Friday, November 13, 2015

René Girard (1923-2015) - RIP

René Noël Théophile Girard (December 25, 1923 – November 4, 2015) was a French Catholic historian, literary critic, and philosopher of social science whose work belongs to the tradition of anthropological philosophy. He authored nearly thirty books, with his writings spanning many academic domains. Among his most basic ideas, which he developed throughout his career and provided the foundation for his thinking, was his view that desire is mimetic (i.e., imitative - all of our desires are 'borrowed' from other people), that all conflict originates in mimetic rivalry, that the scapegoat mechanism is the origin of sacrifice and the foundation of human culture, and one role of religion has been to control the violence that can come from mimetic rivalry, and that the Bible reveals these ideas and denounces the scapegoat mechanism.

Born in Avignon on December 25, 1923, he studied medieval history at the École des Chartes, Paris (1943-1947). In 1947 he went to Indiana University on a one-year fellowship and remained in the United States for the rest of his career. He earned his doctorate at the same institution in 1950, and accepted teaching positions at Duke University and Bryn Mawr College from 1953-1957, after which he taught at Johns Hopkins University, where he became full professor in 1961, and State University of New York at Buffalo. In 1981 he became Andrew B. Hammond Professor of French Language, Literature, and Civilization at Stanford University, where he remained the rest of his career. He was Honorary Chair of the Colloquium on Violence and Religion, whose cofounder and first president was the Roman Catholic theologian, Raymund Schwager. He was awarded his first honorary degree by the Free University of Amsterdam in 1985, and elected to the Académie française in 2005. He died on November 4, 2015 at his residence in Stanford, California, following a long illness.

Bishop Robert Barron, in "René Girard, Church Father" (Word on Fire, November 10, 2015), offers a concise assessment of the significance René Girard, which is worth reading and illuminating (apart from the fact that he unaccountably refers Girard as "Church Father").

See also Artur Rosman, "Lux Aeterna: RIP René Girard (December 25, 1923 – Nov 4, 2015)" (Patheos, November 4, 2015).

[Hat tip to Artur Rosman]

Monday, July 13, 2015

Southern Illinois University library to add Manfred S. Frings Papers to special collections

Beginning this September, Southern Illinois University - Carbondale will be unveiling its collection of the Manfred S. Frings Papers in its Special Collections Research Center of the Morris Library.

Manfred Frings was the editor of Max Scheler’s Collected Works (Gesammelte Werke), translated many of Scheler’s works into English, and is preeminently responsible for introducing Scheler’s phenomenology to the English-speaking world.

Frings initiated the annual International Heidegger Conference at DePaul University in 1966. He was one of six scholars chosen by Martin Heidegger to be the original editors of Heidegger’s Collected Works (Gesamtausgabe). He edited Heidegger’s 1942-1944 lectures on Parmenides and Heraclitus (volumes 54 and 55 of the Gesamtausgabe).

Since 1970, he served as editor of the Collected Works (Gesammelte Werke) of Max Scheler (1874-1928), a task completed with the publication of vol. 15 in 1997. He was President (then President Emeritus) of the international Max Scheler Society (Max-Scheler-Gesellschaft), as well as a founding father of the Max Scheler Society of North America (MSSNA).

For more information about Manfred Frings see:

For more information about the opening of the Manfred S. Frings Papers contact Christina Bleyer at or 618-453-1499. Christina M. Bleyer, PhD Research Specialist
Special Collections Research Center
Morris Library
Southern Illinois University Carbondale
605 Agriculture Drive
Carbondale, IL 62901-6632

Tuesday, July 07, 2015


The Revivification of Sound Christian Philosophy

By D.Q. McInerny  

D.Q. McInerny is a Professor of Philosophy at Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary in Denton, Nebraska. He holds B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. degrees in philosophy from the National University of Ireland, University College Cork. Among his latest published books are Natural Theology (2005), Epistemology (2007), An Introduction to Foundational Logic (2012), and The Philosophy of Nature (2014).

In 1879, the second year of his pontificate, Pope Leo XIII issued Aeterni Patris, an encyclical that launched what was to become a singularly important event in the modern history of the Catholic Church: the Thomistic renewal, also known as the Neo-Scholastic revival. A renewal, or revival, was very much in order, because at the time Pope Leo wrote his encyclical Thomistic philosophy was, by and large, in a rather sickly condition, and had been for a good many years. Though there had been periods in the past when Thomism had the status of a philosophy whose influence was both potent and pervasive, this was not the case in the latter decades of the nineteenth century. But that state of affairs was to change dramatically with the publication of Aeterni Patris. The encyclical had the salutary effect of restoring some sorely needed vitality to Thomism, and within the span of two decades the philosophy became the animating core of a movement whose repercussions were felt throughout the Church. Few encyclicals have elicited the kind of immediate, positive response from the faithful that Aeterni Patris did.

The Thomistic renewal spread like a prairie fire, igniting new and enthusiastic interest in the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas among a wide range of Catholic philosophers and theologians, while at the same time giving encouraging support to a small but dedicated number of individuals who were already laboring to restore a vigorous Thomism to the Church. Beginning in the late nineteenth century, and continuing through the first half of the twentieth century, Thomistic philosophy once again became a prominent and authoritative presence within the Church. The rise and rapid growth of a revivified Thomism would easily have given a thoughtful observer at the time good reason to believe that the Thomistic renewal was in every respect a sterling success. It is amazing, as we look back at it now, to see how quickly and surely everything seemed to come together, but our amazement becomes perfect astonishment when we reflect on how quickly everything fell apart. The collapse of the Thomistic renewal took place with eye-blinking suddenness in the immediate aftermath of the Second Vatican Council. How is this singular happening to be explained? Before attempting to provide an answer to that question, it is well to look more closely at the Thomistic renewal itself.

