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Thomas and Scholasticism to 1870

Abstract and Keywords

The present article treats the life and works of Thomas Aquinas and his reception within the scholastic traditions up to 1879 (Aeterni patris). The first two sections introduce the life and works of Thomas Aquinas, with a particular focus on the Scriptum and the Summa theologiae. The third section treats Thomas’s reception up through 1500, looking at the initial period of condemnation in the late thirteenth century. This is followed by his canonization and acceptance as a theological authority in the fourteenth century and the gradual development of the Thomist schools of the fifteenth century. The fourth and fifth sections examine the reception of Thomas’s thought in the era of Church reform and the baroque period (1500–1650), and from 1650 until Aeterni Patris (1879) respectively.

Keywords: Thomas Aquinas, scholasticism, medieval theology, Summa theologiae, philosophy, Thomism

Life and Works of Aquinas

Thomas Aquinas was born in 1224/25 in Roccasecca, a small town lnear Aquino, midway between Naples and Rome. His father Lundulf was the count of the Aquino commune. When Thomas was five years old he was sent to the Benedictine monastery at Monte Casino, the ancient abbey founded by Benedict of Nursia in 529. For the next ten years Thomas was educated by the Benedictines and introduced to the rhythms of monastic life. In 1239, he was sent to Naples to study the liberal arts. This period was formative, in particular because Thomas was first introduced to the Order of Preachers (the Dominican Order) during his time in Naples, and against the wishes of his family, who imagined him as part of the traditional Benedictine Order, Thomas secretly joined the Dominicans in 1244.

Thomas’s education within the Dominican Order began at Paris in 1245. While there, he was introduced to Albert the Great (OP, d. 1280) and in 1248 followed the Doctor universalis to Cologne (Torrell 2005b: 18–35). Thomas continued his studies in philosophy and theology under Albert, a scholar with an encyclopedic knowledge of the liberal arts, the natural sciences, and theology. And, while Thomas had clearly been introduced to the teachings of Aristotle earlier as a student of the liberal arts, there can be no doubt that Albert’s profound engagement with Aristotle had a significant influence on Thomas’s philosophical and theological development. Thomas remained at the newly instituted Dominican studium (school) in Cologne as an assistant to Albert throughout his formation; he returned to Paris in 1252 to continue his studies in theology.

Paris I (1252–1259)

Thomas was sent to Paris to pursue a masters of sacra doctrina between 1252 and 1259. Between 1252 and 1254, the young Dominican lectured on Peter Lombard’s (d. 1164) four books of Sentences, eventually preparing them for publication in 1256 (Aquinas, Scriptum 1929–47).

Having completed his lectures on the Lombard, Thomas became a master of theology in 1256 and commenced, according to the statutes of the University of Paris, with his lectures on the Bible. It is not known precisely which biblical books Thomas lectured on as a Magister in sacra pagina, although it is probable that the lectures treated some of the Pauline epistles (Torrell 2005b: 54–59). Alongside his lectures on the Bible, the master was also expected to engage in both ordinary and disputed questions: the former being private lectures held in the afternoon, the latter were open public lectures held twice a year at Lent and Advent. Between 1256 and 1259, Thomas held both ordinary and public lectures. Some of his ordinary lectures have been preserved as On Truth, while his public lectures during this period have been collected as Quodlibeta VII–XI (Torrell 2005b: 334–337). Finally, while various other works can be attributed to this period of Thomas’s career, one work that stands out is his commentary on Boethius’s De Trinitate (Torrell 2005b: 345). This work is exceptional, because it is one of Thomas’s most developed accounts of the various sciences.

Italy (1259–1268)

After he completed his studies at Paris, Thomas travelled to Naples (c.1259-61), Orvieto (1261–65), and Rome (1265–68) on business relating to the Dominican Order. First, in Naples, and subsequently in Orvieto and Rome, Thomas was intimately involved with furthering Dominican education. He was engaged in teaching young brothers theology in preparation for their ministries in preaching, teaching, and hearing confessions, and in Rome, he began the difficult process of rethinking the theological curriculum in the studium at Santa Sabina.

Throughout his time in Naples and Orvieto, Thomas completed one of his most significant theological works, the Summa contra gentiles. The work, which is divided into four books, was probably begun in Paris (c.1259) but finished in Orvieto (c.1265) (Torrell 2005b: 96–116). The first three books treat God and creation as accessible to human reason. The first book of the Summa contra contains 102 chapters and analyses the existence of God and his divine perfections and attributes. The second book (101 chapters) turns to the procession of creatures, in particular rational creatures, from God; the emphasis, therefore, is on both God as creator (God’s power) and creation (especially humanity). Book three is the longest (163 chapters) and examines God’s providence in the sense of the ordering of rational creatures to God. Building on the previous discussion of God and creatures, this third book treats the complex relationship between God and creatures by means of God’s divine governance. Finally, the fourth book (97 chapters) examines the truths of God that are known through faith (God’s divine revelation) and are inaccessible to unaided human reason. Thus, book four considers the triune nature of God and the incarnation of the Word.

The years Thomas spent in Naples and Orvieto were incredibly productive. He quickly rose to prominence as a teacher and theologian within the Order of Preachers; evidence of this, Torrell notes, is found in the numerous works composed during this period that were written in response to a particular need of the Church or the order (e.g. Contra errores Graecorum) (Torrell 2005b: 122–127).

In 1265 the provincial chapter sent Thomas to Rome with the charge of organizing a studium at Santa Sabina. During his time at Santa Sabina—and, arguably, as a result of rethinking the theological curriculum organized around the Sentences of Peter Lombard—Thomas began work on his most significant theological work, the Summa theologiae (Boyle 1982). Thomas was intimately familiar with the Sentences after lecturing on them at Paris and rewriting those lectures as a published work ( the Scriptum); Thomas returned again to the Sentences around 1265, but with increasing dissatisfaction. While the subject of some scholarly dispute, it is probable that Thomas’s lectures on the Sentences at Santa Sabina survive and provide evidence of his final engagement with the Lombard’s text (Aquinas 2006). What is clear is that sometime around the mid 1260s Thomas became increasingly dissatisfied with the Sentences as a theological textbook and began the Summa theologiae; he completed the prima pars before he left for Paris in 1268.

Paris II (1268–1272)

While the precise date of Thomas’s return to Paris has been the subject of considerable debate, what is not disputed is that the four years he spent in Paris between 1268 and 1272 were some of his most productive. He returned as a teacher of sacra pagina and completed some of his most impressive commentaries on the Bible during this period. For example, Thomas lectured on the Gospel of Matthew, the Gospel of John, the Book of Job and the Epistles of Paul between 1268 and 1271/2 (Torrell 2005b: 197–201, 339–340).

Beyond his lecturing on various books of the Christian Old and New Testaments, Thomas also engaged in scholastic debates and continued his work on the Summa theologiae. Thus, to this period belong some of his most important disputed and quodlibetal questions (questions de quolibet or on anything whatsoever) (Torrell 2005b: 201–212) as well as the magisterial secunda pars (second part) of the Summa (c.1271–72). Further, upon completing the secunda pars, Thomas began work on the tertia pars.

