"For knowledge of things so great [supernatural truths], the beauty of
According to the example of his divine Master, Saint Thomas makes no exception of persons. He invites to the banquet of wisdom disciple as well as master, both teacher and the taught, the active and the contemplative, the secular and the regular, poets, artists, scholars and philosophers, ay, and the man in the street, if only he will lend an ear, as well as priests and theologians. And his doctrine possesses energies powerful enough and pure enough to act efficaciously, not only on that consecrated elite which is being formed in the seminaries (would that it were always sufficiently aware of the magnitude of its intellectual responsibilities!) but also on the whole universe of culture; to reestablish human intelligence in order, and thus, with the grace of God, to bring back to the ways of Truth a world that is dying for no longer knowing It.
1. The disease afflicting the modern world is above all a disease of the intellect. It began in the mind and has by now penetrated to its very roots. Is it surprising then that the world should seem to us shrouded in darkness? Si oculus tuus fuerit nequam, totum corpus tuum tenebrosum erit.2
Just as at the moment when the original sin was committed all the harmony of the human being was shattered, because the order which requires that reason be subject to God had first been violated, so at the root of all our disorders we see first and above all a rupture of the supreme ordering of the intellect. The responsibility of philosophers in this respect is of prime importance. In the sixteenth century, but especially by the time of Descartes, the interior hierarchies of the virtues of reason began to crumble. Philosophy separated itself from theology to claim the title of supreme knowledge; then, as a natural result, the mathematical science of the sensible world and its phenomena was to take precedence over metaphysics. The history of modern philosophy shows us how the human intellect progressively affirmed its own independence with respect to God and with respect to being: that is to say, with respect to the supreme Object of every intelligence, and with respect to the connatural object of the intellect as such.
The due order between the intellect and its object was thus shattered. We have difficulty in realizing the frightful significance, charged with blood and tears, of these few abstract words; we have difficulty in realizing the tremendous upheaval, the tremendous invisible catastrophe, to which they point. The intellect! That "divine" activity, as Aristotle termed it, that prodigy of light and life, that glory and supreme perfection of created nature, through which we become spiritually all things, through which we shall one day possess our supernatural beatitude, from which here on earth all our acts (insofar as they are human acts) proceed, and on which the rectitude of all we do depends. Can we conceive how ruinous for man is the disturbance of that life -- a participation in the divine light -- which he bears within him? The revolution begun by Descartes and continued by the philosophers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is a greater historical cataclysm than the most formidable upheavals of the earth's surface or of the economy of nations.
Indocile to the object, to God, to being, the intellect becomes also and to the same extent a rebel against any kind of tradition and spiritual continuity. It retires within itself, locks itself up in the incommunicability of the individual. And if we reflect that docibilitas, the capability of being taught, is an essential property of the created intelligence (nay more, of animal faculties themselves insofar as they resemble and foreshadow intelligence, so much so that Aristotle classifies animals according to this criterion, placing on the lowest rung those which are not capable of being taught); if we reflect, further, that this docibilitas is for us the true root of social life, man being a political animal primarily because he needs others in order that he may make progress in the work of speculative and practical reason, which is his specific work -- then we must conclude, on the one hand, that in losing its heed of human teaching, along with its heed of the object, the intelligence in our time has proceeded in the direction both of a progressive weakening of reason and of a progressive loosening of the most profound and at the same time the most human bonds of social life.
Three main symptoms of the disease afflicting intelligence today down to its very roots may be discerned at the point of evolution which thought has reached since the great changes inaugurated by the Cartesian reform.
Intelligence fancies it affirms its own strength by denying and rejecting as genuine knowledge, first theology, and then metaphysics; by abandoning any attempt to know the First Cause and non-material realities; by cultivating a more or less refined doubt which wounds at once the perception of the senses and the principles of reason, that is to say, the very things all our knowledge depends on. This presumptuous lowering of human knowledge may be described in one word: agnosticism.
At the same time intelligence refuses the rights of First Truth, and repudiates the supernatural order, which it regards as impossible -- and such a denial is a denial of the whole life of grace. In one word: naturalism.
Finally, intelligence lets itself be deceived by the mirage of a mythical conception of human nature, which assigns to that nature conditions peculiar to the pure spirit, supposes it to be in each one of us as perfect and complete as the angelic nature in the angel, and therefore claims for man, as a gift of nature, full self-sufficiency and absolute independence. Such a conception we may term anthropocentric individualism, giving to this word its full metaphysical sense, though it would be more exact to call it angelism: a term which is justified by historical as well as doctrinal considerations, for it is in the Cartesian confusion between the human soul and the pure spirit, as in the Leibnitzian confusion between substance, whatever it may be, and the angelic monad, that anthropocentric individualism has its ideal origin and its metaphysical type. And naturally this angelist error was to engender its contrary, whether it is a question of the psychological disintegration of the human person in the world of the irrational and of instinct, or of its social and political enslavement to the collective whole.
I say that these three great errors are the symptoms of a radical disease, for it is the very root, the threefold root -- rational, religious, moral -- of our life that they attack.
At first they were singularly latent and hidden, in the state of pure spiritual intentions. Today everyone sees and feels them, because their cruel point has passed from the intellect right into the flesh of humanity.