Even otherwise well-informed Catholics can be excused for being surprised by the assertion that Thomism was, in the late nineteenth century, in a rather sorry state, and that there was thus a real need for a renewal. Has not Thomistic philosophy been, since the death of St. Thomas in 1274, more or less steadily in place as a large, universally accepted, and widely influential fact of Catholic thought and life? No. As a matter of fact, the history of Thomism — considered in terms of its influence within the Church over time — has been, since the fourteenth century, pretty much an up-and-down affair. By the eighteenth century, Thomism had arguably reached its nadir, having been adversely affected by the phenomenon called Decadent Scholasticism, the name given by historians to the culmination of the steady deterioration of Scholastic philosophy, a process whose origins can be traced back to the fourteenth century and the ascendency of nominalism. Thomism — one should really write “Thomism” — had reached an embarrassingly unbecoming condition; it had lost its focus and was no longer properly centered on the thought of St. Thomas himself.

In the nineteenth century, however, a genuine Thomism began to make a comeback, and though Aeterni Patris was the key factor, the renewal had its harbingers. Earlier in the century, before the publication of the encyclical, important work done by men such as Sanseverino, Signorelli, Cornoldi, and Zigliara in Italy, and by Kleutgen in Germany — all learned and dedicated scholars — prepared the way for the renewal.

Let’s pause here to define the term Thomism. What, precisely, is Thomism? We could start by saying it is simply the name given to the thought of St. Thomas, as set forth in his many and impressive works, principally in his two great “summaries,” the Summa Contra Gentiles and the Summa Theologiae. The term has broader application, however, in that it also refers to the vast body of literature that has built up around the thought of St. Thomas over the course of centuries. The works of St. Thomas have inspired a richly variegated array of responses, in the form of explications, interpretations, embellishments, and proposed developments of the saint’s thought, written for the most part by philosophers and theologians who would identify themselves as Thomists, whose numbers have grown to such an extent as to constitute today a veritable army.

Earlier I referred to “genuine Thomism,” which was the only kind of Thomism Leo XIII was interested in and intent upon reviving. Genuine Thomism is the philosophy that is secundum mentem Sancti Thomae (“according to the mind of St. Thomas”) in the sense that, in every respect, it faithfully reflects the actual substance of Thomas’s thought, as well as the methodology he employed in developing that thought. A genuine Thomism is not merely reiteration; it incorporates creative extensions of the saint’s thought. A genuine Thomist, then, would be a philosopher who, among other virtues, has an operative awareness of the central importance of the argumentative spirit that animates the whole of Thomas’s thought. Seldom does the saint simply tell us that such and such is the case; invariably he tells us why it is the case. He argues, in other words, and the conclusions of his arguments are illuminating precisely because of the brilliance of the reasoning that undergirds them.

In Aeterni Patris, Pope Leo proposes St. Thomas as the appropriate guiding light for the successful re-establishment of a Christian philosophy, the one philosophy that would be capable of effectively confronting the various philosophies that had gained ascendency in modern times, systems of thought which, by distorting or denying so many fundamental truths, contributed substantially to the gradual de-Christianizing of European society. St. Thomas, for Pope Leo, is to be recognized as “the special bulwark and glory of the Catholic faith”; among philosophers he is “the chief and master of all.” The Pope points to his numerous predecessors who have taken pains to single out Thomas for special praise, and who have cited his thought as a standard to be followed by all. Recognizing it to be still quite timely, Leo gives his endorsement to a decree promulgated by Bl. Pope Urban V (1362-1370), in which that pontiff wrote, “It is our will, which we hereby enjoin upon you, that you follow the teaching of Blessed Thomas as the true and Catholic doctrine, and that you labor with all your force to profit by the same.” Pope Leo notes that a number of ecumenical councils have held Thomas “in singular honor,” and he calls attention to the striking fact that “the Fathers of Trent made it part of the order of the conclave to lay upon the altar, together with the code of Sacred Scripture and the decrees of the Supreme Pontiffs, the Summa of Thomas Aquinas, whence to seek counsel, reason and inspiration.”

Leo XIII assigns a special importance to philosophy as it relates to faith in general, and specifically as it relates to theology. He sees philosophy as representing a foundational role with respect to theology, and he argues that “a perpetual and varied service is further required of philosophy, in order that sacred theology may receive and assume the nature, form, and genius of a science.” If sacred theology is to live up to its critically important tasks within the Church — indeed, if it is to qualify as an authentic science — it must be supported and informed by a sound philosophy. What Leo is telling us, quite plainly, is that it is not possible to have a sound theology without a sound philosophy.

The English title of Aeterni Patris is “The Restoration of Christian Philosophy.” A genuinely Christian philosophy would of course be just that philosophy which would support and inform a sound theology, and the thought of St. Thomas, Pope Leo makes clear, should serve as its centerpiece or core. But it is well to note that, for all the emphasis he gives to St. Thomas, the Pope is not advocating a narrow or exclusive Thomism. He makes no simple equation between Christian philosophy and Thomistic philosophy. If Thomism can be said to function as the core of a Christian philosophy, that core should be thought of as packaged within a larger and more comprehensive philosophical system — Scholasticism — by which it is nourished, and divorced from which its very intelligibility becomes problematic. By the time St. Thomas arrived on the scene in the thirteenth century, a rich philosophical tradition was already in place, and Leo XIII clearly wanted to see the effective reconstitution of everything that was best in Scholasticism, especially because of its foundational realist orientation. But the pontiff’s vision included yet more; it was, so to speak, philosophically all-embracing. He was calling for a Christian philosophy that would be reflective of, and integral to, what he refers to as the perennial philosophy. What might that be? The perennial philosophy can be generally described as the most comprehensive of sound philosophies, the sound philosophy that takes into account, preserves, and transmits every intellectually sound proposition that has ever been formulated by any particular thinker or any particular philosophical system. Put another way, the perennial philosophy is simply the sum total, the treasury, of those foundational and timeless truths at which man has arrived, in the East and the West, over the entire course of human history. In his regard for the perennial philosophy, Leo reflects an attitude toward truth typical of Thomas himself. Friar Thomas, guided by the conviction that all truth has its ultimate source in God, believed therefore that the truth should be gratefully garnered wherever it might be found.

