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In a broad sense, Thomism is the name given to the system which follows the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas in philosophical and theological questions. In a restricted sense the term is applied to a group of opinions held by a school called Thomistic, composed principally, but not exclusively, of members of the Order of St. Dominic, these same opinions being attacked by other philosophers or theologians, many of whom profess to be followers of St. Thomas.

Anti-Thomism in such cases does not necessarily imply opposition to St. Thomas: It means opposition to tenets of the Thomistic School. Cardinal Billot, for instance, would not admit that he opposed St. Thomas by rejecting the Thomistic theory on the causality of the sacraments. In the Thomistic School, also, we do not always find absolute unanimity. Bañez and Billuart do not always agree with Cajetan, though all belong to the Thomistic School. It does not come within the scope of this article to determine who have the best right to be considered the true exponents of St. Thomas.

The subject may be treated under the following headings:

I. Thomism in general, from the thirteenth century down to the nineteenth;
II. The Thomistic School;
III. Neo-Thomism and the revival of Scholasticism.
IV. Eminent Thomists

The doctrine in general

Early opposition overcome

Although St. Thomas (d. 1274) was highly esteemed by all classes, his opinions did not at once gain the ascendancy and influence which they acquired during the first half of the fourteenth century and which they have since maintained. Strange as it may appear, the first serious opposition came from Paris, of which he was such an ornament, and from some of his own monastic brethren. In the year 1277 Stephen Tempier, Bishop of Paris, censured certain philosophical propositions, embodying doctrines taught by St. Thomas, relating especially to the principle of individuation and to the possibility of creating several angels of the same species. In the same year Robert Kilwardby, a Dominican, Archbishop of Canterbury, in conjunction with some doctors of Oxford, condemned those same propositions and moreover attacked St. Thomas's doctrine of the unity of the substantial form in man. Kilwardby and his associates pretended to see in the condemned propositions something of Averroistic Aristoteleanism, whilst the secular doctors of Paris had not fully forgiven one who had triumphed over them in the controversy as to the rights of the mendicant friars. The storm excited by these condemnations was of short duration. Blessed Albertus Magnus, in his old age, hastened to Paris to defend his beloved disciple. The Dominican Order, assembled in general chapter at Milan in 1278 and at Paris in 1279, adopted severe measures against the members who had spoken injuriously of the venerable Brother Thomas. When William de la Mare, O.S.F., wrote a "Correptorium fratris Thomæ", an English Dominican, Richard Clapwell (or Clapole), replied in a treatise "Contra corruptorium fratris Thomae". About the same time there appeared a work, which was afterwards printed at Venice (1516) under the title, "Correctorium corruptorii S. Thomae", attributed by some to Ægidius Romanus, by others to Clapwell, by others to Father John of Paris. St. Thomas was solemnly vindicated when the Council of Vienna (1311-12) defined, against Peter John Olivi, that the rational soul is the substantial form of the human body (on this definition see Zigliara, "De mente Conc. Vicnn.", Rome, 1878). The canonization of St. Thomas by John XXII, in 1323, was a death-blow to his detractors. In 1324 Stephen de Bourret, Bishop of Paris, revoked the censure pronounced by his predecessor, declaring that "that blessed confessor and excellent doctor, Thomas Aquinas, had never believed, taught, or written anything contrary to the Faith or good morals". It is doubtful whether Tempier and his associates acted in the name of the University of Paris, which had always been loyal to St. Thomas. When this university, in 1378, wrote a letter condemning the errors of John de Montesono, it was explicitly declared that the condemnation was not aimed at St. Thomas: "We have said a thousand times, and yet, it would seem, not often enough, that we by no means include the doctrine of St. Thomas in our condemnation." An account of these attacks and defences will be found in the following works: Echard, "Script. ord. prad.", I, 279 (Paris, 1719); De Rubeis, "Diss. crit.", Diss. xxv, xxvi, I, p. cclxviii; Leonine edit. Works of St. Thomas; Denifle, "Chart. univ. Paris" (Paris, 1890-91), I, 543, 558, 566; II, 6, 280; Duplessis d'Argentré, "Collectio judiciorum de novis erroribus" (3 vols., Paris, 1733-36), 1, 175 sqq.; Du Boulay, "Hist. univ. Par.", IV, 205, 436, 618, 622, 627; Jourdain, "La phil. de S. Thomas d'Aquin" (Paris, 1858), II, i; Douais, "Essai sur l'organization des études dans l'ordre des ff. prêcheurs" (Paris and Toulouse, 1884), 87 sqq.; Mortier, "Hist. des maîtres gén. de l'ordre des ff. prêch.", II, 115142, 571; "Acta cap. gen. ord. praed.", ed. Reichert (9 vols., Rome, 1893-1904, II; Turner, "Hist. of Phil." (Boston, 1903), xxxix.