Note too, it is the integrity of natural reason the simplicity of the eye of intelligence, to use the Gospel phrase, the fundamental rectitude of common sense which is wounded by these errors. A strange outcome for rationalism! Man, looking for complete emancipation, undertook to reduce everything to the level of reason. And in the end he comes to renounce the real; he no longer dares to use ideas to adhere to being; he forbids himself to know anything beyond the sensible fact and the phenomenon of consciousness; he dissolves every object of thought in a great flowing jelly called Becoming or Evolution; he considers himself a barbarian if he does not suspect every first principle and every rational demonstration, of naivete; he replaces the effort of thought and logical discernment by a certain refined play of instinct, imagination, intuitive thrills, and visceral emotions; he no longer dares to judge.
2. Now, it is important to realize that nothing below the intellect can remedy this disease which affects the intellect and which sprang from it; it is by intelligence itself that this disease will be cured. If intelligence is not saved, nothing will be saved. However sick it may be, it always conceals in its depths an essential vitality which nothing can injure or corrupt, and it always remains, in the metaphysical order, the highest faculty of the human being. Because of the indefectible energy of its spiritual nature, the disease which affects it, however radical it may be, remains of the accidental order, of the order of operation, and cannot affect it in its essential constitution. And it is precisely when this disease has become most manifest that one is entitled to hope for the salutary reaction: only let the intellect become conscious of the disease and it will immediately rouse itself against it.
Besides, it is no use beating about the bush. We are faced with an ineluctable necessity. The evils afflicting us have penetrated so deeply into the human substance, they have wrought such general havoc, that all the means of defense, all the extrinsic supports, due above all to the social structure, institutions, and the moral order of the family and the body politic -- and truth as well as the highest acquisitions of culture have great need of them among men -- are, if not actually destroyed, at least gravely shaken. Everything which was humanly solid is in jeopardy, "the mountains slide and leap." Man stands alone before the ocean of being and the transcendentals. It is an abnormal state for human nature and as perilous as can be. But in any case it is indeed the proof that everything depends henceforth on the restoration of the intelligence. Those metaphysical truths which Pascal thought too removed from the common feeling of men are henceforth beyond any doubt the sole refuge and safeguard of the common life and the most immediate interest of humanity. It is no longer a question of wagering heads or tails. It is a question of judging, true or false, and of facing eternal realities.
The attempts at political and social reconstruction to which the pressure of life prompts peoples will not avoid turning into brutal and ephemeral despotisms; they will produce nothing sound and stable -- unless the intelligence is restored. The movement of religious renewal appearing in the world will be lasting and truly efficacious, only if the intelligence is restored. Truth first -- veritas liberabit vos.3 Woe to us, if we fail to understand that now as in the days of the creation of the world, the Word is at the beginning of the works of God.
3. What is the most striking characteristic of all that is most exalted, most divine, most efficacious in Saint Thomas Aquinas, the most striking characteristic of the very sanctity of Saint Thomas? "The chief characteristic of the sanctity of Saint Thomas is what Saint Paul calls sermo sapientiae, 'the word of wisdom,' and the union of the two wisdoms, the acquired and the infused." 4 Let us say that the sanctity of Saint Thomas is the sanctity of the intelligence; and I wish I could vividly convey all the reality contained in those words.
Not only does the philosophy of Saint Thomas up hold better than any other the rights and the nobility of the intellect -- affirming its natural primacy over the will; gathering together under its light all the hierarchized diversity of being; identifying it, there where it subsists by itself as Pure Act, with the infinitely holy nature of the living God; and finally, in the practical order, reminding us unceasingly that the life of man, and above all the Christian life, "is grounded on intelligence" -- but also, and this goes much further, the very sanctity of Thomas Aquinas, his charity, his sacrifice of praise, his consummation in Jesus, all are fulfilled and radiant in him at the summit of the spirit, in that life of the intellect which Aristotle declared to be better than human life, and where the activity of man borders on the activity of pure forms. This is the sense in which we should understand the age-old title of Doctor Angelicus so appropriately given to Thomas Aquinas. Saint Thomas is in a supereminent sense the pure intellectual, because intelligence itself is his means par excellence of serving and loving God, because intelligence itself is his host of adoration.
His principal task, as is well known, was, with the approbation and the encouragement, nay, rather at the instigation of the papacy, to make room in the Christian intelligence for Aristotle -- completing him and perfecting him, and purifying him of all dross -- and for all the natural wisdom of those philosophers whom Tertullian called "animals of glory." To achieve this he bad to fight a very hard battle. For if there is between Aristotle and the Gospel, between the human wisdom which grew up on the soil of Greece and the revelation which came down from the sky of Judea, a kind of preestablished harmony, which is in itself a remarkable apologetic sign; nevertheless, to realize this harmony, to make it actual, by triumphing over the obstacles born of the limitations of the human subject, there was required not only the maturity of the civilization of Saint Louis' age but also all the strength of the great dumb ox of Sicily. As Pascal saw so clearly, it is above all due to the mediocrity of our intellectual wing-span that we fall into error, because we cannot grasp together truths which seem opposed but are in reality complementary. "Exclusion" is thus "the cause of heresy," and more generally of error. The self-styled Augustinians of the thirteenth century, attached materially to the letter of their master, commingled the formal objects of faith and reason, of metaphysical wisdom and the wisdom of the saints: in short, they tended toward what we would today call anti-intellectualism. What were they really doing in this, if not refusing the rights of the truth of the natural order? This tendency was to end later in formal heresy, with Luther and his inhuman hatred of reason. The Averroists, in their fanatical devotion to an Aristotle corrupted by the Arabs, disregarded the proper light and the primacy of faith and theology: in short, they tended toward rationalism, refusing the rights of supernatural truth. And we know very well to what this tendency was to lead. Saint Thomas crushed them both, and he will crush them again, for it is always the same battle. And at the same time he determined with definitive principles the rational theory of that distinction and that accord between the natural order and the supernatural order which are integral to the Catholic Faith, and more important for the life of the world than the cycle of the stars and the seasons.
