Why is Thomism so Central to Church Teaching and Doctrine

Why does the Church have Thomism so central toward doctrine and teachings. Why not from other important Church figures?

Pax Christi!

You seem to have it backwards. Church teaching and doctrine are central to Thomism. Aquinas started with Church doctrine and showed why it made sense.

The Church uses Thomism because it so detailed, organized and logical.

God bless.

I was just reading an article about this, weird. The article explained that The Council of Trent is when Thomism took the central stage. It defined transubstantiation which comes from St. Thomas. The Council of Trent wanted Thomism to be the prominent theology and not just one school of theology among others and adopted transubstantiation because other definitions were not as clear and could be misread. So, that’s why Thomism is, or has been at least, so central. That’s what the article said anyway.

I don’t think that article is very reliable, since confusing the Council of Trent with the Fourth Lateran is a pretty gigantic blunder.

Anyway, to the OP: you’re really looking at it the wrong way. There is one Truth. Every legitimate school of thought, whether Bonaventurism or Thomism or whatever, is simply a way of expressing the Truth in language. Philosophy is language. The reason the Church has esteemed Thomism so highly is because the language is so clear and concise that it’s difficult to misconstrue it. Also because St. Thomas Aquinas had such a huge catalog of works that it’s very easy to reference him on practically any issue. It’s not really because Thomism is “more true” than other Catholic lines of thought, though typically it’s conceded that there are less particular errors within the Thomist corpus than in other schools, such as that of Jacques Maritain.

Keep in mind that Thomism is a specifically Latin school of thought, which in general desires an explanation for every possible question and a justification for every answer. Eastern thought is much more mystical, and generally appeals more to Scripture and Sacred Tradition than logical explanations. So Thomism is less utilized among Eastern Christians than among the Latins. And there’s nothing wrong with that. (An example of this is the use of the solar calendar. The Latins use the Gregorian calendar because the Julian calendar’s year is 11 minutes too long, which means it gets de-synchronized with the seasons over the course of centuries. So the Gregorian reform is a correction of an institutionalized error in the calendar. The Easterns still use the Julian calendar, because that’s the calendar the Church Fathers used, and they don’t particularly care if the solar cycle is 11 minutes shorter than the calendar year.)

It’s not a blunder. IV Lateran does use the word “transubstantiation,” but its discussion of the Eucharist is very brief. Aquinas’ work came after the Council and was an explanation of it. In the later Middle Ages there were rival theories (in England, for instance, it was common to speak of the accidents of bread and wine being annihilated, and consubstantiation was put forward by some theologians as well). Trent reaffirmed transubstantiation, against the Protestant challenge, in a manner informed by Aquinas.

Aquinas has actually been eclipsed and revived a number of times. I think that’s the best answer to the OP–it’s not that Aquinas is the only important theologian or the only alternative, but that the Western Church keeps coming back to Aquinas in century after century, because he did such a good job of systematizing the Catholic Faith and harmonizing it with the classical Greek philosophical tradition. He’s almost always the best starting point, even if you wind up disagreeing with him.

though typically it’s conceded that there are less particular errors within the Thomist corpus than in other schools, such as that of Jacques Maritain.

Maritain saw himself as a Thomist. I recognize that many Thomists would disagree–and that’s another point that needs to be made here. There are in fact many “Thomisms.” But I wouldn’t use Maritain as an example of a thoroughly non-Thomist thinker. Henri de Lubac, maybe.

Keep in mind that Thomism is a specifically Latin school of thought, which in general desires an explanation for every possible question and a justification for every answer.

God point, although Aquinas is a lot more mystical than many people give him credit for. (This is a good day on which to note this, since allegedly it was on the Feast of St. Nicholas that Aquinas had his famous vision which led him to say that his work seemed “like straw” by comparison.) Some versions of Thomism, not so much. In fact, one reason why I find Aquinas so valuable and keep coming back to him myself is that he strikes such a balance between mystery and clarity.

Edwin

Thomism is one way to express scholastic theology. Thomas himself studied The Sentences, four volumes of scholastic theology written over 100 years earlier by Peter Lombard.Thomas even wrote a commentary on The Sentences. Lombard, Aquinas, Abelard and others have written expressions of scholastic theology. St. Anslem of Canterbury is considered the “Father of Scholasticism.”

There is another school of theology - monastic theology - which is much older. Remember that scholastic theology based on reason, intellect and philosophy only started in the 1100’s while monks have been meditating on the written word of God, encountering Christ in the sacred texts since the time when the first Desert Father’s walked off into the wilderness many hundreds of years earlier. Encountering Christ in the written word - what we now call lectio divina - is the basis for monastic theology and its practice was mature when St. Benedict started his first monastery in the early sixth century.

