Middle Ages the most solid proof of these truths; they clearly confirm the Catholic dogma solemnly promulgated at the Vatican Council and which Pius X formulates so succinctly: “God, as principle and end of all things, can be known with certitude and even demonstrated by the natural light of reason, by means of what has been made, that is to say, the visible works of creation, as the cause is known and demonstrated through its effects” (Motu Proprio Sacrorum Antistitum, September 1, 1910). His metaphysical doctrine, though it has often been and is still today exposed to the bitter attacks of unjust critics, still retains, like gold which no acid can mar, all its force and its full radiancy. Our Predecessor was therefore right in affirming (Encyclical Pascendi, September 8, 1907): “To deviate from Thomas Aquinas, especially in metaphysics, is always attended with grave detriment.”23


if we are to guard against the errors which are the source and fountainhead of all the miseries of our time, we must remain more than ever faithful to the doctrine of St. Thomas. In all spheres, Thomas decisively refutes the theories contrived by the modernists: in philosophy, by safeguarding, as We have said, the value and the power of the human intelligence and by establishing through irrefutable arguments the existence of God; in dogma, by distinguishing the supernatural order from the natural order and by elucidating the reasons for believing and the dogmas themselves; in theology, by showing that all that is the object of faith rests not on opinion, but on truth, and cannot change; in Biblical matters, by establishing the true notion of divine inspiration; in matters of morals, of social life, and of law, by formulating with precision the principles of legal and social, of commutative and distributive justice and by explaining the relations between justice and charity; in ascetics, by giving the rules of the perfect life, as also by refuting those of his contemporaries who attacked religious orders. Lastly, against that independence of human reason in regard to God that is so ostentatiously displayed today, he affirms the rights of First Truth and the authority over us of the sovereign Master. We see then that the modernists have sufficient reasons for fearing no Doctor of the Church as much as Thomas Aquinas.

Accordingly, just as it was said of old to the Egyptians in time of famine: Go to Joseph, that they might receive from him a supply of wheat to nourish their bodies, so We now say to all without exception who today are seeking the truth: Go to Thomas, go and ask him for the food of sound doctrine, which nourishes souls for eternal life, and which he possesses in rich abundance.


Two things seem to me particularly striking here. First, the Church commits herself completely, so to speak, to Saint Thomas and his philosophy, and she thus proposes to us, not this or that particular truth, but a whole body of doctrine. Secondly, note the dramatic accent of the admonitions which, ever since Leo XIII, she has been addressing on this point to her faithful and still more to her clergy. One gathers that in her eyes the issue is of immense importance, that it is a question vital for the interests of faith and of civilization.

Why is this so?

It is because we do not have to do today with particular and determinate heresies, but with a global, universal heresy, with a rupture at the foundations: reason is giving way, one no longer believes in truth, neither in the natural order nor in the supernatural order, one separates human life from truth; this is the core of that modernism condemned by Pius X in 1907 in the encyclical Pascendi, and characterized by him as the cesspool of all errors. Such a peril must be countered not with a particular truth, but with the whole of faith, as far as heaven comforts us, and the whole light of the infused gifts, but also, as far as we labor on earth, with the whole of a philosophy, with the whole of Philosophy, taken globally in its universality and in its doctrinal unity.

The various aspects of the essential harmony between dogma and reason cannot be studied in a few pages. I should like only to recall here the extreme solicitude with which the Church, who has, however, far superior, far more beautiful objects to contemplate, busies herself in defending and guaranteeing the value and dignity of natural reason, in which she admires a created participation of the God Whom she loves, of the Light which enlightens every man coming into this world. In 1567 against Baius, in 1713 against Quesnel, she affirmed the validity of the knowledge of the moral law and of the existence of God which natural reason attained among the pagans. In 1840 she required from Abbe Bautain, and in 1855 from Abbe Bonnetty, the acknowledgment that “reasoning can prove with certitude the existence of God, the spirituality of the soul, the freedom of man,” that “the use of reason precedes faith and leads man to it with the help of revelation and grace.” In 1870, at the Vatican Council, she solemnly defined that “God, principle and end of all things, can be known with certitude (certo cognosci) by the natural light of human reason, starting from created things”; and, more precisely, that He can be so “demonstrated (adeoque demonstrari posse) by means of the visible works of creation, as the cause by its effects.”24 She whom false reason has so calumniated thus protects reason against itself, when in a surge of philosophical frenzy this erstwhile goddess has recourse to suicide to end its torments.

