Sunday, July 08, 2012

Notes on the 24 Thomistic Theses (Hugon's Commentary)


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In the coming months, I hope to publish individual posts summarizing Fr. Edouard Hugon's commentary on each of the 24 Thomistic Theses, from his work, Les Vingt-quatre theses thomistes.  I cannot, of course, offer a full translation of the original French at this time, but will limit myself to giving a synthesis of the book's main points on each thesis.  The forthcoming posts will be the fruit of an interesting teaching opportunity that came up for me recently in Mexico, and which I now wish to share with you.

Recently I received an offer to travel as visiting professor to beautiful Ciudad Guzmán, México (shown, along with its amazing view of the Nevado de Colima, an inactive volcano), located a two-hour drive south of Guadalajara, where I currently live and work.

The assignment was to teach a six-month-long course on St. Thomas' philosophical thought.  I would make the trip twice a month for six months, would receive a traveling stipend, plus some modest remuneration.  Always eager to bring Thomism to anyone interested, and thinking that a change of scenery from the big city would be a very healthy thing to do, I gladly accepted.  

Now, the language of instruction was to be Spanish---naturally---which is my mother tongue, but not my customary language of instruction for courses on Thomism.  This got me thinking: what are some good Thomistic philosophy books written in, or translated into, Spanish?  I had never taught a full course on Thomism in Spanish before, so I was forced to do some research on the internet to see what was available.  I found some interesting titles, among them a Spanish translation of a four-volume manual by H.D. Gardeil, O.P., titled Iniciación a la filosofía de Santo Tomás de Aquino (also translated into English as Introduction to the Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas).  What was exciting to me was that all four volumes of it are available in Spanish, as opposed to only three of the four in English (the first volume, which includes an introduction to the work and a presentation of Aquinas' logic, was never translated into English.)  Also noteworthy is a series of books by Dominican Thomist, Fr. Barbedette, which supplements Gardeil's four volumes very nicely with works on ethics, epistemology, theodicy, and the history of philosophy.  But, although I love Gardeil's four-volume set and was left salivating over Barbedette's works, it was all a bit too much for only 36 hours of introductory-level instruction.  Other traditional Thomistic works that I was amazed to see available in Spanish translation (and which I have long lamented not having in English) are Garrigou-Lagrange's El sentido común and El realismo del principio de finalidad, but these were not elementary manuals, so they were out of the question for my purposes.  

Ultimately, the work that struck me as the most appropriate, and the one that I chose, was a book by Fr. Edouard Hugon, O.P., titled Las veinticuatro tesis tomistas, a Spanish translation of his Les Vingt-quatre theses thomistses ("The Twenty-Four Thomistic Theses").  This is a monumentally important commentary on the ecclesiastical document known by the same title, which represents the Magisterium's pronouncement on which propositions constitute genuine Thomism, the official philosophy of the Church.  The document was given to us by the Church not only as a set of "safe norms," but as offering concrete guidance on the then-binding mandate for professors of seminaries and Catholic universities to teach the philosophy of St. Thomas.  It is thought, moreover, that Fr. Hugon himself co-authored the document along with Fr. Guido Mattiusi, S.J.; it is perhaps for this reason (it would be a good reason, anyway) that Pope Benedict XV asked Hugon to write this commentary.  

This course, along with the course text, is a very exciting opportunity for me, because Hugon's commentary, originally written in French, exists in Spanish translation, but no English translation exists, at least to my knowledge, and consequently not many English speakers are familiar with the work, or with the original 24 theses themselves.  Had I not had this teaching opportunity, I most certainly would not have taken the time to study Hugon's commentary in detail, at least not at this point in my career.  As a result of this study, I can truly say that my understanding of Thomistic speculative philosophy has become more adequate and more traditional.  I have also come to realize through this book that the current crisis of the proliferation of 'new Thomisms' ('historical Thomism', 'analytical Thomism', 'existential Thomism', etc.) is largely a phenomenon restricted to the English-speaking world, or at any rate it is not as prevalent in the Spanish-speaking world.  A sign of this is that the Spanish translation of Hugon's commentary was originally published in the 1940's, and it is still being reprinted by the same company, a popular academic Mexican publisher called "Porrúa."  Consequently--and to my surprise--Spanish-speaking Thomists are very familiar with the work and thus tend to have, at least as compared to their English-speaking colleagues, a very traditional understanding of Thomistic metaphysics, cosmology, psychology, and theodicy.

It would be of great service for English-speaking Catholics interested in Thomism if Hugon's work appeared in English.  Please pray that I can have enough time and funding to translate it in the near future.  


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