Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Thomism and the Magisterium

From time to time I receive emails about Thomism and whether one is required to hold, in the Church of Today, Thomistic theses instead of Scotistic ones.  So here I summarize my views/posts on the matter.

There are numerous Thomist links one could post about how one must in some way be Thomist.

There have been posts to the contrary on this blog about these issues before,
Here. Here. And the Church Authority category on the sidebar.

The reason for this is that the popes have authoritatively proclaimed that the 'perennial philosophy' is a necessary foundation for Catholic dogma and Aquinas is the primary exponent of this philosophy.

My thoughts on the matter are thus (and my co-blogger should feel free to add/revise this post):

1. The magisterial prescriptions generally recommend Aquinas as a model, but do not prescribe particular doctrines as to be held. But everyone admits Aquinas is great and a model for theologizing or philosophizing in accordence with the Church.  But this isn't very helpful in determining whether the real distinction between essence and existence is a point of dogma. When particular doctrines are mentioned, they are ones that all or most of the scholastics agree about, such as the existence of God, or divine conservation.

2. Current canon law mentions Aquinas only once, in canon 252.3; but this only states that seminarians should be educated in Thomism. Again, it does not prescribe any particular thesis. Fr. Z claims that Aquinas is mentioned implicitly in canon 151; this canon mandates that seminarians be educated in philosophy by recourse to the perennial philosophy.  

3. There is also this shocking statement from JP II's Veritatis splendor: "Certainly the Church's Magisterium does not intend to impose upon the faithful any particular theological system, still less a philosophical one."

For the sake of argument, let's assume the opposite: Thomism is universally binding on every catholic, down to its particular theses.  What might follow?

1. Philosophy is destroyed and we are left with fideism.

2. Theology becomes mere commentary on Aquinas through the adjudication of the Thomistic commentary tradition.

3. Papal interventions will be required to dogmatically establish the interpretations of Thomistic texts (if the real distinction between essence and existence is a Thomistic thesis it is dogmatic; but some thomists have denied that Aquinas holds that essence and existence are really distinct; ergo we need authoritative interpretations of Aquinas' texts.

4. The Immaculate conception will have to be abandoned.

So it seems that the individual catholic philosopher can think what he/she/ likes (given that it does not contradict revealed truth).  This shouldn't surprise the non-Thomist overmuch. When one looks at the context and objects of the early modern statements on Thomism, they are generally directed at modern novelties, not novelties within the Scholastic tradition.

There you have it; the combox awaits.


Commentator Jared has posted some printed sources that bear on the question, which I repost here.

Willibrord Lampen, Bl. Ioannes Duns Scotus et Sancta Sedes (Rome, 1929).

Franz Pelster, “The Authority of St. Thomas in Catholic Schools and Sacred Sciences," Franciscan Studies 13 (1953): 1-26.

Charles Balić, “Duns Scotus in the Present Moment of the Church” in Scotus Speaks Today: 1266-1966: Seventh Centenary Symposium (Southfield, MI: Duns Scotus College, 1966), 21-62

Also, Fr. Finigan has a post from several years ago about this, which involved one of the commentators who has posted here. Fr. Finigan posts the quote from Denzinger about the letter of the Jesuits to the pope about the 24 Thomistic theses.

Another update:

An essay on "traditionalism" that contains relevant material.


awatkins69 said...

My understanding is that the Church must preserve the deposit of Faith handed to us from the Apostles, and that the Church's magisterial pronouncements must derive from or develop from these sources in some way or other. It is difficult to see how designated matter being the principle of individuation derives from these sources.

Michael Sullivan said...

Thanks for collecting this all in one place; I have nothing to alter or add at the moment, but I'll give it some thought.

Anonymous said...

methinks this is a profitable quotation

If the intellectus fidei wishes to integrate all the wealth of the theological tradition, it must turn to the philosophy of being, which should be able to propose anew the problem of being—and this in harmony with the demands and insights of the entire philosophical tradition, including philosophy of more recent times, without lapsing into sterile repetition of antiquated formulas. Set within the Christian metaphysical tradition, the philosophy of being is a dynamic philosophy which views reality in its ontological, causal and communicative structures. It is strong and enduring because it is based upon the very act of being itself, which allows a full and comprehensive openness to reality as a whole, surpassing every limit in order to reach the One who brings all things to fulfilment.

fides et ratio n. 97

lee faber said...

Thanks, Anonymous.

Jared said...

Re JPII and Veritatis splendor: You may find the comments on the following two web pages interesting:

The final paragraph makes an interesting connection between JPII and Scotus.

Fr. Cecchin asserts that JPII employed Franciscan thought (most fully represented in Scotus) to resolve several difficulties in contemporary Mariology. Such would, naturally, have implications for theological and philosophical discourse beyond Mariology.

Enjoy your blog.

aelianus said...

In Studiorum Ducem Pius XI teaches that in virtue of the 1917 Code of Canon Law the "the system, philosophy and principles of the Angelic Doctor" have been unreservedly sanctioned. The Code sites the decree Postquam Sanctissimus and the Motu Proprio Doctoris Angelici as sources for this law. Doctoris Angelici teaches, “the capital theses in the philosophy of St. Thomas are not to be placed in the category of opinions capable of being debated one way or another, but are to be considered as the foundations upon which the whole science of natural and divine things is based; if such principles are once removed or in any way impaired, it must necessarily follow that students of the sacred sciences will ultimately fail to perceive so much as the meaning of the words in which the dogmas of divine revelation are proposed by the magistracy of the Church.” Postquam Sanctissimus specifies twenty four of these capital theses adherence to which would clearly destroy Scotism as a system. You cannot adhere to this teaching and maintain an adherence to Scotism. It is not a question of fideism (or of canonising every opinion of the Angelic Doctor). The Church is free to teach and has taught that certain naturally knowable truths are also implicitly or explicitly revealed. That there be a considerable body of such truths is a hypothetical necessity for Divine Revelation itself. The constant demand for special privileges by the favoured schools of various religious orders has greatly hampered the articulation and defence of the faith over the last several centuries.

Jared said...

The interpretation and application of the texts you cite are extreme and thus incorrect. Studiorum ducem itself makes clear that no particular doctrine of Thomas or assertion of the 24 Theses is binding on Catholics (cf., DH 3667).

With respect to the interventions of the Holy See, one need simply to look at the magisterial texts adduced in Willibrord Lampen, Bl. Ioannes Duns Scotus et Sancta Sedes (Rome, 1929); cf., Franz Pelster, “The Authority of St. Thomas in Catholic Schools and Sacred Sciences," Franciscan Studies 13 (1953): 1-26; Charles Balić, “Duns Scotus in the Present Moment of the Church” in Scotus Speaks Today: 1266-1966: Seventh Centenary Symposium (Southfield, MI: Duns Scotus College, 1966), 21-62. These studies amply demonstrate the impossibility of an imposed thomism that excludes in part or in whole Duns Scotus.