But this double battle against the Averroists and the old benighted Scholasticism, this immense task of integrating Aristotle into Catholic thought, is only the manifestation and the sign of an invisible struggle, greater still and more formidable. The peculiar task of Saint Thomas, the undertaking to which he was appointed by the Lord, was to bring the proudest and most intractable (because the most spiritual) of powers, the intellect -- I mean the intellect in all its apparel of riches and majesty, armed with all its speculative energies, with all its logic, all its science, all its art, all the embellishment of its fierce virtues rooted in being itself -- to bring the intellect (compelling it to sobriety but never to abdication) whole and entire into the holy light of Christ, into the service of the Child-God lying between the ox and the ass. For the rest of time all the Magi will follow him.
These considerations enable us, I think, to catch a glimpse of the mystery of the very vocation of Saint Thomas. A very astonishing vocation, it has often been observed. For the place that Thomas Aquinas had to leave in order to answer the call of God was not the world, but the cloister, not the society of his day, but Monte Cassino. It was not what the Church calls the ignominy of the habit of the world -- ignominia saecularis habitus-- but the holy Benedictine habit that he abandoned in order to put on the white robe of Saint Dominic. It was not the peril of the world that he left for the state of perfection: it was from one state of perfection to another, and a more difficult one, that he moved. He had to leave the house of blessed Father Benedict from whom, as a little oblate in a black habit, he learned the twelve degrees of humility,5 and of whom, as an enraptured Doctor finished with his work, he would ask hospitality in order to die. And knowing that such is the will of the Lord, he obstinately insisted on this departure with the tenacity of an indomitable will.
Brothers, mother, prison, ruse and violence, nothing could stop him. Why this obstinacy? He has to be about his Father's business. What is God? He has to teach us to spell divine things. And this is what Countess Theodora could not understand.
Saint Dominic had asked Saint Benedict for him in Heaven, because the Word of God had asked Saint Dominic for him, to entrust him with a mission to Christian intelligence. He must serve intelligence, but as the priest serves the creature of God. He must instruct it, baptize it, nourish it with the Body of the Lord; he must celebrate the nuptials of the Intellect and the Lamb. On the white pebble given to him, which is also the live coal that purifies his lips, there is written: Truth.
Saint Thomas is properly and before everything else the apostle of the intelligence: this is the first reason why we must regard him as the apostle of modern times.
4. The second reason is what we may call the absolutism of truth in his soul and in his work, with this triple consequence: a perfect purity in intellectual quality; a perfect logical rigor and at the same time a harmonious complexity in doctrine; and a perfect docility in obedience to the real. Admittedly every philosopher, every theologian desires and seeks the truth. But do they desire it with such vehemence and so exclusively? Not to mention particularist preoccupations and vices of every kind -- self-love, aimless curiosity, the vain desire for originality and novelty pursued for their own sakes -- which so often spoil the quest, may not a philosopher, the while he seeks truth, seek also something else? In reality it is very rare that Truth alone draws everything to itself in the heaven of the intellect. Giant stars, other transcendentals mingle their attractions with Truth's, and divert thought. And this is a grave disorder, for science as such must be measured only by the true. Is there not at the bottom of Platonism in metaphysics and of Scotism in theology a secret collusion, so to speak, of Beauty or the Good with Truth, of Love with Knowledge? With other philosophers it is more earthly influences that enter into play -- convenience, facility, adaptation to the patterns of the age or to the exigencies of teaching, or more generally to the weakness of the human subject, an ill-controlled anxiety as to practical consequences, even an effort to strike a balance between opposed opinions, which one takes for wisdom, though in reality it consists merely in seeking a golden mean between error and truth as between two opposed vices. Thus truths are diminished by the sons of men.
