The Revival of Scholastic Philosophy in the Nineteenth Century

Chapter XIV: The Neo-Scholastic Revival in Other European Countries


The countries we have studied thus far are those in which neo-Scholastic philosophy has especially flourished. The Catholics of the rest of Europe have not failed, however, to espouse the views of Leo XIII, so that the Thomistic literature of the present century is proud of many productions with which the foregoing chapters have not dealt.

Among the countries in which Thomism has found able reprentatives, Hungary holds a prominent place. As early as the sixteenth century, Scholastic philosophy flourished in the seminaries erected, according to the spirit of the Council of Trent, by Nicholas Oláh and Cardinal Peter Pazmány, S.J., archbishop of Esztergom. The control thus exercised by Scholastic principles upon Hungarian thought became stronger still through the liberation of Hungary from the Turkish rule. And it thus happened that, in the eighteenth century, while Scholastic philosophy was rapidly losing ground in the rest of Europe, it was regarded in Hungary as a necessary complement of a liberal education.

In the nineteenth century, however, the influence of the French revolution and of German rationalism produced a notable change in the attitude of Hungarian thinkers. As was to be expected, this change was unfavorable to the traditional Christian philosophy. Scholasticism soon lost its former prestige and was finally rejected from the gymnasia, even from the seminaries.

Such was the state of things when the encyclical AEterni Patris, like an electric spark, produced a sudden change in the attitude of Hungarian Catholics. Scholastic philosophy became an essential element of ecclesiastical studies. In this remarkable movement the Central Seminary of Budapest and the Seminary of Esztergom took the lead. They were soon followed by others, so that nowadays very few ecclesiastical institutions are still lacking a chair of philosophy.

Not long afterwards a Society of St. Thomas was founded in Budapest (1893) and an important periodical publication, the Bölcseleti Folyóirat, was created by John Kiss, professor of philosophy in the Seminary of Temesvar (1886). Since its foundation, the Bölcseleti Folyóirat has served the cause of neo- Thomism with zeal and success. Among its most distinguished contributors, let us mention J. Kozáry, St. Szekely, 0. Prohászka, L. Szilvek and J. Ochaba (cf. Bibliography).

Hungarian Catholics have not limited themselves to the articles and discussions contained in the Bölcseleti Folyóirat. They have also enriched neo-Scholastic literature with many separate works which, unhappily -- on account of the very language in which they are written -- are not known outside of Hungary as well as they deserve. Most important among them is the work entitled Instinct and Intellect (1898), written by St. Székely, which is probably one of the most important studies ever made about animal instinct; and the two remarkable volumes of Bishop Ottokarus Prohászka. The first of these, God and the World (1891), deals with the arguments for the existence of a Supreme Being, whereas the second, Heaven and Earth (1901), is a cosmogony.

Among the defenders of neo-Scholasticism in Hungary, the best known is Gustave Pécsi, professor in the Seminary of Esztergom. This is due, in the first place, to the originality of some of his theories, and also to the fact that his most important works have been written in Latin.

Gustave Pécsi, born in 1874, studied in Rome from 1893 to 1900, and received the degrees of Doctor of Philosophy and Theology. Since 1902 he has taught philosophy in the Seminary of Esztergom.

His chief work is entitled Cursus Brevis Philosophiae, and consists of three volumes. The first, dealing with logic and metaphysics, appeared in 1906; the second, dealing with cosmology and psychology, appeared in 1907; the third, dealing with natural theology and ethics, has not appeared yet.

The importance of Mr. Pécsi's philosophy is chiefly due to his section on Cosmology, which marks a most significant phase in the evolution of neo-Scholasticism. Two doctrines of his deserve a special mention: his theory of Matter and Form and his chapter on Energetics.

To many sympathizers of neo-Scholasticism the endeavor to revive the theory of Matter of Form had appeared a fruitless attempt. In view of the actual condition of phvsical science, the defenders of hylemorphism left the impression of men who would cover a dead body with a new garb. For Aristotle, primordial matter was an indeterminate abstraction, something which was, and yet was not, "materia neque quid, neque quantum, neque quale, neque aliud quidquam est."[1] This mysterious entity had been accepted by the great doctors of the thirteenth century, and still lingered in all treatises of Scholastic philosophy. Those men themselves who were defending Scholasticism from a scientific point of view had not dared part with the fetich. Mr. Albert Farges had clung with all his might to the old idol. Mr. Nys had proved himself to be less reluctant to concessions; he had not yet, however, been bold enough. First among neo-Scholastics, Mr. Pécsi has formulated the theory of Primordial Matter in a form which men of science may accept.

He identifles Primordial Matter with the ultimate ground of all material reality, the ether.[2] The materia prima thus ceases to be an empty abstraction: it becomes something concrete, a reality whose existence is testified by natural science itself.[3] As for the substantial form, Mr. Pécsi identifies it with the interatomic energy.[4]

In the section of his Cosmology entitled "Energetics," Mr. Pécsi calls in question the accepted axioms of physical science. He refutes the principle of the conservation of energy, which he regards as the foundation of materialism. He also refutes or corrects the law of entropy and the laws of Newton on inertia and action and reaction. To the traditional laws of motion he opposes the following laws:

1. All physical bodies persevere in the state of rest unless impelled by an external force. But the body impelled by an external force moves only proportionally to the impression received from the external force and always in the direction of the impression.

2. The intensity -- or velocity -- of the motion depends upon the difference between the action and the reaction, i. e., is in direct mathematical proportion to the action, and in inverse mathematical proportion to the reaction.