Torrell notes that during this period one can also place several occasional tracts that resulted from either consultations or disputes and numerous commentaries on Aristotle. In particular, On the Eternity of the World was written in Paris during a dispute with the future archbishop of Canterbury, John Peckham (d. 1292). Further, we would be remiss not to mention that during this period Thomas also composed several significant commentaries on the works of Aristotle, including: Peri hermeneias, Posterior analytics, Ethics, Physics, and Metaphysics (Torrell 2005b: 224–233).

Naples (1272–1273) and the End

Thomas left Paris in the spring of 1272 and a few months later the Roman chapter of the order requested that he organize a new studium generale. The order had previously designated Naples and Orvieto as desirable locations, thus Thomas began organizing a new studium in Naples. In the autumn of 1272, Thomas began teaching again for what would be the last year and a half of his life; the subject of his attention was Paul’s letter to the Romans. Beyond the lectures on Romans, the other work that Thomas clearly concentrated on while regent-master at Naples is the tertia pars of the Summa theologiae. It is also probable that he wrote sections of his commentary on the Psalms during this period (Torrell 2005b: 250–261).

Thomas continued to teach up to 6 December 1273. On this date—according to his confessor and companion Reginald of Piperno (OP, d. c.1290)—Thomas ceased his literary work stating that he could ‘do no more’. Having been summoned to attend the Second Council of Lyon in February, Thomas began the trek from Naples to Lyon. He never arrived and died 7 March 1274 at the Cistercian Abbey in Fossanova.

The above sketch touches on Thomas’s most significant theological works. Those interested in a complete list of his writings should consult the ‘Suggested Reading’ at the end of this chapter. Here, we will turn our attention to his two most significant theological works: the commentary on the Sentences (the Scriptum) and the Summa theologiae.

The Scriptum and Summa Theologiae

In the early thirteenth century, Alexander of Hales (OFM, d. 1245) and Richard Fishacre (OP, d. 1248) introduced the Sentences of Peter Lombard into the theological curricula at the University of Paris and the University of Oxford respectively. The Lombard’s Sentences collected together theological statements of the Patristic Fathers into four books, treating: (1) the triune God; (2) creation; (3) Christ and his work; and (4) the sacraments of the Church and the last things (Lombard 1971–1981). Thomas’s first comprehensive theological work is known as the Scriptum super libros Sententiarum (literally, a writing or commentary on the books of Sentences) and originated with his Parisian lectures. This work is a massive treatise (c.1.5 million words) on theology that follows the formal order of doctrine established by Peter Lombard. Throughout his lectures, Thomas drew on the previous commentaries on the Sentences by his teacher Albert the Great and the Franciscan Bonaventure of Bagnoregio (d. 1274).

Years later while teaching at the Dominican studium in Rome (1265–66), Thomas would lecture again on the Sentences of Peter Lombard: it is probable that these lectures have been preserved in the margins of a manuscript containing Thomas’s Scriptum that is now housed in Lincoln College, Oxford (Aquinas 2006). This work—called the Lectura romana by the editors—presents Thomas’s final attempt to comment on the Sentences. The work breaks off less than halfway through book I and betrays—according to the editors L. E. Boyle and J. F. Boyle—Thomas’s dissatisfaction with the order of theology. Regardless of the authenticity of the Lectura romana, it is certain that as he began his magisterial Summa theologiae Thomas was increasingly dissatisfied with the Lombardian order of theology. In the prologue to the Summa Thomas writes that previous textbooks (i.e. the Sentences) are not adequate for teaching Christian theology because they have ‘not taught according to the order of the subject matter’ (non traduntur secundum ordinem disciplinae) (ST I, prol.). Thomas’s frustration with the structure of the Sentences is evident throughout the Summa.

The Summa is divided into three parts, with the second part being further subdivided into two. The first part (prima pars) consists of two sections: the first section (ST I, qq.2–43) examines the nature of God, the second section (ST I, qq.44–119) the procession of creatures from God. Further, the treatise on God is divided into a discussion of the divine nature according to the unity of the divine essence (qq.2–26) and according to the distinction of persons (qq.27–43). Here is Thomas’s first significant deviation from the Sentences; book I of the Sentences begins with a discussion of the trinitarian nature of God (Sent. I, dd.4–34) before treating questions relating to the unity of the divine essence (Sent. I, dd.35–48). While this is to oversimplify the Lombard—who is neither as consistent in his method nor as systematic as Thomas—it is accurate to note that broadly speaking, Thomas adopts an Aristotelian approach (more on this later) to the treatise on God and favours a de Deo uno/de Deo trino presentation of the material. Further, whereas the Lombard presented God and creation in two distinct books, Thomas closely links the nature of God and creatures that proceed from Him.

While the first part of the Summa treats God and creatures, the second and third parts examine the return of rational creatures to God as their end. The two parts of the ‘second part’ treat the movement to God by human acts in general (ST I–II, i.e. prima secundae) and in particular (ST II–II, i.e. secunda secundae): by ‘general’ Thomas means the nature of happiness (ST I–II, qq.1–5), human acts (ST I–II, qq.6–48) and their intrinsic (ST I–II, qq.49– 89) and extrinsic principles (ST I–II, qq.90–114); by ‘particular’ Thomas means the nature of the theological (ST II–II, qq.1–46) and cardinal virtues (ST II–II, qq.47–170). The second part of the Summa (i.e. ST I–II and II–II) is a magisterial work in and of itself, and when compared with the Sentences it represents Thomas’s greatest divergence—and ultimately his greatest contribution—to the genre of the theological textbook in the high Middle Ages. The Lombard’s treatment of moral theology (and Thomas’s, in the Scriptum) is found in the second and third books of the Sentences: for example, in the second book the Lombard treats the nature of virtue (Sent. II, d.27) and human sin (Sent. II, d.30–36), while in the third book he treats faith, hope, and charity (Sent. III, dd.25–27) as well as the connection of the virtues (Sent. III, d.36) and the law (Sent. III, d. 40). The upshot is that in the Summa Thomas radically expanded and systematized the moral theology initially dispersed throughout the Sentences and Scriptum.

The third part of the Summa examines Jesus Christ who, being both God and human, provides human beings a return to God as their end. The most basic division in the discussion of Christ is that between the nature of the incarnation itself (ST III, qq.1–26) and those things that were accomplished and suffered by Christ (ST III, qq.27–59). The third part of the Summa concludes with a discussion of the sacraments in general (ST III, qq.60–65) and the sacraments in particular (ST III, qq.66–90). Thomas stopped writing the third part after completing question 90, midway through his analysis of penance; the remaining sections that Thomas proposed at the beginning of the tertia pars (e.g. treating the remaining sacraments, the last things, etc.)—known as the supplementum—were completed by his disciples using material from the Scriptum (many attribute the supplementum to Reginald of Piperno).

