Help support New Advent and get the full contents of this website as an instant download. Includes the Catholic Encyclopedia, Church Fathers, Summa, Bible and more all for only $19.99...
Neo-Scholasticism is the development of the Scholasticism of the Middle Ages during the latter half of the nineteenth century. It is not merely the resuscitation of a philosophy long since defunct, but rather a restatement in our own day of the philosophia perennis which, elaborated by the Greeks and brought to perfection by the great medieval teachers, has never ceased to exist even in modern times. It has some times been called neo-Thomism partly because St. Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century gave to Scholasticism among the Latins its final form, partly because the idea has gained ground that only Thomism can infuse vitality into twentieth century scholasticism. But Thomism is too narrow a term; the system itself is too large and comprehensive to be expressed by the name of any single exponent. This article will deal with the elements which neo-Scholasticism takes over from the past; the modifications which adapt it to the present; the welcome accorded it by contemporary thought and the outlook for its future; its leading representatives and centres.
Neo-Scholasticism seeks to restore the fundamental organic doctrines embodied in the Scholasticism of the thirteenth century. It claims that philosophy does not vary with each passing phase of history; that the truth of seven hundred years ago is still true today, and that if the great medieval thinkers Aquinas, Bonaventure, and Duns Scotus—succeeded in constructing a sound philosophical system on the data supplied by the Greeks, especially by Aristotle, it must be possible, in our own day, to gather from the speculation of the Middle Ages the soul of truth which it contains. These essential conceptions may be summarized as follows:
(1) God, pure actuality and absolute perfection, is substantially distinct from every finite thing: he alone can create and preserve all beings other than Himself. His infinite knowledge includes all that has been, is, or shall be, and likewise all that is possible.
(2) As to our knowledge of the material world: whatever exists is itself, an incommunicable, individual substance. To the core of self-sustaining reality, in the oak-tree for instance, other realities (accidents) are added size, form, roughness, and so on. All oak-trees are alike, indeed are identical in respect of certain constituent elements. Considering this likeness and even identity, our human intelligence groups them into one species and again, in view of their common characteristics, it ranges various species under one genus. Such is the Aristotelean solution of the problem of universals. Each substance is in its nature fixed and determined; and nothing is farther from the spirit of Scholasticism than a theory of evolution which would regard even the essences of things as products of change.
But this statism requires as its complement a moderate dynamism, and this is supplied by the central concepts of act and potency. Whatsoever changes is, just for that reason, limited. The oak-tree passes through a process of growth, of becoming: whatever is actually in it now was potentially in it from the beginning. Its vital functions go on unceasingly (accidental change); but the tree itself will die, and out of its decayed trunk other substances will come forth (substantial change). The theory of matter and form is simply an interpretation of the substantial changes which bodies undergo. The union of matter and form constitutes the essence of concrete being, and this essence is endowed with existence. Throughout all change and becoming there runs a rhythm of finality; the activities of the countless substances of the universe converge towards an end which is known to God; finality, in a word, involves optimism.
(3) Man, a compound of body (matter) and of soul (form), puts forth activities of a higher order knowledge and volition. Through his senses he perceives concrete objects, e.g. this oak; through his intellect he knows the abstract and universal (the oak). All our intellectual activity rests on sensory function; but through the active intellect (intellectus agens) an abstract representation of the sensible object is provided for the intellectus possibilis. Hence the characteristic of the idea, its non-materiality, and on this is based the principal argument for the spirituality and immortality of the soul. Here, too, is the foundation of logic and of the theory of knowledge, the justification of our judgments and syllogisms.
Upon knowledge follows the appetitive process, sensory or intellectual according to the sort of knowledge. The will (appetitus intellectualis) in certain conditions is free, and thanks to this liberty man is the master of his destiny. Like all other beings, we have an end to attain and we are morally obliged, though not compelled, to attain it.
Natural happiness would result from the full development of our powers of knowing and loving. We should find and possess God in this world since the corporeal world is the proper object of our intelligence. But above nature is the order of grace and our supernatural happiness will consist in the direct intuition of God, the beatific vision. Here philosophy ends and theology begins.