Saint Thomas, on the contrary, leaves truth all its grandeur, a grandeur the measure of which is the Son of God. Philosopher and theologian, he knows nothing but Truth, and is it not so that Philosophy and Theology taken as such must know only Jesus Crucified? His whole rule or measure is in being, he is in a perfectly correct relation to his object. Nothing other than intelligible necessities and the exigencies of supreme principles ever determines his solutions, even if they should be thus rendered more difficult for us, even if they should make men exclaim: durus est hic sermo.6 And if his doctrine rests entirely, in the analytical order, in via inventionis, on being, the first datum for the intellect, it depends entirely, in the synthetic order, in via judicii, on God, the First Truth, the supreme object of every spirit.7 Saint Thomas casts his net over the universe and captures all things, to bear them, vivified in the intellect, toward the Beatific Vision. This theology of the peaceful is, under the light of faith, an immense movement of thought between two intuitions: the intuition of being and the first principles of reason, whence it starts and which is given to it here on earth; and the intuition of God clearly seen, towards which it advances and which will be given to it in the hereafter. Ordering the whole discourse to an ineffable supreme end, it remains ever rational, but at the same time it teaches reason not to seek its measure in itself; and before the mysteries from below, such as matter and potency, as before the mysteries from above, such as the influence of divine premotion on created liberty, it asks us to pay tribute both to the rights of being over our spirit and to the divine sublimity. This is why it is so serene and so universal, so open and so free, the most boldly affirmative and the most humbly prudent, the most systematic and the least biased, the most intractable and the most receptive to all the nuances of the real, the richest in certitudes and the most careful to respect the part of the probable and of opinion, the most resolute and uncompromising and the most immune to self-complacency. So transcendent is the object in which it aspires to lose itself!
Now I say that in this respect also Saint Thomas answers in a special way the needs of the present time. The spirit is exposed to such serious dangers today that no palliative can possibly suffice for it. Many restoratives which worked in the past are now powerless to act on minds ploughed to their very depths by modern controversies, and whose critical needs have therefore grown particularly exacting.
The work of disintegrating forces is so much to the fore today that to triumph over them there is required an implacably rigorous doctrine, one that is at the same time so ample that it can do justice to all the diversities in which contemporary thought, for want of an ordering light, exhausts itself. Thus what is really needed is precisely the absolutism of truth; what is expedient and "practical" is doctrinal radicalism, but a radicalism that is free from all narrowness and all brutality, all partiality, all fanaticism, and holding therefore to the only true Absolute, to the transcendence of First Truth, from which all things proceed into being. A thousand doctrines can aggravate the condition of the intelligence, only one can cure it.
5. Thomism -- and this is the third reason why Saint Thomas must be called the apostle of modern times -- is alone capable of delivering the intelligence from the three radical errors mentioned at the beginning of this chapter.
Scrutinizing the metaphysical secrets of knowledge, the original nature and the mysterious immateriality of which it alone perfectly respects, putting our ideas in continuity with things through the intuition of the senses, and resolving all our knowledge in the evidence of being and the first principles, whose transcendental value enables it to ascend even to God, the doctrine of Saint Thomas is a wisdom high enough to save the intelligence from the deceptions of agnosticism, and to oppose to the idealist demon (already quite decrepit) a realism not naive but soundly critical.
Aware of the infinite elevation and the infinite liberty of the Creator, as of the radically contingent depths of created being, assuring, thanks to a sound notion of the universal, the value of nature and its laws, and showing that this nature still remains immensely ductile with respect to God's power, open and penetrable to the divine influx, it reduces to absurdity the naturalist postulate and the metaphysical hypocrisy which, hidden behind the positive sciences, tries to endow the creature with divine aseity.
Understanding all that the very notion of "rational animal" implies of grandeur and servitude, situating the human intelligence on the lowest rung of the ladder of spirits, bluntly dismissing all its claims to play the pure spirit, doing justice both to the autonomy that belongs to us as spirits and to the dependence that belongs to us as creatures, as material creatures, and as wounded creatures, it destroys by the root, by its angelist root, an anthropocentric individualism which in reality sacrifices the human person to an illusory and devouring image of man. And at the same time it restores the dignity of the person against all that despairs of reason and liberty and all that deifies the state.
The fact is that Saint Thomas -- and this is the most immediate benefit he confers -- brings the intellect back to its object, orientates it toward its end, restores it to its nature. He tells it that it is made for being. How could it possibly not give ear? It is as if one told the eye that it is made to see, or wings that they are made to fly. It finds itself again in recovering its object; it orders itself entirely to being; in accordance with the sovereign inclination that things have for their first principle, it tends, above all, towards Subsistent Being Itself.
Simplicity of gaze is at the same time restored to it; artificial obstacles no longer obtrude to make it hesitate before the natural evidence of first principles; it re-establishes the continuity of philosophy and common sense.
Submissive to the object, but in order to attain to its true liberty, for it is in this submission that it acts with the most spontaneous and the most living activity; heedful of the teaching of masters, but in order to render more intense and more perfect its own grasp of the object (for it is through love of being that it asks to be helped and fortified by the labor of centuries), it re-establishes within itself the essential hierarchies of the intellect and the order of its virtues.
What constitutes the nobility of philosophers, of modern philosophers in particular, is that in spite of their erring ways they love the intellect, even when they ruin it. But for the most part they have loved it more than they have loved God. Saint Thomas loves God more than the intellect, but he loves the intellect more than all the philosophers have loved it. That is why he can restore it, reminding it of its duties. He shames it out of its cowardice, gives it again the courage to face the supreme truths. He shames it out of its vainglory, bends it to measure itself against things and to listen to a tradition. He teaches it again simultaneously the two complementary virtues it had lost together, magnanimity and humility.