All this is easily explained, if it is true that grace perfects nature and that man is by nature an animal endowed with reason. Destroy the force of reason and you destroy the natural strata themselves by which grace takes in the human being; you erect a divine monument, and an exceedingly weighty one, on ground already undermined. The Christian life is not easy, Saint Christopher needs good shoulders to carry the infant Jesus. It takes a good mind to carry supernatural truth.

I do not say that it necessarily takes the reason of the philosophers, a reason technically developed and cultivated! If Philosophy, with its choicest intellectual splendors, is part of the treasure of the Church, if it is necessary for the integrity and the full development of her doctrinal life on earth, it is not necessary to every believer, at least not to the simple and the ignorant. On the other hand, the truths of faith, taken in themselves, are independent of any philosophical system (I say independent of any system, I do not say indifferent to any system) because, descending directly from God, they are superior to any philosophical conception. Thus it is that nowhere in the Gospel does Christ philosophize: He was wisdom itself, and therefore He had no need to seek for it.

But what is necessarily required is reason in its natural vigor, that spontaneous and naturally right use of the intelligence that we call common sense.

Now it is the fundamental rectitude of common sense, the very health of natural reason, which is wounded and destroyed by the great errors to which modern philosophy is prone. The natural vigor of reason and common sense, destroyed by philosophers, can henceforth be restored only if the mind rights itself in philosophy, in the knowledge of the superior truths naturally accessible to man. Faith and grace — gratia sanans- will aid in this work of recovery; they do not make reason useless or superfluous; on the contrary, they require it.

What then, from our present point of view, are the most striking characteristics of the philosophy of Saint Thomas?

This philosophy has already appeared to us as incorporated into the intellectual life of the Church, as the best proportioned to faith, as Pius X observed in his Motu Proprio Doctoris Angelici, and as the instrument par excellence of theology (no other philosophical doctrine having been able actually to enter into the contexture of theology without causing it some damage). Heretics themselves pay it this testimony. “Take away Thomas and I will destroy the Church,” exclaimed Martin Bucer; and Jansenius: “Thomas nauseates me, but I relish Augustine” (as though it were a question of relishing that which one must first understand!). Let us note in passing that this typical relation with theology is for Thomist philosophy a remarkable sign of truth: I said at the beginning of this chapter that theology, the superior knowledge, independent in itself of any philosophy, must take into its service, from all the philosophical systems, the one which will be in its hands the best instrument of truth. Could it possibly be the best instrument of truth, if it were not itself true?

But we come now to a second characteristic of the philosophy of Saint Thomas. It is par excellence the philosophy of reason, the philosophy of common sense.25

Certainly I do not mean this in the same sense as in the philosophy of the Scottish school! For it is not based on the authority of the common consent of mankind; it is based only on the evidence of the object.

I mean this in an altogether different sense: that common sense itself is an embryonic and rudimentary philosophy, a philosophy which has not yet reached the scientific state. Does not common sense firmly believe that what is is, that one cannot at the same time affirm and deny the same thing, that in affirming and denying, if we speak truly, we attain to that which is, that all that happens has a cause, that the sensible world exists, that man has a substantial self, that our wills are free, that the fundamental laws of morality are universal, and, lastly, that the world did not make itself and that its author is intelligent? Now this spontaneously right reason, this common sense which precedes faith and without which the words that faith puts on our lips no longer have any meaning for us, is at work, too, in the philosophy of Saint Thomas, but transfigured here by the light of science; not only does the Thomist doctrine establish demonstratively the conclusions instinctively laid down by common sense, but there is perfect continuity between its principles, even the loftiest and the most subtle, and the primary evidences of the intelligence enveloped in the certitudes of common sense.26 Based on objective evidence, subject to the most rigorous method, scrupulously concerned with critical and analytical reflection, leading metaphysical thought to the highest and craggiest peaks, Thomist philosophy is the discipline of wisdom which corresponds in the scientific order to the natural certitudes of reason. They perceive this clearly who, making their way through it after a long sojourn in the artificial paradises of modern philosophy, feel all the fibers of their intelligence coming to life again. Here again we can note in passing a remarkable sign of truth. For if intelligence is worth anything — and if it is not it would be better to be a vegetable than a philosopher-is not the doctrine which develops best in the natural line of intelligence also the truest?

