Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Why Study Thomistic Philosophy?


From Pope Pius XII's encyclical Humani generis (1950):

It is well known how highly the Church regards human reason, for it falls to reason to demonstrate with certainty the existence of God, personal and one [cf. natural theology]; to prove beyond doubt from divine signs the very foundations of the Christian faith [cf. apologetics]; to express properly the law which the Creator has imprinted in the hearts of men [cf. ethics]; and finally to attain to some notion, indeed a very fruitful notion, of mysteries [cf. sacred theology]. (7)

But reason can perform these functions safely and well only when properly trained, that is, when imbued with that sound philosophy which has long been, as it were, a patrimony handed down by earlier Christian ages, and which moreover possesses an authority of an even higher order, since the Teaching Authority of the Church, in the light of divine revelation itself, has weighed its fundamental tenets, which have been elaborated and defined little by little by men of great genius. For this philosophy, acknowledged and accepted by the Church, safeguards the genuine validity of human knowledge, the unshakable metaphysical principles of sufficient reason, causality, and finality, and finally the mind's ability to attain certain and unchangeable truth . . .

If one considers all this well, he will easily see why the Church demands that future priests be instructed in philosophy "according to the method, doctrine, and principles of the Angelic Doctor," (8) since, as we well know from the experience of centuries, the method of Aquinas is singularly preeminent both of teaching students and for bringing truth to light; his doctrine is in harmony with Divine Revelation, and is most effective both for safeguarding the foundation of the faith and for reaping, safely and usefully, the fruits of sound progress.



7. Vatican I (Denzinger 1796).
8. CIC can. 1366, 2.


the Cogitator said...

Hear, hear! Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

What I consider unfathomable is that this entire document is cited as the justification for the statement in Fides et Ratio (JPII) that "The Church has no philosophy of her own nor does she canonize any one particular philosophy in preference to others (49)".

I understand that the Church doesn't specifically canonize Thomism, but I mean...come on!!!


Don Paco said...

Ditto, Anonymous. In fact, the Pope practically canonizes the philosophy of St. Thomas by calling it "Our philosophy" (note the royal We) and saying that it is "received and honored by the Church"!

"30. Of course this philosophy deals with much that neither directly nor indirectly touches faith or morals, and which consequently the Church leaves to the free discussion of experts. But this does not hold for many other things, especially those principles and fundamental tenets to which We have just referred. However, even in these fundamental questions, we may clothe OUR PHILOSOPHY in a more convenient and richer dress, make it more vigorous with a more effective terminology, divest it of certain scholastic aids found less useful, prudently enrich it with the fruits of progress of the human mind. But never may we overthrow it, or contaminate it with false principles, or regard it as a great, but obsolete, relic. For truth and its philosophic expression cannot change from day to day, least of all where there is question of self-evident principles of the human mind or of those propositions which are supported by the wisdom of the ages and by divine revelation. Whatever new truth the sincere human mind is able to find, certainly cannot be opposed to truth already acquired, since God, the highest Truth, has created and guides the human intellect, not that it may daily oppose new truths to rightly established ones, but rather that, having eliminated errors which may have crept in, it may build truth upon truth in the same order and structure that exist in reality, the source of truth. Let no Christian therefore, whether philosopher or theologian, embrace eagerly and lightly whatever novelty happens to be thought up from day to day, but rather let him weigh it with painstaking care and a balanced judgment, lest he lose or corrupt the truth he already has, with grave danger and damage to his faith....

32. How deplorable it is then that this philosophy, RECEIVED AND HONORED BY THE CHURCH, is scorned by some, who shamelessly call it outmoded in form and rationalistic, as they say, in its method of thought. They say that this philosophy upholds the erroneous notion that there can be a metaphysic that is absolutely true; whereas in fact, they say, reality, especially transcendent reality, cannot better be expressed than by disparate teachings, which mutually complete each other, although they are in a way mutually opposed. OUR TRADITIONAL PHILOSOPHY, then, with its clear exposition and solution of questions, its accurate definition of terms, its clear-cut distinctions, can be, they concede, useful as a preparation for scholastic theology, a preparation quite in accord with medieval mentality; but this philosophy hardly offers a method of philosophizing suited to the needs of our modern culture. They allege, finally, that OUR PERENNIAL PHILOSOPHY is only a philosophy of immutable essences, while the contemporary mind must look to the existence of things and to life, which is ever in flux. While scorning OUR PHILOSOPHY, they extol other philosophies of all kinds, ancient and modern, oriental and occidental, by which they seem to imply that any kind of philosophy or theory, with a few additions and corrections if need be, can be reconciled with Catholic dogma. No Catholic can doubt how false this is, especially where there is question of those fictitious theories they call immanentism, or idealism or materialism, whether historic or dialectic, or even existentialism, whether atheistic or simply the type that denies the validity of the reason in the field of metaphysics." (Emphasis added.)