Apropos his advocacy of a philosophy that must be unqualifiedly inclusive with respect to the truth, Pope Leo, after acknowledging advances the pagan philosophers had made toward an understanding of the one, true God (Plato and Aristotle readily come to mind), then cites an array of Christian philosophers who have contributed substantially to the perennial philosophy, beginning with St. Justin Martyr, the first Christian philosopher. Among others, he mentions St. Gregory of Nazianzus, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Augustine, St. John Damascene, Boethius, St. Anselm, and St. Bonaventure.

Pope Leo did not content himself with simply writing an encyclical for the purpose of generating a movement that would restore a Christian philosophy with Thomism as its animating nucleus. Leo XIII was a devoted Thomist long before he became pope. Twenty years prior to his election to the papacy, Joachim Pecci, as bishop of Perugia, had founded in that city the Academy of St. Thomas. After his election to the pontificate, he quickly took steps to ensure that the serious study of the works of St. Thomas would be carried out in Rome. Further, he founded the Higher Institute of Philosophy at Louvain University in Belgium in 1891, which historian Joseph Perrier described as “the glory of neo-Thomism.” The Pope hand-picked Désiré Mercier, a young Belgian priest-philosopher, to be the first head of the institute. Fr. Mercier, later cardinal primate of Belgium, was to become a major figure in the Thomistic renewal, and the institute at Louvain served as something like the flagship institution for the movement. Over the years, it turned out a great number of Thomist philosophers of the first rank, a large percentage of whom were clerics. Among the many American priests trained at Louvain was a young man from the Diocese of Peoria by the name of Fulton J. Sheen, who earned his Ph.D. summa cum laude. A particularly fruitful act taken by Leo XIII, for the express purpose of ensuring the ongoing and seriously productive study of Thomistic thought, was the inauguration of what has come to be known as the Leonine Edition of the complete works of St. Thomas Aquinas. The goal of this monumental scholarly project, which continues to this day, is to provide for posterity a uniform set of all of the writings of the Angelic Doctor, as definitive as it is humanly possible to make it, based on meticulous examination of all available manuscripts. Fittingly enough, the Dominicans were given charge of the project.

Perrier published a well-balanced and informative volume entitled The Renewal of Scholastic Philosophy in the Nineteenth Century (1908) that provides a thoroughgoing account of the early stages of the Thomistic renewal, covering the two decades following the publication of Aeterni Patris. “The influence of the pope’s encyclical was simply immense,” Perrier writes. “The revival of Thomism, which had been limited to some isolated efforts, was then taken seriously by most of the Catholic thinkers.” Perrier offers an abundance of pertinent details regarding the beginning stages of the Thomistic renewal as they took shape in various countries throughout the world, and he introduces us to the principal figures of the movement in each locale.

The movement continued to grow and become increasingly influential over the course of the first half of the twentieth century, with Louvain as the major international center for Thomistic studies. Several other universities, in Europe and North America, also had distinguished programs in Thomistic philosophy, at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Special mention might be made of Laval University in Quebec, which had an excellent philosophy department, staffed by men like Fr. Maurice Dionne, Fr. Jasmin Boulay, and Prof. Charles De Koninck, dean of the faculty of philosophy. De Koninck, one of the luminaries of the Thomistic renewal, was an extraordinary individual in many ways. He held two doctoral degrees, one in philosophy (from Louvain), the other in theology, was the father of twelve children, and was a peritus at the Second Vatican Council, assisting Maurice Cardinal Roy of Montreal. Though Laval’s influence was limited for the most part to North America, for years it enjoyed a status and influence in many ways comparable to Louvain’s.

By the mid-twentieth century, Thomism could be said to be the defining philosophy — the “official” philosophy, if you will — of well-nigh all the major Catholic seminaries and Catholic colleges and universities in the U.S. While the quality of the Thomism being taught varied, sometimes widely, from institution to institution, every institution, even the smaller ones with limited resources and sparse philosophical talent, could be said to be making earnest efforts to respond productively to Aeterni Patris. On an autobiographical note, the college in this country where I did my undergraduate work — an all-male institution named after St. Thomas Aquinas with some two thousand students — had a philosophy department that was unambiguously Thomistic in orientation and commitment, a goodly portion of whose members had received their doctorates from Laval. Students who majored in philosophy there received a good grounding in Thomistic thought and were well prepared for graduates studies, should they choose to pursue them. But all students at the college, whatever their major field, got a significant taste of Thomism, for they were required to take at least four courses in philosophy: logic, philosophical psychology, metaphysics, and ethics. By comparison, students at most of the country’s twenty-eight Jesuit institutions, no matter what their major field, had as part of their academic credentials what was effectively a minor in philosophy.

The Jesuits, it should be recognized, played a major role in the Thomistic renewal, and some of the best Thomists of the twentieth century were members of the Society of Jesus. This is to take nothing away from the Dominicans, who, needless to say, also made large contributions to the cause. In addition, there were a number of individuals from various other orders and congregations who figured prominently in the movement, such as Fr. Joseph Owens, a Redemptorist, Fr. Henry Koren of the Congregation of the Holy Ghost, and Br. Benignus of the Brothers of the Christian Schools. Lay philosophers, however, arguably made the greatest contribution to the Thomistic renewal, perhaps in good part simply on account of their numbers. Well-schooled and dedicated scholars, many of them were also outstanding teachers. And there were also many accomplished writers among them, to whom we credit many books of lasting quality; they published articles in reputable journals like The Thomist, The New Scholasticism, and The Modern Schoolman. A plethora of good to very good textbooks in Scholastic philosophy were readily available when the renewal was at its height, and many were published by major houses such as Macmillan, Prentice-Hall, and Harper & Brothers. This was also the heyday of Catholic publishing, led by houses like Herder in St. Louis and The Bruce Publishing Company in Milwaukee, both of which had impressive lists. Among the happier “problems” for philosophy teachers in those days was settling on a textbook for a particular course, say in ethics or metaphysics, when there were a half dozen, if not more, inviting titles from which to choose. Authors like Msgr. Paul J. Glenn and Fr. Celestine Bittle, O.F.M. Cap., produced entire series of textbooks in Scholastic philosophy. In all, it was an exciting time. Thomism seemed to be vibrantly alive, and the future looked quite bright.

