Natural Law

Thomist Resurgence

William L. Portier

A Review Essay of Twentieth-Century Catholic Theologians: From Neoscholasticism to Nuptial Mysticism by Fergus Kerr. Malden, Massachusetts and Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2007. 230pp.

“The traditional Thomist cannot but be somewhat disconcerted by John Paul II’s references to Aquinas” (170). Thus Fergus Kerr on Fides et ratio’s claim that “The Church has no philosophy of her own nor does she canonize any one particular philosophy in preference to others” (FR, 49). Kerr notes that for the past century, Thomistic philosophy was “generally believed” to be the Church’s official philosophy. “It sounds strange,” he observes, “to hear that the principles and methods of some other philosophy have to be respected in the exposition of Catholic doctrine—which other philosophy? one hears the Thomist enquire” (170).

In 1998, more than thirty years after the Second Vatican Council, Fides et ratio formalized the displacement of Aquinas and certain forms of Thomism from the center of Catholic intellectual life they had occupied during that extraordinary period between 1907 and 1962. During those years, one school of thought, neo-scholasticism, came close to being identified with the faith. The encyclical reintegrates Aquinas into a broadly construed and even pluralistic history of Christian thought. The Dominican Angelic Doctor is now one member of a “great triad” (FR, 74) that includes the Benedictine monk St. Anselm and the Franciscan friar St. Bonaventure. John Paul II’s historical tableau also features Origen and more recent and once suspect figures such as John Henry Newman and his Italian counterpart Antonio Rosmini. It also includes the existential Thomist, Étienne Gilson, the phenomenologist Edith Stein, and four Orthodox thinkers (FR, 74). Fides et ratio is far from the position that just any philosophy will do. The philosophy derived from St. Thomas is well-suited, and perhaps uniquely well-suited, to the needed realist approach to revelation. But it is no longer the only, nor the most privileged, approach. Rather than endorsing substantive Thomistic philosophical theses, Fides et ratio raises up Aquinas as a model for Christian inquiry.


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