6. Apostle of the intelligence, doctor of truth, restorer of the intellectual order, Saint Thomas wrote not for the thirteenth century but for our time. His own time is the time of the spirit, which dominates the ages. I say that he is a contemporary writer, the most "present" of all thinkers. He adheres so purely to the high light of wisdom that as regards the more particular sciences and their moving shadows he enjoys a liberty such as no philosopher has ever known: all the considerable coating borrowed from the science of the thirteenth century can fall away, his philosophical and metaphysical doctrine remains as intact as the soul when separated from the body. And perhaps the divestiture effected by the revolutions which have taken place in the science of phenomena since Nicole Oresme, Leonardo da Vinci and Galileo, was necessary to bring Thomism to the state of spirituality, and therefore of efficacy, which truly corresponds to the spiritual elevation of the very thought of Saint Thomas. He stands at the crossroads before us; he holds the key to the problems which oppress our hearts; he teaches us how to triumph over both anti-intellectualism and rationalism, over the evil which degrades reason below, and the evil which exalts it above the real; he gives us the secret of true humanism, of the supreme development of the human person and intellectual virtues, but in sanctity, not in concupiscence, through the spirit and the cross, not through the grandeurs of the flesh. To an age profoundly tormented by the desire (too often erratic and turned toward base things) for a reign of the heart and a life of love, be teaches the only doctrine which affirms the absolute practical primacy of charity in our life, and which invites us to the banquet of true love, I mean supernatural charity, yet without denying the intellect and its metaphysical superiority, or adulterating charity itself by contaminating it with purely human passions or with clan ambitions. Charity must ever increase, in virtue of the first commandment, and this is why the perfection of charity falls under the commandment, as the end toward which each one must tend according to his condition. Such is the law of gravitation that the Angelic Doctor teaches to a world all the more haunted by the idea of progress, the more it is ignorant generally of the meaning of progress.
Even William of Tocco in his day never tired of stressing the modernity of Friar Thomas. In truth, this modernity is at opposite poles to the modernity pursued nowadays and found so captivating. For Saint Thomas achieves the new by accident, seeking to achieve only the true, whereas today one achieves the new in willing the new as such: it is the true which is now but an accident. Wherefore one aims much more to destroy the old than to improve it, and to exalt the originality of each thinking subject than to conform thought to the object. It is the reversal of the order: this essentially particularist and negative method is in reality essentially retrograde. All acquired truths must be called into question, one after the other.
Saint Thomas' method, on the contrary, is essentially universalist and positive. It aims indeed at preserving all the acquired knowledge of humanity in order to add to it and to perfect it; and it requires the more and more complete effacement of the personality of the philosopher before the truth of the object. If Thomas attaches himself to Aristotle, it is not because he sees in him a fashionable thinker, recently imported by the Arabs, but because he recognizes him to be the best interpreter of natural reason, the one who established philosophy on foundations in conformity with that which is. And he follows him only in judging him at every step, correcting and purifying him in a higher light, which is not that of Aristotle but of Wisdom incarnate. If he fights the too material disciples of Saint Augustine, it is not to destroy Saint Augustine but rather to follow and understand him in a more living and more profoundly faithful manner, in a more perfect commerce of spirit. And no theologian has had a more devoted love of the common and time-honored wisdom with which the Church is divinely instructed. This is why the Angelic Doctor is also the Common Doctor of the Church. The Common Doctor! An admirable title, and one that points to a truly superhuman grandeur, puts all our sorry vanities in their place, and answers to the most pressing needs of the moment! It is not a special Doctor or a particular Doctor or an original Doctor, or a Doctor peculiar to our person or our community, it is not an illumined Doctor, or a devout or subtle or irrefragable Doctor, or a Doctor facundus or resolutissimus or eximius, or a venerabilis inceptor, but a Common Doctor, the Common Doctor of the Church, that we need. He is standing at the threshold of modern times and holding out to us, in the basket wrought of his thousands of arguments, the sacred fruits of wisdom.
Now something much more important than a great many material events that are more easily noticeable, is taking place in our day. At the bidding of the Church, the doctrine of Saint Thomas is not only restored or in process of being restored in Catholic schools and in the education of the clergy, but now it is emerging from the old folios in which it was held in reserve, not itself old but as youthful as truth; it addresses itself to the world and claims its place, that is to say, the first place, in the intellectual life of our age; it cries in the market place, as it is said of wisdom: sapientia foris praedicat, in plateis dat vocem."8 After the long idealist aberration due to Descartes and to the great Kantian heresy, we are now witnessing an attempt at the reintegration of the philosophy of being into Western civilization. The lovers of paradox and novelty should be the first to enjoy this.
There is here an enormous task to be accomplished, and a difficult one, a task not devoid of danger. But it is a beautiful risk, kalos kindunos. And should we not imitate Saint Thomas in that also which I called a moment ago his modernity, in his boldness in innovating, in his intellectual courage in risking the new? For it is indeed true, but in a more subtle sense than the devotees of Evolution think, that wherever there is life on earth, there is movement and renewal and therefore risk to be run and the unknown to be faced. But it is not in revolt that there are the most obstacles to be surmounted, but rather in the restoration of order; it is not for tearing down that the most energy is required, but rather for building up. Saint Thomas Aquinas is the bero of intellectual order; the immense philosophical and theological enterprise which he undertook in his day and which, to be brought to a successful issue, required not only his genius but all the prudence and the energy, the whole perfect organism of the virtues and the gifts of his admirable sanctity, is a much more marvelous adventure than the finest adventures of men-an angelic adventure. He told his companion that he would never be anything in his Order or in the Church. On his shoulders weighed the whole future of Christian civilization and of the intellect, and the greatest mission the Church ever assigned to one of her children.
