"The good of the grace of one soul is greater than the good of the nature of the whole universe"
- St Thomas Aquinas Ia IIa, q.24, a. 3, ad 2

— A Commentary on the First Part of St Thomas' Theological Summa

by Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O. P.


About the same time Roger Bacon, a prodigy of erudition, though not free from rash opinions, here and there in his writings speaks with contempt of Aristotle's philosophy, and of St. Albert and St. Thomas, whom he calls children.

Thomas Sutton, O.P., said to be English by birth (+1310), was one among others who in his commentaries on the four books of the Sentences wrote in defense of St. Thomas against Scotus. But Peter Aureolus, O.M., Anthony Andrea, O.M., Richard of Middletown, O.M., took up the defense of Scotus' doctrine, and Gerard of Bonn, O.D.C., strove to reconcile the opinions of each school.

Throughout the fourteenth century and in the early fifteenth century, scholastic theology gradually resolved itself into a war of words, railleries, and useless subtleties. The chief reason for this decline was the revival of nominalism, which maintains that universals are mere concepts of the mind or common names. Hence not even an imperfect knowledge of the nature of things can be acquired, whether of corporeal things or of the soul and its faculties, or the foundation of the natural law, or the essence of grace and the essential distinction between it and our nature.

Thus the advocates of nominalism deny the principle that the faculties, habits, and acts are specified by the formal object. Wherefore nominalists, especially William Ockham, despising the sound and lofty doctrine of their predecessors, prepared the downfall of solid scholastic theology, and prepared for the errors of Luther, whose teachers in the schools of Wittenberg were nominalists.

In the fifteenth century a revival in scholastic theology began with John Capreolus, O.P. (+1444), who is called the prince of Thomists, with Juan de Torquemada, O.P. (+1468), who wrote the Summa de Ecclesia, with Cajetan, O.P. (+1534), the distinguished defender of Thomistic doctrine, who was practically the first in the schools to explain the Theological Summa of St. Thomas instead of the Sentences. In this same period we have Conrad Kollin, O.P. (+1536), who wrote a series of commentaries on the Summa contra Gentes. These last mentioned theologians prepared the way for the theology of modern times, which began with the sixteenth century. Its first task was to refute the errors of this time, namely, Protestantism, Baianism, and Jansenism. These attenuated forms of Lutheranism deny the essential distinction between the order of nature and that of grace, and give a distorted notion of predestination and the divine motion.

Most prominent among the controversialists who labored to refute these errors are St. Robert Bcllarmine, S.J. (+1621), Cano (+1560), and Bossuet (+1704). Among scholastic theologians, in the Dominican order we have Victoria (+1546), Soto (+1560), Bannez (+1604), John of St. Thomas (+1644), and Gonet +1681); among the Carmelites we have the theologians of Salamanca, who wrote the best commentaries on the works of St. Thomas. In the Society of Jesus we have Toletus +1596), Suarez (+1617), Molina (+1600), and Lugo (+1660), who proposed a different interpretation of the Angelic Doctor's teaching. Suarez, the eclectic, sought to steer a middle course between St. Thomas and Scotus, and receded less than Molina did from the Thomistic doctrine on predestination and grace.

Eminent in positive theology during this time are Batavius, Thomassin, Combefis, and others.

In the eighteenth century there was a gradual decline in theology from its former splendor. Yet we still have such Thomists as Charles Rene Billuart and Cardinal Louis Gotti, who defended the teach ing of the Angelic Doctor with clarity and soundness of argument; St. Alphonsus Liguori, who wrote particularly on moral subjects, has received the title of Doctor of the Church.

Finally, after the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, when peace was again restored, the study of both positive and speculative theology gradually began to flourish, and later on a special incentive was offered for the advancement of theology by the Vatican Council in its condemnation of Positivism and agnosticism. The fruits of this were seen in Modernism, condemned by Pius X. This Sovereign Pontiff, like Leo XIII, again highly recommended the study of St. Thomas' works and wrote: "But we warn teachers to bear in mind that a slight departure from the teaching of Aquinas, especially in metaphysics, is very detrimental. As Aquinas himself says, 'a slight error in the beginning is a great error in the end.'" (9)

Finally, the Code of Canon Law, promulgated by the authority of Benedict XV in 1918, says: "Mental philosophy and theology must be taught according to the method, teaching and principles of the Angelic Doctor, to which the professors should religiously adhere." (10) This is stated again in the new law for the doctorate promulgated by Pius XI(11).

All these testimonies, whether of the Sovereign Pontiffs or of the theologians who always have recourse to the Theological Summa of St. Thomas, most clearly proclaim its value and significance. All know of the works that have been written in recent times concern ing the Theological Summa.(12).