The Dominican theologian Marie-Dominique Chenu argued that the overarching structure of the Summa follows a broadly Neoplatonic exitus-reditus schema, such that the prima pars traces the dynamic movement of creatures from God (exitus), while the secunda and tertia partes trace the return of creatures to God (reditus) (Chenu 1940: 98). While there is merit to this proposal, two initial objections can be raised. First, within a strictly Neoplatonic framework the exitus of creatures from the first principle is a necessary emanation (e.g. Enneads 1.8.7), whereas for Thomas the exitus in question is a free act of creation by God and therefore not necessary. Second, as Rudi te Velde has argued, the twofold exitus–reditus schema has difficulties explaining the necessity of the tertia pars being dedicated explicitly to Jesus Christ (te Velde 2006: 15–17). Thus, while the Summa clearly narrates a ‘coming from God’ and a ‘returning to God’, it is perhaps best not to understand this as a necessarily Neoplatonic schema, but one that perhaps borrows on the scriptural language of God as the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and end (Torrell 2005b: 43).

Therefore the more significant structural divergences between the Scriptum and the Summa are best understood not in terms of a Neoplatonic influence but Thomas’s Aristotelianism. Thomas, like so many theologians of his generation, was profoundly influenced by the philosophical method of Aristotle. This is evident structurally, for example, in the first part of the Summa (i.e. his analysis of God). Peter Lombard’s discussion of God proceeded from an analysis of the divine Trinity in distinctions 3–33 to a discussion of divine unity in distinctions 34–48 (a structure influenced by Augustine’s De doctrina Christiana). Thomas rejected the Lombard’s ordering of theology and instead proceeded according to an adapted Aristotelian methodology. Aristotle argued that human knowledge progresses from that which is better known (e.g. through the senses) to that which is less known (e.g. by means of complex reasoning). Thomas applied this basic principle to the Christian understanding of God, beginning first with what is known more immediately by reason (i.e. the divine unity) and progressing to what is known by means of revelation (i.e. the divine Trinity). Throughout the medieval period Thomas remains exceptional in reordering the doctrine of God by beginning with the divine unity and progressing to the divine Trinity. As will become evident it the subsequent discussion, Thomas’s Aristotelianism became a significant point of contention in the reception of his thought.

While the theological contribution of Thomas’s Summa theologiae cannot be reduced to a discussion of genre or structure, the historical significance of the Summa is highlighted by placing it in dialogue with the Sentences commentary tradition. The Summa represents a radical break with the Sentences commentary tradition (see Rosemann 2007) and it is possible that this is Thomas’s greatest theological achievement. That said, his achievements in the Summa must be understood within a broader historical context. First and foremost, it is necessary to recall that throughout the late medieval period the masters tended to focus their attention on the Scriptum and not the Summa: in fact, the first commentary (more properly, summary) on the Summa theologiae was not written until the early fifteenth century by Henry of Gorkum (d. 1431) (Gorkum, Quaestiones 1473). Thus, while modern readers tend to focus almost exclusively on the Summa as the source of Thomas’s theology, his medieval contemporaries and successors did not.

Thomas’s Reception to 1500

When Thomas Aquinas died in 1274, he left an oeuvre that undeniably became the most eminent intellectual heritage of medieval scholasticism. Canonized as early as 1323, Thomas was officially declared teacher of the (Roman Catholic) Church in 1567, and the prominent state of his doctrine was reinforced in 1879 when Pope Leo XIII accorded doctrinal primacy to the teachings of Thomas. Up until the present, a considerable branch of ‘Thomist’ thinkers exists in contemporary theology and philosophy. In view of this vivid tradition of Thomists, it is no surprise that descriptions of the reception of Thomas’s thought are usually done in terms of a history of Thomism. This is, however, a problematic approach. First of all, there is no agreement about what it means to be a Thomist and how the Thomistic movement should be defined. Is it the defence of a particular doctrine, of a specific set of doctrines, or the use of a particular method that constitutes a Thomist? From a historical perspective, this uncertainty is not surprising: even though within ten years after his death Thomas already had his first ‘personal’ defenders, an institutionalized Thomistic school only appeared in the fifteenth century. What is more, throughout the history of his reception, regional differences appear with respect to what students were interested in and thought to be essential when reading Aquinas; and even within a single geographical location, Thomas could have a different authority depending on whether he was read at a university or a Dominican school. Finally, Thomas not only influenced those who deliberately chose him as their intellectual model, but he was often appreciated, at least in certain regards, even by his most ardent opponents. Hence, a preliminary definition of what a Thomist is and a restriction of the study of Thomas’s influence to those that fit this definition would fall short. Thus, in what follows we are less interested in the history of a randomly defined Thomism, as in the history of the reception of Thomas Aquinas’s thought.

From Condemnation to Canonization

Given the later importance of Thomas Aquinas, probably the most puzzling fact in the history of his reception is this history’s very beginning: the first discernible movement related to Thomas’s thought was not one of approval, but one of rebuke. Exposed to the usual scholastic debates during his lifetime, Thomas’s doctrines came under heavy attack in the first years after his death. It seems to have been only then, as a reaction to these attacks, that advocates of Thomas Aquinas began to organize and started to defend his views (Bonino 2008: 27). Another puzzling fact in the history of Thomas’s reception is, however, that his defenders seem to have succeeded very quickly since he was canonized only fifty years after his death. This section’s heading, borrowed from Christopher Upham (2012: 515), describes the shift from ‘condemnation to canonization’ as the first stage in the history of his reception. Accordingly, this section aligns with Thomas’s critics rather than with his followers.

During his lifetime, Thomas Aquinas did not found a school of thought and there is no reason to assume that he ever intended to do so. There are known scholastics who were his students, but none of them considered himself as curator of Thomas’s intellectual heritage. In the years after his death it is much easier, though, to find opponents of Thomas Aquinas who attacked, in ways that exceeded usual scholastic debate, fundamental traits of his theological project. In a period marked by the rediscovery of Aristotle’s entire philosophical corpus, and that was preoccupied with assessing the differences between this philosophy and traditional theological dogma, Thomas had tried to harmonize the two and to defend the unity of philosophical and theological rationality. Arguing as an Aristotelian philosopher, he asserted that he was able to defend Christian theology. Yet this synthetic approach was considered problematic from both the philosophical and theological sides. Philosophers such as Siger of Brabant (d. c.1282/4) or the German Dominican Dietrich of Freiberg (d. c.1310) at the turn of the fourteenth century accused Thomas’s project of being a corruption of philosophy since it subordinated philosophical inquiry to the requirements of Christian theology (König-Pralong 2008).

More significant, however, were the critics among the theologians. This theological opposition is generally seen as the defensive reaction of scholastics trained in an Augustinian tradition—a tradition that emphasizes God’s sovereignty, will, and freedom, and that declines any curtailing of God’s possible acts on philosophical grounds. These Augustinians did not principally reject Aristotelian philosophy (as often has been supposed, see Bianchi 2009), but from their perspective (which, at the time was the majority), Thomas’s synthetic approach (which is now often seen as the apogee of medieval scholasticism) betrayed the dignity of theology and of its first subject, God. These theological opponents of Thomas made themselves heard both in academic debate and by jurisdictional means.