Secular priests study the Summa but not every theologian is Thomist/Scholastic. Some are monastic. The famous Cistercian monk and Doctor of the Church St. Bernard of Clairvaux was writing beautiful works on the virginity of Mary and the Mediatrix at the same time as Peter Lombard was writing the sentences. This is just one example. As much Church doctrine has come from monastic theology as it has from scholastic theology.

Pope Benedict XVI spoke about monastic and scholastic theology in one of his general audiences. ewtn.com/library/papaldoc/b16ChrstChrch94.htm

-Tim-

This has been a point of contention for a long time. For many years now, secular priests have dominated the Roman Curia, including the papacy. Secular priests are formed in Thomistic theology. They have always put forth that Thomism is “The Official Catholic Theological School.” This has been recorded in Canon Law until Pope John Paul II took it out.

But it was not always this way, nor has it been observed even when it was in Canon Law. In many countries around the world, religious orders (not the congregations) have operated their own houses of theology. They have taught Aquinas alongside Bonaventure, Augustine or both. In some houses, Aquinas has never been taught. The Holy See approved this.

In my own formation, Aquinas was a one semester course, whereas Bonaventure and Augustine were part of our formation every semester for 7 years. I must add, that you can’t do theology and ignore the contribution of Aquinas. It does not mean that he was never mentioned during those 7 years. It means that he did not dominate the curriculum. Bonaventure and Augustine dominated it.

Pope Benedict himself is not a Thomistic scholar. He once said that he does not like Aquinas and finds that Thomism is “self-serving”. Observe quotation marks. These are his words, not mine. He was formed under Augustine and Bonaventure. John Paul II was formed in Thomism. This is interesting, because Ratzinger studied theology during the years that Canon Law said that every priest has to be formed in Thomism. He managed to “escape it” to use his words. He speaks about this in one of the two books where he was interviewed. I want to say Light of the World.

Brother JR,

This article confirms that Ratzinger found Aquinas somewhat unappealing during his studies, but your term “self-serving” appears perhaps to be your memory of the phrase “closed in on itself,” which isn’t the same thing. Also, the article notes that Ratzinger qualified his remarks as referring to a certain kind of “neo-Thomism,” and that as Pope he delivered some appreciative talks on Aquinas.

He certainly isn’t a Thomist, but your post could give the impression that he actively disliked or disapproved of Aquinas, and I don’t think that’s the case.

One of my many regrets is that I have not studied Bonaventure in more depth. I’ve read the Itinerarium and have dipped into the Biblical commentaries, but I want to read more some day. Aquinas and Augustine, just by themselves, can keep one busy for a lifetime, but Bonaventure ought to be better known (outside the Franciscan community). In particular, I think Bonaventure is closer to the Eastern approach in theology and holds out hope of bridge-building there.

Edwin

While studying at a catholic university, a couple decades ago, I had 2 years of theology. 90% of the material provided was based on Aquinas´ Summa Theologica. I always wondered why, with 2000 years of great theologists and Philosophers, Tomas was so central to the teachings I was receiving. Your answer was enlightening and I thank you for it.

Thank you. That was the term. I knew it was something like that. I don’t think he hated Aquinas. No one does.

I think that many younger theologians, including myself, are more “allergic” to the Trad idea of what Thomism is, than what it really was. I’m of the belief that in order to understand many of these theologians of the scholastic period one has to understand their life. They were very difference form us. These men wrote from their experience of God as well as form the mind. Unlike us today who write theology from our research and our own logic, which is often very arid. Their logic was driven by their contemplation.

But if one does not have clear understanding of their spirituality, one tends to place their work on a pedestal, which they never intended for it to be. For example, there is a tendency in some people to throw Aquinas at popes, which I find rather arrogant. Stop and think, the man in the pew trying to teach the pope theology. That’s pretty cheeky.

But there are people out there who have read a few pages of Aquinas and think they have an inside seat to the man’s mind and work. The truth is that Thomas was one of the most humble, gentle and unassuming friars. He was never anything other than a professor, nor did he want to be.

I’m not knocking professors. I was one for over 40 years. What I mean is that Thomas would have been shocked had anyone suggested to him that he attempt to teach the pope. Yet, people take his work and attempt to do what he would never dare to do with it. I find this to be a real shame.

The man’s work should be used in a way that honors his memory and honors God as he intended for it to do, not as a weapon by some people.

He certainly isn’t a Thomist, but your post could give the impression that he actively disliked or disapproved of Aquinas, and I don’t think that’s the case.