Also, Sixtus V declared St. Bonaventure a primary doctor of the Church in his 1587 document Triumphantis Hierusalem. Keep in mind, as well, that Bonaventure was declared a doctor for his dogmatic theology, not, in the first place, for his mystical writings (cf., Triumphantis Hierusalem).

Ven. Paul VI, in his apostolic letter, Alma parens (1966), said: "It is universally recognized
that John Duns Scotus surpassed the Seraphic Doctor (i.e., Bonaventure)."

Bl. John Paul II, in Scotus' beatification sermon, recommended Scotus "In particolare, per i Teologi, i Sacerdoti, i Pastori d’anime, i Religiosi, ed in modo speciale per i Francescani…"

The logic of these statements is clear.

Granted, the magisterial authority of the documents just cited vary. However, the pontiffs who composed these statements would have been, in publishing such statements, either quite ignorant or disingenuous concerning magisterial teaching if there were a universal and exclusive authority attributed to St. Thomas. In this case the burden remains upon those who would demonstrate that there is either explicit or implicit magisterial teaching that renders Scotus untenable. When the larger body of evidence is considered such Thomas-only thomism-alone statements about Thomas and thomism begin to sound more like Fundamentalist KJV-only people and Scripture alone protestants, not serious Catholic thinkers.

The number of instances of the Holy See's encouragement of philosophers and theologians, both inside and outside the Franciscan family, to study and propagate Scotus' doctrine would be tedious to list here. If, as you're arguing, Scotus is out, then the magisterium has been sending extremely mixed messages on this topic for almost seven hundred years.

Would that philosophical and theological debate and discussion on the relative merits of Thomas and Scotus begin again to take place, rather than the magisterial lawn tennis that so often serves proxy for actual analysis.


aelianus said...

Most of what you have said does not appear relevant. Perhaps you could quote the exact words of SD you believe assert “no particular doctrine of Thomas or assertion of the 24 Theses is binding on Catholics”? There is nothing to prevent those so inclined from promoting particular positions of Scotus just not those incompatible with the fundamental theses of St Thomas. The Church can and does teach certain naturally knowable truths because they are implicitly or explicitly revealed. This will inevitably close off certain erroneous avenues of philosophical speculation.

scotist said...

So Thomas is in and Mary Immaculate is out.
Or we could just be Papal Positivists.

Jared said...

Perhaps "most of what I have said appears irrelevant" to you. I had hoped, however, that Lampen, Pelster and Balic would appear more relevant. Only a few hours transpired between my post and your reply: leading me to doubt that you had actually looked at any, let alone all, of the sources I mentioned.

Stud. Duc.: "But let not some exact more from other than what the Church, the teacher and mother of, demands of all; for in those matters about which there tend to be opposing opinions argued among authors of higher distinction in our Catholic schools [Scotus, Bonaventure and their better known disciples must fall into this group, no?], no one is to be prevented from following the opinion that seems to him the more probable" (DH 3667, emphasis added). See, as well, the papal correspondence cited in the introductory paragraph to DH 3601-24.

To clarify: one must hold to those teachings of St. Thomas that form part of the greater "perennial philosophy" and are thus conclusions from sound reason as well as necessary intellectual undergirding of sound theology. My point was that no assertion of St. Thomas is Thomas' own, in opposition to other approved authors. Thus, there is an inherent ambiguity in the notion of "fundamental theses" of Thomas-thomism. An extended sense which would include "fundamental theses" of Scotus which would de facto overlap with those of Thomas. This would be binding on Catholics. However, the stricter sense of "fundamental theses" which you've argued are specific to Thomas-thomism and are binding upon all Catholics, doesn't hold up.

Both John XXIII and Paul VI asserted that Scotus' thought (including philosophy and theology) would be useful for countering modern secular and atheistic thought. Paul VI suggested, in Alma parens, that Scotus could be a foundation for ecumenical dialog between Catholics and Anglicans. If one were to use Scotus in the manner that Popes John and Paul suggest, that person would need to accept Scotus' fundamental theses. A potential bridge for ecumenical dialog couldn't have been sapped by magisterial pronouncements only to be offered at a later time by the same magisterium. I presume here that Popes John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II, and now Benedict XVI (cf., his weekly audience from July 7, 2010, as well as his 2008 letter to the Archbishop of Cologne) held and hold permissible opinions with respect to Scotus.

In sum the magisterial case that is made in favor of Thomas-thomism by certain Catholics is simply overwrought, and fails in justice and truth. A thomist can see this. I'm sure the good scotists that host this blog enjoy vigorous debate about Thomas and Scotus, on the merits of their positions. The latter approach is, in fact, how Thomas and Scotus argued when Paris was graced with their brilliance.

aelianus said...

The passage you cite from SD is not relevant because I am not claiming that one must indiscriminately adhere to all St Thomas’s theses only those one judges to be fundamental and those twenty four that Postquam Sanctissimus judges to be fundamental. The reason the florilegia you cite are in general irrelevant is that they would have to show that the contrary of one of the theses of Postquam Sanctissimus had been taught or proclaimed tolerable in an authoritative magisterial text after the promulgation of the 1917 Code. If I understand you correctly you do not even claim this. Certainly there is profit in studying other mediaeval thinkers than St Thomas (even non-canonized non-Doctors of the Church) but not if this leads one to stray from the fundamental theses of St Thomas as identified by Pius X. For were it to do this then one would “ultimately fail to perceive so much as the meaning of the words in which the dogmas of divine revelation are proposed by the magistracy of the Church.” For the sake of intellectual honesty presumably you would concede that you reject the teaching of St Pius X in Doctoris Angelici and Postquam Sanctissimus? The only significant question is whether you are entitled to do so. The correspondence cited in DH dates from before the promulgation of the 1917 Code (so from before the teaching of Doctoris Angelici and Postquam Sanctissimus was “unreservedly sanctioned”).

Jared said...

Thanks very much. This will be my last contribution on this thread.

Regarding your question about my adherence to the teaching of Pius X found in the documents you mentioned: I fully accept their magisterial authority, I simply dispute the construction and application that you and other Thomists give them.

With respect to the introductory material from DH 3601-24: The letter of Benedict XV to W. Ledóchowski is from March, 19, 1917. Close enough in time to Pentecost, 1917, the date of the promulgation of the 1917 Code, to ensure that the composition and, thus, interpretation of either text had the other in mind. The 1917 Code, however, is not the proximate legal basis, anyhow. See Faber's observations in the body of this post.

The quote I provided from SD clarifies that under certain conditions, disputed theses are not to be held as binding. The text didn't exclude the 24 Theses. Some of the 24 Theses were and still are "argued among authors of higher distinction in our Catholic schools." Or, did such authors and schools simply cease to exist in 1917. It should be noted that there were, subsequent to the 1917 Code, scotists at the Seraphicum and, later, at the Antonianum, awarding pontifical degrees in philosophy and theology ad mentem Scoti. As SD was promulgated in 1923, 9 years and 6 years respectively, after the promulgation of the 24 Theses and the 1917 Code, to say that the passage I provided can't refer to the 24 Theses is surprising.