Only three years after Thomas’s death, several views he had defended were censured in what would become one of the most famous doctrinal condemnations in the history of medieval scholasticism. Responding to the ongoing discussion about the state and authority of Aristotelian philosophy, in March 1277 the Parisian bishop Étienne Tempier (d. 1279) promulgated a set of 219 propositions that were taught at the faculty of arts and that he forbade by threat of excommunication. These propositions covered a wide range of theological, philosophical, and scientific topics; not the least of them were condemned since they were seen to improperly constrain God’s omnipotence (for a partial English translation of the condemnation see Grant, 1974: 45–50). Tempier did not explicitly name nor individually condemn the authors of these propositions, but it is apparent that Thomas Aquinas was among the targeted scholars. At least twenty of the condemned propositions can be found in Thomas (Gilson 1955: 728). Even though the condemnation addressed teachers of the arts faculty (Thomas had taught primarily in the faculty of theology), the members of the commission who prepared the condemnation—among them Henry of Ghent (d. 1293)—demonstrably knew Thomas’s writings well enough to be aware of its repercussions on Thomas’s doctrine (Wippel 1995). The immediate reception of the condemnation, at least, was unambiguous about the relevance for Thomas: theologians who continued to attack him started to list those propositions related to his doctrine. But in 1325, shortly after Thomas’s canonization, the condemnation was revoked inasmuch as it concerned him (Emery/Speer 2001).

Still in March 1277, a very similar but most likely independent prohibition of philosophical propositions took place at Oxford. The leading figure of this condemnation was a confrère of Thomas, Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Kilwardby (d. 1279), and once more contemporaries considered parts of this condemnation to be directed against Thomas Aquinas (Wilshire 1974: 130). This anti-Thomist bias became even more apparent when Kilwardby’s successor John Peckham, a Franciscan, repeated the prohibition in 1284 and separately condemned in 1286 those propositions that concerned Thomas’s doctrine. As a consequence, one of the first explicit defenders of Thomas at Oxford, Dominican Richard Knapwell (fl. c.1280s), was condemned by Peckham for his Thomist views and excommunicated in 1288 (Lowe 2003: 60).

But censures were not the only negative theological reaction to Thomas and his doctrine in the early days. In 1277 at Oxford, the Franciscan William de la Mare (d. c.1285) collected 118 problematic propositions he found in Thomas’s Summa theologiae, his Disputed questions, and his Sentences commentary, and published them as the Correctorium fratris Thomae, a corrective to Thomas Aquinas (Hoenen 2001: 417; Bianchi 2009: 241). This Correctorium experienced rapid success both in Oxford and Paris, and it initiated at least three trends that would be decisive for the later reception of Thomas’s thought. First, as a reaction to William’s Correctorium the first positive reception of Thomas’s doctrine became discernible, since in the following decade at least five refutations of William’s tract—now called a Corruptorium, a corruption of Thomas—were written by Dominicans in Paris and Oxford. Hence, with this Correctorium controversy, the debate changed from a controversy about propositions to a controversy about a person. Second, since William’s tract was compiled in direct response to certain works of Thomas, and since the Dominicans pursued this approach, William unintentionally introduced into the history of Thomas’s reception the genre of ‘auxiliary literature’—that is, literature written from a meta-perspective and intended to facilitate access to the work of Thomas Aquinas. Without this genre of auxiliary literature that was soon to be complemented by concordances, abbreviations, and tables to the work of Aquinas, his thought could have never led to a doctrinal school or developed the impact it did (Goris 2002: 2). Confirming the auxiliary character of William’s tract, the Franciscan’s general chapter even decreed in 1282 that the friars were only allowed to read Thomas’s Summa when accompanied by the Correctorium. Hence, third, from a quarrel between scholastics (remember that Kilwardby was a Dominican!), the controversy evolved into a conflict between religious orders.

The Dominicans made their own contribution to this institutionalization of a scholastic quarrel. In 1278 their general chapter sent two friars to England in order to investigate what ‘scandals’ may have been caused by friars retracting from Thomas’s writings; a year later, the general chapter of Paris admonished the brothers not to tolerate friars who spoke irreverently of Thomas and his writings. Further, the general chapter of Strasbourg (1286) encouraged friars to promote Thomas’s doctrine at least as a defendable position (Lowe, 2003: 53f.) However, these decrees do not permit one to conclude—as has often been done—that ‘Thomism’ was now the official doctrine of the late thirteenth-century Dominican Order and thus represents the first Thomist school (Robiglio 2008). Beyond the very general references to Thomas and ‘his writings’, the general chapters never specified what it meant in practice to defend his doctrine, and in fact, in the first years of the fourteenth century Dominicans such as Dietrich of Freiberg or Meister Eckhart continued to criticize Thomas without being prosecuted. On the contrary, in 1311 Eckhart was given the privilege of holding the Dominican chair at the University of Paris for a second term (Hoenen 2010).

Things were different for the French Dominican Durandus of St Pourçain (d. 1334). Just as Eckhart or Dietrich, Durandus deviated from Thomas’s doctrine during the first decade of the fourteenth century in a Sentences commentary he delivered at a provincial Dominican studium, and just as Eckhart, he was not prosecuted for this. In fact, he was honoured with the order’s permission to complete his studies at the University of Paris. When he arrived in Paris in 1307, however, his mentor was Hervaeus Natalis (d. 1323), an influential Dominican who would become provincial of France and who, in his attempt to reform and unify the order’s educational system, promoted Thomas Aquinas as the order’s ‘common doctor’. Hence, from the very beginning of Durandus’s sojourn in Paris, the two were in conflict and in all likelihood it is out of this context that the general chapter of 1309 in Saragossa, where Hervaeus was present, tightened the decree of 1286, imposing on lecturers the injunction to teach according to the doctrine and works of Thomas Aquinas (Lowe 2003: 76).

Durandus read the signs of the times. Even if the rules of the order were not those of the university, he reworked for his academic lectures the first edition of his Sentences commentary into a far more modest redaction (as regards Aquinas) in which he simply passed over the most disputed topics (Schabel et al. 2001). In 1312, he was promoted to the doctorate by the University of Paris. But in the meantime, copies of the first version of his commentary had begun to circulate, a fact that not only provoked the pro-Thomist faction of the order because of the commentary’s content, but that was also seen as an infringement of the order’s rules that required a preliminary authorization of works to be published. Hence, in 1313, the general chapter of Metz repeated both the proscription to publish unauthorized works and the obligation to stand by the common doctrine of Thomas. Further, the chapter decreed that no student was to be sent to Paris without having studied Thomas’s doctrine for at least three years (Lowe 2003: 77). What is more, the chapter decided to start an investigation of Durandus’s works. Yet, this investigation was, once more, a matter of the order’s internal discipline. So, even though a commission presided over by Hervaeus collected ninety-three problematic propositions of which ninety-one were condemned within a year, Durandus’s fame was not compromised. He was even appointed to teach at the papal court in Avignon and was free to defend his views both in an internal response to the order’s authorities and on an academic level.

