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Neo-Scholasticism is the revival and development from the second half of the nineteenth century of medieval scholastic philosophy. It has some times been called neo-Thomism partly because Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century gave to scholasticism a final form, partly because the idea gained ground that only Thomism could infuse vitality into 12th-century scholasticism.


Traditional elements

Neo-Scholasticism seeks to restore the fundamental doctrines embodied in the scholasticism of the thirteenth century. The essential conceptions may be summarized as follows:

(1) God, pure actuality and absolute perfection, is substantially distinct from every finite thing: He alone can create and preserve all beings other than Himself. His infinite knowledge includes all that has been, is, or shall be, and likewise all that is possible.

(2) As to our knowledge of the material world: whatever exists is itself, an incommunicable, individual substance. To the core of self-sustaining reality, in the oak-tree for instance, other realities (accidents) are added -- size, form, roughness, and so on. All oak-trees are alike, indeed are identical in respect of certain constituent elements. Considering this likeness and even identity, our human intelligence groups them into one species and again, in view of their common characteristics, it ranges various species under one genus. Such is the Aristotelean solution of the problem of universals. Each substance is in its nature fixed and determined; and nothing is farther from the spirit of Scholasticism than a theory of evolution which would regard even the essences of things as products of change.

But this statism requires as its complement a moderate dynamism, and this is supplied by the central concepts of act and potency. Whatsoever changes is, just for that reason, limited. The oak-tree passes through a process of growth, of becoming: whatever is actually in it now was potentially in it from the beginning. Its vital functions go on unceasingly (accidental change); but the tree itself will die, and out of its decayed trunk other substances will come forth (substantial change). The theory of matter and form is simply an interpretation of the substantial changes which bodies undergo. The union of matter and form constitutes the essence of concrete being, and this essence is endowed with existence. Throughout all change and becoming there runs a rhythm of finality; the activities of the countless substances of the universe converge towards an end which is known to God; finality involves optimism.

(3) Man, a compound of body (matter) and of soul (form), puts forth activities of a higher order -- knowledge and volition. Through his senses he perceives concrete objects, e.g. this oak; through his intellect he knows the abstract and universal (the oak). All our intellectual activity rests on sensory function; but through the active intellect (intellectus agens) an abstract representation of the sensible object is provided for the intellectus possibilis. Hence the characteristic of the idea, its non-materiality, and on this is based the principal argument for the spirituality and immortality of the soul. Here, too, is the foundation of logic and of the theory of knowledge, the justification of our judgments and syllogisms.

Upon knowledge follows the appetitive process, sensory or intellectual according to the sort of knowledge. The will (appetitus intellectualis) in certain conditions is free, and thanks to this liberty man is the master of his destiny. Like all other beings, we have an end to attain and we are morally obliged, though not compelled, to attain it.

Natural happiness would result from the full development of our powers of knowing and loving. We should find and possess God in this world since the corporeal world is the proper object of our intelligence. But above nature is the order of grace and our supernatural happiness will consist in the direct intuition of God, the beatific vision. Here philosophy ends and theology begins.

Adaptation to modern needs

In each discipline, the scholastics used a book by a renowed scholar, called auctor, as basic course literature. By reading this book thoroughly and critically, the disciples learned to appreciate the theories of the auctor, and thus of the problems studied in the whole discipline, in a critical and self-confident way. Scholastic works therefore have a tendency to take the form of a long list of "footnotes" to the works studied, not being able to take a stand as theories on their own.

Scholastic philosophy usually combined logic, metaphysics and semantics into one discipline, and is generally recognized to have developed our understanding of logic significantly when compared to the older sources. In the high scholastic period of 1250 - 1350 the philosophy of nature, psychology, epistemology and philosophy of science were also important areas of inquiry.

During the humanism of the 1400s and 1500s, scholastics were put to the background and somewhat forgotten. This has been the source of the view of scholastics as a rigid, formalistic, aged and unproper way of doing philosophy. During the catholic scholastic revival in the late 1800s and early 1900s the scholastics were repopularized, but with a kind of narrow focus on certain scholastics and their respective schools of thought, notably Thomas Aquinas. In this context, scholasticism is often used in theology or metaphysics, but not many other areas of inquiry.

Outside views

Boutroux thought that Aristotle's system might well serve as an offset to Kantism and evolution[1]. Paulsen[2] and Eucken[3] declared neo-Thomism the rival of Kantism, and the conflict between them the "clash of two worlds". Adolf Harnack[4], Seeberg[5] and others argued against underrating the value of scholastic doctrine.

Neo-Scholasticism gained among Catholics of the later nineteenth century, against other views such as Ontologism, Traditionalism, the dualism of Anton Günther, and the thought of Descartes. It was endorsed by four Catholic Congresses: Paris (1891); Brussels (1895); Freiburg (1897); Munich (1900).

The leaders and their work

The neo-Scholastic movement was inaugurated by such writers as Gaetano Sanseverino (1811-65) and Giovanni Maria Cornoldi (1822-92) in Italy; Gonzalez (1831-92) in Spain; Kleutgen (1811-83) and Stöckl (1823-95) in Germany; de San (1832-1904), Dupont and Lepidi in Belgium; Farges and Dormet de Vorges (1910) in France, who with other scholars carried on the work of restoration before the Holy See gave it solemn approval and encouragement.