The neo-Scholastic programme includes, in the next place, the adaptation of medieval principles and doctrines to our present intellectual needs. Complete immobility is no less incompatible with progress than out-and-out relativism. Vita in motu. To make Scholasticism rigid and stationary would be fatal to it. The doctrines revived by the new movement are like an inherited fortune; to refuse it would be folly, but to manage it without regard to actual conditions would be worse. With Dr. Ehrhard one may say: "Aquinas should be our beacon, not our boundary" ("Der Katholicismus und das zwanzigste Jahrh. im Lichte der Kirchlichen Entwicklung der Neuzeit", Stuttgart, 1902, 252). We have now to pass in review the various factors in the situation and to see in what respect the new Scholasticism differs from the old and how far it adapts itself to our age.
Neo-Scholasticism rejects the theories of physics, celestial and terrestrial, which the Middle Ages grafted on the principles, otherwise sound enough, of cosmology and metaphysics; e.g. the perfection and superiority of astral substance, the "incorruptibility" of the heavenly bodies, their external connexion with "motor spirits", the influence of the stars on the generation of earthly beings, the four "simple" bodies, etc. It further rejects those philosophical theories which are disproved by the results of investigation; e.g. the diffusion of sensible "species" throughout a medium and their introduction into the organs of sense. Even the Scholastic ideas that have been retained are not all of equal importance; criticism and personal conviction may retrench or modify them considerably, without injury to fundamental principles.
The medieval scholars cultivated the history of philosophy solely with a view to its utility, i.e. as a means of gathering the deposit of truth contained in the writings of the ancients and, especially, for the purpose of refuting error and thus emphasizing the value of their own doctrine. Modern students, on the contrary, regard every human fact and achievement as in itself significant, and accordingly they treat the history of philosophy in a spirit that is more disinterested. With this new attitude, neo-Scholasticism is in full sympathy; it does its share in the work of historical reconstruction by employing critical methods; it does not attempt to condense the opinions of others into a syllogism and refute them with a phrase, nor does it commend the practice of putting whole systems into a paragraph or two in order to annihilate them with epithet or invective. Neo-Scholasticism, however, does not confine its interest to ancient and medieval philosophy; its chief concern is with present-day systems. It takes issue with them and offsets their theories of the world by a synthesis of its own. It is only by keeping in touch with actual living thought that it can claim a place in the twentieth century and command the attention of its opponents. And it has everything to gain from a discussion in which it encounters Positivism, Kantism, and other forms or tendencies of modern speculation.
The need of a philosophy based on science is recognized today by every school. Neo-Scholasticism simply follows the example of the Aristotelean and medieval philosophy in taking the data of research as the groundwork of its speculation. That there are profound differences between the Middle Ages and modern times from the scientific point of view, is obvious. One has only to consider the multiplication of the sciences in special lines, the autonomy which science as a whole has acquired, and the clear demarcation established between popular views of nature and their scientific interpretation. But it is equally plain that neo-Scholasticism must follow up each avenue of investigation, since it undertakes, as Aristotle and Aquinas did, to provide a synthetic explanation of phenomena by referring them to their ultimate causes and determining their place in the universal order of things; and this undertaking, if the synthesis is to be deep and comprehensive, presupposes a knowledge of the details furnished by each science. It is not possible to explain the world of phenomena while neglecting the phenomena that make up the world. "All that exists, as contemplated by the human mind, forms one large system or complex fact. . . . Like a short-sighted reader, its eye pores closely, and travels slowly, over the awful volume which lies open for its inspection. . . . These various partial views or abstractions . . . are called sciences . . . they proceed on the principle of a division of labour. . . . And further the comprehension of the bearings of one science on another, and the use of each to each, and the location of them all, with one another, this belongs, I conceive, to a sort of science distinct from all of them, and in some sense, a science of sciences, which is my own conception of what is meant by philosophy" (Newman, "Idea of a University", Discourse III, iii, iv, 44 sqq.).
