In his History of Western Philosophy, Bertrand Russell mentioned that Thomist scholasticism, although a medieval philosophy, has living influence today, in that it remains the Catholic Church’s official philosophy, and in every Catholic institution of learning, the system of St. Thomas Aquinas “has to be taught as the only right one.” (FTR, I attended Georgetown University, a Jesuit school – philosophy was not my major but I did take a couple of philosophy courses and Aquinas was never mentioned.) That was written in 1945. Is it still true today, after Vatican II and everything?
I guess Thomism was stressed more when Jacques Maritain was alive. He made it his life’s work to establish Thomism in the 20th century. I bought his book An Introduction to Philosophy and found it was basically just a commercial for Thomism.
I have been an ex-Catholic for far longer than I was Catholic, so I haven’t kept in touch. But when I took philosophy at a Jesuit university in 1978 we were fed Thomism, all right (even though St. Thomas was a Dominican, go figure). My guess is that the Summa’s position in RCC theology remains unchallenged, because I haven’t heard of it being replaced, but then what do I know?
There is no “official” Catholic philosophy that I have ever heard.
The closest that one would come would involve the concept of Transubstantiation.
Transubstantiation expresses the belief that there is an underlying reality (substance) to all things that may not be visible in the “accidents” (the aspects of everything that we perceive). In the Eucharist, the church holds that the substance of the bread and wine are transformed into the substance (real reality) of the body and blood of Jesus, even though the “accidents” of bread and wine remain, so that a chemical analysis of the Consecrated Species would test out completely as bread and wine. The idea of transubstantiation (or, at least, the word to describe it), actually arose about 150 years prior to the birth of Aquinas and before Albert the Great began introducing the works of Aristotle to Christian theology, (but not in ancient Egypt as Jack Chick likes to pretend), but it was given its fullest expression and defense under the Scholastics (the Christian theologians who “baptized” Aristotle’s thought, replacing the earlier concepts based in the tradition of Plato) and brought to its ultimate expression under Thomas and his successors.
That description of the “how” of the Divine Presence occurs remains the official explanation of what happens in the Eucharist and its ties to Scholastic and Thomistic thought provides a pretty strong anchor for a lot of theology in the church, but the church has never declared (that I am aware) that only Scholastic/Thomistic philosophy is compatible with church teachings. (Certainly, the Summa Theologica is not considered inerrant doctrine.)
I suppose, in one way, there is a heavy bias toward Scholasticism in theological discussions. If all the theological debates since 1350 have been framed in Scholastic terms, one cannot waltz into an ongoing discussion and try to throw Wittgenstein into the mix without going back and restating the entire discussion framed in new terms. That sort of effort would lead a lot of people to simply stick with the existing reference.
However, that still does not make Scholasticism “official.” It simply lumbers on through inertia.
Have they been? Even with Protestant theologians debating?
Up through the 1940s (perhaps into the early 1960s) in any Catholic vs Protestant debate, the Catholic views would have been couched in Scholastic terms. Since then, I am not sure how many inter-denominational debates there have actually been; with the move to ecumencial dialogue, there appears to be more effort to express one’s views and understand the others’ views. And the tradition on which the Catholics are going to rely are still going to be influenced by the Scholastic tradition for over 600 years. As noted, Maritain was a strict Thomist, as was Gilson. This is not to say that no one in the Catholic tradition has ever stepped outside Scholasticism, only that dialogues inside the church are going to be shaped by Scholastic language and dialogues that exchange views with those outside the church are going to have Scholastic language and views shaping the Catholic perspective.
(And we are only taliking about the philosophy that shapes the theology. Theology based on Scripture is more likely to follow a different path and Catholic philosophers (as distinct from theologians) are liable to have jumped off the Scholastic bandwagon as early as Descartes and Kant and those guys. (Even the theologians are going to have recognized the efforts of the non-Scholastic tradition; it is just that ongoing discussions will have been “translated” back into Scholastic frames of reference.)
What about when Protestants debate theology with Protestants? Is their discourse also framed by Scholasticism, or is it in entirely different terms?
At Trent, the RCC pretty much wrote all the opposition to Protestantism in the language of Thomas, casting that approach into doctrinal forms that shaped future discussions. The Reformers and Protestants and the later splits within those movements had no such framework imposed on their expositions, so they could (and did) wind up with all sorts of positions: some following older philosophical traditions; some following newer schools of thought; some rejecting “philosophy” for a different brand of theology grounded in specific views of scripture that followed no particular earlier or subsequent school of philosophy.
Luther, an Augustinian, was a Platonist who hated Aristotle, so his tradition would have hearkened back to Plato-Plotinus-Augustine-Anselm-Duns Scotus and not the tradition of Aristotle-Averroes-(Albert)-Thomas. Calvin and Zwingli set out principles based on their views of Scripture, irrespective of philosophical traditions. Without the strong Thomistic bent of Doctrine to follow, Protestants could follow Luther or strike out on their own in the manner of Kierkegarde. (Paul Tillich was a Lutheran whose Sytematic Theology followed in the methodology of Thomas so that, in college, a bunch of us Catholics and Lutherans joked about trading Tillich for Han Küng. Tillich’s ideas were not particularly “Catholic,” but his approach was Scholastic.)
I do not have sufficient experience with Protestant -against-Protestant debate to know how they shape their arguments, but suspect that each pairing of opponents would differ.
It’s worth noting that Canon law places particular emphasis on the teachings of St Thomas in the formation of clerics. Paragraph 252(3):
Would it be fair to say, then, that Scholasticism has absolutely no value or relevance to any non-Catholic?
Scholasticism, or Thomistic Scholasticism?
There are other kinds?
Sure. One of the biggest other scholastic philosophies was (as Tomndebb mentioned in his post), Scotism, based on the work of Duns Scotus. It’s also known as the “Francisican School”, because a lot of the people who developed the philosophy were Franciscans.
Scholasticism was really a philosophy of knowledge, and the schoolmen varied a lot in the conclusions they drew.
But do any of their conclusions have any value or interest to persons who are not thinking within the RC belief-system?
Well, Eugene Rogers, Jr wrote an entire book linking Thomas Aquinas and Karl Barth, so someone thinks so. (And Paul Tillich, whom I mentioned earlier, used many of the same approaches that Aquinas did.)
I would not say, however, that Aquinas was in the forefront of people to whom Protestants turn for theology.
Never mind theology, what about philosophy? Is Aquinas a person to whom non-Catholic philosophers or philosophy students might turn for important insights? Or would he be of purely historical interest to them?
Some of their methods have been revived in modern education. The whole idea of “discussion groups” is sort of a revival of the Scholastic method of “disputation”, whereby the teacher proposes a debatable question, and the students try to answer it, giving evidence to support their postions.
I found the Bertrand Russell quotation – it’s from A History of Western Philosophy, Chapter 13:
As mentioned in the OP, the above was written in 1945. Is it still true?
Of course at some point in history, the teaching of Duns Scotus fell into disfavor, and the very name used to apply to adherants of this school of thought became synonymous with idiocy. Thus the word dunce. It is my understanding that the same is true of Aquinas’ philosophy, at least in some Catholic circles, and the term “thomist” is taking on a similar connotation.
Can’t provide a cite for this, other than having spent four years in a Catholic university where Aquinas is practically regarded as Divinely Inspired (i.e., infallible).