At the same time, the philosophy of Saint Thomas is the only philosophy capable of maintaining and defending against every assault, the only philosophy which, in fact, undertakes to maintain and defend, the integrity of reason, and of justifying — and this is the proper office of metaphysical wisdom — the principles of human knowledge. Consequently, intellectual positions, a great deal more clearly drawn today than they were a hundred or two hundred years ago, thanks to the evolution of modern philosophy, compel us in the last analysis to choose between the two terms of this alternative: integral realism in the sense of Saint Thomas, or pure irrationality.

Philosophy par excellence in regard to faith and revealed truth, philosophy par excellence in regard to natural reason and common sense: one can note many other characteristics in Thomism, but these two are the ones which make it easiest for us to understand the unique confidence placed in it by the Church.

Must it then be said that the Church has canonized the philosophy of Saint Thomas? Yes, certainly, in the sense that she has included the teaching of this philosophy among the prescriptions of Canon Law. We must say in this sense that the philosophy of Saint Thomas is the philosophy of the Church, the philosophy the Church makes use of in her own proper life, the philosophy she commands her masters to teach, the philosophy she desires (and what an unceasingly manifested desire!) to see adopted by her faithful.

But has she canonized it in the sense that she would impose it on minds in the name of her doctrinal magisterium? No! From this point of view, no philosophy, that is to say, no purely human doctrine of wisdom, can be called, strictly speaking, “the Catholic philosophy.” There cannot be any “philosophical system which a man would have to adopt in order to be a Christian.”27 The philosophy of Saint Thomas is not a dogma; the Church can define as a truth of faith only what is contained, at least implicitly, in the divine deposit of revelation. One or another truth professed by the Thomist philosophy may very well be so defined one day (if the Church judges that it was contained in the deposit of faith, and in fact this has already happened) — but never the whole philosophy, the body of Thomist doctrine; and the truth in question will never be defined as philosophical, since it can be defined only as contained in the deposit of revelation. By the very fact of the elevation of dogma and its independence in regard to every philosophical system, any such truth will be raised above philosophical language and formulations. This is what happened, for example, when the Council of Vienna defined that the rational soul is in itself and essentially the form of the human body. This definition, as Pius IX explained in 1877, affirms only the substantial unity of human nature, composed of two partial substances, the body and the rational soul; it does not impose the philosophical sense, the strictly Aristotelian sense of the word form- although in fact (but this is another matter, which concerns our reason) we cannot find any philosophical doctrine except Aristotle’s which fully answers the truth defined.

However, as we said at the beginning of this chapter, the doctrinal magisterium of the Church is not strictly limited to the definitions of faith. And it is proper for every Catholic to receive the philosophy of Saint Thomas for what it actually is — the philosophy the Church has adopted for her own and which she declares to be “according to Christ”28 — and therefore with the respect due to such an approbation.

The Church, acting as a perfect society having its own proper executive organs, commands her masters to teach the philosophy of Saint Thomas, and by this very fact she recommends to her faithful that they adhere to it; she throws every possible light on this philosophy, she uses every kind of signal, she cries out: there is where you will find the living waters. But she does not force, she does not constrain anyone to go there.

She even shows great leniency and forbearance towards her own professors, professors being everywhere, we know, a cross-grained and pernickety tribe.