Each of us, insignificant as we may be in comparison with this giant, must yet have some part in his spirit, since we are his disciples. We are certainly not childish enough to aim, as some would have us, to do again with modern philosophers, in taking them for our masters and adopting their principles, to do again with Descartes, even with Kant or Hegel or Bergson, what Thomas did with Aristotle. As if one could do with error the same as one can do with truth, and as if to build a house one should keep changing its foundations endlessly! No, what is required of us is that, while rejecting decidedly the ferment of error which has been at work in modern philosophy from its very beginning and which tends to equate the human creature with God, and while attaching ourselves to the principles of Saint Thomas with a fidelity which will never be pure enough, without admitting the least diminution or any admixture (for assimilation is possible only if the organism is whole and intact)-what is required is that we transmit the light of Saint Thomas into the intellectual life of our time, that we think our time in this light, and that we apply ourselves to informing, animating, and ordering by this light all the materials, palpitating with life and sometimes rich with such a precious human quality, which the world and its art, its Philosophy, its science, its culture have prepared, and spoiled, alas! in the past four centuries. What is required is that we save all that is still viable in the modern world, and that we recover possession in order to bring into the perfect order of wisdom, of these constellations in movement, these spiritual milky ways, those things which, through the weight of sin, are sinking towards dissolution and death. Of course I do not think that such an undertaking can succeed fully; to indulge such a hope would suppose great illusions about the nature of man and the course of his history. But what is necessary-and it is sufficient-is that the deposit be saved and that those who love the truth may be able to recognize it.
7. Nothing below the intellect, we said above, can cure the intellect. But what is better here on earth than intelligence, infused charity, must also be invoked. If the return to intellectual order must be the work of the intelligence itself, nevertheless the intelligence, in this work which is its own, needs to be aided by Him Who is the principle of its light and Who reigns in spirits only through charity. If the philosophy and the theology of Saint Thomas are exclusively founded on and stabilized by the pure objective necessities which impose themselves either on natural reason or on reason illuminated by faith, nevertheless the human intellect is so weak by nature, and so weakened further by the first sin, and the thought of Saint Thomas is of such a high intellectuality, that in actual fact, so far as the knowing subject is concerned, there was required, for this thought to be given us, all the supernatural graces of whose aid the eminent sanctity and the unique mission of the Angelic Doctor assured him. And it follows, too, let us note, that if this thought is to live without alteration, there is required, and there will always be required, the superior strengthening of those gifts of the Holy Ghost which are present in every Christian and which develop in us with sanctifying grace and charity.
To ignore these truths would be to labor under a serious delusion. They are, more particularly, made only the more urgent by the very diffusion of Thomism. Once a doctrine of wisdom passes amongst men, it must be more apprehensive of becoming one day fashionable than of the sophisms of its adversaries. Are not even our French centers of higher learning, forgetting the famous darkness of the Middle Ages, beginning to take some interest in Saint Thomas? I am told that an impressive number of the doctoral theses presented to the Sorbonne are devoted to Thomist philosophy. We feel most gratified, naturally. But we do not conceal from ourselves that in proportion as minds insufficiently prepared and armed, and more or less influenced by modern prejudices, take to examining this philosophy, it will run the risk of being studied without the proper light and thus of suffering inadequate, fragmentary and distorting interpretations. This is already apparent, and not only in the works of academic historians.
Saint Thomas himself tells us how to guard against this danger, both by his doctrine and, perhaps more efficaciously still, by his example. Did be not confess to his companion Reginald that his learning had been acquired above all through the means of prayer? Each time he wanted to study, to debate, to write or to dictate, did he not first have recourse to the secrecy of prayer, shedding tears before God in order that be might be instructed in truth? Were not metaphysical wisdom and theological wisdom for him the footstool and the throne of the wisdom of the Holy Ghost? Was not this greatest of all Doctors raised to such a high mystical life that in the end what be had tasted of God in ecstasy made distasteful to him all knowledge of the human mode? For having glimpsed too much of the eternal light, he died before having finished his work.
Recent books have excellently described, and the encyclical Studiorum Ducem has admirably shown, the union in him of the life of study and the life of prayer. It is the secret both of his sanctity and of his wisdom.
It is the secret, too, of the unique splendor of his teaching. Teaching, he tells us, belongs to the sphere of the active life, and it must be confessed that one finds too often in teaching the burdens and encumbrances peculiar to action; there is even a certain danger for the life of the spirit in the ponderous handling of concepts which constitutes the labor of teaching and which always runs the risk, if you are not constantly on your guard, of becoming material and mechanical.
Saint Thomas was an accomplished teacher because be was a great deal more than a teacher, because in him the pedagogic discourse came down entirely from the very simple heights of contemplation.