I must simply refer back to the Lampen, Pelster and Balic studies. Lampen cites five magisterial communications with Franciscan authorities that occurred after the promulgation of the 1917 Code, assuring them of their freedom, with magisterial blessing, to pursue philosophy and theology ad mentem Scoti. Pelster refutes the argumentation of Ramirez--what essentially you seem to be following. Balic, while recognizing the Magisterium's privileging of St. Thomas, brings the discussion of the place of Scotus and Scotism into the context of Vatican II's decrees on priestly formation and religious education. Balic shows how Scotus falls within the "perennial philosophy" recommended by the Council.

The Church's actions with respect to this question, as well as the magisterial texts and studies I've provided speak against the extreme interpretation you're offering. In addition to Veritatis splendor, John Paul II in Fides et ratio asserts that the Church has no philosophy of her own nor does she canonize any one particular philosophy in preference to others…." I prefer to read Bl. John Paul II and St. Pius X in harmony. Is it correct to read Pius X in opposition to John Paul II, or to dissent from either?

aelianus said...

The magisterium is not some pantheistic hive-mind that has opinions and sentiments we can second guess. It is an office bestowed upon the successors of the apostles by Christ which, when certain conditions are fulfilled, is protected against error. It was the universal promulgation of the provisions of Doctoris Angelici and Postquam Sanctissimus by the 1917 Code which fulfilled those conditions. Benedict XIV in a non-magisterial letter prior to the promulgation of the code correctly asserted that those conditions had not been fulfilled at that time. No such assertion has been made since. The considerations you raise about Roman universities are not relevant. Christ gave no guarantees about Roman universities and (as has been established) the faithful are free to cultivate an interest in Scotus so long as they maintain adherence to the fundamental theses of St Thomas. If then, as you say, you adhere to the teaching of Doctoris Angelici and Postquam Sanctissimus presumably you accept that the twenty four theses are not open to question, that they form the foundation of the whole science of natural and divine things but you have decided that an incapacity to understand so much as the meaning of the words in which the dogmas of divine revelation are proposed by the magistracy of the Church is a price worth paying for die hard loyalty to John Duns Scotus? How would you deal with the statement “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 the 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. We have deemed it Our apostolic duty to make this declaration”?

Credo In Unum Deum said...

Like I said... Thomas in, Mary Immaculate out. Dude, aelianus, you're starting to remind me of my old Fundamentalist Protestant days where we really knew one side of the debate (our own) but didn't have a clue about the other. I don't say that to upset you or piss you off, but maybe to shame you in some way into looking into the actual argument of the other side. You have demonstrated at this point that you are not willing to do that. Hopefully be lumped in with Fundy Proties will prick your pride enough to never want to be accused of that again.

aelianus said...

'Credo' your comment indicates you have not looked at the three documents in question as they say nothing at all about the Immaculate Conception but assert that adherence to the fundamental theses in the philosophy of St Thomas (of which twenty four were then listed) is necessary in order to understand the "meaning of the words in which the dogmas of divine revelation are proposed by the magistracy of the Church". All authors ever commended by the Holy See are then declared by Pius X (in strikingly solemn terms) to lack authority insofar as they depart from these theses.

Credo In Unum Deum said...

If Scotus is canonized and declared a universal doctor of the Church (like Bonaventure who... wait for it.. wasn't a Thomist), would you chagne your mind about him? I'm not saying agree with him, but leave us Mary loving Scotists alone and let this approved school develop without idiotic claims of causing Descartes, modernity, Kant, global warming and African genocide (ok, maybe not the last two, but I often think maybe deep down you über-Thomists wonder if none of the evils of the 20th century like Communism and the Nazis would have happened if Scotistic voluntarism hadn't been spread around)?
Anyway, since Thomas is my patron saint, I love him and learn from him. I, like he does now in heaven, just prefer Scotus... especially when it comes to Marian dogmas. ;)

aelianus said...

I would then consider his opinions (prescinding from his arguments) to have a persuasive authority insofar as they agreed with the principles of Aquinas or were in no way opposed to them.

Credo In Unum Deum said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Credo In Unum Deum said...

Let me see if I got this right:
St. Thomas has all the right principles, but failed to reach the Immaculate Conception and instead came to the wrong (now condemned) position.
Duns Scotus has the wrong principles, but somehow came to the right (now a dogma) conclusion.

fyi and fwiw, I noticed a big typo in the first posting.

aelianus said...

I don't know if you have read the twenty four theses... you can see they do not impact upon the Immaculate Conception one way or another. Nor is it likely that the other principles upon which the Church has not spoken would do so as they are precisely those revealed truths which are also available to reason and so most unlikely to entail either the assertion or the denial of the Immaculate Conception. I believe St Thomas wobbled on the issue (as did Bonaventure) because St Bernard had denied it. If I recall correctly Garrigou Lagrange discusses the way in which the Immaculate Conception can be deduced from St Thomas’s principles and the reasons for the wobble in ‘The Mother of the Saviour’.

MediaevalNed said...

Jared has established beyond any serious doubt that the 24 “Thomistic” theses and Aquinas’ own opinions cannot be binding on Catholics. The problem for the Neo-Thomist fundamentalist is rather that the problem with holding them to be binding is that many of them are either highly suspect philosophically (and so should be rejected in favour of more reasonable & more defensible theories) or have absolutely nothing whatever to do with Christianity (and therefore whether they are rejected or accepted is a matter of indifference from the point of view of the Catholic believer). Many of the 24 theses come down to speculative Aristotelianism, and if there are no compelling philosophical motivations to accept them (and many plausible arguments against them) then we should reject them. Believing philosophical theories, not because there is some reason to suppose that they are true, but simply because someone tells you to, is really something one should be deeply embarrassed about!

There several problems with the 24 “Thomistic” theses being posited as authoritative.

1) It implies that significant chunks of Aristotelian philosophy are authoritative, and that it would be wrong for a Catholic to deny them. (But most Christians were not Aristotelians, is Eriugena to be dismissed because he didn’t have access to Aristotle’s speculative works on Metaphysics & Physics?)
2) The apparently indemonstrable theory that essence and being are really distinct (which Aquinas lifted from moslim philosopher Avicenna) becomes a religious doctrine. Why would we need such a shifty theory?
3) It imposes philosophy by dictate, rather reminiscent of the arbitrary sets of theses that Protestant Theological Colleges make members of their faculty sign up to. (But what if they’re False? What is one to do? Submit to something one believes to be false?) Surely one should argue for any given philosophical hypothesis, and reject it if it is weak.
4) Some of the “Thomistic” theses seem easily doubtable of themselves (having little or no epistemic warrant), and seemingly doubtable without offending against anything that pertains to Catholic faith, and more starkly without endangering salvation. So the results of Aristotelian speculation become binding doctrines, thus making some binding doctrines pretty shaky and doubtful. Must every Catholic agree not to criticise Aristotle on these issues? Might not Aristotle have gotten it wrong?

