Jacques Maritain Center : A First Glance at St. Thomas Aquinas / by Ralph McInerny


1. Getting into Philosophy

Karl Jaspers, Bertrand Russell, A. J. Ayer, and a surprising number of the most important philosophers of our time have written introductory works. The recent book by Thomas Nagel. What Does It All Mean? (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987) is an excellent example of an outlook diametrically opposed to the Thomistic. Many of the great Thomists of our time have written introductions to philosophy. Jacques Maritain's Introduction to Philosophy, reprint (Westminster, Md: Christian Classics, 1989), lacks his usual flair, but is solid and worthwhile. Etienne Gilson's God and Philosophy (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1941) and his polemical work, Being and Some Philosophers (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies [PIMS], 1952) provide good examples of the Thomistic mind at work. My own St. Thomas Aquinas (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1982) has been found useful, but there can be no substitute for Josef Pieper's The Silence of St. Thomas (New York: Pantheon, 1957) and his Scholasticism (New York: Pantheon, 1960). On the question of the Church's interest in where we begin philosophy, see my Thomism in an Age of Renewal (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1968). Many of the essays in Mortimer Adler's Reforming Education: The Opening of the American Mind, edited by Geraldine van Doren (New York: Macmillan, 1988) are pertinent to the themes of this chapter. See Josef Pieper, Leisure, the Basis of Culture, with an introduction by T. S. Eliot (New York: Pantheon, 1952).

2. Philosophy vs. Religion

See the texts in Mary Clark's Aquinas Reader (New York: Fordham University Press, 1988), pp. 404-411, and my St Thomas Aquinas, pp. 140-145. Josef Pieper's Belief and Faith (New York: Pantheon, 1963) is good on St. Thomas but also discusses Newman and the Jaspers of Philosophical Faith. Jacques Maritain, The Angelic Doctor (New York: Meridian, 1959). Vernon Bourke, Aquinas (Milwaukee, Wisc.: Bruce Publishing, 1965). Brian Davies, O.P. An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982). Etienne Gilson, The Christian Philosophy of St. Thoma Aquinas (New York: Random House, 1956). Pope John Paul II, Two Lectures on St. Thomas Aquinas (Niagara, N.Y.: Niagara University Press, 1985) contains talks the Holy Father gave on November 17, 1979 and September 13, 1980, which can also be found in The Whole Truth About Man, Addresses of John Paul II to University Faculties and Students, edited by James V. Schall, S.J. (Boston: Daughters of St. Paul, 1981).

For an Anglican Thomist on theology, see E. L. Mascall, Theology and the Gospel of Christ (London, SPCK, 1977).

3. Reviving Thomism

1974 marked the seven-hundredth anniversary of the death of Thomos Aquinas and around the world there were conferences, special issues of journals, anthologies of learned interpretations of Thomas. Both The Thomist and The New Scholasticism devoted special issues to mark the anniversary. In 1979 there were commemorations of the centenary of Aeterni Patris. See, for example, One Hundred Years of Thomism, edited by Victor B. Brezik, C.S.B. (Houston, Texas: Center for Thomistic Studies, 1981). Thomas J. A. Hartley, Thomistic Revival and the Modernist Era (Toronto: PIMS, 1971). Philip Gleason, Keeping the Faith: American Catholicism Past and Present (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1987). See Albert and Thomas: Selected Writings, translated and edited by Simon Tugwell, O.P. with a magnificent preface by Leonard E. Boyle, O.P., in Classics of Western Spirituality (New York: Paulist Press, 1988). See James A. Weisheipl, O.P., Friar Thomas d'Aquino Washington, D.C.: Catholic University Press, 1983); W. H. Principe, Thomas Aquinas's Spirituality Toronto: PIMS, 1984); Vernon Bourke, The Pocket Aquinas (New York: Pocket Books, 1960).

The essay by the American philosopher Josiah Royce, "Pope Leo's Philosophical Movement and its Relation to Modern Thought," in Fugitive Essays (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1920) provides an interesting look at the Thomistic Revival from an outside viewpoint.