Observe him in that great disputation he held at Paris just before Easter in 1270, on the most controverted point of his teaching, the thesis on the oneness of the substantial form-a disputation in which he opposed John Peckham, Regent of the Friars Minor and later Archbishop of Canterbury. The Bishop of Paris, the masters in theology, all the doctors were determined to ruin him. Inflamed with jealousy or exasperated by the calm manner in which he broke with hallowed routine, they menaced him with looks and words.
And in truth they had reason enough to be disconcerted, for he was not one of them, he bad the origin of his wisdom in a source higher than theirs, in the very pure silence which is the father of preaching. Nisi efficiamini sicut parvuli.9 With all his learning, this great theologian, whose confession, according to the testimony of Friar Reginald, was like that of a child of five, stood in the midst of them, in his simplicity-which was not disarmed, certainly, but candid, natural (ex Deo nata) and unstudied, humble and severe as innocence-the likeness and configuration of the Child Jesus among the doctors.
Such is the way there is accomplished in him the sacred saying which must be accomplished in one way or another in all Christians, and which insists that wisdom is to be given to the little ones-to those who are "in their own eyes little children," as it is said in the Book of Kings-and that God chooses "what is not" to confound "what is." For no more than art or any superior human achievement, knowledge does not prevent the saintly soul, as a certain false spirit of interior poverty would sometimes have us believe, from being in its own estimation a mere nothing, without any self-assurance, since, all its achievements being purely in the service of love, absolutely none of them is the foundation of its hope. Its hope rather passes over the whole of created being to rest in God alone; absolutely nothing of all its achievements is for it a personal possession securing it in its own well-being.
Because he kept his whole soul attached only to the wounds of the humanity of Christ, the portal to the mysteries of deity, Thomas Aquinas was perfectly poor in spirit amid the riches of the intelligence; because be knew the rights, all the rights, of First Truth, he pursued learning only in order to attain to wisdom, he delivered himself over without reserve to the Spirit of Truth. By his life and by his teaching he showed that the contemplative life is better than the active, and that it constitutes, when it superabounds in apostolic activity, the state of life purely and simply the most perfect; that the contemplation of the saints is better than the speculation of the philosophers; that the highest intellectuality is not diminished but corroborated and brought to the summit of the spirit by the humility of the science of the Cross. Thus Saint Thomas teaches the intelligence the highest condition of its salvation. And for this too he deserves to be called the apostle of modern times, times which have thought they were giving so much to intellectuality but have so cruelly ignored its very conditions, times whose great misery is to have forgotten the union of the intellectual life and the spiritual life, and whose deepest need, more or less obscurely felt, is to recover this union.
8. There is a final reason why it is fitting to give this title of apostle of modern times to Saint Thomas Aquinas. The apostle is not only the one sent into the world to preach the Word of God to the ignorant and the infidel, to convert souls to truth, and thus to dilate the Mystical Body of the Savior. He is also the one who preserves and increases the faith in souls, the one who is given to the Church to be a pillar, a rampart and a light therein, and to serve, as a doctor of truth, the growth of her mysterious life of grace and sanctity. We know well the absolutely unique role played from this point of view in modern times by him of whom the Church proclaims, in the Oration for the Mass of his feast-day, that his admirable learning enlightens her and that his holy activity makes her fruitful, and whose doctrine she implores God to enable us to penetrate: et quae docuit intellectu conspicere. Now one feature appears here as the consummate touch, so to speak, of the divine art, ever attentive to fashion perfectly the countenance of its saints: the prince of metaphysics and of sacred science is also the Doctor of the Blessed Sacrament. He thus achieves and consummates his office of servant of the eternal Word, the Word which illumines intelligences, the Word archetype of every splendor, the Word become flesh and hidden among us under the whiteness of bread. There is the divine immensity, there the benignity and humanity of the Truth he serves, and which we serve too, and which wills that we be called not only its servants, but also its friends: vos dixi amicos. It is the same Truth which desires to give itself to all of us in light and in substance in the Beatific Vision, and which meanwhile gives itself in light through doctrine and contemplation, in substance through the Eucharist. Distributed to all, partaken of by all, through teaching or in the Sacrament, it remains whole and unbroken. Here it gathers spirits together into the light which descends from the Uncreated Word; there it unites the Mystical Body of Christ in the communion of the Body and Blood of the Incarnate Word. And is it not with a same love that Thomas watched over its integrity in doctrine, a created participation in First Truth, and adored its presence in the Sacrament, where First Truth is in person? He held it in his bands, this Truth that be loved, and his heart fainted with ecstasy as he contemplated it. And then it happened that the POI)E asked him to compose for the whole Church a hymn to this great mystery of faith; another Pope, six centuries and a half later, was to bestow on him the title of Eucharistic Doctor.
Now, is not an immense development in devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, preceding and enveloping devotion to the Sacred Heart, the main feature of Catholic piety in modern times? Is not the feast of Corpus Christi the great modern feast in the Church? While the world stumbles and falls, is not the Church, which prepares ascents in her heart, gathering souls together -- with a more and more pressing maternal solicitude -- around the Body of the Lord? Eucharistic Doctor, Saint Thomas is in a supereminent degree the apostle and teacher of modern times. Listen to the Christian multitude singing the divine chants that come from the soul and lips of the Theologian. I said above that all the Magi are following him. He has the whole body of the faithful following him. Carrying the monstrance, be walks at the bead of the ages.