And then the Thomistic renewal collapsed. To speak of a collapse is not to indulge in hyperbole, for the term is just the one needed to convey the sense of what actually happened — the astonishing suddenness with which Thomism ceased to be the governing and guiding philosophy in Catholic higher education. It was as if, overnight, the bottom had dropped out. So, we return to the question posed earlier: How to explain this extraordinary event of recent Church history? I offer the following: First, the collapse was a particular expression of a larger phenomenon of which it was but a part; second, it was the result of a pervasive mania for change; third, it was the targeted victim of a resurgent modernism. While I would not claim that these items provide a complete explanation for the event, they do go some distance, I believe, toward providing at least an adequate one, to which we will attend in Part II.

Ed. Note: The second and final installment of this two-part series will appear in our June issue [HERE].

The foregoing article, "The Revivification of Sound Christian Philosophy" was originally published in the New Oxford Review (May 2015), and is reproduced here by kind permission of New Oxford Review, 1069 Kains Ave., Berkeley, CA 94706. 


A Revival Cut Short

By D.Q. McInerny  

D.Q. McInerny is a professor of philosophy at Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary in Denton, Nebraska. He holds B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. degrees in philosophy from the National University of Ireland, University College Cork. Among his latest published books are Natural Theology (2005), Epistemology (2007), An Introduction to Foundational Logic (2012), and The Philosophy of Nature (2014).

Ed. Note: The first installment of this two-part series appeared in our May issue [HERE].

We return to the question posed in Part I: How to explain the extraordinary collapse of the Thomistic renewal? I submit the following: First, the collapse was a particular expression of a larger phenomenon of which it was but a part; second, it was the result of a pervasive mania for change; third, it was the targeted victim of a resurgent modernism. While these items do not provide a complete explanation, they do go some distance toward providing at least an adequate one.

The profound disruption suffered by the Thomistic renewal was a particular instance, a specific manifestation, of the widespread consequences of the disruptive forces at play within the Church at large in the period immediately following the Second Vatican Council — a period of prolonged disorientation and disorder, which at certain times and regarding certain matters, was quite severe. We might think of the situation in metaphorical terms, as if the Church experienced a massive spiritual and cultural earthquake. The edifice that was the Thomistic renewal was unable to withstand the violent tremors, and its walls came tumbling down.

The Thomistic renewal was not alone in this regard; there were other edifices that suffered damage extensive enough to warrant the word collapse: the ancient Latin liturgy, catechesis, religious orders, and, to one degree or another, Catholic education at every level. As to the broader picture, the Church before and after Vatican II is a study in dramatic contrasts. It is as if we were viewing two entirely different Churches. For someone for whom the “after” picture does not represent an improvement over the “before” picture, the question naturally arises: How is it possible that an institution that on one day appeared to be in a robust state of health was, on the very next day, in need of immediate therapeutic attention? A possible answer to this question, and one that is perhaps more obvious than we are prepared to admit, is that appearances can be deceptive. What looked like robust health was only seemingly so. Now, might it be that a comparable response could be made with regard to the state of the Thomistic renewal before its collapse? As it happens, a response of precisely that sort has been made, a point to which we will return presently.

In the wake of Vatican II, a veritable mania for change roared through the Church, and many Catholics were swept off their feet and lost a balanced perspective. It was as if change had become the supreme imperative for the Church, as if her principal mission in the world were to change, simply change, otherwise she would somehow not be acting according to a correct reading of “the signs of the times.” What was especially peculiar about this near obsessive concern with change is that it was, in many cases, indiscriminate to the point of mindlessness. It became a matter of change for the sake of change, as if virtue lay in pure process, never mind where the process might be leading us. Although there was little reasoned specificity as to what would be put in place by change, there was remarkable clarity of vision as to what had to be replaced by it: just about anything that had to do with the pre-Vatican II Church.

The “improper appeal to authority” fallacy was a prominent feature of this mania for change. The standard example of this fallacy is when we cling tenaciously to something only because it is customary, firmly set in place by habit, and on that account alone has commanding “authority,” regardless of its intrinsic value. But we likewise succumb to this fallacy when we reject something simply because it has a history behind it, taking the attitude that, if it is old it has to be discarded, regardless of its intrinsic value. When a people get caught up in a frenzy of indiscriminate change, tradition necessarily suffers; and when tradition suffers, the present becomes drained of a vivifying consciousness. A today cut off from yesterday is one whose sun still shines, but upon lands whose population is made up mainly of “hollow men.”

Philosophers, as a type, are usually not apt to be swept off their feet by a mania for change. But in this case, not a few Catholic philosophers, who would have identified as Thomists, showed that they too were not immune to the influence of this phenomenon. For many of them, the infection took the form of something like a philosophical identity crisis, a serious bout of professional embarrassment over the fact that they were Thomists, as if by being such they were awkwardly out of step with the rest of the philosophical world. They saw themselves as dully distant from the cutting edge. Was not Thomism, after all, a medieval philosophy, and therefore passé, obsolete, dissonantly out of tune with the main melodic line of modern thought? Distracted by such second thoughts about their intellectual commitments, not a few of them decided, for the sake of bringing themselves up to date with the brave new world of the 1960s, that they had better put Thomism on the shelf and turn their attention to what were supposedly more vital movements. Some drifted into analytical philosophy, which was then ruling the academic roost in English-speaking countries; others decided to take up one or another of the several versions of phenomenology; still others became engaged in attempts to forge a marriage between Thomism and a second philosophical system of one kind or another. Apropos this last option, Archbishop Hélder Câmara of Brazil, in an address at the University of Chicago in 1974 marking the seven-hundredth anniversary of the death of St. Thomas, effectively called for a combining of Thomism and Marxism! Just how many philosophers sitting in that distinguished audience had pass through their minds the thought that oil and water do not mix is impossible to say.

