"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

REALITY—A Synthesis Of Thomistic Thought

by Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O. P.


We deal here with those commentators only who belong to the Thomistic school properly so called. We do not include eclectic commentators, who indeed borrow largely from Thomas, but seek to unite him with Duns Scotus, refuting at times one by the other, at the risk of nearly always oscillating between the two, without ever taking a definite stand.

In the history of commentators we may distinguish three periods. During the first period we find defensiones against the various adversaries of Thomistic doctrine. In the second period commentaries appear properly so called. They comment the Summa theologiae. They comment, article by article, in the methods we may call classical, followed generally before the Council of Trent. In the third period, after the Council, in order to meet a new fashion of opposition, the commentators generally no longer follow the letter of the Summa article by article, but write disputationes on the problems debated in their own times. Each of the three methods has its own raison d'etre. The Thomistic synthesis has thus been studied from varied viewpoints, by contrast with other theological systems. Let us see this process at work in each of these periods.

The first Thomists appear at the end of the thirteenth century and the beginning of the fourteenth. They defend St. Thomas against certain Augustinians of the ancient school, against the Nominalists and the Scotists. We must note in particular the works of Herve de Nedellec against Henry of Ghent; of Thomas Sutton against Scotus, of Durandus of Aurillac against Durandus of Saint-Pourcain and against the first Nominalists.

Next, in the same period, come works on a larger scale. Here we find John Capreolus, [89] whose Defensiones [90] earned him the title princeps thomistarum. Capreolus follows the order of the Lombard Sentences, but continually compares the commentaries of Thomas on that work with texts of the Summa theologiae and of the Disputed Questions. He writes against the Nominalists and the Scotists. Similar works were written in Hungary by Peter Niger, [91] in Spain by Diego of Deza, [92] the protector of Christopher Columbus. With the introduction of the Summa as textbook, explicit commentaries on the Summa theologiae began to appear. First in the field was Cajetan (Thomas de Vio). His commentary [93] is looked upon as the classic interpretation of St. Thomas. Then followed Conrad Kollin, [94] Sylvester de Ferraris, [95] and Francis of Vittoria. [96] Vittoria's work remained long in manuscript and was lately published. [97] A second work of Vittoria, Relectiones theologicae, was likewise recently published. [98].

Numerous Thomists took part in the preparatory work for the Council of Trent. Noted among these are Bartholomew of Carranza, Dominic Soto, Melchior Cano, Peter de Soto. The Council [99] itself, in its decrees on the mode of preparation for justification, reproduces the substance of an article by St. Thomas. [100] Further, in the following chapter on the causes of justification, the Council again reproduces the teaching of the saint. [101] When on April 11 1567, four years after the end of the Council, Thomas of Aquin was declared doctor of the Church, Pius V, [102] in commending the saint's doctrine as destruction of all heresies since the thirteenth century, concluded with these words: "As clearly appeared recently in the sacred decrees of the Council of Trent." [103].

After the Council of Trent, the commentators, as a rule, write Disputationes. Dominic Banez, an exception, explains still article by article. The chief names in this period are Bartholomew of Medina, [104] and Dominic Banez. [105] We must also mention Thomas of Lemos 1629): Diego Alvarez (1635): John of St. Thomas (1644): Peter of Godoy (1677). All these were Spaniards. In Italy we find Vincent Gotti (1742): Daniel Concina (1756): Vincent Patuzzi (1762): Salvatore Roselli (1785). In France, Jean Nicolai (1663): Vincent Contenson (1674): Vincent Baron (1674): John Baptist Gonet (1681): A. Goudin (1695): Antonin Massoulie (1706): Hyacinth Serry (1738). In Belgium, Charles Rene Billuart (1751). Among the Carmelites we mention: the Complutenses, Cursus philosophicus, [106] and the Salmanticenses, Cursus theologicus. [107].

Let us here note the method and importance of the greatest among these commentators. Capreolus [108] correlates, as we saw above, the Summa and the Disputed Questions with the Sententiae of the Lombard. Answering the Nominalists and the Scotists, he sets in relief the continuity of the saint's thought.

Sylvester de Ferraris shows that the content of the Contra Gentes is in harmony with the higher simplicity of the Summa theologiae. He is especially valuable on certain great questions: the natural desire to see God [109]: the infallibility of the decrees of providence; [110] the immutability in good and in evil of the soul after death, from the first moment of its separation from the body. [111] Sylvester's commentary is reprinted in the Leonine edition of the Summa contra Gentes.

