Friday, August 11, 2006

What, precisely, is Thomism?

Just over two years ago I blogged on a book I'd just read: Dr. Tracey Rowland's Culture and the Thomist Tradition: After Vatican II. As I blogged then, it's an outstanding book, and I encourage anyone remotely interested in the issues it addresses to read it.

Since then, I've kept my eyes open for reviews of the book, and as I've read those, one criticism is found in multiple reviews, that being that Rowland seems to stretch the definition of Thomism beyond legitimate bounds. The review in Modern Theology by Joseph Wawrykow of Notre Dame posited that Rowland's definition of Thomism "is in fact too broad, so loose that it covers anyone who has been associated with classical Christianity, not simply those who would identify with Aquinas and his particular approach to Christian truth." He proceeds to wonder "why Rowland does not refer simply to ‘creedal Christianity’ or ‘classical Christianity’" instead of "Thomism".

Now, I consider myself a Thomist, and I recognized Rowland as such as well. So this criticism of her work led me to wonder: what, exactly, makes one a Thomist, and what, exactly, constitutes Thomism, beyond the tautology that these terms refer to one who "follows" the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas, and to his thought, respectively. In other words, what is the definition of Thomist/m? Clearly, if Scholar A argues that Scholar B is not a Thomist, Scholar A has some operative definition of Thomist/m. So what is that definition?

This question turns out to be somewhat difficult to answer. The best answer I've seen comes from the Dominican priest and scholar, Fr. Romanus Cessario, in his book, A Short History of Thomism. In that book, he offers a short list of what constitutes a Thomist perspective, but like others, he also notes that the doctrinal content of Thomism is not exactly well-defined... his list functions more as a lowest common denominator than as an attempt at a comprehensive definition.

Having said that, I'd be curious to hear what others think about this, and how they might answer the question, "What does it mean to be a Thomist and to subscribe to Thomism?"

Update: only after publishing this post did I check Wikipedia and the resources it links. While the Wikipedia entry on "Thomism" falls prey to the common trend to view Thomism more as a philosophical than a theological school, its list of philosophical positions distinctively Thomistic was helpful. More helpful, though, was the link provided to the 1907-12 Catholic Encyclopedia's entry on Thomism. Again, there are some assertions which could be questioned in light of more recent scholarship, which rightly tends to wonder if neo-Thomism incorrectly distilled Thomas' thought, but the lists (both philosophical and theological, and of both Thomism and the Thomist school) remain somewhat helpful.

I remain curious as to the thoughts of readers on this question, though.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Take a look at the review of Rowland's book in American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly
79 (2005).