There is, of course, the pedagogical problem; how shall philosophy maintain its control over the ever-widening field of the various sciences? In reply, we may cite the words of Cardinal Mercier, a prominent leader in the neo-Scholastic movement: "As a matter of fact", he declares, "the difficulty is a serious one, and one may say in general terms, that it is not going to be solved by any one man. As the domain of fact and observation grows larger and larger, individual effort becomes less competent to survey and master it all: hence the necessity of co-operative effort to supply what is lacking in the work of isolated investigators; hence too the need of union between the synthetic mind and the analytic, in order to secure, by daily contact and joint action, the harmonious development of philosophy and science". ("La philosophie néo-scholastique" in "Revue néo-scholastique", 1894, 17).
Once it turned its attention to modern fashions of thought, neo-Scholasticism found itself face to face with problems of which medieval philosophy had not the slightest suspicion or at any rate did not furnish a solution. It had to bear the brunt of conflict between its own principles and those of the systems in vogue, especially of Positivism and Criticism. And it had to take up, from its own point of view, the questions which are favourite topics of discussion in the schools of our time. How far then, one may ask, has neo-Scholasticism been affected by modern thought? First of all, as to metaphysics: in the Middle Ages its claim to validity met with no challenge, whereas, in the twentieth century, its very possibility is at stake and, to defend it against the concerted attack of Hume and Kant and Comte, the true significance of such concepts as being, substance, absolute, cause, potency, and act must be explained and upheld. It is further needful to show that, in a very real sense, God is not unknowable; to rebut the charges preferred by Herbert Spencer against the traditional proofs of God's existence; to deal with the materials furnished by ethnography and the history of religions; and to study the various forms which monism and immanentism nowadays assume.
Cosmology can well afford to insist on the traditional theory of matter and form, provided it pay due attention to the findings of physics, chemistry, crystallography, and mineralogy, and meet the objections of atomism and dynamism, theories which, in the opinion of scientific authority, are less satisfactory as explanations of natural phenomena than the hylomorphism (q.v.) of the Scholastics. The theory also of qualities, once the subject of ridicule, is nowadays endorsed by some of the most prominent scientists. In psychology especially the progressive spirit of neo-Scholasticism makes itself felt. The theory of the substantial union of body and soul, as an interpretation of biological, psychical, and psycho-physiological facts, is far more serviceable than the extreme spiritualism of Descartes on the one hand and the Positivism of modern thinkers on the other. As Wundt admits, the results of investigation in physiological psychology do not square either with materialism or with dualism whether of the Platonic or of the Cartesian type; it is only Aristotelean animism, which brings psychology into connexion with biology, that can offer a satisfactory metaphysical interpretation of experimental psychology. So vigorous indeed has been the growth of psychology that each of its offshoots is developing in its own way: such is the case with criteriology, æsthetics, didactics, pedagogy, and the numerous ramifications of applied psychology. Along these various lines, unknown to medieval philosophy, neo-Scholasticism is working energetically and successfully. Its criteriology is altogether new: the older Scholasticism handled the problem of certitude from the deductive point of view; God could not have misshaped the faculties with which He endowed the mind in order that it might attain to knowledge. Neo-Scholasticism, on the other hand, proceeds by analysis and introspection it states the problem in the terms which, since Kant's day, are the only admissible terms, but as against the Kantian criticism it finds the solution in a rational dogmatism. Its æsthetics holds a middle course between the extreme subjectivism of many modern thinkers who would reduce the beautiful to a mere impression, and the no less extreme objectivism which the Greeks of old maintained. It is equally at home in the field of experimental psychology which investigates the correlation between conscious phenomena and their physiological accompaniments; in fact, its theory of the substantial union of body and soul implies as its corollary a "bodily resonance" corresponding to each psychical process.