3. If the mutual relation of the action and the reaction in subsequent moments is constant, motion will be uniform; if the mutual relation of the action and the reaction is modified, the motion will cease to be uniform and acceleration or retardation will follow.[5]

Mr. Pécsi's theory on this point has not been unanimously accepted by neo-Scholastics. It has, been severely criticized by Chr. Schreiber in the Philosophisches Jahrbuch. Mr. Pécsi, however, has developed it anew in a separate treatise, written at first in Hungarian and translated into Latin by the author himself, under the title of Crisis axiomatum modernae Phisicae.

In Bohemia the Thomistic movement is represented by Vychodil, who, in 1889, published a work dealing with the proofs of God's existence; Eugene Kaderavek, the author of several works inspired by the purest Scholastic principles and of important articles published in the Philosophisches Jahrbuch and the Jahrbuch für Philosophie und speculative Theologie; Havaty, Pospisil, etc.

In the Netherlands, a chair of Thomistic philosophy was founded in 1894 at the University of Amsterdam and confided to the Dominican Van de Groot. A better choice could hardly have been made. Fr. Van de Groot is one of the most learned and enthusiastic admirers of the philosophy of the Angelic Doctor. In many remarkable works, written in Dutch or in Latin, as well as in articles published in the Divus Thomas and the Revue Thomiste, he has proved himself to be one of the most worthy champions of the Scholastic cause.

Let us mention also the Jesuit Vogels, who published in Amsterdam, in 1900, a treatise on Free Will, the first contribution to neo-Scholastic literature written in the Flemish language.


In the general return of the Catholic philosophical world to the principles of St. Thomas, England has not remained a laggard. A few years after the promulgation of the encyclical AEterni Patris, Thomas Harper, S.J., published his Metaphysics of the Schools, still considered as one of the most important works inspired by Scholastic principles during the nineteenth century.

Born in London in 1821, Thomas Harper abjured Methodism and entered the Society of Jesus in 1852. For several years he taught philosophy at the famous college of Stonyhurst. He died in 1893.

His Metaphysics of the Schools is an endeavor to present the metaphysical principles of the schoolmen in a form accessible to English readers. By the thoroughness of the exposition and its depth of thought the Metaphysics of the Schools must be reckoned as one of the most valuable neo-Scholastic productions. "In England, wrote Domet de Vorges in 1888, we find only one neo-Scholastic writer worthy of mention. But what an author! What a monument! Like a pyramid bathed in the dew of fifty centuries, it rears its massive form aloft in the midst of a desert. The Metaphysics of Fr. Harper is certainly the greatest work thus far produced by the Thomistic movement. It is also perhaps the most profound, a work that shows the eminent dialectical faculties of its author in all their brilliancy."[6]

More recently, the English Jesuits have acquired a new title to the gratitude of all lovers of Scholastic speculation by the publication of the Stonyhurst Philosophical Series, which is the most valuable exposition of Scholastic philosophy written in the English language.

The series, of which several editions have been made in a few years, comprises the following works: Logic, by Richard F. Clarke, S.J.; First Principles of Knowledge, by John Rickaby, S.J.; Moral Philosophy, by Joseph Rickaby, S.J.; Natural Theology, by Bernard Boedder, S.J.; Psychology, by Michael Maher, S.J.; General Metaphysics, by John Rickaby, S.J.; Political Economy, by C. S. Devas.

Particularly worthy of attention are Maher's Psychology and Boedder's Natural Theology.

Fr. Maher's Psychology exposes, in a clear and attractive style, the Scholastic theory of the soul. The essential difference between sense and intellect, the spirituality of the soul, the freedom of the will, are demonstrated according to the best Scholastic arguments. The work also contains a lucid exposition and valuable criticisms of the philosophical systems of Kant, Locke, Hume, Mill, Bain, Spencer and other British associationists. It studies the recent hypotheses about the relations of body and soul and pronounces the double-aspect theory contradictory to experience and to reason.

Boedder's Natural Theology, in addition to the chapters dealing with the existence and the attributes of God, in which the Scholastic doctrine of the Divine Being is clearly and faithfully expounded, contains a dissertation about the much-disputed question of physical premotion. After a fair exposition of both views, Fr. Boedder declares himself in favor of Molinism and gives serious reasons to show that the so-called Thomistic theory does not really belong to St. Thomas.

A few years after the publication of his Natural Theology, Fr. Boedder enriched neo-Scholastic literature with two Latin treatises dealing, the one with Natural Theology, the other with Psychology. These treatises form two volumes of a new course of Scholastic philosophy, published in Friburg by the Stonyhurst professors, and known as Cursus Philosophicus (cf. Bibliography).

Joseph Rickaby (born 1845), besides the volume on Moral Philosophy of the Stonyhurst Series, has contributed several important publications to English neo-Scholastic literature. In 1906 he gave an annotated translation of the Summa contra Gentiles. In the same year he published the work, Free Will and Four English Philosophers (Hobbes, Locke, Hume and Mill), in which he defends the freedom of the will against the determinist theories of these philosophers. His method is to quote a passage from the philosopher under examination and then to discuss it.

Richard F. Clarke, the author of the treatise on Logic, has contributed several important articles to the American Catholic Quarterly. He has also published a dialogue on the existence of God, which is one of the most charming philosophical dialogues ever penned.

Among the actual defenders of neo-Scholasticism in England, the most prolific is probably Francis Aveling (born 1875). In quite a number of review artiiles and short treatises he has proved himself a valiant champion of the Thomistic cause. One of his best productions is the volume entitled, The God of Philosophy. In this charming treatise the learned writer educes the natural proofs for the, existence of God. His style is simple, clear and concise. The philosophical arguments are shorn of their rigidity and presented in a most fascinating aspect.

<< ======= >>