Saturday, February 19, 2011

What's so hot about Thomism?

Whether Thomism is really so hot.

Objection 1. It seems that Thomism is not so hot. For hotness in a theological system consists in giving the right answers to questions. But if asked “Was Mary immaculately conceived?” (or certain other questions) Thomism gives the wrong answer, while another system gives the right one. So Thomism is not so hot.

Objection 2. Thomism—indeed much theology—claims to be a science, yet to answer all questions correctly it needs to know the answers in advance. But this makes Thomism (and much theology) inconsequential, for we need not resort to it if we have our answers in advance. Insofar as hotness consists in answering questions of consequence, then, Thomism, and much theology with it, is not so hot.

Objection 3. Thomists, the devotees of Thomism, are often narrow-minded, ignorant, stubborn, and otherwise annoying. Since this practically amounts to a pathological syndrome, we speak of the Dominican disease, which consists in knowing Aquinas but nothing else. Were Thomism so hot, it would either prevent or cure this disease; and, since it does neither, it is not so hot.

Objection 4. After an extraordinary supernatural experience Thomas Aquinas stopped writing and likened his works to a quantity of straw, which is not so hot. Since the works of Aquinas are essential to Thomism, Thomism is, according to Aquinas, not so hot.

But on the contrary is the authority of Pope Bl. John XXIII, who said of Aquinas’s teaching that it is, more than any other, fully in keeping with the truths that God has revealed, with the writings of the Holy Fathers, and with the principles of right reason, and therefore Holy Church has adopted it as her own, and has given the name of common or universal teacher to its author.

I answer that being so hot it predicated of one thing in relation to another. Compared with divine Truth, divine Charity, and the sacred Scriptures, Thomism is not so hot, for these are either God (who is a consuming fire) or inspired of God, whereas Thomism is a school of sapiential science elaborated by human authors only. Yet Thomism is justifiably said to be so hot, and for four reasons.

First, Thomism—and all theological science—depends on the revelation of the divine understanding for its principles. But no other science does this. So Thomism, and all theological science, is relatively hot by reason of its share in the divine hotness.

Second, Thomism—and all theological science—is hot both by reason of its scientific certainty (in which it is hotter than the inductive and positive sciences, but no hotter than the deductive sciences of mathematics, philosophy, and the like) and by reason of its inculcating wisdom about divine things. For while philosophy imparts wisdom about divine things in a purely natural manner, for his divine attributes, namely his power and deity, have been known since the creation of the world by the things that have been made, theology, including Thomism, does so more fully, surely, and fruitfully on account of its drawing on the scientia divina, as we have shown (cf. STh 1a, q1, a1). Accordingly Thomism, and all theology, is, by believers, reckoned way, way hotter than all purely natural understanding.

Third, Thomism is so hot because it is in two respects unrivalled by any comparable theological school. First, has not departed from the demonstrable faith of the ancient church. Second, it accommodates doctrinal development, non-theological science, and its own positive mistakes. 

Fourth, hotness is predicated of Thomism because it is, for certain purposes, pedagogically unsurpassed. On one hand, Thomism is more extensive, sophisticated, well-organized, and deliberately adapted to the study of divinity in a contemplative setting than the other major theological pedagogy, namely the Sentences of Peter Lombard. On the other hand, as stated above, Thomism keeps traditional dogma without ignoring development, secularity, or its own fallibility. Thomism is so hot because other pedagogical theologies are either even more academic or even more doctrinaire.

Reply to objection 1. Being so hot is a matter of relative quality, and relative to other theological schools Thomism is far and away the most consistently correct. That there are exceptions that concern matters of fact or newly-defined dogmas is neither surprising nor inconsistent with being so hot. In the example given and others, the virtue of Thomism is shown in its asking the right questions and facilitating clear thought about the topic.

Reply to objection 2. Theology is not a positive science but rather is a sapiential doctrine subalternated to the divine understanding. That it needs some answers (revelation, the Creed) to do its explanatory work does not detract from its hotness.

Reply to objection 3. The Gospel, though supernaturally hot, does not altogether prevent vice or imperfection in Christians, or even their misuse of the Gospel; still less may we expect Thomism to do these things for its students. Moreover, the correlation of Thomism to general ignorance does not imply causation: the Dominican disease is more plausibly explained by pride, sloth, immoderate zeal, and the specialization born of positive or Thomastic studies.

Reply to objection 4. Relative to God, Thomism is not so hot. Hotness may yet be predicated of Thomism—and is rightly so predicated—because of Thomism’s hotness in relation to other theologies and disciplines.