MediaevalNed said...

Furthermore, there are some highly questionable claims contained among the 24 theses (and these claims we have good reason to reject outright).

1. Potency and Act so divide being that whatsoever exists either is a Pure Act, or is necessarily composed of Potency and Act, as to its primordial and intrinsic principles.
(This is a literalistic interpretation of Aristotle which most academic philosophers would now rightly dismiss.)

5. There is, moreover, in every creature a real composition of subsisting subject with forms secondarily added—that is, accidents; but such a composition could not be understood unless the existence were received into a distinct essence.
(Really? Won’t “modes” do just as well for the serious metaphysician as distinct Aristotelian “accidents”, let alone for the Catholic believer?)

7. The spiritual creature is as to its essence altogether simple. Yet there remains a twofold composition in it: that, namely, of essence with existence and that of substance with accidents.
(Why dismiss spiritual matter, for instance, other than wishing to adhere to what Aristotle taught? Does the discussion end simply because some authoritarian says it should? Given that we’re in the realm of very abstract metaphysical speculation here, who’s to say the Aristotelian Aquinas is correct? Is it so terrible to be able to hold a differing, if equally hypothetical and speculative view?)

10. Although extension into integral parts follows corporeal nature, it is not, however, the same for a body to be a substance and to be extended. For substance of itself is indivisible; not certainly after the manner of a point, but after the manner of that which is outside the order of dimension. On the other hand, quantity, which makes substance to be extended, really differs from substance, and is a veritable accident.
(Eh? Um, why believe this at all? Has Aristotle really worked it all out? Couldn’t this be improved upon? Was Ockham being impious in presenting arguments to establish that material substance and quantity are identical? It may or may not be wrong, but should presenting an argument against Aristotle be regarded as apostasy?)

11. Matter as subjected to quantity is the principle of individuation or numerical distinction—impossible among pure spirits—whereby individuals of the same species are distinct from each other.
(This is simply a mistake! Scotus and others have shown there is no contradiction in there being more than one angel in a species. It is conceivable and therefore if God is omnipotent then it is a real possibility. If Aristotelian physics cannot allow more than two intelligences per species, so much the worse for Aristotelian physics. Why should this falsehood be binding on Catholic thinkers? This view was the subject of one of the 1277 condemnations, because it limited God’s omnipotence to what was possible under Aristotle’s physics.

MediaevalNed said...

What the comedy ‘Thomist’ here has established beyond any doubt is that the Neo-Thomistic fundamentalism, with its anti-rationalism that demands that these highly speculative metaphysical issues (that pertain neither to faith nor to salvation) be signed up to (never mind that there is little or no reason to believe that some of them have any warrant in their favour) are deeply pernicious to philosophy as well as to Christianity.

If the 24 “Thomistic” theses ARE taken to be authoritative then here’s where the real problems start, because some of the theses seem not only to be doubtful or unmotivated, but simply false (given successful counterexamples). e.g., Duns Scotus’ demolition of the theories that Matter is what individuates substances (whether or not determined by spatial dimensions, determinate or indeterminate, depending which of Aquinas’ theories you’re holding today.)

The embarrassing insistence that everyone adhere to this (pretty arbitrarily chosen) set of speculative philosophical views, only gives credence to Bertrand Russell’s caricature of Thomas Aquinas as a philosopher who can’t stand on his own two feet, a pseudo-philosopher who needs the authority of Rome to insist that we should believe his conclusions (because his arguments just aren’t up to the job). Those who demand adherence to Aquinas’ conclusions have nothing whatever in common with Aquinas’ spirit as a genuine philosopher. If Aquinas is right, give us an argument in his favour! Don’t just demand that we believe it on authority; if it’s worth believing surely there’s some argument in its favour.

aelianus said...

MediaevalNed (I assume you are from Glasgow) as you hopefully do not deny the competence of the Church to define in matters of natural reason implicitly or explicitly contained in the deposit of faith, the question is simply one fact: Has the Church authoritatively taught in this matter? When Popes speak in terms of 'declaring' and 'apostolic duty' and 'unreservedly sanctioning' and 'religiously adhering' the onus is on the dissenter to prove he is in fact free to reject the teaching given. No such proof has been offered. The fact that you really don’t want to submit to the teaching and you consider it arbitrary and demonstrably false doesn’t give you any special rights it just makes you sound like a protestant.

Michael Sullivan said...

In my opinion Jared and MediaevalNed have done a fine job showing that it would be unreasonable for the Magisterium to require every thinker to adhere to the 24 Thomistic theses as a matter of faith. If aelianus is right that the Magisterium has done so, this would be a severe blow against its credibility. But in my view aelianus has not interpreted the documents he quotes correctly. Leave aside the formulation of the theses for a moment. The motu proprio Doctoris angelici has two purposes expressly, an exhortative and a disciplinary one. The first encourages the study of St Thomas, the second orders it. The rest of the document is for the sake of motivating and justifying these two purposes. In it St Thomas is praised, recommended, extolled, etc., and Catholic institutions are commanded to study him correctly. Now a) no one here is disputing that St Thomas has all the virtues and excellences attributed to him, or that the recommendation and exhortation was not a good and prudent one; but b) the disciplinary command has been since lifted and the Code of Canon law altered, so that the command to study St Thomas as ordered is no longer in force.

The encyclical Studiorum ducem is primarily concerned with holding up St Thomas as a model for philosophers and theologians, and a model not with regard to any set of theses, but with regard to his moral and intellectual virtues, which readers are exhorted to emulate. Nothing said in the encyclical about the excellences of St Thomas' life and writings and habits of thought and the wonderful order and comprehensiveness of his works will be disputed in the slightest degree by any pious Catholic.

Michael Sullivan said...

Now we can interpret the Church's endorsement of Thomism in two ways, either expansively or restrictively, that is, either inclusively or exclusively. When Thomas' writings, principles, arguments, etc, are held up as models, is this to be understood to the detriment and exclusion of other good Catholic thinkers or not? I argue that we must take these documents in the restricted and inclusive sense. First, because of the strong and enthusiastic papal and magisterial endorsements of many other Catholic doctors, which are not made with the proviso that such endorsements are offered only to the extent that they agree with the mind of Thomas. No proposition of Scotus' has ever been censured; Newman is not recommended only to the extent that Newman was a Thomist, and so on.