The method of St Thomas, especially the structure of the articles of the Theological Summa

Many seem to think that before Descartes wrote his Discourse on Method, traditional philosophy was not yet fully and unmistakeably cognizant of the rules governing sound reasoning for the construction and teaching of knowledge. Many others, on the contrary, think that Descartes, who despised history and his predecessors, could easily have found out from these latter the true rules of method. Some logicians are even of the opinion that a discourse on method could have been written, more scientific than Descartes', one in accordance with the teachings of Aristotle and St. Thomas. I should like in this article to explain briefly the main features of St. Thomas' method. Let us see first, by way of a statement of the question, what several of our contemporaries have to say about it. Then we shall how the Angelic Doctor found the solid foundation of this method in Aristotle's writings and how he made use of analysis in inductive inquiry, and also of synthesis in demonstration. Finally, we shall see how he closely connected analysis and synthesis in the light of divine contemplation.

On the various judgements about this method

Nowadays there are some who say that the method of St. Thomas is too scholastic and artificial, that it is not sufficiently historical and real. It is, so they say, too much an a priori method, almost always a process of deduction and analysis, or else in the analysis itself there is too much abstraction. It even seems at times to confound logical abstractions with the objectivity of things. Some, though, not realizing that they are nominalists, nowadays assert that "St. Thomas speaks sometimes of matter and form, of essence and existence, as if these were distinct realities." (13) To be sure, for the Angelic Doctor, even before any consideration of the mind, matter is not form, created essence is not existence; and therefore, before any consideration of the mind, matter is distinct from form, and essence from existence. Yet form and essence are not, for St. Thomas, that which is, but that by which something is; nor does it follow that they are merely logical entities and not realities(14). But in these days many no longer know how to distinguish between metaphysical abstraction of direct consideration and logical abstraction of reflex consideration.(15) Therefore they think only that which is is real, namely, the concrete singular. Hence, for them, the abstract object not only is not concrete, but it is not real. Thus the essence of man, of virtue, of society, and such things, would not be anything real, and the whole of metaphysics, not excepting the principle of contradiction, would be reduced to logic, logical abstractions, logical being, or, as they say, to extreme intellectualism that is without reality and lifeless. They would not dare to say explicitly that the abstract principle of contradiction (that some thing cannot at the same time be and not be) is not a law of real being but only a logical law governing the operations of the mind, as the laws of syllogism are. To such extreme admission, however, is one brought by this silly and at the present day common enough objection.

Moreover, several say that the method of St. Thomas often proceeds, not according to the natural way in which the mind operates, but in the conventional way of the schools of the thirteenth century, namely, by first proposing objections, at least three, which might be proposed afterward with better results; for, placed at the beginning, they are a source of obscurity rather than of light to the mind. Furthermore, it is indeed surprising, some say, that St. Thomas begins by setting forth the errors, introducing them with the formula Videtur quod non, and only after this comes the true doctrine, which is proved in very few words by an appeal to authority, more at length, however, in a theoretical manner; and finally the objections are solved.

Therefore some nowadays, in philosophy and also in spcculative theology, depart from this method which, so they say, is too scholastic. Already in the time of Pius IX, as is evident from the thirteenth proposition of the Syllabus, several said: "The method and principles by which the old scholastic doctors cultivated theology are not at all suitable to the demands of our times and to the progress of the sciences." (16) Some, not considering the profound difference between St. Thomas' method of procedure and the merely a priori synthetic method adopted by Spinoza, seem to admit that St.Thomas' method and even St. Bonaventure's, from the abuse of philosophical deduction, lead to rationalism and pantheism, as seen from the propositions to which the Sacred Congregation of the Index ordered Augustine Bonnetty to give his assent 1855) in writing.(17)

Now some depart from St. Thomas' method, preferring the historical not only for the useful and necessary investigation in the history of philosophy and theology, but also for a more or less direct knowledge of even philosophical or theological truth. This mode of procedure was indeed already in vogue among the followers of idealistic evolutionism, especially with Hegel, and later on we come across it, though in a modified form, in many works of modern authors. Whatever these modifications may be, this method, so iti seems, tends by its very nature to confuse philosophy with the history of philosophy, and thus is established a certain philosophy of the history of doctrines, one that is more or less according to the tenets of evolutionism.

According to this view, which is not infrequent today, among all the systems appearing in the course of time in accordance with the evolution of ideas, no system is absolutely true, but each is relatively true, that is, in opposition to another preceding doctrine, or else to some other brief evolutionary period of the past. They say, that, for instance, Thomism was relatively true in the thirteenth in opposition to the doctrine of certain Augustinians, which it surpassed; but it, too, is not absolutely but relatively false with respect to the subsequent system which, either as an antithesis or as a superior synthesis, is of a higher order in the evolution of ideas. Thus Scotism, coming at a later date, would be truer than St. Thomas' doctrine, and this by the momentum of its progress in the history of philosophy and theology. Then why should not this be so for the nominalism of William Ockham? In like manner, the eclecticism of Suarez, which often seeks to steer a middle, course between the system of St. Thomas and that of Scotus, would be a still more perfect synthesis and the beginning of a new process and progress among the modern intellectuals.