Another explanation for the collapse of the Thomistic renewal has to do with the resurgence of modernism within the Church, which occurred in the middle decades of the twentieth century. Pope St. Pius X famously described modernism as “the synthesis of all heresies”; he gave it a detailed exposition in his encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis (1907), and an embellished treatment three years later in his motu proprio, Sacrorum Antistitum. These documents had the beneficial effect of alerting Catholics to the fact that modernism was a clear and present danger to the Church, but although the documents put a damper on the movement, they did not succeed in suppressing it. Modernists’ response was to take the practical expedient of going underground, and for four decades they functioned as something like a fifth column within the Church. Their modus operandi was to work behind the scenes.

That Rome recognized the movement as a continuing, operative presence within the Church well after the publication of Pascendi is attested to by Pope Pius XII’s promulgation of Humani Generis (1950), an encyclical in which he echoes the various warnings against the movement that had been sounded by his saintly predecessor in the first decade of the century. Reading Humani Generis today is a sobering experience; it makes one aware that just about all the problems that plagued the Church in 1950 are still with us, and are still to be contended with, sixty-five years later.

Modernism, as is true of most “isms,” is a complex phenomenon with any number of facets, as Pascendi makes clear, but the particular feature of the movement that has direct application to our discussion is the fact, pointed out and given special emphasis by both Pius X and Pius XII, that modernists have shown themselves to have a deep-seated and abiding antipathy toward Scholasticism in general and Thomism in particular. When modernists emerged from their underground bunkers right after the adjournment of Vatican II, as vigorous and feisty as ever, they reasserted their two-pronged philosophic prejudice in a bold and open way. Their uninhibited expression of antipathy toward Scholasticism/Thomism was an important factor in the collapse of the Thomistic renewal. Of this and the previous two explanations given for the collapse, we can say that, from an historical point of view, they all played a part, each in a peculiar way, in bringing it about.

Returning to a point brought up earlier: Conjecture has it that an additional (and possibly the best) explanation for the collapse of the Thomistic renewal is that it was due not so much to external factors as to internal ones. The basic idea is that the renewal was not what it seemed to be, with regard to its perceived vitality and strength, that it was beset by any number of in-house problems, and these eventually caught up with it and account for its eventual dissolution. In other words, the peculiar circumstances that prevailed in the Church after Vatican II brought about an event that would have happened even had there not been a Council.

In 1966, one year after the close of Vatican II, Doubleday published Thomism in an Age of Renewal by the Thomist philosopher Ralph McInerny, in which he assumes an attitude toward the Thomistic renewal that, in part at least, reflects this latter explanation for its demise. What his book reveals, given that it is a response to what was already a clearly detectable spirit of anti-Thomism, is how quickly that spirit had made itself known and was demanding attention.

McInerny, who earned his licentiate and doctoral degrees at Laval University in Quebec under the direction of Charles De Koninck, was a professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, the philosophy department of which was, at the time, thoroughly Thomistic. The principal task McInerny set out for himself in his book was to lay out the particulars of what could qualify as a genuinely Christian philosophy — a task he accomplished with his typical clarity, cogency, and stylistic verve. Following closely the thought of Pope Leo XIII as articulated in Aeterni Patris (1879; the encyclical that launched the Thomistic renewal), McInerny argues that a genuine Christian philosophy would be one based on the thought and methods of St. Thomas Aquinas. But he takes the position that the restoration called for by Pope Leo was less than successful because the Thomism that had gained ascendancy in the Church after the publication of the encyclical was not the real thing. Therefore, he did not regard the negative criticisms leveled against the kind of Thomism produced by the renewal to be entirely unjustified.

McInerny quotes a pointed statement made by the eminent Dominican philosopher and biographer of St. Thomas, Fr. James Weisheipl, in his book Thomism as a Perennial Philosophy (1956): “It is a social historical fact that the hope of Leo XIII has never been universally realized in Catholic colleges, universities and seminaries. Not even the ardent efforts of St. Pius X, Benedict XV, Pius XI, or Pius XII were able to effect anything more than a closed, safe, and sterile Thomism, imposed by legislative authority. Legislation did not stimulate a return to the true thought and spirit of St. Thomas relevant to our day.” A bit further on, Fr. Weisheipl writes, “Until the program of Leo XIII is seriously attempted in a thorough and spontaneous manner, there will always be zealous priests and laymen who react to what they only half understand. Reactions against Thomism in the past half-century have been, in fact, to a pseudo-Thomism, a half-understood Thomism.”

Though he does not endorse this rather harsh assessment without qualification, McInerny, in the main, agrees with it. Referring to the brand of philosophy he saw as the all-too-typical outcome of the renewal, which he describes as a “rigid, catechetical Thomism” and a “sterile Thomism,” he remarks, “It is not meaningless to say, therefore, that a rejection of such Thomism has little or nothing to do with the teaching of Thomas Aquinas.” Given his view that the restoration of a genuine Christian philosophy had not taken place, due to the quality of the Thomism sustaining it, McInerny ends his book by calling for a renewal based on and animated by an authentic Thomism, a philosophy that faithfully reflects the mind and the manner of the Universal Doctor.

Perhaps at the time, such a proposal seemed a real possibility rather than mere wishful thinking, but subsequent events proved otherwise. In retrospect, we can see that Thomism in an Age of Renewal was a response to what were only the first relatively mild rumblings that would develop into a major quake, in the wake of which Thomism, whatever might be said of its quality, no longer held a governing role in Catholic higher education.

Three pertinent questions remain: (1) How thorough was the devastation wrought by the anti-Thomistic upheaval? (2) Was the Thomistic renewal as complete a flop as Fr. Weisheipl would have us believe? (3) What is the status of Thomism today?