Second, because such an exclusive recommendation would be contrary to reason and to the intent of the magisterial documents. What errors is Thomas recommended as an antidote to in Doctoris angelici and Studiorum ducem? Not Scotism, Bonaventureanism, etc, which are not mentioned at all - and when mentioned elsewhere by the Magisterium mentioned only with praise - but "a philosophy whose principles are either common to the errors of materialism, monism, pantheism, socialism and modernism, or certainly not opposed to such systems". Pius XII also mentions agnosticism. Those rebuked as not faithfully adhering to the principles of Thomas are not scholastics of another school, but so-called Thomists whose principles are in part taken from Descartes or Kant or whoever. This is obvious from the whole context of the document. The implication that a Catholic philosophy whose principles are not common to the errors of materialism, etc., are to be lauded by the Church.

Michael Sullivan said...

Furthermore, Thomas' thought is not a seamless garment. He contains much in common with other saints and good scholastic thinkers, and also some which is solely his own. The entire philosophy of Thomas is sanctioned and recommended, but everyone admits that not every single proposition or principle is held up as de fide, since there are in Thomas both theological and natural errors. Now, are the 24 theses among those really required? I don't see that they are. "[T]he principles of St. Thomas, considered generally and as a whole, contain nothing but what the most eminent philosophers and doctors of the Church have discovered after prolonged reflection and discussion in regard to the particular reasons determining human knowledge, the nature of God and creation, the moral order and the ultimate end to be pursued in life." But the 24 theses contain much other than what the most eminent philosophers and doctors of the Church had discovered, etc, ergo, etc. The 24 theses specially endorse the five ways. Does this entail that the mind of the Church is to endorse the five ways to the exclusion of the arguments in Scotus' De primo principio or in St Bonaventure's De mysterio trinitatis or in Augustine? The very notion is absurd. Other commenters have given other examples. The clear and obvious meaning of the endorsement of Thomas is that Thomas is specially to be followed where and to the extent that he is a specially excellent and paradigmatic representation of the tradition, not where he is idiosyncratic.

Michael Sullivan said...

The 24 theses, however, are at many points an expression of Thomism precisely where Thomism is idiosyncratic, where it diverges from the other scholastics, not where it is most especially helpful in combating the errors of modernism, agnosticism, pantheism, socialism, etc. To the extent that the 24 theses were formulated as targeting rival scholastic schools rather than modern heterodoxies, their formulation was unfortunate. But I do not see in the magisterial endorsements of Thomas an insistence that these theses are in particular to be held as de fide. Indeed, the implication of the documents is to the contrary, since Pius XI writes clearly "We desire that lovers of St. Thomas-and all sons of the Church who devote themselves to higher studies should be so-be incited by an honorable rivalry in a just and proper freedom which is the life-blood of studies, but let no spirit of malevolent disparagement prevail among them, for any such, so far from helping truth, serves only to loosen the bonds of charity. . . .Let none require from another more than the Church, the mistress and mother of all, requires from each: and in questions, which in Catholic schools are matter of controversy between the most reputable authorities, let none be prevented from adhering to whatever opinion seems to him the more probable."

Nothing could be more clear than this, then, that while St Thomas should be the master of all Catholic thinkers, this is not understood as settling disputed points among orthodox thinkers. So that when one encyclical states that the Church has adopted the philosophy of St Thomas as her own, this has to understood in harmony with JPII who in Fides et ratio clearly states that the Church does not mandate any particular philosophy but permits and encourages the free enquiry of reason in philosophical topics, so long as orthodoxy is concerned. And nothing ought to be more obvious that a dispute about the real distinction between being and essence or the principle of individuation or the multiplication of angels in a species, etc., is not a threat to any doctrine of the Church.

I conclude therefore that the recommendation and praise of Thomism by the Magisterium is intended to be understood in the inclusive and restricted - rather than in the exclusive and expansive - sense, and as such I heartily concur with it.

aelianus said...

Your position is completely unrealistic as an exegesis of the documents. Pius X clearly teaching that it is impossible to understand the Church's teaching without adherence to the fundamental theses of St Thomas and he then specifically enumerated twenty four of those theses in a document he promulgated a month later (but which he had been planning on for years). He did not say everyone has to be a ’Thomist’. He said the Church only proposes any author insofar as their writings are reconcilable with those fundamental principles. He made this last point in extremely strong terms invoking his apostolic office and referring to the statement as a declaration. I can see how you might put together an argument that the two documents are not authoritative teaching (though I think it would be wrong) but to pretend that they do not say what they most clearly say is just sophistry. Furthermore it is quite true as a number of other commentators have implied that many people see Scotism as standing at the head of the road to ruin of secular modernity and as not unconnected to Modernism. Whatever the merit of this view it cannot be assumed in advance that there is no connection between St Pius X’s promulgation of a document (Postquam Sanctissimus) which would appear to mortally wound certain hitherto tolerated systems and his anti-Modernist campaign (especially as he explicitly says there is!).

Michael Sullivan said...

For aelianus to convince, he must show that there is a clear and authoritative magisterial pronouncement that the very theses contained in Postquam sanctissimus are binding on every Catholic. Otherwise the most natural and rational reading of all the magisterial documents together will suggest 1) that the theses presented in Postquam sanctissimus do indeed present the mind of Thomas; but that 2) they present it in his idiosyncrasy, not in his commonality, including where he adds to or diverges from the consensus of the saints and doctors of the Church, and so 3) while the 24 theses are presented and approved by the Magisterium as safe and recommended guides, they can not be understood as unconditionally binding on all the faithful.

aelianus said...

a) Pius X teaches that “the capital theses in the philosophy of St. Thomas are not to be placed in the category of opinions capable of being debated one way or another, but are to be considered as the foundations upon which the whole science of natural and divine things is based; if such principles are once removed or in any way impaired, it must necessarily follow that students of the sacred sciences will ultimately fail to perceive so much as the meaning of the words in which the dogmas of divine revelation are proposed by the magistracy of the Church.”

b) He teaches that the 24 Theses of Postquam Sanctissumus "clearly contain the principles and more important thoughts of the holy Doctor" to which he refered in Doctoris Angelici.

c) Therefore principles are "not to be placed in the category of opinions capable of being debated one way or another, but are to be considered as the foundations upon which the whole science of natural and divine things is based" etc.

d)You may have rejected this teaching but then be honest about it and explain why you are permitted to do so.

Michael Sullivan said...

The problem with your exegesis, aelianus, is that there are no doctrines of the Church which are impossible to understand without adherence to at least several of the 24 theses, implying that these are not the precise theses which all are required to hold. (Never mind the difficulty that what are specifically endorsed by the Magisterium are Thomas' "principles", whereas many of the theses are not principles but conclusions, distillations of complex and disputable reasoning.) Or perhaps you can show which dogma cannot be understood without the Real Distinction in the Thomist sense, even granted, which is by no means the case, that Thomists themselves were able to fomulate it in a sense they would all accept? Or which teaching of the Church cannot be understood without the doctrine matter as the principle of individuation, or the Thomistic notion of quantity? If there are none, than these theses are not the principle the Church means.