If it were so, nothing would be absolutely true, not even the principle of contradiction, at least as a law of being and higher reason, as Hegel admits. All the more so, none of the accepted definitions would be absolutely true, and hence from none of them could the true properties of things be deduced. There would be only relative truth, in its reference to the present state of knowledge, and this rather as regards the already superseded past than the unknown future. Even for knowing the relative truth of any doctrine, it would be necessary to have full knowledge of the preceding periods of evolution, which were the prerequisites for the manifestation of its ultimate development. By way of illustration, we may say that for a knowledge of what ought to be our philosophical conception according to the intellectual exigencies of the twentieth century, we would have to go through Kantianism and Hegelianism, and then vitally reconsider Thomism so as to render it truly presentable to modern minds. Yet this new cogitation, as regards the mental attitude of the twentieth century, would not be absolutely but only relatively true, just as the cogitation of St. Thomas was relatively true in the thirteenth century.

This conception of truth, however, does not seem to differ from that of the Modernists, who said: "Truth is no more immutable, than man himself is, in that it is developed with, in, and by him." (18) But this proposition, if we wish to consider the question more seriously, presupposes immanence or absolute evolutionism. According to this theory, as Pius IX said in the first proposition of the Syllabus: "In effect God is produced in man and in the world, and all things are God and have the very substance of God, and God is one and the same thing with the world, and, therefore, spirit with matter, necessity with liberty, good with evil, justice with injustice." (19) Indeed the charge is made against St. Thomas that his method - as if it did not differ from Spinoza's - leads, to pantheism; and now the new historical method, which is evolutional in its tone of thought, leads to the form opposed to it, which is pantheism. Spinoza, indeed, identified all things with the immobile God, while the evolutionists reduce God to universal evolution. According to the evolutionists, God is really in a process of becoming both in man and in the world, and He never will be in the true sense, as Renan said. Thus nothing would be absolutely true and nothing absolutely false. There would be only relative truth and relative falsehood. Only relativity would be absolute.

The above-mentioned confusion between history and philosophy corresponds to the desires neither of the true historian nor of the truephilosopher. But the true historian seeks, to acquire a knowledge of history from the facts, before the uncertain philosophy of history is established. The desire of the true philosopher is, indeed, to acquire an accurate knowledge of philosophy, but he does not consider the temporal sequence of doctrines, as if these were the criterion or sign of their relative truth, and as if this sequence doctrines were always and necessarily an evolution in the ascendant order, but never a regression and senile decline. From the fact that Scotus came after St. Thomas, it does not follow that his doctrine is truer, and that later on there is greater perfection in the eclecticism of Suarez.

We must use the historical method in the history of doctrines, and this is indeed of great help in understanding the state and difficulty of the question, so as to give us, as it were, a panorama, of the solutions of any great problem. But in philosophy we must employ the analytic and synthetic method proportionate to it. In theology, however, we rely first upon proofs taken from the authority of Holy Scripture or divine tradition, or even the writings of the holy Fathers, and in the second place on arguments drawn from reason, while, of course, not neglecting the history of problems and their solutions.

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13. Edgar de Bruyne in his Saint Thomas d'Aquin, 1928, p. 99, writes: "If we wanted to remain true to the tradition of the schools we should be led to believe that from the beginning Thomism committed the mistake of confusing the logical and the real. . . . St. Thomas speaks of essence as if it were a reality. ... He reasons about the matter and form of corporeal things as if they were distinct realities that are in opposition."

14. Summa theol., Ia, q. 15, a.1 ad 2um; q. 54, a.1.

15. According to the teaching of St. Thomas (I Sent., d.2, a.3, c; De potentia, q,7, a.9), the direct consideration of metaphysics, which is called first intention, is concerned with the object as conceived by the mind, with the real nature itself of individualized things; as, for instance, the essence of man; whereas the reflex consideration of logic, which is called second intention, is concerned with the object only according to the subjective mode of its existence in the mind; thus, for instance, logic considers the formal universality of any predicate or subject, or the laws of the syllogism. Likewise the distinction is said to be real when it precedes the consideration of the mind, and logical when it follows this consideration. In fact, however, before the consideration of the mind, matter is not form; it can even be separated from this latter so as to receive another form.

16. Denz., no. 1713.

17. Ibid., no. 1652.

18. Ibid., no. 2058.

19. Ibid., no. 1701


"It is vanity to love what passes quickly and not to look ahead where eternal joy abides. "

Thomas Kempis

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"It is not God's will that we should abound in spiritual delights, but that in all things we should submit to his holy will."

Blessed Henry Suso

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"If, devout soul, it is your will to please God and live a life of serenity in this world, unite yourself always and in all things to the divine will. Reflect that all the sins of your past wicked life happened because you wandered from the path of God's will. For the future, embrace God's good pleasure and say to him in every happening: "Yea, Father, for so it hath seemed good in thy sight." "

St Alphonsus de Liguori

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