When I was his student we never got the impression that he was excited about Aquinas. Let me clarify. Joseph Ratzinger is not a man who bubbles either. He’s the epitome of the gentleman. He knows exactly how to gauge his enthusiasm. But the amount of time that he dedicated to Bonaventure and Augustine was far greater than what he dedicated to Aquinas. His reception when students brought up Aquinas was polite. When one brought up Augustine, he engaged. I should also say that I’m going back to the 1970s.

One of my many regrets is that I have not studied Bonaventure in more depth. I’ve read the Itinerarium and have dipped into the Biblical commentaries, but I want to read more some day.

The Itinerarium is a beautiful work. Many people don’t get the gist of it, because they have not read St. Francis of Assisi by Bonaventure or the Master and Disciple by him. The Itinerarium is the product of his contemplation on the life and mysticism of St. Francis of Assisi If one reads Bonaventure’s St. Francis, one can put flesh and bones on the Itinerarium. Bonaventure’s work is very Augustinian.

In the end, Augustine, Aquinas and Bonaventure all lead to the same place, just by different routes.

Aquinas and Augustine, just by themselves, can keep one busy for a lifetime, but Bonaventure ought to be better known (outside the Franciscan community). In particular, I think Bonaventure is closer to the Eastern approach in theology and holds out hope of bridge-building there.

You’re quite right to say that Bonnie is closer to the East. You have to remember that every Franciscan friar is formed for seven to 10 years in the school of St. Francis. St. Francis was very heavily influenced by Eastern Mysticism, including Muslim mysticism, which many Traditionalist Catholics want to balk at. But we Franciscans see these Eastern influences in our interior disciplines and in our customs. Just a simple example is posture in prayer. The use of choir stalls and pews is a much later innovation in Franciscanism. When Francis came back from Palestine he adopted the custom of kneeling with his head inclined forward toward the floor in front of him as do the Muslims. The friar picked up on it and passed it on. He also adopted the custom of taking off his sandals at the door of the chapel as do the Muslims at the entrance to the Mosque.

The image below comes from an antagonistic site. I don’t mean to patronize it or promote it. I just mean to show the tradition of the shoes in action.

Edwin

You’re welcome. I’m wondering if you studied at the UCA when I taught there. :thumbsup::thumbsup:

yup. I studied law (went through a dark phase back then :smiley: ) between ´93 and ´97, there.

I agree with Br JR. There is a common misconception that Thomism is the “official” theology of the Church, and it was for some reason or another abandoned at Vatican II to the ire of traditionalists. This is largely erroneous.

Thomism was the official adopted school of the Holy See (i.e. the Roman Curia) for centuries, not the entire Catholic Church – not even, really, the entire Latin rite. At Vatican II the exclusive use of Thomism by the Curia was dropped. Now, it’s very true that most of the documents of Vatican II are highly ambiguous because they weren’t written with Thomistic logic and style in mind, but that’s not the Church abandoning a Sacred Tradition by any means.

:eek:

In the Traditionalist world, any Catholic Priest of the Roman Rite is viewed upon with suspicion :eek:

My mistake, I meant to say that any priest who does not like Thomism is viewed upon with suspicion.

This is so unfair. I always chuckle when I find that kind of person. I will often ask them who their favorite saints are. Guess who is usually in the top five?

If you guessed Padre Pio, you guessed correctly.

Franciscans are not formed in Thomism, unless they intentionally wish to get a degree in Thomism, which is an option. Pio was one of those friars who never received a Thomistic education. He was formed in the Augustinian/Bonaventurian school like most of us.

Maximilian Kolbe, another of the top 10, had an ongoing debate with Aquinas over the Immaculate Conception. He was very much formed in the Duns Scotus tradition.

John of the Cross is very Augustinian. He actually taught Augustine.

I’m not sure why those who are not formed in the Thomist School would be suspect of being less orthodox when we have such great theologians who are not Thomist. :shrug:

Well, hopefully, you’re not the kind of person who believes the Church “began” of was “purified” at Vatican II.

From what I’ve heard and have been told, the infamous heretics of the 20th Century hated Thomism so much that they wanted to destroy it.

:confused:

Would you care to explain what you mean as I don’t understand your post.

No, I assure you, he is not.

John Paul was formed in Thomism, but one of the problems Thomists and/or neo-Thomists had with him was that he wrote/spoke/delivered Theology of the Body in primarily the venue of humanism and Phenomenology; there were those who early on made serious challenges to the work because they could not shift gears and it wasn’t written they way they wanted it to be.

However, it may be that his approach, which is most definitely not a Thomistic approach, is what has caused it to gain so much ground as it speak to people where they are, rather than forcing them into an Aristotelian approach to examine their life. Life simply is not lived in an Aristotelian fashion; Humanism and Phenomenology make far more sense to those not trained in philosophy.

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