Cajetan comments on the Summa theologiae article by article, shows their interconnection, sets in relief the force of each proof, disengages the probative medium. Then he examines at length the objections of his adversaries, particularly those of Durandus and Scotus. His virtuosity as a logician is in the service of intuition. Cajetan's sense of mystery is great. Instances will occur later on when he speaks of the pre-eminence of the Deity. Cajetan is likewise the great defender of the distinction between essence and existence. [112] His commentary on the Summa theologiae was reprinted in the Leonine edition. [113].

Dominic Banez is a careful commentator, profound, sober, with great powers, logical and metaphysical. Attempts have been made to turn him into the founder of a new theological school. But, in reality, his doctrine does not differ from that of St. Thomas. What he adds are but more precise terms, to exclude false interpretations. His formulas do not exaggerate the saint's doctrine. Even such terms as "predefinition" and "predetermination" had been employed by Aquinas in explaining the divine decrees. [114] A Thomist may prefer the more simple and sober terms which St. Thomas ordinarily employs, but on condition that he understands them well and excludes those false interpretations which Banez had to exclude. [115].

John of St. Thomas wrote a very valuable Cursus philosophicus thomisticus. [116] Subsequent authors of philosophic manuals, E. Hugon, O. P.: J. Gredt, O. S. B.: X. Maquart, rest largely on him. J. Maritain likewise finds in them much inspiration. In John's theological work, Cursus theologicus, [117] we find disputationes on the great questions debated at his time. He compares the teaching of St. Thomas with that of others, especially with that of Suarez, of Vasquez, of Molina. John is an intuitionist, even a contemplative, rather than a dialectician. At the risk of diffusiveness, he returns often to the same idea, to sound its depths and irradiations. He may sound repetitious, but this continual recourse to the same principles, to these high leitmotifs, serves well to lift the penetrating spirit to the heights of doctrine. John insists repeatedly on the following doctrines: analogy of being, real distinction between essence and existence, obediential potency, divine liberty, intrinsic efficaciousness of divine decrees and of grace, specification of habits and acts by their formal object, the essential supernaturalness of infused virtue, the gifts of the Holy Spirit and infused contemplation. John should be studied also on the following questions: the personality of Christ, Christ's grace of union, Christ's habitual grace, the causality of the sacraments, the transubstantiation, and the sacrifice of the Mass.

In their methods the Carmelites of Salamanca, the Salmanticenses, resemble John of St. Thomas. They first give, in summary, the letter of the article, then add disputationes and dubia on controverted questions, discussing opposed views in detail. Some of these dubia on secondary questions may seem superfluous. But he who consults the Salmanticenses on fundamental questions must recognize in them great theologians, in general very loyal to the teaching of St. Thomas. You may test this statement in the following list of subjects: the divine attributes, the natural desire to see God, the obediential potency, the absolute supernaturalness of the beatific vision, the intrinsic efficaciousness of divine decrees and of grace, the essential supernaturalness of infused virtues, particularly of the theological virtues, the personality of Christ, His liberty, the value, intrinsically infinite, of His merits and satisfaction, the causality of the sacraments, the essence of the sacrifice of the Mass.

Gonet, who recapitulates the best of his predecessors, but also, on many questions, does original work, is marked by great clarity. So likewise is Cardinal Gotti, who gives a wider attention to positive theology. Billuart, more briefly than Gonet, gives a substantial summary of the great commentators. He is generally quite faithful to Thomas, often quoting in full the saint's own words.

While we do not cite in detail the works of contemporary Thomists, we must mention N. del Prado's two works: De veritate fundamentali philosophiae christianae, [118] and De Gratia et libero arbitrio. [119] He closely follows Banez. Further, A. Gardeil's three works: La credibilite et l'apologetique, [120] Le donne revele et la theologie, [121] and La structure de l'ame et l'experience mystique. [122] Inspired chiefly by John of St. Thomas, his work is still personal and original.

Among those who contributed to the resurgence of Thomistic study, before and after Leo XIII, we must mention eight names: Sanseverino, Kleutgen, S. J.: Cornoldi, S. J.: Cardinal Zigliara, O. P.: Buonpensiere, O. P.: L. Billot, S. J.: G. Mattiussi, S. J.: and Cardinal Mercier.

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