Pius IX, in various letters, recognized its importance; but the encyclical "Aeterni Patris" of Leo XIII (4 August 1879) imparted to neo-Scholasticism its definitive character and quickened its development, setting forth the principles by which the movement is to be guided in a progressive spirit, and by which the medieval doctrine is to take on new life in its modern environment. "If," said the pope, "there be anything that the Scholastic doctors treated with excessive subtlety or with insufficient consideration, or that is at variance with well founded teachings of later date, or is otherwise improbable, we by no means intend that it shall be proposed to our age for imitation ... We certainly do not blame those learned and energetic men who turn to the profit of philosophy their own assiduous labours and erudition as well as the results of modern investigation; for we are fully aware that all this goes to the advancement of knowledge."

In Italy, the movement was vigorous from the start. The Accademia di San Tommaso, founded in 1874, published up to 1891 a review entitled "La Scienza Italiana". Numerous works were produced by Giuseppe Pecci, Tommaso Maria Zigliara (1833-93), Satolli (1839-1909), Liberatore (1810-92), Barberis (1847-96), Schiffini (1841-1906), de Maria, Talamo, Lorenzelli, Ballerini, Matussi and others. The Italian writers at first laid special emphasis on the metaphysical features of Scholasticism, without paying sufficient attention to the sciences or to the history of philosophy. Later this underwent a change which promises excellent results.

From Italy the movement spread into the other European countries and found supporters in Germany such as Kleutgen, Stöckl, the authors of the "Philosophia Lacensis" published at Maria Laach by the Jesuits (Pesch, Hontheim, Cathrein), Gutberlet, Commer, Willmann, Kaufmann, Glossner, Grabmann and Schneid. These scholars have made valuable contributions to the history of philosophy, especially that of the Middle Ages. Stöckl led the way with his "Geschichte d. Philosophie des Mittelalters" (Mainz, 1864-66). Ehrle and Denifle founded in 1885 the "Archiv für Literatur u. Kirchengesch. d. Mittelalters", and the latter edited the monumental "Chartularium" of the University of Paris. In 1891, Von Hertling and Bäumker began the publication of their "Beiträge zur Gesch. d. Phil. des Mittelalters".

Belgium has been particularly favoured. Leo XIII established in 1891 at Louvain (then still a francophone university) the "Institut de philosophie" for the special purpose of teaching the doctrine of St. Thomas together with history and the natural sciences. The Institute was placed in charge of Mgr (later Cardinal) Mercier whose "Cours de philosophie" has been translated into the principal languages of Europe.

In France, besides those already mentioned, Vallet, Gardair, Fonsegrive and Piat have taken a prominent part in the movement; in the Netherlands (Amsterdam) de Groot; in Switzerland (Freiburg), Mandonnet; in Spain, Orti y Lara, Urráburu, Gómez Izquierdo; in Mexico, Garcia; in Brazil, Santroul; in Argentina, Julio Meinvielle and Nimio de Anquín; in Hungary, Kiss and Pecsi; in England, Clarke, Maher, John Rickaby, Joseph Rickaby, Boedder (Stonyhurst Series); in the United States, Coppens, Poland, Brother Chrysostom, and the professors at the Catholic University (Shanahan, Turner, and Pace).

A considerable number of reviews have served as its exponents: "Divus Thomas" (1879- 1903); "Rivista Italiana di filosofia neo-scolastica" (Florence, since 1909); "Annales de Philosophie Chrétienne" (Paris, since 1830); "Revue néo-scolastique de Philosophie" (Louvain, since 1894); "Revue de Philosophie" (Paris, since 1900);" Revue des Sciences philosophiques et théologiques" (Kain, Belgium, since 1907); "Revue Thomiste" (Paris, since 1893); "Philosophisches Jahrbuch für Philosophie und spekulative Theologie" (Paderborn, since 1887); "St. Thomas Blätter" (Ratisbon, since 1888); Bölcseleti-Folyóirat (Budapest, since 1886);" Revista Lulliana" (Barcelona, since 1901); "Cienza Tomista" (Madrid, since 1910). In addition to these, various periodical publications not specially devoted to philosophy have given neo-Scholasticism warm attention.



  • Scholasticon - Sources on modern Scholasticism (1500-1800)
  • Suarez Society Discussion Forum on modern Scholasticism and Aristotelisanism


  1. ^ Aristote, Etudes d'histoire et de philosophie, Paris, 1901, 202.
  2. ^ "Kant der Philosoph des Protestantismus" in "Kantstudien", 1899.
  3. ^ "Thomas von Aquino u. Kant, Ein Kampf zweier Welten", loc. cit., 1901.
  4. ^ "Lehrbuch d. Dogmengesch.", III, 3rd. ed., 327.
  5. ^ "Realencyklopädie f. Prot. Theol." 5. v. "Scholastik".

This article incorporates text from the entry Neo-Scholasticism in the public-domain Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913.



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