You act as though Doctoris angelici can only be understood with reference to Postquam sanctissimis, but I deny this, since a) the former came first, and b) the latter is not a papal document at all, and c) accepting your premise leads to patent absurdities. Rather, to the contrary, the weight we place on Postquam sanctissimis must be limited by the qualifications noted in Studiorum ducem and Fides et ratio, and by reason and common sense.

Michael Sullivan said...

"You may have rejected this teaching but then be honest about it and explain why you are permitted to do so."

Here is why: "He teaches that the 24 Theses of Postquam Sanctissumus "clearly contain the principles and more important thoughts of the holy Doctor" to which he refered in Doctoris Angelici."

To which I reply: where? Postquam sanctissimus does not present the teaching of Pius X, but that of " nonnulli diversorum Institutorum magistri", some teachers from diverse institutes, who proposed them as a compendium of Thomas' thought. They do indeed present certain dimension of that thought in its idiosyncracy. The Sacred Congregation of Studies examined them and approved them as belonging to the mind of Thomas. However, I do not see where they are explicitly stated by any pope as binding on all the faithful, which is a good thing, since to do so would be contrary both to reason and to tradition. The natural reading of Fides et ratio and Studiorum ducem strongly implies the contrary, so, absent such an explicit injunction, the burden of proof remains on you.

Michael Sullivan said...

It seems that aelianus has been pushing a similar line for a long time. See, for instance, here: , and elsewhere.

The simple fact is that he and those like him ascribe a weight and authority to the contents of Postquam sanctissimis that the Church herself does not. It's an obvious case of being more Catholic than the pope. The Magisterium has clarified the status of the 24 theses, and the freedom of philosophical enquiry within the bounds of doctrinal orthodoxy, on numerous occasions, but fundamentalist Thomists refuse to recognize all such statements according to their plain meaning.

MediaevalNed said...

“… the competence of the Church to define in matters of natural reason?”

If anyone’s defining highly speculative, or questionable, occasionally shoddy, demonstrably false, or even simply open metaphysical theories as certain truths, then of course I deny their competence in defining it. These claims of extraordinary powers of knowledge concerning matters pertaining to natural reason and natural law are innovations of the 20th century are should be rejected by orthodox Catholics, because these issues are precisely open to the unaided natural reason, and pontiffs do not have any special access to these truths. Why should I believe some x on authority when I know several counterexamples to x? I must conclude that the person telling me that x is not a competent authority on the subject. In these highly abstract and speculative areas of philosophy the idea that anyone can settle the matter by simple dictate is a sad joke.

Now, if Aquinas did NOT have this singular authority throughout the later Middle Ages, then where did he acquire it? Did Thomas himself face his opponents at Paris and say: “Don’t you now who I am?” No! Aquinas himself clearly did not think he had this apparently singular authority to silence all opposition to his (rather innovative Aristotelian) views; he engaged his brother philosophers in many lengthy debates and when his theories came up short he changed his mind (you know, like a philosopher!) This attitude towards philosophy, dialectic, and metaphysical speculation is totally foreign to the Neo-Thomistic Fundamentalist. They want to beat people over the head with their handbook of Thomism-lite. Who on earth are THEY to tell us what philosophical positions we should hold? Would Thomas Aquinas, himself, have put up with such nonsense? The 19th century superstition about the singular authority of Aquinas in philosophy is not just ahistorical, it is an anti-rational nonsense we are better off without.

“…the onus is on the dissenter to prove he is in fact free to reject the teaching given.?”

How does individuation by matter, or more than one angel per species have anything to do with the deposit of either faith or morals? And then there’s the matter of the Aristotelian (& Thomistic by borrowing) theory being false and crumbling in the face of philosophical argument. I didn’t make it false, it just is! And as for “free to reject”, if anyone is free to think about something then why shouldn’t Christians be free to think about it? And if it turns out that the metaphysical theory has come a cropper (as happens to even the most competent metaphysician) how can any non-charlatan turn a blind eye? It’s not for anyone to stop us speculating about, or questioning, abstract metaphysical hypotheses, and any philosopher who would submit to (even pretending to) believe a false metaphysical theory just because non-philosopher Pius X told him to is a charlatan. This is the true protestant spirit of some Neo-Thomists (with their lists of things to sign, and their submission to authority over reason); what can’t be won with argument will be taken by force. Luther said ‘no man can be a Christian until he tears the eyes out of his Reason’. The demand that we all submit to weak or shoddy metaphysical conclusions based solely on the authority of a non-philosopher is certainly not the heritage that Aquinas would wish to bestow on Christianity. That attitude is rather the legacy of the anti-rationalist Reformation, it is not something we should allow to pass without criticism, and frankly it is no way at all to do philosophy.

Only a charlatan would submit to a theory he has overwhelming reason to suppose false. Submitting to a doctrine in the presence of contrary evidence? Now THAT’s 100% Luther, but sadly that’s what I’ve been seeing among some Neo-Thomists for years. Even presenting a counterexample is seen as an act of impiety or betrayal. But if Aquinas is right then present an argument, don’t try to bully me by nailing your theses to my door!

MediaevalNed said...

I had hoped that the days when the demand to adhere to arbitrary theses had passed into the temporal wastepaper basket where it belongs. These dictats concerning what conclusions we are allowed to reach after our metaphysical reasoning is done look all too like arbitrary Koranic fatwas. If there are counterexamples or other definite reasons to reject Aquinas’ weaker points, what kind of irrationality can compel us to stop thinking and just go with the minority report (i.e., the wrong answer.) If pontiffs really do have this extraordinary power to know metaphysics by some direct intuition, without apparent need of recourse to reason (but then again when have they ever claimed to have it?) why don’t they just write a book giving solutions to the metaphysical problems that have been bugging European and Asian thought for the best part of 2500 years? It would be a great help in resolving the hundreds of major metaphysical debates current in metaphysics academic (even though it might put me out of work). But does any person really have access to metaphysical truths in this way, or is the Neo-Thomist resorting to a form of divine command theory where the pope of the day takes the place of God?

In other news, Herbert McCabe on why Catholic dogma need not involve implicit faith in whatever Aristotle thought:

[Also, what’s with aelianus’s comment: “I assume you are from Glasgow.” Is this a comment on where I live, a definitive proclamation on some abstruse metaphysical matter, or something more sinister?]

aelianus said...

Once again your exegesis of Postquam Sanctissimus is completely disingenuous. The document states:

“After our most Holy Father Pius X ordered in the Motu Proprio Doctoris Angelici, on June 29, 1914, that in all schools of philosophy the principles and main teachings of Thomas Aquinas be held, some teachers from various institutions proposed some theses for this Sacred Congregation to examine, which theses they had been accustomed to teach and defend as being those of the Holy Teacher [St.Thomas], especially in metaphysics. This Sacred Congregation, having duly examined the aforementioned theses and having presented them to the Holy Father, by the mandate of His Holiness, declares that they clearly contain the principles and more important thoughts of the holy Doctor [St. Thomas]. They are as follows...”