Without question, the anti-Thomistic movement that followed hard upon the Second Vatican Council had generally calamitous consequences. In virtually all U.S. Catholic colleges, universities, and seminaries, Thomism ceased to be a significant presence. Philosophy departments, once plainly identifiable as Thomistic, became indeterminate and amorphous, lacking integrating ideological centers; a smorgasbord approach to the discipline of philosophy was commonly adverted to. Although Thomism was widely abandoned at the institutional level, there nonetheless remained, within just about every Catholic institution, at least for a time, individual philosophers who retained their loyalty to Thomism and who continued to fight the good fight on its behalf. And that circumstance isn’t entirely a thing of the past. Today one can find Thomists of the first rank at certain institutions, such as at the University of Notre Dame, for example, the faculty of which includes David Solomon, Alfred Fredosso, and Alasdair MacIntyre. And while most colleges and universities have abandoned an institutional commitment to Thomism, a few have managed to keep their philosophic wits about them. One can point to the School of Philosophy at the Catholic University of America, which maintained a steady, sane course through troubled times under the able leadership of its dean, Prof. Jude Dougherty. Two Texas schools also come to mind: the University of St. Thomas in Houston and the University of Dallas. Mention should also be made of the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C., under the aegis of the Province of St. Joseph.

It would be careless to reject out of hand the general assessment of the Thomistic renewal as found in books like Thomism in an Age of Renewal. One may concede the point that the movement was not the sparkling success it appeared, on the surface, to be. However, it is possible to denigrate the movement to the point where one does not sufficiently credit its distinctly positive aspects. It was, after all, a complex and highly variegated phenomenon, with a lifespan of better than eight decades. Bearing this in mind, it would not do to contend that it was an unrelieved failure, or to argue that it represented a uniform betrayal of the thought of St. Thomas.

While granting that the movement was not in every respect what it could and should have been, and that it did not evolve into the transforming force for philosophic good within the Church that Pope Leo had envisioned, we should nonetheless recognize, with wonder, that something extraordinary happened in the Church between the publication of Aeterni Patris and the close of Vatican II. The Church today is better for its having happened, and worse for its having suffered cessation.

While some Catholics (those, doubtless, infected by modernism) might have regarded the effort to restore a vibrant Thomism as unfortunate, the eminent American philosopher Josiah Royce thought otherwise, and even expressed fears that the effort might not succeed. On the occasion of the death of Pope Leo XIII in 1903, he wrote, “Many students of philosophy, of theology, and even of the natural sciences — students, I mean, who have no direct concern with any of the internal affairs of Leo’s own religious body — are still forced, although outsiders, to recognize how important, for the general intellectual progress of our time, the future outcome of the whole Neo-Scholastic movement in the Catholic Church may prove.” He goes on to remark, “But what an admirable opportunity for a genuine spiritual growth will be lost if Leo’s revival of Catholic philosophy has even its first fruits cut off, and is not permitted to bear the still richer fruit that, in case it is unhindered, it will some day surely bring forth.”

Alas, “Leo’s revival of Catholic philosophy” did not go unhindered, and the production of the still richer fruit that the “outsider” Royce had hoped for from the movement did not materialize. Royce showed uncanny perspicacity in seeing the Thomistic renewal, still in its incipient stages when he wrote, as an important contribution to “the general intellectual progress of our time,” and as providing “an admirable opportunity for a genuine spiritual growth.” He saw Scholasticism for what it essentially is: a philosophy totally dedicated to truth and consistently concentrated on “the deepest deep down things.”

The Thomistic philosophy being taught in some institutions in the first half of the twentieth century might have been less than completely desirable, but the fact is that a number of U.S. Catholic colleges and universities had philosophy faculties whose quality was pronouncedly superior, and the students in those institutions were very well served in their philosophical education. Even in those institutions (very likely the major portion of the total) in which the overall quality of the Thomism being taught was wanting, all those students who took the required philosophy courses, typically at least four, need not be classified as victims; they were not on the receiving end of an experience entirely devoid of positive effects for their intellectual and moral development. An imperfect exposure to a sound philosophy is better than a full exposure to an unsound one.

Among the teachers of those students, the philosophers themselves, of whatever Thomistic stripe, there were surely some who, for a variety of reasons, were not what they should have been, as philosophers or as teachers; but just as surely there were philosophers and teachers who were not meanly possessed of talent, whose dedication was not in the least bit flaccid.

And let us not forget those truly exceptional philosophers, men of gigantic intellectual stature, who were part and parcel of the movement. It is impossible to imagine that, had there never been a Thomistic renewal, we would now have available to us the priceless works of such luminaries as Jacques Maritain, Étienne Gilson, Charles De Koninck, Cornelio Fabro, and Josef Pieper.

What is the status of Thomism today? We can begin by noting the obvious, that Thomistic philosophy, whatever the particulars of its form, is not a large and pervasively influential fact of Catholic intellectual life as it was, say, in 1955. The tempest has taken its toll; the landscape has been rudely roughed up, but — here is the heartening news — what we gaze out upon now is not a picture of complete and irremediable desolation. Something is astir; there are hopeful signs of new growth. I subtitled this article series “The Rise & Fall of the Thomistic Renewal,” but perhaps it would have been more apt, in light of what I am about to note, to have called it “The Ascent & Descent of the Thomistic Renewal.” The term fall has too final a ring to it, suggesting a state that is not only unhappy but permanent, and therefore beyond repair. Descent, on the other hand, has more generously open-ended connotations and does not preclude the possibility of subsequent ascent — a rising again, a regaining of lost altitude, and perhaps even the attainment of yet higher altitudes than those hitherto gained. That imagery better describes what I take to be the current state of affairs. It may be overly optimistic to think that we are on the verge of witnessing a brilliant resurrection of the renewal that was so rudely interrupted a half century ago, but there is reason for being cautiously optimistic about the possibility of such an eventuality. Why? Because Thomism is in fact beginning to show signs of recovery, and it may indeed be moving toward re-establishing itself as a significant presence in the life of the Church.