9. If Saint Thomas is for us all that I have just said he is, with what confident fervor ought we not to ask him for the secret of wisdom and of the apostolic conquest of the modern world? We will cling to his cloak, we will not let him go until he has divulged this secret. The Church, through the voice of Peter, exhorts us to do so with extraordinary insistence. Shall we not listen to her entreaties?
If you are looking for the truth, she cries aloud, go to this doctrine. I show you the way; go, open your eyes, see for yourselves.
Let us be sorry for those who, slow to see or seeing only with the eyes of prejudice, are loath to think that their own sight has perhaps need of being nursed by study and prayer and prefer to think that it is the Church of God which has a beam in her eye.
But for those who wish to follow the will of the Church and to go to school to Saint Thomas, let us note that there are two ways of studying Saint Thomas. And if it is true that man attains to science only if he is first taught, if it is true that Thomas Aquinas, the Common Doctor of the Church, is, after Christ Jesus, the Master par excellence, the ever living Master who from the heart of the Beatific Vision watches over his doctrine here below and fecundates souls with it, then it must be said that of the two ways of studying Saint Thomas, one is sound, the other spoiled from the beginning. I am so strongly convinced of this that I should wish at all costs to persuade young students of its truth. There is a way of studying Saint Thomas which consists in reading Kant, Hegel, and our most up-to-date philosophers, to begin with, then the Fathers, then Avicenna and Averroes, then, as occasion arises, Peter Lombard or Alexander of Hales, and then finally the writings of Saint Thomas in chronological order (bits of all these, of course, for life is short), in order to clarify Saint Thomas in the light of modern philosophy and to discern everything he received from his predecessors, everything he added to them, everything he received from himself and added to himself in the course of his individual development. This method, taken as a rule of intellectual discipline, is sterile and useless. What it comes to after all is treating Saint Thomas as an object to be judged -- and behaving as if one already had science, whereas it is a question of acquiring science.
On condition that they are pursued with the necessary light, and that one does not expect too much of them, such investigations and comparisons are good and even necessary -- particularly the intensive study of modern philosophers -- but for those who have arrived at the adult age of knowing. For beginners, they beget bombast, not science.
The other way consists in really placing oneself before Saint Thomas as a living being who receives before a living being who gives, as one who is formed and enlightened before the one who does the forming and enlightening: so that Saint Thomas may teach us to think and to see, so that we may make progress, under his guidance, in the conquest of intelli,, le @ib being. This method is good and fruitful, for it puts the soul in the truth of its own condition, in order to lead it to the truth of things.
If we follow this method faithfully, it will develop in us a profound love for the vivifying thought of Saint Thomas, and for the text itself, superior to any commentary, which delivers this thought to us, with a wondrous limpidity and a special grace, as it were, of light and simplicity. It will teach us to study this text as a whole and according to the order of the articles. It will teach us also, by the progressive development itself of the Thomist habitus, to use in the right way the great commentators, and to discern in its formal line the authentic tradition that we need if we are to attain to a genuine understanding of so exalted a doctrine. For the thought of Saint Thomas is singularly vast and profound. To penetrate it in its essential vitality, as also to meet the new difficulties raised by the course of time, is the text alone, precious and enlightening though it be, sufficient to instruct us? Do we not need to have explained to us more, through the movement and progress characteristic of every living organism, the bidden articulations and the inflexible hierarchy of the theses that rule this immense spiritual universe? And if it is true, as Plato says, that the written word, not being able to defend and explain itself unaided, always needs the help of its father, shall we believe that God, in raising up Saint Thomas, did not give him, in a living tradition, the -- i.e. means of coming to the aid of his doctrine and of communicating its spirit to us? It is in this sense that Leo XIII, in recommending in his encyclical Aeterni Patris that we above all study the doctrine of Saint Thomas in the living spring itself, ex ipsis ejus fontibus, advised us also to drink from the pure and limpid streams which have flowed from that spring, rivi integri et illimes, as opposed to other streams that have become swollen with alien and noxious waters, rivi qui exinde fluxisse dicuntur, re autem alienis et non salubrious aquis creverunt.
But all our personal talents and all the human aids of tradition, all the commentators and glossarists, will avail us nothing if that itself which is the object and the end of the intelligence, the goal of its natural inclination, is not also the object and the goal of our voluntary inclination, of the desire which draws us totally towards our good -- if we do not love the truth with our whole heart, if we do not love it as he himself loved it, this great Doctor whose tranquil eyes often flowed with tears, so heavy was his heart with waiting for the vision.
If we love the truth in souls, if we understand the thirst with which the world agonizes, if we are ready to give everything in order that this thirst may be assuaged; if we love the truth in the Church, if we understand the significance of Benedict XV's words, taken up by Pius XI: "The Church has declared the doctrine of Saint Thomas to be her own doctrine" -- then we shall not be greatly deterred by scholastic quibbling and controversies, we shall be able to hope to share in the light of Saint Thomas, to understand truly -- intellectu conspicere -- the things he taught, and to be of use according to the best of our abilities, poor though they be, in that universal task of restoration in truth entrusted to him by the Master of History.
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