They are explicitly given as examples of the principles of which Pius X spoke in Doctoris Angelici. In fact, they were written by a friend of Pope’s years earlier for precisely this purpose and Pius X had been planning to promulgate them since about 1910 if I remember correctly.

aelianus said...

Your arguments against the teaching are that you do not agree with it. Not impressive (though a very common approach since the mid-sixties). The complaint that philosophically knowable truth should not be taught on authority makes little sense. Of course St Thomas did not propose his own teaching on his own authority as if he could bind other people. He did not know he was to be declared the Common Doctor. It is Pius X employing his magisterial office who has pronounced the theses necessary for the understanding of Catholic doctrine and declared that other authors are only proposed by the Church insofar as they agree with them. This is a pronouncement based on authority but concerning natural reason. Again starting from the mid-sixties there have been many dissenters who try to assert that naturally knowable truths are not encompassed by the Church’s teaching office but this is clearly heretical and false.

I am surprised that you have taken this approach of denying the clear meaning of these documents. I thought it would have been much more plausible for you to deny that you were bound by them. One might argue (I think correctly) that the second document because it was clarification of a document issued to Italy and the surrounding islands rather than the universal church could not command interior assent. This is very different from a bizarre refusal to be honest about what the two documents plainly state. The declaration that other authors are only proposed by the Church insofar as they agree with the theses stands apart because the solemn tones in which Pius X makes it overcomes the limited geographical scope of the letter itself. As I say, this argument would have some plausibility. The problem with it is that in 1917 both documents were cited by the new Code 1366,2 as the source for the general law concerning adherence to the arguments, doctrine, and principles of St. Thomas. By thus universalising the two documents the Church ‘unreservedly sanctioned’ the principles contained therein as Pius XI explains.

Over the centuries the Church has repeatedly endorsed and defined naturally knowable truths implicitly or explicitly contained in the deposit of faith. The unicity of the intellectual soul was defined by Vienne, its certain immortality by Lateran V and of course many precepts of the natural law not directly asserted in revelation but extrapolated from it (as in Humanae Vitae and other recent documents). To deny this competence is a very serious error. Interestingly St John Damascene repeatedly asserts the necessity of a comprehensive body of natural metaphysical truths for the underpinning of revelation in the first part of the Fountain of Knowledge. This reflects the attitude evinced by (e.g.) St Justin Martyr, St Augustine and St Severnius Boethius. As to the final details of this perennial philosophy there was some work to be done as much was implied rather than directly stated in Scripture. Once that work was completed in the thirteenth century the magisterium was able to judge its results. The authors of the discarded drafts and their admirers fought long and hard to prevent that judgement (the reformation and enlightenment are in some ways the effect of that struggle) thanks to St Pius X they failed.

Lee Faber said...

I'm not sure what you (aelianus) mean by unicity of the intellectual soul. All Vienne did was define against Olivi that the rational soul is the per se form of the body. But this was common scholastic doctrine, not the specifically Thomistic doctrine of the unicity of substantial form (as has long been recognized).

Michael Sullivan said...

"Once again your exegesis of Postquam Sanctissimus is completely disingenuous. "

I note that you make no attempt to interpret it or to harmonize it with the other magisterial documents I've quoted, but merely repeat its words and repeat your assertion about its force. That's not an argument.

"Your arguments against the teaching are that you do not agree with it."

That's not true and if you're not arguing in good faith I will consider the discussion with you closed. I have offered a number of arguments to which you have not responded. My primary argument in a nutshell is this: your interpretation of the force of Postquam is consistent neither with subsequent magisterial statements nor with subsequent magisterial practice, nor with reason and tradition. It's possible that Pius X personal held the position that you are holding, but it's plain that no later pope believed that he did what you are saying he did.

Michael Sullivan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael Sullivan said...

Finally, I do not dispute that the Church is competent to define certain truths which are accessible to the unaided reason. Vatican I of course declared that the existence of God is naturally knowable, etc.

aelianus said...

Of course the feelings and private opinions of Popes are not important it is in the exercise of their office that they are (under the right conditions) protected against error. Nevertheless it is a step forward that you admit the possibility that Pius X intended to say what he quite clearly did say in Doctoris Angelici and Postquam Sanctissimus. In regard to later documents, not one of them contradicts the teaching of Doctoris Angelici or Postquam Sanctissimus. Polite things said about Scotus in allocutions merely reflect the fact that he is a significant figure who died in communion with the Church and the faithful are free to make use of his writings within the framework provided by the fundamental theses of St Thomas (though one would have thought they might want to look to the canonized saints and the fathers and doctors of the Church first). In Fausto Appetente Die Benedict XV famously said “the Church declared the teaching of Thomas to be her own” and Pius XI directly asserts in Studiorum Ducem that “the Church has adopted his [St Thomas’s] philosophy for her own, as innumerable documents of every kind attest” John Paul II says in Fides et Ratio “The Church has no philosophy of her own nor does she canonize any one particular philosophy in preference to others”. These statements seem contradictory but not in the light of the teaching of Pius X in Doctoris Angelici. Materially the Church has adopted the fundamental theses of St Thomas’s philosophy as her own. Formally she has merely taught certain truths of Divine Revelation and taught that they are also naturally knowable. Thus they are not formally adopted as naturally knowable philosophical truths but as implicitly or explicitly divinely revealed truth it is just that one of the things that is revealed about them and taught is that they are naturally knowable. This is what John Paul II calls “the horizon of universal, objective and transcendent truth” which guided St Thomas and which he bequeaths to us in unsurpassedly lucid formulations (now partially canonized by Pius X). There is no need to enter into your arguments against these truths in themselves as the point at issue is whether they are taught by the Church. If they are taught by the Church then they are true. Your incapacity or unwillingness to accept them is not an argument against the teaching of the Church. Nisi credideritis, non intelligetis.

Michael Sullivan said...

"Your incapacity or unwillingness to accept them is not an argument against the teaching of the Church"

This is the same straw man again. We're beginning to go around in circles, and unless you have something new to add I'm going to bring the discussion to a close. You believe your position is more in harmony with later magisterial teaching and practice and with reason and tradition; I believe that mine is. Readers can look at the documents and examine our arguments and decide for themselves. You do however sound to me an awful lot like someone who in another century would have argued that geocentrism is implicitly revealed.

Michael Sullivan said...

By the way, Faber, that Latin-English set of St Thomas' Commentaries on St Paul examined in the Father Z link look pretty attractive. I almost wish I hadn't seen them.

aelianus said...

The question of later documents is not important in itself as it suffices to prove the point that one show that the two documents of Pius X are authoritative and that so is the teaching of Pius XI that in virtue of the 1917 Code they were "unreservedly sanctioned". As the Church is (whatever the Jesuits and the SSPX may think) infallible and does not contradict herself no subsequent document could then be correctly interpreted to go against these. In regard to the 'update' on the post, as was pointed out earlier in this discussion, the letter of Benedict XV in question was written before the promulgation of the 1917 which Pius XI teaches gave the principles of St Thomas unreserved sanction. In keeping with this Benedict XV affirmed in his 1921 encyclical Fausto Appetente Die that the Church had now "declared the teaching of Thomas to be her own". the update is accordingly rather less than up-to-date.