On the academic level, Durandus’s contributions provoked ardent polemics in which more and more non-Dominicans got involved and extended the controversy beyond Dominican control. Inside the Dominican Order, however, the control was reinforced. Thomas’s importance for the order’s educational system was intensified to the point that, in this second decade of the fourteenth century, several members of the order were prosecuted throughout Europe for their disaffirmation of Thomas’s ‘common doctrine’ (Lowe 2003: 80). Durandus was no longer affected by this examination: regardless of these internal Dominican affairs, Pope John XXII withdrew him from the order’s jurisdiction and appointed him bishop of Limoux in 1317 where he was free to publish another version of his Sentences commentary—unsurprisingly a very critical one with regards to Thomas Aquinas.

Within the order, however, this one scholastic doctor of theology now had a status that was only comparable to the authority of one of the late ancient Fathers of the Church. Hence, even though the motifs may have been much more complicated, it was only consequent that in 1317 the Dominican province of Sicily instigated the process of canonization for Thomas. When, six years later, Pope John XXII declared the formerly controversial scholastic to be a saint, Thomas was not only the first, but for years to come remained the only scholastic to be canonized.

The Establishment of an Authority

With Thomas’s canonization, the intra-Dominican debate about his status came to an end. But this did not mean that his authority was firmly established. To be sure, the consequent revocation—as far as Thomas’ doctrine was concerned—of Tempier’s condemnation in 1325 and a final tract against Durandus, the Evidentia contra Durandum by a certain Durandellus from about the same time, removed for the Dominicans the last doubts about Thomas’s rationality and orthodoxy. But with these points settled, the general interest in Thomas Aquinas abated. The theological approaches of the Franciscans John Duns Scotus (d. 1308) and William of Ockham (d. 1347) now made it possible to reconcile Aristotelian philosophy with the concept of divine free will and omnipotence, and hence the scholastic community turned away from the topics that were so heavily in dispute during the first decades after Thomas’s death (Courtenay 1987: 181f.). Even Dominican theologians such as Robert Holcot (d. 1349), despite their general chapters’ prescriptions, did not simply iterate what Thomas had said, but developed autonomous theological approaches based on the developments of Franciscan theology (Gelber 2004).

There were only a few exceptions. In 1363, Henry de Cervo (fl. 1350–60s) presented a Sentences commentary at Cologne in which he defended selected positions of Thomas, such as the possibility of an eternally created world or the instrumental causality of the sacraments (Grabmann 1956). What is more, Thomas’s moral philosophy—i.e. that part of his doctrine that was relevant for the great majority of Dominican friars who never studied at a university—was continuously held in high esteem at the Dominican studia and in northern Italy in particular, led to several ethical writings such as the Liber de virtutibus of Guido Vernani da Rimini (d. c.1345) that deliberately elaborated on Thomas’s positions (Cova 2011). In general, however, Dominicans remembered their order’s doctrinal master with reverence, but without resorting to a particular defence of him.

Yet, in this unspectacular, low-grade, but constant remembrance, Thomas’s fame rose. Because of the Dominicans’ presence at the universities, Thomas never completely disappeared from the discussions, but remained an inevitable factor—if only to be disapproved in a few words. For example, Thomas of Strasbourg (d. 1357)—an Augustinian Hermit working at Paris around 1335—adopted the Dominican terminology and referred to Thomas as ‘the common doctor’, but he nevertheless rejected him in many cases. By and by, however, this ‘negative’ importance of Thomas turned into a general respect far beyond his order’s boundaries. Marsilius of Inghen (d. 1396), a secular working at Paris around 1365, would refer to Thomas’s thought as a secure and very probable position, dissimulating the differences with his own doctrine (Santos-Noya 2000: 202). A few years later, the secular Henry of Oyta (d. 1397) compiled a Sentences commentary at Prague that modelled in structure and content Thomas’s Scriptum (Zahnd 2014: 266–274). In the context of the Black Death and the papal schism, scholastics of the later fourteenth century favoured well-established theological approaches; hence Thomas—who remained present for so many years, was known as the ‘common doctor’, and was canonized—gained a generally recognized authority.

But the extent of this authority had yet to be defined. In 1387, the Dominican John of Montesono (fl.1385–90) criticized in public speeches the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception and was therefore accused of heresy by the University of Paris. But the Dominicans supported Montesono since the view he defended accorded with Thomas’s doctrine; and since they considered Thomas’s canonization and the partial revocation of the 1277 articles as his doctrinal endorsement by the |Church, they appealed to the pope. Pierre d’Ailly (d. 1420), then chancellor of the university, responded on its behalf with an extensive tract that included a long passage on the authority of Thomas. D’Ailly did not question Thomas’s authority as such and he relied heavily on Aquinas in his refutation of Montesono: but at the same time he dismissed the idea that Thomas’s authority extended into every aspect of theology. Just as any other saint, Pierre d’Ailly argued, Thomas was not infallible, and hence he was sometimes in need of reinterpretation (Hoenen 2009: 75–78; 2010: 269f.). The pope adopted d’Ailly’s argumentation and as a result, not only was Montesono excommunicated, but the Dominicans were de facto excluded from the University of Paris. Yet this failure of an uncritical Thomism was, at the same time, the conclusive assessment of Thomas’s authority, since d’Ailly’s serious, but not all-embracing acceptance of Thomas was widely received. Thus at the turn of the fifteenth century, it is easy to find throughout European universities an acceptance of Thomas by non-Dominicans such as Giles Charlier (d. 1472) in Paris, Henry of Gorkum in Paris and Cologne, and Nicolas of Dinkelsbühl (d. 1433) in Vienna (Zahnd 2014).

Thomas and the Schools of the Fifteenth Century

The fifteenth century began with yet another fundamental challenge to Thomas’s doctrine. At the Council of Constance (1414–18), John Hus (d. 1415) and Jerome of Prague (d. 1416) were executed for a heretical understanding of the Eucharist, an understanding that was explicitly linked with their philosophy of universals. Suspected of supporting an extreme realism that considered universals as autonomous entities, they were said not to be able to explain the disappearance of the bread’s substance in transubstantiation, and hence to promote consubstantiation. Even though this debate did not explicitly engage Thomas, it incriminated his orthodoxy because Thomas defended a realist position on universals, even if in a far more modest form (Goris 2002: 6).

Hence, for many scholastics who were trained in the cautious and traditionalist perspective of the late fourteenth century, Constance was the ultimate confirmation that a commingling of philosophical and theological problems was dangerous and unsuitable for teaching young students. These scholars rejected the holistic but metaphysically overloaded approaches of ancient scholastics, among whom they counted Thomas Aquinas, and while still accepting Thomas as an authority in theological matters, they relied in their philosophical teachings on more modern and, one could say, purely philosophical approaches that were developed in the later fourteenth century. In opposition to this via moderna—this modern way of teaching philosophy—others were scandalized by the idea that the doctrine of generally approved and well-established scholastics could possibly lead to heresy. For them, the orthodoxy of Thomas was confirmed by his canonization and hence they began to revive the old way (i.e. the via antiqua) of teaching philosophy with a holistic, theological perspective. These two viae quickly evolved into different schools of thought so that, throughout the fifteenth century and particularly in German lands, universities split into the so-called Wegestreit with the moderni (or Nominalists as they were called according to their position on universals), and, on the other side, the antiqui or Realists who coalesced around the models of Albert the Great, John Duns Scotus, and Thomas Aquinas (Hoenen 2009: 67–70).