On Descartes: to read the Meditations is a philosophical experience of the first water, as it is to read the Discourse on Method. Here one sees the modern turn in all its freshness and power. See Essays on Descartes' "Meditations", edited by Amelie Oksenberg Rorty (Berkeley, Calif.,: University of California Press, 1986). Jacques Maritain's The Dream of Descartes (1944, reprint, Port Washington, N.Y.: Kinnikat Press, 1969) provides a French Thomist's view of Descartes. English translations of Descartes are easily found; the writings about Descartes are seemingly as numerous as the sands of the sea.

On Aristotle: there are many excellent introductions to Aristotle. Here are a few of them: Henry B. Veatch, Aristotle Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1974); G. E. R. Lloyd, Aristotle: The Growth and Structure of His Thought (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1968); D. J. Allan, The Philosophy of Aristotle, 2d ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1970); Elizabeth Anscome and Peter Geach, Three Philosophers (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1961), and Jonathan Lear, Aristotle: The Desire to Understand Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988).

Joseph Owens, The Doctrine of Being in the Aristotelian Metaphysics (Toronto: PIMS, 1970) is an effort to see Aristotle in independence from such medieval commentators as St. Thomas Aquinas.

4. Two Big Pictures

David B. Burrell, Aquinas, God, and Action (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1979); Mary Clark, introduction to her An Aquinas Reader (New York: Fordham University Press, 1988); A. G. Sertillanges, St. Thomas Aquinas and His Work (London: Burns, Oates and Washbourne, 1932); A. Waltz, St. Thomas Aquinas (Westminster, Md." Newman, 1951). See Joseph M. Boyle, Germain Grisez, and Olaf Tollefsen, Free Choice: A Self-Referential Argument (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame, 1976) for the kind of argument used in this chapter. Mark D. Jordan, Ordering Wisdom: the Hierarchy of Philosophical Discourses in Aquinas (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1986).

On Modernity, see David Frisby, Fragments of Modernity (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1986); Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue, 2d. ed. (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981) and Whose Justice? Which Rationality? (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1988); Jurgen Habermas, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1987).

See James Collins, Three Paths in Philosophy (Chicago: Regnery, 1962) which contains among other essays, "Leo XIII and the Philosophical Approach to Modernity," and "Thomism in College." Jacques Maritain's The Peasant of the Garonne (New York: Henry Holt, 1968) is a wise and wily look at the modern philosophical scene. See, too, George William Rutler, Beyond Modernity (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1987).

5. Thomas's Big Picture

The various surveys by Bourke, Gilson, Maritain, Pieper, Weisheipl, and myself are relevant to this discussion. See Erwin Panofsky, Gothic Architecture and Scholasticism (New York: New American Library Reprint, 1976). On the sorting out of philosophical labor, see The Division and Methods of the Sciences, a translation by Armand Maurer of portions of St. Thomas's commentary on Boethius' De trinitate (Toronto: PIMS, 1953), F. Van Steenberghen, Aristotle in the West (Louvain Nauwelaerts, 1955) and St. Thomas and Heterodox Aristotelianism (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University Press, 1979). See Etienne Gilson, Thomist Realism and the Critique of Knowledge, translated by Mark A. Wauck (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986). The great Thomists of the revival are all but unanimous on the opposition stated in the Handbook though they express it in more complicated ways. There is, however, a school of "Transcendental Thomism" which stems from Pierre Marechal and which includes Karl Rahner and Bernard Lonergan and W. Norris Clarke; this school, too simply, takes the modern critique of realism very seriously and tries to re-express Thomism in a way that does not run afoul of that critique. See Bernard Lonergan, Insight (New York: Philosophical Library, 1957; Karl Rahner, Spirit in the World (New York: Herder and Herder, 1968); and Gerald McCool, S.J., "The Tradition of Saint Thomas in North America: At 50 Years," The Modern Schoolman (March 1988): 185-206. See as well The Thomist Spectrum by Helen James John, S.N.D. (New York: Fordham University Press, 1966).

The most readable and accessible work on Thomas remains that of G. K. Chesterton, St. Thomas Aquinas (New York: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1956). The basic biographical documents will be found in Kenelm Foster, The Life of Saint Thomas Aquinas (London: Longmans, 1959). See, too, William Wallace's article, "Thomas Aquinas" in the New Catholic Encyclopedia (1966), vol. 14, 102-115.