Michael Sullivan said...

What does the Church mean by "sanctioned"? Does the word mean "encouraged, approved, recommended", or does it mean "imposed and required"? The notion that subsequent magisterial clarifications and qualifications cannot plainly show the former rather than the latter is silly.

"As the Church is (whatever the Jesuits and the SSPX may think) infallible and does not contradict herself no subsequent document could then be correctly interpreted to go against these."

Two points. First, I hope you're not suggesting that every word of every magisterial document, of whatever kind, is infallible. No reasonable person thinks this. I doubt that any theologian would make the claim that every word of any Motu Proprio must be considered infallible, much less a document promulgated by the pope but actually issued by a minor congregation in clarification of a Motu Proprio. You make your argument weaker by appealing to infallibility.

Second, your argument begs the question; since what is at issue is precisely how we are to understand the Church's endorsement of Thomism, you can't appeal to your reading of one or two documents against a host of others when those others make points precisely in order to clarify the question at issue. One might just as well argue, "Since the Church does not contradict herself these two documents cannot be correctly interpreted to go against all the others." I say that Doctoris angelici and Postquam Sanctissimis have to be read in the light of what else the Magisterium has said on the issue, and that the correct reading of those documents is the one that harmonizes, not conflicts, with later documents. I say that Studiorum ducem and Fides et ratio as encyclicals have greater doctrinal force than a Motu Proprio and that they support my position rather than yours. I say that endorsing Thomism and ordering it to be taught in a Motu Proprio or in Canon Law is a disciplinary rather than a doctrinal matter; the Church has certainly declared that the 24 theses are consistent with the faith and good for explicating it, and it may command them to be taught, (although that command has since been abrogated), without implying that the theses are de fide or that no alternative philosophy is permissible. And in fact the Church has explicitly stated that the theses are not de fide and that other philosophies are permissible, many times and in many places and through many popes.

Michael Sullivan said...

aelianus continues to repeat his position and repeat the same selected passages to support it; but he fails either to provide any new arguments or to respond to the many arguments offered in response to him.

Long ago I learned the futility of continuing a discussion when it becomes a merry-go-round. I have deleted his last comment and do not invite him to submit any more unless he has something new to say. I think there's enough here to allow readers to evaluate the strength of each side.

Curmudgeon said...

I think I remember reading in I. M. Bocheński that many different philosophical positions were compatible with Catholicism.

Lee Faber said...

I would be interested in reading this, if you can find it Curmedgeon.

Alan Aversa said...

1. The magisterial prescriptions generally recommend Aquinas as a model, but do not prescribe particular doctrines as to be held.

You can't have one without the other. From Pope St. Pius X's motu proprio Doctoris Angelici (cf. this):

Now because the word We used in the text of that letter [Sacrorum Antistitum] recommending the philosophy of Aquinas was 'particularly,' and not 'exclusively,' certain persons persuaded themselves that they were acting in conformity to Our Will or at any rate not actively opposing it, in adopting indiscriminately and adhering to the philosophical opinions of any other Doctor of the School, even though such opinions were contrary to the principles of St. Thomas. They were greatly deceived. In recommending St. Thomas to Our subjects as supreme guide in the Scholastic philosophy, it goes without saying that Our intention was to be understood as referring above all to those principles upon which that philosophy is based as its foundation. For just as the opinion of certain ancients is to be rejected which maintains that it makes no difference to the truth of the Faith what any man thinks about the nature of creation, provided his opinions on the nature of God be sound, because error with regard to the nature of creation begets a false knowledge of God; so the principles of philosophy laid down by St. Thomas Aquinas are to be religiously and inviolably observed, because they are the means of acquiring such a knowledge of creation as is most congruent with the Faith (Contra Gentiles, II, 2, 3); of refuting all the errors of all the ages, and of enabling man to distinguish clearly what things are to be attributed to God and to God alone (ibid., iii; and Sum. Theol., 1, xii, 4: and liv, 1). They also marvellously illustrate the diversity and analogy between God and His works, a diversity and analogy admirably expressed by the Fourth Lateran Council as follows: "The resemblance between the Creator and the creature is such that their still greater dissimilarity cannot fail to be observed" (Decretalis iii, Damnamus ergo, etc. Cf. St. Thomas, Quaest, disp. De Scientia Dei, a. 11). --For the rest, the principles of St. Thomas, considered generally and as a whole, contain nothing but what the most eminent philosophers and doctors of the Church have discovered after prolonged reflection and discussion in regard to the particular reasons determining human knowledge, the nature of God and creation, the moral order and the ultimate end to be pursued in life.

let's assume the opposite: Thomism is universally binding on every catholic, down to its particular theses. What might follow?
1. Philosophy is destroyed and we are left with fideism.

The law of non-contradiction, for example, is not demonstrable (cf. this), yet our acceptance of it could hardly be called fideism. The same could be said about the 24 Thomistic Theses.

2. Theology becomes mere commentary on Aquinas through the adjudication of the Thomistic commentary tradition.

So? St. Thomas laid a solid foundation, and commentaries build upon it.

3. Papal interventions will be required to dogmatically establish the interpretations of Thomistic texts (if the real distinction between essence and existence is a Thomistic thesis it is dogmatic; but some thomists have denied that Aquinas holds that essence and existence are really distinct; ergo we need authoritative interpretations of Aquinas' texts.

Many of St. Thomas's doctrines made it into the final canons of the Council of Trent, at which the Summa and Holy Scriptures were placed side-by-side on the altar.

lee faber said...

How then do you explain "Veritatis splendor" n. 29?

"Certainly the Church's Magisterium does not intend to impose upon the faithful any particular theological system, still less a philosophical one. Nevertheless, in order to 'reverently preserve and faithfully expound' the word of God, the Magisterium has the duty to state that some trends of theological thinking and certain philosophical affirmations are incompatible with revealed truth"

From this the church's relation to philosophy seems to be largely negative, proscribing theses when they go off the rails, rather than affirming propositions that are to be held. So one could follow any ancient, medieval, or modern thinker as long as their theories haven't been censured, or implicity censured in the censures of others.

Alan Aversa said...

You could, but it's unwise, because, as Pope St. Pius X said, one "cannot set St. Thomas aside, especially in metaphysical questions, without grave detriment." (source).

Lee Faber said...

But that very document has been abrogated, so in fact it is not unwise.

Alan Aversa said...

That quote comes from the encyclical Pascendi §45.

Peter Parisi said...

I have nothing to add to this remarkable conversation except my immense appreciation of Credo in unum Deum's response to Aelianus, in which he calls Aelianus "Dude." Fantastic! My day instantly got better!