Leo XIII in the encyclical Aeterni Patris, and Pius X later in the encyclical Pascendi, took pains, as we saw above,29 to observe:

if anything is taken up with too great subtlety by the Scholastic doctors, or too carelessly stated — if there be anything that ill agrees with the discoveries of a later age, or, in a word, improbable in whatever way — it does not enter Our mind to propose that for imitation to Our age.

Certain professors availed themselves of this to treat as so much refuse the very principles of Saint Thomas, doubtless regarded as sinning through excess of subtlety.

Pius X, it will be remembered, in the Motu Proprio Doctoris Angelici, protested vigorously against this abuse,30 and ordered professors to be piously faithful to the principia et pronuntiata majora, to the principles and the main points of doctrine, of the Thomist philosophy (a prescription later inscribed in the new code of Canon Law). Yet a question could be asked: What are precisely these main points of doctrine?

On July 27, 1914, the Congregation of Studies published by order of Pius X twenty-four theses which, it declared, “plainly contain the principles and main points of doctrine of the Holy Doctor.”31 This was the last public act of Saint Pius X.

Certain professors thereupon asked if all of these twenty-four theses were imposed on them in their teaching. On March 7, 1916, the Congregation of Studies, which in the meantime had become the Congregation of Seminaries and Universities, while confirming that the twenty-four theses did in fact express the authentic teaching of Saint Thomas (Omnes illae viginti quatuor theses philosophiae germanam S. Thomae doctrinam exprimunt) replied by ordering only that they be proposed by the professors to their students as safe rules of guidance: “proponantur veluti tutae normae directivae.”

Let us admire the prudence (not exempt from some irony) the Church uses in the government of minds, because she knows human weakness. She first imposes because the teaching of the philosophy of Saint Thomas on those to whom she entrusts the task of teaching; then she declares that twenty-four theses, which she publishes, express the main points of doctrine in the philosophy of Saint Thomas; and she is then asked if she imposes the teaching of these twenty-four theses, and her answer is “No, I do not impose them on you.” It is so, I assume, because she thinks: “They will finally come to see for themselves that, if they must teach Saint Thomas, they must also teach the twenty-four theses which express “the mind of Saint Thomas. But so long as they do not see this, I will let them be. I will give them time to draw this consequence for themselves, and to convince themselves of the truth of what I ask them to teach on my behalf.”

Does the Church impose on her faithful a sort of “ideological conformism” in philosophy? No.

Is then the philosophy of Saint Thomas something “indifferent” for the Catholic, something which would present itself for his examination in the same way and under the same conditions as any other philosophical doctrine? No.

Like every philosophy, the philosophy of Saint Thomas presents itself for examination by our reason, but it alone among all philosophies presents itself with this recommendation and, if I may so put it, this formidable coefficient of being the philosophy that the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church of whom we are the members, uses in her own intellectual life. If the authority of masters plays in the genesis of human knowledge the role we were recalling to mind in the first pages of this chapter, if in knowledge itself, and however secondary it may then be, it still has a part to play, with how much greater reason will the authority of the Church — and perhaps even more than her injunctions, her example, this very fact that in her own intellectual life she makes constant use of the philosophy of the Common Doctor — incline an attentive mind to turn to him, and induce it to seek patiently, under the bitter rind of Scholasticism, the promised fruit of knowledge. Doubtless there is only one way to judge a philosophy properly, and that is to study it in itself and to appraise its intrinsic evidence. But meanwhile, what a sign it is for a Christian, to see the Church officially putting her confidence in one man, in one Doctor! The fact is that in Saint Thomas, according to the profound saying of John of St. Thomas, something greater than Saint Thomas is received and defended, magis aliquid in Sancto Thoma quam Sanctus Thomas suscipitur et defenditur. It is proper to remember that God in His highest works proceeds by way of privileges and exceptions and unique cases. He once sent His Son on earth, He gave Him a precursor, He once gave the Law through Moses — is there anything surprising in that He should once have given to His Church a Doctor par excellence in philosophical and theological wisdom?

