Sunday, August 22, 2010

Garrigou-Lagrange: Thomism vs. Eclecticism

From Garrigou-Lagrange, OP - Reality, Ch. 54:

Thomism and Eclecticism

This article reproduces substantially the important discourse of his eminence, J. M. R. Villeneuve, archbishop of Quebec, delivered May 24, 936, at the close of the Thomistic Convention in Ottawa, Canada. [1325].

Thomism is concerned primarily with principles and doctrinal order, wherein lie its unity and its power. Eclecticism, led by a false idea of fraternal charity, seeks to harmonize all systems of philosophy and theology. Especially after Pope Leo XIII the Church has repeatedly declared that she holds to Thomism; but eclecticism says equivalently: Very well, let us accept Thomism, but not be too explicit in contradicting doctrines opposed to Thomism. Let us cultivate harmony as much as possible.

This is to seek peace where there can be no peace. The fundamental principles of the doctrine of St. Thomas, they would say, are those accepted by all the philosophers in the Church. Those points on which the Angelic Doctor is not in accord with other masters, with Scotus, say, or with Suarez, are of secondary importance, or even at times useless subtleties, which it is wise to ignore, or at least to treat as mere matters of history. The Cardinal says:

In fact, the points of doctrine on which all Catholic philosophers, or nearly all, are in accord, are those defined by the Church as the preambles of faith. But all other points of Thomistic doctrine, viz.: real distinction of potency from act, of matter from form, of created essence from its existence, of substance from accidents, of person from nature—these, according to eclecticism, are not fundamental principles of the doctrine of St. Thomas. And they say the same of his doctrine that habits and acts are specifically proportioned to their formal objects. All these assertions, they say, are disputed among Catholic teachers, and hence are unimportant.

These points of doctrine, which eclecticism considers unimportant, are, on the contrary, says the Cardinal, the major pronouncements of Thomism as codified in the Twenty-four Theses. [1326] Without these principles thus codified, says the Cardinal of Quebec, Thomism would be a corpse. [1327] The importance of these Thomistic fundamentals is set in relief by a series of Suaresian counter-theses, published by the Ciencia Tomista. [1328].

In the following two paragraphs Cardinal Villeneuve signalizes the consequences of contemporary eclecticism.

Since the days of Leo XIII many authors have tried, not to agree with St. Thomas, but to get him to agree with themselves. Consequences the most opposite have been drawn from his writings. Hence incredible confusion about what he really taught. Hence a race of students to whom his doctrine is a heap of contradictories. What ignoble treatment for a man in whom, as Leo XIII wrote, human reason reached unsurpassable heights! Thence arose the opinion that all points of doctrine not unanimously accepted by Catholic philosophers are doubtful. The final conclusion was that, in order to give St. Thomas uncontradicted praise, he was allowed to have as his own only what all Catholics agree on, that is, the definitions of faith and the nearest safeguards of that faith. Now this process, which reduces Thomistic doctrine to a spineless mass of banalities, of unanalyzed and unorganized postulates, results in a traditionalism without substance or life, in a practical fideism, a lack of interest in questions of faith. Hence the lack of vigilant reaction against the most improbable novelties.

If we once grant that the criterion of truth, which ought to be intrinsic evidence deriving from first principles, lies instead in external acceptance by a majority, then we condemn reason to atrophy, to dullness, to self-abdication. Man learns to get along without mental exertion. He lives on a plane of neutral persuasion, led by public rumor. Reason is looked upon as incapable of finding the truth. We might be inclined to trace this abdication to a laudable humility. But, judged by its fruits, it engenders philosophic skepticism, conscious or unconscious, in an atmosphere ruled by mystic sentimentalism and hollow faith.

Eclecticism, we may add, entertains doubts about the classic proofs of God's existence, hardly allowing any argument to stand as proposed by St. Thomas.

"If we must leave out of philosophy," the Cardinal continues, "all questions not admitted unanimously by Catholics, then we must omit the deepest and most important questions, we must leave out metaphysics itself, and with that we will have removed from St. Thomas the very marrow of his system, that wherein he outstrips common sense, that which his genius has discovered."

Further, we may add, with such a decapitated Thomism, we could no longer defend common sense itself. With Thomas Reid's Scotch School we would, after renouncing philosophy in favor of common sense, find ourselves unable to analyze that common sense, to anchor it in self-evident, necessary, and universal principles.

Does charity oblige us to sacrifice depth and exactness of thought to unity of spirit? No, replies the Cardinal; that which wounds charity is not truth nor the love of truth, but selfishness, individual and corporate. Genuine doctrinal harmony lies along the road to which the Church points when she says: Go to Thomas [Ite ad Thomam]. Loyalty to Thomas, far from curtailing intellectual freedom, widens and deepens that freedom, gives it an unfailing springboard, firm and elastic, to soar ever higher out of error into truth. "You shall know the truth; and the truth shall make you free." [1329].



1325 See Revue de l'Universite d'Ottawa, October-December, 1936.

1326 Congreg. Stud. Sacr.: July 24, 1914.

1327 See p. 6, note 2.

1328 May-June, 1917. Cf. Guido Mattiussi, S. J.: Le XXIV tesi della filosofia di S. Tommaso d 'Aquino approvata dalla S. Congr. degli studi, Rome, 1917; Hugon, OP.: Les vingtquatre theses Thomistes, Paris; Pegues, O. P.: Autour de saint Thomas, Paris, 1918, where each Thomistic thesis is set contrary to the corresponding counter-thesis.

1329 John 8:32.


Anonymous said...

It would be nice to just say, "Another fine mess you've gotten us into, Stanley!", and just move on, wiser and sadder. But that's not what's going to happen. We have two generations (+) now who have rock n' rolled into sentimentality and liberal protestantism (actually, both pretty much the same thing). So now throughout the culture and market place, from "free market" profiteering, to the ethics and jurisprudence of self-worship,(again, much the same things) Western Civ. is destroying itself. Without the clear, supple and powerful teachings that Catholicism and Thomism have traditionally provided, Catholics and the culture around us are descending into a non-merit plutocracy and corporate despotism.
I missed your article about Francisco de Vitoria earlier this month and having found it, am glad to see you are making your readers aware of him. I wish you could delve a bit more into how much he contributed to what is now know as "International Law" and the part his thought and writings played in helping Bartolome de las Casas and others bring an end to the worst aspects of the Spanish Conquest. What we need desperately now is another Fra de Vitoria, Bishop de las Casas, Pope Leo XIII, and Fr. Garrigou-LaGrange to challenge the latest despotism of self-gratification.
Thanks so much for your site and what you have contributed to my struggles as an old Marine convert in learning the basics of Thomism.

Don Paco said...

I still have to research more into de Vittoria to post more on him.

But this year I'm teaching an online course (Marylhurst University, in Portland, OR) on early modern philosophy, so I'll have a chance to look into him more. (Yes, I teach early modern Scholasticism within my "Early Modern Philosophy" course. Scholasticism is not "modern" in the sense of being modern-minded, but it is modern in that many very important modern philosophers were Scholastics.)