The Revival of Scholastic Philosophy in the Nineteenth Century

Chapter VIII: Forerunners of the Neo-Scholastic Revival

The causes which led to the downfall of Scholastic philosophy in the fifteenth century may be classified as internal and external.

Among the external causes the most important are: 1. The humanistic movement which, by bringing to light the literary beauties of the pagan classics, and insisting upon the form in which the thoughts were expressed rather than upon the thoughts themselves, was directly opposed to the spirit which had animated the schoolmen.

2. The rapid progress of natural science which, after having shown the insufficiency of the old physical system, extended its condemnation to the metaphysical principles with which this system was only accidentally connected.

3. The rise of Protestantism which, by its opposition to the Church of Rome, led to the rejection of the principle of authority and incited the minds of the new generation to deny or to question all that had been held sacred in the past.

4. The invention of printing, considered by Hauréau as the event which gave the death-blow to Scholastic metaphysics. During the thirteenth and fourteenth century, all instruction was forcibly oral, and the great centers of learning, in which Scholasticism predominated, were the only sources from which a philosophical instruction could be obtained. After the invention of printing, when books became of easy access, a course in the universities ceased to be indispensable, and a new philosophy, systematically opposed to the teachings of the schools, gradually found acceptance among the people.

The very supporters of Scholasticism contributed, however, more than anything else, to discredit the system they were called to defend. The spirit which had animated the great masters of the thirteenth century had completely disappeared. Vain subtlety had replaced the profound reasoning of the past. The argument from authority, considered by St. Thomas as the weakest, had been raised to an undue importance. The new scientific spirit, into which the great Scholastics of the thirteenth century would have so eagerly entered, was opposed with unanimity by their degenerate successors. Instead of harmonizing their principles with the new physical discoveries, as Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas would have done, they opposed with all their might the very spirit of their time. They declared it to be opposed to the philosophical doctrines they cherished, and thus raised an unnecessary and unequal struggle, in which the old Metaphysics was doomed to perish.

Scholastic philosophy did not, however, completely disappear. An important movement of Thomistic revival took place during the sixteenth century and enriched Scholastic literature with many eminent contributions. Thomas de Vio Cajetanus (1469- 1534), Vasquez (1551-1604), Toletus (1532-1596), Fonseca (1528-1599), and especially Suarez (1548-1617), were profound thinkers, worthy of the great masters whose principles they had adopted.

The influence exercised by the philosophy of St. Thomas during the seventeenth century was also considerable. Bossuet (1627-1704) and Fenelon (1651~-1715), although controlled by Descartes to a certain extent, and sometimes regarded as Cartesians, developed a body of doctrines which is by no means opposed to the principles of the Angelic Doctor. Among the philosophical works of Bossuet, the Traité de la connaissance de Dieu et de soi-même, the Logique and the Traité du libre arbitre are of special significance. The philosophical doctrines they contain are evidently inspired by the teachings of St. Thomas.

Many writers of the same period were more strictly Thomistic still. John of Saint-Thomas (1589-1644), Antoine Goudin (1639-1695), Cosmo Alemanni (1559-1634), Caramuel (1606- 1682), Guerinois (1640-1703), may be counted among the most distinguished representatives of Scholasticism. Several of their works have been republished or studied during the present century.

During the eighteenth century, the philosophy of the schoolmen was gradually abandoned. The theories of Locke and Condillac found their way into many Catholic centers. Among the defenders of Thomism at that time, we may mention the Spaniard Valcarcel, who devoted his efforts to the refutation of Descartes, Spinoza, Malebranche and Locke; the Jesuit Barthélemy des Bosses (1688-1738), who corresponded with Wolf and Clarke and translated Leibniz's Theodicy; the Dominican Roselli, whose Summa Philosophica is said to have inspired the neo-Thomists of the nineteenth century.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the philosophy of St. Thomas had been almost completely abandoned. Catholics themselves were striving to build independent systems of thought. In Italy, the saintly founder of the Institute of Charity, Antonio Rosmini (1797-1855) advocated a kind of idealism which had been severely attacked by the early Roman Thomists. In Germany, Baader (1765-1841), Hermes (1775- 1831), Frohschammer (1821-1893), and Gunther (1783-1863) were greatly influenced by Hegelian idealism. Gorres himself (1776-1848), one of the greatest German Catholics, advanced some philosophical principles more directly connected with spiritism than with Thomistic philosophy.

In France, traditionalism was in vogue. It was defended by De Bonald (1754-1840), Bonnetty (1798-1879), Bautain (1795-1867), Ventura de Raulica (1792-1861), and, in a slightly modified form, by Lamennais (1782-1854).

Some works of Ventura are, however, permeated by purely Thomistic principles, so that their author may justly be regarded as one of the immediate forerunners of the neo-Scholastic revival in France. "In Father Ventura," says Cardinal Gonzalez, "two men may be considered. There may be seen, on the one hand, an enthusiastic admirer of St. Thomas, and, at the same time, a supporter of traditionalism, a disciple of De Maistre and De Bonald. In La Philosophie chrétienne, he is a genuine representative of Thomism, while in some other works, he seems driven by traditionalistic principles to the very limits of orthodoxy and reason."[1]

During the first part of the nineteenth century, there were many signs of a return to the Middle Ages. The romantic movement in France strove to direct literature towards Mediaeval customs and history. Hugo's "Notre Dame de Paris," published in 1831, contains a vivid picture of the life of Mediaeval Paris. In other fields of human speculation, similar attempts were made. The philosophers of the Middle Ages soon became an object of general interest. Not long after the publication of Notre Dame de Paris, Victor Cousin (1792-1867) made known to the world unknown works of Abelard and Roger Bacon and published those learned studies about the Middle Ages which must be regarded as one of his most genuine titles to the gratitude of philosophy.

At the same time, another eminent scholar, Charles de Remusat (1797-1875), following the same line of research, wrote about Abelard, Anselm and Bacon. Barthélemy Hauréau (1812-1896) published his remarkable works on the Middle Ages. The great Scholastic philosophers were at last emerging from the oblivion to which they had been so unjustly condemned.

In other European countries, identical tendencies could easily be discerned. In Germany, Friedrich Schlegel (1772- 1829) had already shown the real merit of Mediaeval philosophy in his famous History of Ancient and Modern Literature. Among Catholic thinkers, a return to Thomistic principles was then effected. Mohler and his illustrious disciple Staudenmaier (1800-1856), by their condemnation of all forms of rationalism and their strict orthodoxy, prepared the minds for the Scholastic revival which Kleutgen, Stockl and Werner inaugurated so brilliantly in Germany.

Not long afterwards, Barthélemy Saint-Hilaire (1805-1895) translated the works of Aristotle, and Félix Ravaisson published his Essai sur la métaphysique d'Aristote, which greatly contributed to impose the peripatetic speculation upon the attention of the world. The way was thus fully prepared for Sanseverino and Kleutgen.

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