If Thomism is ever to be re-established as a vibrant philosophical force within the Church, what will be required are the dedicated labors of philosophers themselves — philosophers who have a principled and whole-hearted commitment to the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas. There are promising indications that this requirement is beginning to be met. There is today a growing number of philosophers, definitely Thomistic in direction, most of them quite young, who hold influential faculty positions in premier academic institutions on both sides of the Atlantic. A new wave of Thomists has washed upon our desiccated shores, and they are showing themselves to be formidable scholars, as attested to by the number of weighty publications they have turned out in recent years. A brief sample includes: Holy Teaching: Introducing the Summa Theologiae of St. Thomas Aquinas (2005) by Frederick Bauerschmidt, Understanding Our Being (2008) by John W. Carlson, God and the Natural Law: A Rereading of Thomas Aquinas (2006) by Fulvio Di Blasi, Trinity in Aquinas (2003) and Trinity, Church, and the Human Person: Thomistic Essays (2007) by Gilles Emery, O.P., The Logic of Desire: Aquinas on Emotion (2011) by Nicholas E. Lombardo, O.P., Discovering Aquinas (2002) by Aidan Nichols, O.P., The Ethics of Aquinas (2002; Stephen J. Pope, ed.), Nature as Reason: A Thomistic Theory of the Natural Law (2005) by Jean Porter, The Perspective of the Acting Person: Essays in the Renewal of Thomistic Moral Philosophy (2008) by Martin Rhonheimer, By Knowledge and By Love: Charity and Knowledge in the Moral Theology of St. Thomas Aquinas (2011) by Michael S. Sherwin, O.P.

As an instance of the proverbial truth that good can be born of evil, not long after most Catholic institutions of higher learning turned their backs on Thomism, a number of entirely new colleges sprung up across the land. To be sure, these new colleges were established principally in reaction to the fact that so many of the long-established institutions had embarked upon vigorous projects that involved a wholesale watering down, not to say effective obliteration, of their Catholic identity. However, the establishment of these new institutions was also a response to what had happened to Thomism, and their founders were motivated by the desire to restore it to its proper place in Catholic higher education. And this is precisely what is taking place right now at schools like Christendom College in Virginia, Thomas Aquinas College in California, Thomas More College in New Hampshire, and Wyoming Catholic College, where young men and women are receiving an education which is structured according to those principles that serve as the pillars of our Catholic philosophical heritage. The graduates of these institutions will not be ignorant of the Thomistic tradition, and it would not be unreasonable to expect that some of them will be numbered among the Thomistic philosophers of the future.

Another reason to think that we are witnessing what appears to be a resurgence of Thomism relates to a recent reminder the Church has given us of the special esteem in which she has consistently held the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas. In 2011 the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education released its “Decree on the Reform of Ecclesiastical Studies of Philosophy.” After noting that the Church “has always cared deeply about philosophy,” the decree echoes what Pope Leo XIII pointed out in Aeterni Patris, that “philosophy is indispensable for theological formation.” The decree acknowledges the “crisis of postconciliar theology,” which it rightly identifies as “in large part, the crisis of philosophical foundations.” Unsound theology follows upon unsound philosophy. And the remedy for an unsound philosophy is the eminently sound philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, a philosophy that is “important both for the acquisition of intellectual ‘habitus’ and for the mature assimilation of the philosophical heritage.” St. Thomas, the decree asserts, is to be recognized as the “apostle of truth,” and though the Church’s preference for his method is not exclusive, his method is to be regarded as exemplary — that is, it should serve as a guiding model. The philosophy that is to be taught to young men studying for the priesthood, the decree mandates, “must be rooted in the ‘philosophical patrimony which is perennially valid,’ which has been developed throughout history, with special attention being given to the work of Saint Thomas Aquinas.”

This recent Vatican decree, emphasizing the unique place the thought of St. Thomas is to have in philosophical studies, is but the latest in a long list of such documents, dating back to the fourteenth century. “Rome has spoken” on this particular subject, again and again, and with the utmost clarity. We would be seriously remiss if we were to assume a cavalier attitude toward what the Church’s highest authorities have so often reiterated. Pope Leo XIII, having a particularly keen sense of the array of negative ramifications of modern philosophy, knew that, for the sake of the Church and the world, modern philosophy had to be opposed, and he saw, in a Scholastic philosophy centered on the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas, the one philosophy that could effectively stand up to it. Only a decisively Christian philosophy can counter an essentially godless philosophy. Unfortunately, his grand plan for the restoration of such a philosophy, though impressively launched, was not to see its proper culmination.

It is imperative that what Pope Leo began be begun anew — for the simple reason that there is a pressing need for the restoration of Christian philosophy. That need was admittedly great in the late nineteenth century; it is appreciably greater in the early twenty-first century. The steady failing of the light, since Pope Leo’s day, has reached the point where it is positively alarming. We must take up again this critically important task, with renewed earnestness of purpose. If it was gotten wrong the first time, or at least only imperfectly right, this time around it must be gotten unqualifiedly right. That we can do with confidence if we heed the very precise advice given us by Pope Leo in Aeterni Patris: Ite ad Thomam, “Go to Thomas!” In the philosophy of the Common Doctor we have the kind of luminous guidance that will not fail us.

The foregoing article, "A Revival Cut Short" was originally published in the New Oxford Review (May 2015), and is reproduced here by kind permission of New Oxford Review, 1069 Kains Ave., Berkeley, CA 94706. 

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Cornelio Fabro (1911-1995)

Cornelio Fabro: Philosopher of Esse and of Freedom

Cornelio Fabro (1911 – 1995) is among the most important philosophers of the 20th century because of his studies of the metaphysics of St. Thomas Aquinas and for his vast knowledge of modern philosophy and classical Christian realism from the perspective of Kierkegaard's metaphysical existentialism.

The goal of the Cornelio Fabro Cultural Project is to place the entire intellectual production of this Italian philosopher at the disposition of all, in both printed and digital form, including audio, video, and texts. The Complete Works will be translated into English and Spanish, and the most important volumes into other languages as well.