The laws and principles which the modern science of education has drawn from experience find their adequate explanation in neo-Scholastic doctrine; thus, the intuitive method, so largely accepted at present as an essential element in education, is based on the Scholastic theory that nothing enters the intellect save through the avenue of sense. In the study of ethical problems, neo-Scholasticism holds fast to the vital teachings that prevailed in the thirteenth century, but at the same time it takes into account the historical and sociological data which explain the varying application of principles in successive ages. In view of contemporary systems which, on a purely experimental basis, attempt to set aside all moral imperatives and ideas of value, it is necessary to insist on the older concepts of good and evil, of finality and obligation a need which is easily supplied by neo-Scholastic ethics. As to logic, the most perfect part of Aristotle's great constructive work and therefore that which has been least modified in the course of time. Its positions still call for defence against the objections of writers like Mill, who regard the syllogism as a "solemn farce". Accordingly, with due consideration for modern modes of thinking, neo-Scholasticism adapts the teaching of the Middle Ages to actual conditions. Even as regards the relations between philosophy and religion, there are important changes to note. For the medieval mind in the Western world, philosophy and theology were identical until about the twelfth century. In the thirteenth the line of demarcation was clearly drawn, but philosophy was still treated as the preliminary training for theology. This is no longer the case; neo-Scholasticism assigns to philosophy a value of its own as a rational explanation of the world, on a par in this respect with Positivism and other systems; and it welcomes all who are bent on honest research, whether their aim be purely philosophical or apologetic.
Parallel with these modifications are those which affect the pedagogical phase of the movement. The methods of teaching philosophy in the thirteenth century were too closely dependent on the culture of that age; hence they have been replaced by modern procedures, curricula, and means of propagation. It would be ill-advised to wrap neo-Scholastic doctrine in medieval envelopes, e.g. to write books on the plan of the theological "Summae" or the "Quodlibetal Questions" that were current in the thirteenth century. Without at all lessening its force, syllogistic demonstration gains in attractiveness when its essential characteristics are retained and clothed about with modern forms of presentation. In this connexion, the use of living languages as a means of exposition has obvious advantages and finds favour with many of those who are best qualified to judge.
By interesting itself in modern questions, interpreting the results of scientific research and setting forth its principles for thorough discussion, neo-Scholasticism has compelled attention: it has to be reckoned with. Among non-Catholics, many leaders of thought have frankly acknowledged that its methods and doctrines deserve to be examined anew. Men like Boutroux admit that Aristotle's system may well serve as an offset to Kantism and evolution (Aristote, Etudes d'histoire et de philosophie, Paris, 1901, 202). Paulsen ("Kant der Philosoph des Protestantismus" in "Kantstudien", 1899) and Eucken ("Thomas von Aquino u. Kant, Ein Kampf zweier Welten", loc. cit., 1901) declare that neo-Thomism is the rival of Kantism and that the conflict between them is the "clash of two worlds". Harnack ("Lehrbuch d. Dogmengesch.", III, 3rd. ed., 327), Seeberg ("Realencyklopädie f. Prot. Theol." 5. v. "Scholastik") and others protest against those who underrate the value of scholastic doctrine.
Among Catholics, neo-Scholasticism gains ground day by day. It is doing away with Ontologism, Traditionalism, the Dualism of Gunther, and the exaggerated Spiritualism of Descartes. It is free from the weaknesses of Pragmatism and Voluntarism, systems in which some thinkers have vainly sought the reconciliation of their philosophy and their faith. Neo-Scholasticism has a character of permanence as truth itself has; but it is destined in its development to keep up with scientific progress. Like everything that lives, it must advance; arrested growth would mean decay.
The neo-Scholastic movement was inaugurated by such writers as Sanseverino (1811-65) and Cornoldi (1822-92) in Italy; Gonzalez (1831-92) in Spain; Kleutgen (1811-83) and Stöckl (1823-95) in Germany; de San (1832-1904), Dupont, and Lepidi in Belgium; Farges and Dormet de Vorges (1910) in France, who with other scholars carried on the work of restoration before the Holy See gave it solemn approval and encouragement. Pius IX, it is true, in various letters, recognized its importance; but it was the encyclical "AEterni Patris" of Leo XIII (4 Aug., 1879) that imparted to neo-Scholasticism its definitive character and quickened its development. This document sets forth the principles by which the movement is to be guided in a progressive spirit, and by which the medieval doctrine is to take on new life in its modern environment. "If," says the pope, "there be anything that the Scholastic doctors treated with excessive subtlety or with insufficient consideration, or that is at variance with well founded teachings of later date, or is otherwise improbable, we by no means intend that it shall be proposed to our age for imitation. . . . We certainly do not blame those learned and energetic men who turn to the profit of philosophy their own assiduous labours and erudition as well as the results of modern investigation; for we are fully aware that all this goes to the advancement of knowledge."