One of the strongholds of the Thomistic via antiqua was Cologne (Goris 2002). Together with (and soon in concurrence with) Albert the Great, Thomas was promoted as the best way of interpreting Aristotle. Many commentaries secundum viam Thomae (according to the way of Thomas) or ad mentem Thomae (in the sense of Thomas) were published. Apparently, this ‘old’ approach was received enthusiastically since the number of students enrolling in the via antiqua at Cologne exploded, while the via moderna was marginalized. It is important to note that the representatives of Thomism at Cologne were not Dominicans, but mostly seculars such as the aforementioned Henry of Gorkum, his student Gerard de Monte (d. 1480), and John Tinctoris (d. 1469). They were organized in so-called Bursae, in study houses where masters and students of all faculties lived together and cultivated the memory of their intellectual model. Hence, the philosophical Thomism started to affect theology too, and for the purposes of study, not only these Bursae elaborated on the Thomist auxiliary literature, but they were also among the first to provide rudimentary commentaries on Thomas’s Summa theologiae. Students trained in these Bursae exported to other German universities (such as Vienna, Leipzig, Rostock, and Freiburg) both the focus on Thomas and the habit of commenting on the Summa, such that Thomism gained, for the first time in history, the status of an independent intellectual school.

At Paris, where the Dominicans retrieved their old rights in 1403, the aftertaste of their exclusion, along with the reports from Constance, provoked a very personal defence of Aquinas. The Dominican John Capreolus (d. 1444), reading the Sentences at Paris in 1409, expanded his lectures in the 1420s into a huge apology of Thomas—the so-called Defensiones divi Thomae Aquinatis—in which he challenged the ‘negative’ reception of Thomas in fourteenth-century theology. Collecting arguments that were brought against Aquinas by some twenty different scholastics of the preceding century, Capreolus refuted them one by one, explaining disputed passages by means of other passages of Thomas that he collected from the whole range of Thomas’s works (Rosemann 2007: 139–148). A monumental synthesis of Thomist theology was the result, and Capreolus—who was soon honoured as the princeps thomistarum—defined for almost a century the scope of other theological defences of Thomas. And because Capreolus cited Thomas’s adversaries in detail, it was no longer necessary to consult their original works. However, Capreolus’s success in France was rather limited. To be sure, according to the registers of the university library, Thomas was the most consulted author at Paris, but there are no traces after Capreolus of an explicit promotion of Thomas. Even in the arts faculty—where the secular John Versor (d. c.1485) fostered the via antiqua with such great a success in the middle of the century that his works were used in Leuven, Basel, and in the classrooms of the Cologne Thomists—they were not focused exclusively on Thomas (i.e. it would be improper to label Versor a Thomist) (Rutten 2005).

Capreolus experienced greater success in northern Italy. Unlike other European universities, Italian universities did not have theological faculties; instead, teaching theology was the responsibility of the religious orders which were allowed to lecture occasionally at one of the universities. In the polemical milieu of fifteenth-century schools of thought, the Dominicans did not miss out on these occasions to promote Thomas Aquinas, and thanks to their apologetic structure, Capreolus’s Defensiones were a useful tool not only to defend Thomas, but also to refute the intellectual patrons of other religious orders. Paul Soncinas (d. 1494) and Sylvester Prierias (d. 1527) both presented abbreviations of Capreolus’s work, and as a young theologian Cajetan—before compiling his famous commentary on the Summa that will be discussed later in this chapter—presented a commentary on the Lombard’s Sentences that borrowed heavily from the Defensiones. But Italian Dominicans also developed their own Thomist tradition. As early as the Cologne masters, they began to comment on the Summa theologiae (at Padua, Ludovicus Longo, d. 1475); concurring with the other schools of thought they explained Aristotle according to Thomas Aquinas (at Bologna, Dominic of Flanders, d. 1479) and pursued, with Petrus de Bergamo (d. 1482) and his Tabula aurea, the genre of auxiliary literature. From northern Italy Thomism spread into eastern Europe (Peter Nigri, d. c.1484, at Buda) and finally back to Paris (Bonino 2007).

By the end of the fifteenth century, Thomas’s doctrinal heritage had its advocates in the main intellectual centres of Europe—although, this is not to say that Thomas was received exclusively by Thomists. Throughout the different schools, Thomas was a respected authority (see van Geest 2007), however the polemical context of the opposing viae produced a specific school of thought which—without being necessarily linked to the Dominican Order—had a particular focus on Aquinas. At Cologne, one of the birthplaces of this type of Thomism, the polemical situation deteriorated when the via antiqua split up into the followers of Thomas and the followers of Albert the Great. They separated once more on the question of knowing whether Aristotle contradicts the faith, and the Thomists, once again stressing their belief in the compatibility of philosophical and theological rationality, promoted Thomas as the way of commenting on Aristotle that did not lead to controversial results (Hoenen 2012). When, at the beginning of the sixteenth century, efforts were taken to overcome the school controversies—and when the Reformation begun to threaten doctrinal unity anew—this non-controversial, widely used approach of the ‘common doctor’ suggested itself as the most consensual position. The time was ripe for the triumphant success of Thomas in the Early Modern period.

Reform and the Baroque Period: 1500–1650

In the Early Modern period Thomas received a discernible reception only in particular milieux, those of school theology and school philosophy. But in the aftermath of the Renaissance and the Reformation, new philosophical and theological currents emerged that developed independently from institutional boundaries and did not care about traditional authorities such as Thomas Aquinas.

Inside the institutional milieu of Early Modern scholasticism, on the other hand, Thomas’s influence was stronger than ever before: building on his fame as the common doctor, Catholics relied preferentially on Thomas in their controversies with the Protestants, and hence Thomas became one of the first—and more and more appreciated—points of reference for Protestants when they referred to Catholic doctrine. Hence, Thomas was omnipresent in theological debates and when the Council of Trent (1545–1563) decided to unify the education of the clergy, Thomas’s works not only became the manuals for a majority of the new seminaries, but also an impressive number of old and new religious orders committed themselves to the promotion of Thomas’s doctrine. Besides the Dominicans, this was true for Carmelites, Benedictines, Premonstratensians, Augustinian Hermits, Trinitarians, and the Jesuits in particular. By the end of the sixteenth century, in most Catholic universities the text of Thomas’s Summa theologiae had replaced Peter Lombard’s Sentences as the standard textbook for the teaching of theology (Schmutz 2008).

