Posted on: May 6th, 2009 Genealogy of Modern Thomism

I have been trying to map out the genealogy of modern Thomist movements (using Fergus Kerr’s Twentieth-Century Catholic Theologians as well as The Cambridge Companion to Christian Thought), and here is what I found:

1. Leo XIII decided to “revive scholastic philosophy and theology which had fallen largely out of use,” and issues Aeterni Patris (1879), to “advocate the return of the church to ‘the wisdom of St. Thomas.’” (“Thomism [1], modern, Oxford Companion to Christian Thought, 703).

2. Desire Mercier, at the Higher Institute of Philosophy (which he himself established in Louvain in 1889) was able to bring (the study of) Thomism and scholasticism into dialogue with the contemporary scene, largely due to the fact that he was working in the vernacular (French), as opposed to many of his contemporaries at monastic schools, etc., who were required to write in Latin.

3. Thus the study of Thomism and scholasticism begins to gain currency in the late 19 century. Enter Maurice Blondel and Henri Bergson, who (were perceived to have) resonated with many aspects of Thomism. Many Catholic thinkers begin to be attracted to them.

4. But due to the non-Catholic aspects of some of their thought, they also cause something of a scare, and this prompts  a reaction (including Pius VII’s Humani Generis in 1950). Garrigou-Langrange and Gardiel, both 20th century Thomists who were reacting against (the catholic attraction to) Blondel and Bergson, both ground the mind’s immediate grasp of reality in the stable concept of being abstracted from the object of sense experience, thus securing a longed for stability. This sounds like representation to me. Garrigou constructed “a Thomistic metaphysics and philosophy of God grounded upon the three degrees of abstraction he had inherited from Cajetan, the 16th-century Dominican commentator on Thomas.” (“Thomism (1), modern” 704) Maritain (like Garrigou, a Dominican) was deeply influenced by Garrigou (especially his Cajetan view of the three degrees of abstraction), but also by Bergson (an influence he never superceded). Maritain is a “systematic neo-Thomist.”

5. Etiene Gilson. Gilson, the hallmark of whose work is a close textual attentiveness to the medievals (Augustine, Bonaventure, Thomas, and Duns Scotus) opposed Maritain’s proclivity toward abstraction as a basis for knowledge, and claimed that this kind of neo-sholasticism is not Thomistic. Gilson limited his work, however, by and large, to historical study of Thomas’ text.

6. Balthassar, de Lubac, Congar are more properly thought of as humanist Thomists, following Gilson, and are critical of Thomist scholasticism, including its Baroque and Twentieth Century retrievals.

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3 Responses to “Genealogy of Modern Thomism”

  1. Joel Says:
    May 6th, 2009 at 6:18 pm

    Have you read John Haldane’s “Faithful Reason”? You might like it.

  2. matt Says:
    May 7th, 2009 at 5:45 am

    No, I have not. I will check it out. Thanks.

    Hopefully I can find it in the library, though. Just checked the price on, and it is $135!

  3. Joel Says:
    May 7th, 2009 at 2:43 pm

    Wow, I have it in soft cover and it cost a whole lot less than that.

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