6. Theologian as Philosopher

Etienne Gilson, The Philosopher and Theology (New York: Random House, 1961); Simon Tugwell, O.P., Introduction to Aquinas in Albert and Thomas: Selected Writings (New York: Paulist Press, 1988). See Weisheipl's Friar Thomas d'Aquino, already mentioned. For a magnificent panorama of Thomas's thought as it ascends from knowledge of the natural world through metaphysics, theology to that wisdom which is the gift of the Holy Ghost, see Jacques Maritain, The Degrees of Knowledge (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1959). See chapter 12 in Josef Pieper, Guide to Thomas Aquinas (New York: Pantheon, 1962).

During the 1930s, because of the claim by Emile Brehier that Christian Philosophy is a contradiction in terms, a great many Thomists wrote books on just that subject. Jacques Maritain, Christian Philosophy (New York: Philosophical Library, 1955) and Etienne Gilson, Christianity and Philosophy (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1939) convey the spirit of the debate. Chapter 3 of my Thomism in an Age of Renewal is entitled "Philosophy and Faith."

7. What Is a Thing?

The assumption of this introductory presentation is that Thomas's acceptance of Aristotle's philosophy was decisive and central to this thought. Of course, this does not mean that Thomas's philosophy was identical to Aristotle's -- he took arguments and doctrines from every source available to him. But it does mean that doctrine became part of his philosophy to the degree that they were compatible with its fundamental Aristotelian base.

Twenty-five years ago, various Thomists had developed a variety of interpretations of Thomas's natural philosophy and its relation to modern science. See Maritain, Science and Wisdom (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1944); Charles deKoninck, The Hollow Universe, reprint (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1957). For some, natural philosophy was a branch of metaphysics. Cf. Fernand van Steenberghen, Epistemology (New York: J. F. Wagner, 1944). See William A. Wallace, Prelude to Galileo, Boston Studies in Philosophy of Science, volume 62 (Boston: D. Reidel, 1981) and From a Realist Point of View (New York: University Press of America, 1983).

See Leo Elder's essay "Saint Thomas Aquinas's Commentary on the Physics of Aristotle," and William Wallace, "St. Thomas's Conception of Natural Philosophy and its Method," in La Philosophie de la Nature de Saint Thomas d'Aquin, a publication of the Pontifical Academy of St. Thomas, edited by Leo Elders, S.V.D., Rome, 1982.

8. Art and Nature

For Thomas, as for Aristotle, 'art' meant chiefly the imposition by humans of some new form on natural material for one purpose or another. Such humble activities as shoemaking come immediately to mind. But at the same time they readily used examples of sculpture, a fine art. Aristotle's Poetics is the mandatory point of reference for any discussion of art as a making which is an imitation of human action. Thomists like Jacques Maritain, taking clues and hints from the text of Thomas, developed what might be called a Thomistic aesthetics. See Art and Scholasticism (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1974) and Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry (Princeton, N. J..: Princeton University Press, 1953). Francis Kovach. The Aesthetics of Beauty (Norman, Okla.: Oklahoma University Press, 1976). On the transcendental properties of being, see now Jan Aertsen, Nature and Creature: Thomas Aquinas's Way of Thought (Leiden: Brill, 1988). James Joyce, in The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man has Stephen Daedalus cite Thomas's definition of beauty. Predictably, perhaps, there is a book, Joyce and Aquinas, by William T. Noon, S.J. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1957).

9. Causes

A paradoxical feature of modernity is that it both questions our ability to know causes and speaks of the world as causally determined, excluding from it chance or indeterminism. While a principle of indeterminism has been admitted in physical theory, philosophers continue to ask how free human action is compatible with a determined physical universe. See Stanley Jaki, The Relevance of Physics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966) and his Gifford Lectures, The Road of Science and the Ways of God, Edinburgh, 1975-76. On the Threshold of Exact Science: Selected Writings of Anneliese Maier on Late Medieval Natural Philosophy, edited by Steven D. Sargent (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1982). Richard J. Blackwell, Discovery in the Physical Sciences (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1969).

10. Parmenides' Problem

Joseph Bobik, Aquinas on Being and Essence (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1965). Jacques Maritain, A Preface to Metaphysics (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1948).

11. Motion

John N. Deely and Raymond J. Nogar, The Problem of Evolution (New York: Appleton Century Croft, 1973). Yves Simon, The Great Dialogue of Nature and Space (Albany, N.Y.: Magi Books, 1970).