But just as the use of the Sentences by medieval authors does not allow one to label them as a distinct group of ‘Lombardians’, this Early Modern use of Thomas Aquinas did not result in a coherent doctrine of Thomism (even if there were tendencies to establish a unified reading). On the contrary, these manifold references to Thomas and his theology provoked controversies about his true teaching. Self-proclaimed Thomists were accused of anti-Thomism by others who, themselves, were labelled a-Thomists, and scholastics committed to other intellectual traditions such as Scotism—who were now compelled to base their teachings on Thomas’s work as well—complicated the picture with deliberate readings against the grain (Schmutz 2008). In this complex and sometimes confusing situation, the present discussion will limit itself to two aspects: (1) the use of Thomas during the period of the Protestant Reformation (by both Catholics and Protestants)l and (2) the related but somewhat geographically isolated reception on the Iberian peninsula by Spanish and Portuguese theologians (the ‘Salamanca School’).

The Era of Reform

Thomas Aquinas had a significant influence on sixteenth-century theology among both Catholic and Protestant theologians. While the influence of Thomas in the first half of the sixteenth century is often limited to a discussion of the Catholic reception of his thought, it is important to begin by noting that the first generation of Protestant reformers included several theologians who were cradle Catholics and brought to their studies a profound knowledge of Thomas’s theology. Thus, we begin with a few notes on early Protestants sympathetic to Thomas.

While the reception of Thomas among the first generation of Protestant theologians is perhaps minimal, a full account of Thomas’s influence would include a discussion of theologians such as Martin Bucer (d. 1551), Peter Martyr Vermigli (d. 1562), and even Martin Luther (d. 1546). As a young Dominican, Bucer studied Thomas’s theology in great detail (Leijssen 1978). He was educated in theology at Heidelberg and his entire theological corpus demonstrates his familiarity with the works of Thomas. And, as Martin Greschat has demonstrated, Bucer personally owned virtually all of Thomas’s important theological writings (Greschat 2009). While perhaps not as familiar with Thomas as Bucer, the Italian reformer and former member of the Canons Regular of St Augustine, Peter Martyr Vermigli, was also influenced by Thomas. Finally, Janz’s study of Martin Luther’s engagement with Thomas and his late medieval followers demonstrates the complexity of tracing Thomas’s influence among those both sympathetic and critical of his work (Janz 1983).

The influence of Thomas among Catholic theologians in the sixteenth century is easier to trace. In the Catholic response to the Protestant Reformation, Thomas’s theology would be central to many decrees and canons of the Council of Trent (1545–63). For example, the decree concerning original sin from the fifth session (June 1546), the decree and canons on the doctrine of justification from the sixth session (January 1547), and the canons on baptism from the seventh session (March 1547) all explicitly rely on Thomas’s mature theology. And, while it is perhaps not accurate to consider these decrees and canons ‘Thomist’ in any strict sense (however one is to interpret that term), the theology of Thomas had a significant influence on the broader theology of the council fathers. This is true, despite the fact that many theologians attending the Council of Trent were not Dominicans or Thomistic per se. If the doctrine of justification serves as a test case, one notes that while Thomas’s theology had a significant influence on the shape of the doctrine—and that Thomas was ‘cited more than any other theologian … other than Augustine’ (McGrath 2005: 319–320)—the theologians attending the sixth session were predominantly Franciscan (of the fifty-five theologians attending, twenty-nine were Franciscans and only seven were Dominicans). Thus, while the Dominicans remained a minority at the sixth session of the council, the theology of Thomas was informative for the canons and decrees. Trent closed in December of 1563 and four years later in 1567, Pope Pius V (OP, d. 1572) declared Aquinas to be ‘Doctor of the Church’, and by the end of the decade the first ‘opera omnia’ of Thomas’s works appeared. This edition, often referred to as the Editio piana, was commissioned by Pius V and fostered the continued study of Thomas’s thought.

Finally, belonging to the era of reform is Thomas de Vio Cajetan’s (d. 1534) massive commentary on the Summa theologiae. Cajetan was an Italian Dominican who was sent by Pope Leo X to the Diet of Augsburg in 1518 to investigate the writings of Martin Luther. While Cajetan would eventually assist in writing the papal Bull excommunicating Luther (Exsurge Domine), he clearly had a significant amount of respect for the reformer from Wittenberg. Cajetan began his commentary on the Summa while teaching in Rome a decade before his confrontation with Luther, and it is interesting that after his engagement with Luther, Cajetan devoted the majority of his time to commentaries on Scripture. That said, he did complete his edition of the commentary on the Summa, publishing his remarks on the tertia pars in 1522. This work has often been accepted as the standard commentary on the Summa and was printed alongside it in the Leonine edition.

The Iberian Peninsula

The influence of Thomas Aquinas on the Iberian Peninsula must fittingly go through Paris, and despite the vitriol of Desiderius Erasmus (d. 1536) against his former college (the Collège de Montaigu), at the turn to the sixteenth century the University of Paris was an active and vibrant place to study theology. In the early sixteenth century the most famous theologian at Paris was John Mair (d. 1550), who as a logician was an ardent opponent of the Thomist via antiqua, but as a theologian nevertheless held Thomas in high esteem. One of Mair’s students, Peter Crockaert (d. 1514), joined the Dominican Order in 1503 and introduced his students to the study of theology through the Summa theologiae (on Crockaert, see Farge 1980: 126–127). This is where the young Spanish Dominican Francisco de Vitoria (d. 1546) became acquainted with the theology of Thomas Aquinas. He studied with Crockaert and Jean de Fenario (also a promoter of Thomas) at Paris and was entrusted by Crockaert with editing the Secunda secundae of Thomas Aquinas’s Summa theologiae (Farge 1980: 425). When Vitoria returned to Spain in 1523 he initially taught at a Dominican studium; three years later, in 1526, he was elected to the chair of theology at the University of Salamanca. The influence of Vitoria in Spain was immense and he counts among his students Domingo de Soto (d. 1560), Melchor Cano (d. 1560), Alfonso de la Vera-Cruz (d. 1584), Diego de Zúñiga (d. 1531), Andrés de Vega (d. 1549), and Bartolomé de Medina (d. 1581).

While Vitoria did not publish many works in his lifetime, his lectures at Salamanca were incredibly popular. In his lectures Vitoria developed theories of international law, natural rights, and national sovereignty; through the publication of his lectures as students’ lecture notes (beginning in 1528 with the publication of De potestate civilii), he had a significant influence on the development of political theories at a time when European powers were beginning to colonize the Americas. Thus, through Vitoria and other theologians of the Salamanca school, Thomas’s thought was expanded into theories of international law and politics.

The reception of Thomas’s thought in the second half of the sixteenth century was profound. It is not possible here to present either an exhaustive treatment of the diversity of interpretations of Thomas among various groups, nor even a complete catalogue of the numerous factions; here, we discuss briefly a dispute that took place between Jesuit and Dominican interpreters of Thomas’s theology. First, Ignatius of Loyola (d. 1556), the founder of the Society of Jesus, was among those who singled out Thomas Aquinas as the theologian for guiding his order’s theological formation (in this case in the Jesuit Constitutions adopted in 1554). In the generations that followed, Jesuit theologians such as Luis de Molina (d. 1600), Gabriel Vasquez (d. 1604), and Francisco Suárez (d. 1617) produced a profound literature analysing the theological and philosophical works of Thomas Aquinas. Alongside the developing Spanish Jesuit tradition, the Dominican Order also included several outstanding theologians, including Vitoria’s student Bartolomé de Medina, and Domingo Báñez (d. 1604). In the late sixteenth century a debate regarding the efficacy of grace emerged between the two orders and their respective interpretations of Thomas Aquinas.