For anyone who would have an adequate idea of the wisdom of the Church, the sign I refer to, though all the while remaining, as regards the philosophy itself of Saint Thomas, an extrinsic sign, something of the order of well-founded confidence rather than of the order of science — this sign, I say, would take on, as regards the value of this philosophy considered as a whole, the character of certitude, and would beget an absolutely solid intellectual determination. Once again, it is not a question of substituting in this way for the labor of philosophizing, but rather of preparing for it and stimulating it; it is not a question of imposing by force adherence to a philosophy, but rather of inviting men, out of love and compassion, to go and see the truth there where it is. This is the meaning of those great signs in the heavens that we have seen succeeding one another ever since the time of Leo XIII. Come and see: this is always the way good tidings are announced. “We now say to all such as are desirous of the truth: Go to Thomas.”32

Thus it is that the Catholic Church asks those who believe in her not to make capital out of a few texts cut out here and there from the Summa Theologiae for the benefit of one’s particular doctrine but rather to go to Saint Thomas in his living unity. She desires that he be the master of their philosophical education, the master in whom one puts his trust in order to learn to think for himself and in order to acquire science. As she commissioned Saint Thomas to go and speak to the intellect, so she urges the intellect to go and listen to Saint Thomas. It is to be hoped that his modern disciples understand the task that is therefore theirs. The time has long since passed for them to be quarreling with the Scotists and the Occamists, the Molinists, the Augustinians, the Suarezians and the Vasquezians over scholastic questions which must be regarded as having been decided for centuries. (Let no one despise these great questions, for to do so would be great weakness of mind; one is not a philosopher if he has not examined them thoroughly, but other problems must be posed and grappled with.) The philosophy of Saint Thomas is entering, it seems, into a period of its development at once more apostolic and more lay; it is needed in all the problems of culture. The intellect, which needs it everywhere, would never forgive it if it went to sleep at its post.

It demands a living Thomism, a Thomism that will enter into the life of the age and work for the good of the world. In virtue of a profound law, which can appear paradoxical only to a mind nourished on appearances, the more lay such a Thomism becomes and the more it works in the secular order, the more will it be, at the same time, of the Church. For in order that it may go, without alienating its essence and with genuine efficacy, to the extreme limits to which it is summoned, a virtue must pass through it which comes to it from something higher than itself, from the energies of the Church of Christ. This supposes that a living, actual, active bond unites this whole intellectual effort to the prayer of the contemplatives, in their solitudes and their charterhouses, and that this work among men is really borne up by this prayer in God.

They who will follow Saint Thomas in such a disposition will share in that sort of poverty of spirit which gave this greatest of Doctors the demeanor and the simplicity of a child. Their confidence will not be in their own science, they will trust only in the God of compassion, to Whom they themselves and their own science are delivered up as instruments. Not that they therein warp science, as happens each time one makes it the instrument of a human interest. They will on the contrary carefully preserve all its rigor and all its disinterestedness, for they will be employing it only in the service of Him Who conserves all things in their integrity and their loyalty.

But because of this very poverty and this instrumental role, they may hope to serve efficaciously the good of souls and the good of the human community; because they will be ordering their effort to something higher than the human community, that is, to the extension of the Kingdom of God, to the evangelization of the world — an end more exalted than culture, and on which culture depends.

As Saint Thomas combated both the Averroists and the pseudo-Augustinians, so we must now avoid a double error: one error which we may place under the sign of Cartesian optimism and which hopes for, and demands, a final completion of culture and history in a totally self-sufficient natural perfection achieved by human reason, as if human nature were not wounded and in need of grace, and as if the ultimate end did not transcend culture and history; and another error which we may place under the sign of Lutheran pessimism, and which despairs completely of the world and of culture, abandoning it to the powers of the devil, as if Christ had not really redeemed us.

The Gospel tells us that we are in the world and not of the world. This is to tell us that the effort we make in the world will remain incomplete in the world, but that we must nevertheless make it with all the more hope, in the assurance that it is completed elsewhere, and that the little good we are able to manage here below, and ever so much more still our sufferings and our very infirmities, are turned to good account by Him Whom we love.


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