12. Creation

See Stanley Jaki, Cosmos and Creator (Chicago: Gateway Editions, 1980).

13. Soul

See Peter Geach, God and the Soul (New York, Schocken Books, 1969).

14. Beyond the Grave

Anton Pegis, "The Separated Soul and Its Nature in St. Thomas," in St. Thomas Aquinas 1274-1974 Commemmorative Studies (Toronto: PIMS, 1974), volume 1, pp. 131 ff.

15. Metaphor and Analogy

Mortimer J. Adler, Some Questions about Language (LaSalle, Ill.: Open Court. 1976). Ralph McInerny, The Logic of Analogy (The Hague: Nijhoff, 1961) and Studies in Analogy (The Hague: Nijhoff, 1966). Owen Barfield, Poetic Diction: A Study in Meaning (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964). Walker Percy, The Message in the Bottle (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1975).

16. Proving God Exists

See Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, The One God (London: Herder, 1943). David Burrell, C.S.C., Exercises in Religious Understanding (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1974) for interesting discussions of Anselm and Aquinas. Henri de Lubac, S.J., The Discovery of God (Chicago: Regnery, 1967). Robert Sokolowski, The God of Faith and Reason, (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1982). W. Norris Clarke, S.J., The Philosophical Approach to God: A Neo-Thomist Perspective (Winston-Salem, N. C.: Wake Forest University Press, 1979). Quinque Sunt Viae, edited by Leo Elders, Studi Tomistici 9 (Rome: Pontifical Academy of St. Thomas Aquinas, 1980).

17. Speaking of God

Brian Davies, O.P., Thinking About God London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1985). David Burrell, Analogy and Philosophical Language (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1973). Battista Mondin, The Principle of Analogy in Protestant and Catholic Theology (The Hague: Nijhoff, 1963).

18. The Meaning of Life

John Finnis, Fundamentals of Ethics (New York: Fordham University Press, 1983. Natural Law and Natural Rights Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980); Russell Hittinger, The New Natural Law Theory (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1988); Philip E. Devine, The Ethics of Homicide (Ithaca, NY.: Cornell University Press, 1978). Germain Grisez and Joseph M. Boyle, Life and Death with Liberty and Justice (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1979). Edward J. Capestany, The Moral World (Scranton, N. J.: Ridge Row Press, 1988). Ralph McInerny, Ethica Thomistica (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University Press, 1982), Stephen Theron, Morals as Founded on Natural Law (Frankfurt and New York: Peter Lang, 1987). Ronald Lawler, Philosophical Analysis and Ethics (Milwaukee, Wisc.: Bruce Publishing, 1968). Josef Pieper, The Four Cardinal Virtues (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1966). Yves Simon, The Tradition of the Natural Law (New York: Fordham University Press, 1967).

19. On Being Good

St. Thomas Aquinas on Politics and Ethics, edited by Paul E. Sigmund (New York: Norton, 1988). Aquinas: Selected Political Writings, edited by A. P. D'Entreves (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1981). Henry B. Veatch, Human Rights: Fact or Fancy? (Baton Rouge, La.: LSU Press, 1985). Alan Donagan, Human Ends and Human Actions: An Explanation of St. Thomas's Treatment, Aquinas Lecture (Milwaukee, Wisc.: Marquette University Press, 1985). Saint Thomas Aquinas on Law, Morality, and Politics, edited by William P. Baumgarth and Richard J. Regan, S.J. (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1988). Yves Simon. A General Theory of Authority (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1962).

20. Aristotle and the Beatific Vision

This primer presentation of Thomas Aquinas's general outlook has taken his relationship to Aristotle to be largely unproblematic and has stressed the importance of Thomas's commentaries on Aristotle. This is, of course, an area where all points are contested. See M. D. Chenu, A Guide to the Study of Thomas Aquinas (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1964); Henry Jaffe, Thomism and Aristotelianism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1952). See Mark Jordan's Ordering Wisdom, already mentioned, and my Boethius and Aquinas (Washington, D. C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1989). Joseph Owens, "Aquinas, an Aristotelian Commentator," and Vernon Bourke, "The Nicomachean Ethics and Thomas Aquinas" in St. Thomas Aquinas 1274-1974 Commemorative Studies, (Toronto: PIMS, 1974) volume 1, pp. 213-238.

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