Later referred to as the Molinist debate, the central concern was the relationship between God’s efficacious grace and human free will. In response to the traditional Augustinian or Thomistic position which held that God’s grace affects the soul’s free assent to God’s offer of salvation, Molina argued for a ‘middle knowledge’ (scientia media) such that God foresees individual human choices (unactualized future contingent acts) and predestines those who will consent to His grace. Báñez responded by arguing that according to Thomas, God’s eternal act of predestination is made independent of all merit (even foreseen merit) (for more, see O’Meara 1997: 160–167). This debate over how to interpret Thomas Aquinas lingered on into the early seventeenth century and is representative of the type of theologizing that dominated the interpretation of Thomas Aquinas throughout the baroque period.

Finally, it is fitting to conclude the discussion of Thomas’s reception on the Iberian peninsula with mention of the Dominican theologian John of St Thomas (d. 1644). John of St Thomas was born in Lisbon and educated at Leuven before taking the chair in theology at Alcalá. He is perhaps best known for his two massive works, the Cursus philosophicus and the Cursus theologicus; the former was printed in nine folio volumes between 1632 and 1636, the latter in seven folio volumes between 1637 and 1644. For many, this massive compilation stands out as a high point in the development of Thomistic thought in the mid-seventeenth century.

Thomas’s Reception from 1650 to 1879

With scholasticism in general, Thomas Aquinas’s thought ceased to have a significant influence on the history of philosophy and theology between 1650 and about 1850. First, it is important to observe the various historical factors that come into play, not least of which are political, economic, and cultural. Specifically, this period sees the decline in Spanish power and the rise of French hegemony that would last until the defeat of Napoleon in 1815. Thus, while Thomas’s thought would experience a resurgence on the Iberian peninsula in the early seventeenth century, this movement would not last. Second, in the philosophical world, the rationalism of thinkers such as René Descartes (d. 1650) and Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz (d. 1716) both borrowed from scholasticism and sought to transcend it. In this regard, Upham is correct to observe that the arguments for the existence of God or a necessary being found in both Descartes and Leibniz are radically distinct from Aquinas’s arguments for the existence of God in the quinquae viae (Upham 2012: 523–524). Further, as one continues to trace the history of modern philosophy beyond the rationalists into the empiricists (e.g. John Locke (d. 1704), George Berkley (d. 1753), and David Hume (d. 1776)), there is even less influence of medieval scholasticism. Many Catholic thinkers were open to these new approaches and they received these approaches in explicit dissociation from traditional schools of thought and from the Jesuits and Thomism in particular. Hence, in the new positive theology and its historical approach, the thought of Thomas Aquinas only served as a negative backdrop (see, e.g. Burson 2010: 79–91). Even if this is to simplify matters considerably, the conclusion is that there was very little discussion of Thomas’s thought outside the seminary context between 1650 and 1850. And, while it is not accurate to conclude from this that Thomas’s thought was not studied during this period, it is accurate to state that the reception of his thought during this period was not engaged with economic, political, or intellectual developments outside the Catholic seminary context.

Despite this general trend of decline, Thomas’s thought experienced a resurgence in the second half of the nineteenth century. The resurgence of his thought within Catholic theology in the middle of the nineteenth century is a complex development that ultimately has its roots in numerous factors, including the universal restoration of the Jesuits (see Inglis 1998). Formerly suppressed in Spain, Portugal, France, and other territories, Pope Pius VII restored the Jesuits in 1814 and the resurgence of the order is significant in tracing the reception of Thomas’s thought. Another factor that contributed to the rediscovery of medieval philosophy (and by extension Thomas) in the early nineteenth century is the influence of Romanticism and the interest in nature, natural religion, and mysticism. The Romantic movement inspired German scholars such as Christoph Bernhard Schlüter (d. 1884) to take medieval thought seriously (Inglis 1998: 48) and reinvigorated it as a subject of concentrated analysis. Interestingly, Schlüter—and other professors (e.g. Johann Theodor Katerkamp, d. 1834) interested in early and medieval Christian thought—had a significant influence on the young German student Joseph Kleutgen (d. 1883) at the theological academy of Münster. Kleutgen, who would join the Society of Jesus in 1832, deserves special mention in the revival of Thomas’s thought leading up to the first Vatican Council (1869–70). What is striking about Kleutgen’s turn to Thomas is that it was focused on the Angelic Doctor’s virtues as a philosopher (to counter Enlightenment philosophy) and not his theological contribution.

Joseph Kleutgen’s five-volume Theologie der Vorzeit (Theology of the Past) was published between 1853 and 1870 and argued that modern theologies were not as well equipped to defend and nourish the faith as pre-modern theologies. In particular, Kleutgen argued that ‘Aquinas is the greatest of the Scholastics because he offers a correct account of the relation between reason and revelation’ (Inglis 1998: 73). Throughout his writings Kleutgen directs much of his energy to demonstrating the problems with Immanuel Kant’s philosophy and argues that the problems with modern thought are best addressed in the thought of the Angelic Doctor. His view of medieval philosophy and theology would have a lasting impact on the subsequent revival of Thomas’s thought and inspired Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Aeterni Patris issued in 1879. In fact, it is highly probable that Kleutgen was the principal author of Aeterni Patris.

Thomas’s reception between 1650 and 1879 ends on the verge of a Thomistic renaissance and the rise of neo-Thomism—however, despite the language of ‘rebirth’ and ‘rise’ implicit in such statements, there are real questions about the vitality of this intellectual tradition in the modern period. Thomas’s thought developed in the thirteenth century as a form of Christian scholasticism that was implicitly wedded to an Aristotelian philosophy. And, while these three dimensions (Thomas’ scholastic method, Christian commitments, and Aristotelian philosophy) of Thomas’s thought were normative throughout the late Middle Ages and up through the Early Modern period (at least until the end of the seventeenth century), increasingly the scholastic method itself as well as Thomas’s Christian and Aristotelian commitments became inhibitors of his reception. Thus, between 1650 and 1879 the influence of Thomas’s thought would slowly decline, and while there would be a resurgence after Aeterni Patris, his thought would remain isolated within Catholic institutions.

Suggested Reading

The best general introduction to Thomas’s life and works is Torrell’s Saint Thomas Aquinas and the reader is directed to Torrell’s catalogue of Thomas’s works for extensive bibliographical information (2005a: 330–361). For further information on the life and works of Thomas Aquinas, please consult: William of Tocco (1996); Torrell (2003; 2005a; 2005b). The best short introduction to Thomas’s reception in English (although relying on an alternative methodology) remains Romanus Cessario’s A Short History of Thomism (2005).


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