In Italy, the movement was vigorous from the start. The Accademia di San Tommaso, founded in 1874, published, up to 1891, a review entitled "La Scienza Italiana". Numerous works were produced by Zigliara (1833-93), Satolli (1839-1909), Liberatore (1810-92), Barberis (1847-96), Schiffini (1841-1906), de Maria, Talamo, Lorenzelli, Ballerini, Matussi, and others. The Italian writers at first laid special emphasis on the metaphysical features of Scholasticism, without paying sufficient attention to the sciences or to the history of philosophy. Recently, however, this situation has undergone a change which promises excellent results.
From Italy the movement spread into the other European countries and found supporters in Germany such as Kleutgen, Stöckl, the authors of the "Philosophia Lacensis", published at Maria Laach by the Jesuits (Pesch, Hontheim, Cathrein), Gutberlet, Commer, Willmann, Kaufmann, Glossner, Grabmann, and Schneid. These scholars have made valuable contributions to the history of philosophy, especially that of the Middle Ages. Stöckl led the way with his "Geschichte d. Philosophie des Mittelalters" (Mainz, 1864-66). Ehrle and Denifle founded in 1885 the "Archiv für Literatur u. Kirchengesch. d. Mittelalters", and the latter edited the monumental "Chartularium" of the University of Paris. In 1891, Von Hertling and Bäumker began the publication of their "Beiträge zur Gesch. d. Phil. des Mittelalters".
Belgium has been particularly favoured. Leo XIII established (1891) at Louvain the "Institut de philosophie" for the special purpose of teaching the doctrine of St. Thomas together with history and the natural sciences. The Institute was placed in charge of Mgr (now Cardinal) Mercier whose "Cours de philosophie" has been translated into the principal languages of Europe.
In France, besides those already mentioned, Vallet, Gardair, Fonsegrive, and Piat have taken a prominent part in the movement; in Holland (Amsterdam) de Groot; in Switzerland (Freiburg), Mandonnet; in Spain, Orti y Lara, Urráburu, Gómez Izquierdo; in Mexico, Garcia; in Brazil, Santroul; in Hungary, Kiss and Pecsi; in England, Clarke, Maher, John Rickaby, Joseph Rickaby, Boedder (Stonyhurst Series); in the United States Coppens, Poland, Brother Chrysostom, and the professors at the Catholic University (Shanahan, Turner, and Pace).
Neo-Scholasticism has been endorsed by four Catholic Congresses: Paris (1891); Brussels (1895); Freiburg (1897); Munich (1900). A considerable number of reviews have served as its exponents: "Divus Thomas" (1879-1903); "Rivista Italiana di filosofia neo-scolastica" (Florence, since 1909); "Annales de Philosophie Chrétienne" (Paris, since 1830); "Revue néo-scolastique de Philosophie" (Louvain, since 1894); "Revue de Philosophie" (Paris, since 1900);" Revue des Sciences philosophiques et théologiques" (Kain, Belgium, since 1907); "Revue Thomiste" (Paris, since 1893); "Philosophisches Jahrbuch für Philosophie und spekulative Theologie" (Paderborn, since 1887); "St. Thomas Blätter" (Ratisbon, since 1888); Bölcseleti-Folyóirat (Budapest, since 1886);" Revista Lulliana" (Barcelona, since 1901); "Cienza Tomista" (Madrid, since 1910). In addition to these, various periodical publications not specially devoted to philosophy have given neo-Scholasticism their cordial support.
APA citation. (1911). Neo-Scholasticism. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10746a.htm
MLA citation. "Neo-Scholasticism." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10746a.htm>.
Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Kevin Cawley.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.
Contact information. The editor of New Advent is Kevin Knight. My email address is webmaster at newadvent.org. Regrettably, I can't reply to every letter, but I greatly appreciate your feedback — especially notifications about typographical errors and inappropriate ads.