"The birth of freedom has been the only and essential task, the intensive point of my
journey which is still in motion, because the life of the spirit does not allow breaks... Truth,
therefore, in freedom, and freedom for the truth." C.F.
[Hat tip to Prof. Mark Latkovic]

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Noam Chomsky and John Searle on deconstructionists: Empty "Posturing"

"Noam Chomsky Slams Žižek and Lacan: Empty ‘Posturing’" (Open Culture, June 28, 2013):

Noam Chomsky’s well-known political views have tended to overshadow his groundbreaking work as a linguist and analytic philosopher. As a result, people sometimes assume that because Chomsky is a leftist, he would find common intellectual ground with the postmodernist philosophers of the European Left.

Big mistake.

[Hat tip to C.B.]

The postmodern "terrorism of obscurantism"

"Reality Principles: An Interview with John R. Searle" (

"With Derrida, you can hardly misread him, because he's so obscure. Every time you say, "He says so and so," he always says, "You misunderstood me." But if you try to figure out the correct interpretation, then that's not so easy. I once said this to Michel Foucault, who was more hostile to Derrida even than I am, and Foucault said that Derrida practiced the method of obscurantisme terroriste (terrorism of obscurantism). We were speaking French. And I said, "What the hell do you mean by that?" And he said, "He writes so obscurely you can't tell what he's saying, that's the obscurantism part, and then when you criticize him, he can always say, 'You didn't understand me; you're an idiot.' That's the terrorism part."

Friday, February 06, 2015

Call for papers: "The Great Phenomenological Schism: Reactions to Husserl's Transcendental Idealism"

The North American Society for Early Phenomenology
The Great Phenomenological Schism: Reactions to Husserl’s Transcendental Idealism

Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), Mexico City
June 3-6th, 2015

Keynote speakers:
Hanne Jacobs (Loyola University, Chicago)
Burt Hopkins (Seattle University)

Workshops with:
Sebastian Luft (Marquette University)
Antonio Zirión (UNAM)

The second schism in phenomenology, Husserl’s confrontation with Heidegger and the emergence of existential phenomenology, is well known among philosophers. However, the first schism, what we call here the Great Phenomenological schism, is far less understood. Between 1905 and 1913, Husserl’s phenomenology underwent an important transformation, as we see in documents such as his Seefeld manuscripts, the five lectures on The Idea of Phenomenology, and Ideas I. Husserl’s phenomenology began as a form of descriptive psychology, but after the discovery of the phenomenological reduction and a serious re- reading of Kant, it developed into a form of transcendental idealism. This change baffled many of Husserl’s students, and drew the ire of some of his contemporaries – creating a division between the transcendental and the realist phenomenologists. This is presumably the distinction Husserl had in mind when he told Dietrich von Hildebrand that he divided his followers into two groups: the white sheep and the black sheep. Following Husserl’s move to Freiburg, divisions among the early phenomenologists became firmly entrenched.

The theme of this conference will be the reaction to Husserl’s transcendental turn, both by his students and his contemporaries, as well as Husserl’s attempts to respond to the criticisms of his transcendental phenomenology. Topics would include the realism/idealism debate among the early phenomenologists, criticisms of the idea of phenomenological reflection and the reductions, the argument for existence of the transcendental ego, the problem of the external world, the justification of the intentionality thesis, the relationship between Husserl’s phenomenology and idealism, discussions of transcendental philosophy in Husserl’s lecture courses and manuscripts from 1905-23, etc. We strongly encourage papers documenting the criticisms of Husserl put forward by Adolf Reinach, Max Scheler, Carl Stumpf, Edith Stein, Roman Ingarden, Johannes Daubert, Maximilian Beck, and other members of the Göttingen and Munich Circles. We are also interested in the reactions of Husserl’s early Freiburg students, many of whom only engaged Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology after the First World War. Finally, papers on early students who followed Husserl’s transcendental turn and defended Ideas I against its detractors, are also welcomed.

Abstracts should be 400-600 words, and include a short bibliography. All abstracts must be prepared for blind review and sent via email in .doc or .rtf format to Dr. Rodney K.B. Parker (

Both senior researchers and graduate students are encouraged to submit.
Deadline for submissions is February 20th, 2015.

Decisions will be sent out no later than March, 16th, 2015

Organizers – Rodney Parker, Ignacio Quepons, and Jethro Bravo Hosts – Antonio Zirión and Seminario de Estudios Básicos de Fenomenología Trascendental.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Dust up between Jamie K. A. Smith and Eduardo Echeverria over religious epistemology

Jamie K. A. Smith, author of Who's Afraid of Postmodernism?: Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church (2006), has authored another book in his series echoing the title of Edward Albee's 1962 play, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" -- namely, Who's Afraid of Relativism?: Community, Contingency, and Creaturehood (2014).

Sacred Heart Major Seminary Professor, Eduardo Echeverria, who is well-versed in both continental and analytical traditions of philosophy, has published an article-length critical review of this book in the latest issue of Calvin Theological Journal, as Smith reveals in his blog, where he offers his own response to Echeverria, entitled "Responding to a Common Critique of 'Who's Afraid of Relativism?'" (Fors Clavigera, November 12, 2014). Smith's post features both Echeverria's full critique as well as Smith's own response, entitled, with deliberate irony: "Echeverria's Protestant Epistemology: A Catholic Response" (formally, Echeverria is the Catholic and Smith the Protestant).

Predictably, Smith's "response" in turn provoked yet another response by Echeverria, this one posted on the blog of the Tyndale University College and Seminary site, "A Response to James K. A. Smith, by Eduardo Echeverria" (Every Thought Captive).

The chief questions at issue in the debate concern religious epistemology and whether some sort of realist epistemology is still viable, as Echeverria holds, or not, as Smith insists. Smith has clearly drunk deeply at the well of post-modern philosophers of the sort he's been writing about and teaching for upwards of the last two decades, while from Echeverria's perspective of the perennial philosophy, Smith's well appears more like a shallow puddle. See for yourselves.