Progress of Thomism

The general chapter of the Dominican Order, held at Carcassonne in 1342, declared that the doctrine of St. Thomas had been received as sound and solid throughout the world (Douais, op. cit., 106). His works were consulted from the time they became known, and by the middle of the fourteenth century his "Summa Theologica" had supplanted the "Libri quatuor sententiarum", of Peter Lombard as the text-book of theology in the Dominican schools. With the growth of the order and the widening of its influence Thomism spread throughout the world; St. Thomas became the great master in the universities and in the studia of the religious orders (see Encyc. "Aeterni Patris" of Leo XIII). The fifteenth and sixteenth centuries saw Thomism in a triumphal march which led to the crowning of St. Thomas as the Prince of Theologians, when his "Summa was laid beside the Sacred Scriptures at the Council of Trent, and St. Pius V, in 1567, proclaimed him a Doctor of the Universal Church. The publication of the "Piana" edition of his works, in 1570, and the multiplication of editions of the "Opera omnia" and of the "Summa" during the seventeenth century and part of the eighteenth show that Thomism flourished during that period. In fact it was during that period that some of the great commentators (for example, Francisco Suárez, Sylvius, and Billuart) adapted his works to the needs of the times.

Decline of Scholasticism and of Thomism

Gradually, however, during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, there came a decline in the study of the works of the great Scholastics. Scholars believed that there was need of a new system of studies, and, instead of building upon and around Scholasticism, they drifted away from it. The chief causes which brought about the change were Protestantism, Humanism, the study of nature, and the French Revolution. Positive theology was considered more necessary in discussions with the Protestants than Scholastic definitions and divisions. Elegance of diction was sought by the Humanists in the Greek and Latin classics, rather than in the works of the Scholastics, many of whom were far from being masters of style. The discoveries of Copernicus (d. 1543), Kepler (d. 1631), Galileo (d. 1642), and Newton (d. 1727) were not favourably received by the Scholastics. The experimental sciences were in honour; the Scholastics including St. Thomas, were neglected (cf. Turner, op cit., 433). Finally, the French Revolution disorganized all ecclesiastical studies, dealing to Thomisn a blow from which it did not fully recover until the last quarter of the nineteenth century. At the time when Billuart (d. 1757) published his "Summa Sancti Thoma hodiernis academiarum moribus accomodata" Thomism still held an important place in all theological discussion. The tremendous upheaval which disturbed Europe from 1798 to 1815 affected the Church as well as the State. The University of Louvain, which had been largely Thomistic, was compelled to close its doors, and other important institutions of learning were either closed or seriously hampered in their work. The Dominican Order, which naturally had supplied the most ardent Thomists, was crushed in France, Germany, Switzerland, and Belgium. The province of Holland was almost destroyed, whilst the provinces of Austria and Italy were left to struggle for their very existence. The University of Manila (1645) continued to teach the doctrines of St. Thomas and in due time gave to the world Cardinal Zephyrinus González, O.P., who contributed in no small degree to the revival of Thomism under Leo XIII.

Distinctive doctrines of Thomism in general

(1) In Philosophy

(2) In Theology

The Thomistic school

The chief doctrines distinctive of this school, composed principally of Dominican writers, are the following:

In philosophy

  1. The unity of substantial form in composite beings, applied to man, requires that the soul be the substantial form of the man, so as to exclude even the forma corporeitatis, admitted by Henry of Ghent, Scotus, and others (cf. Zigliara, P. 13; Denzinger-Bannwart, in note to n. 1655).
  2. In created beings there is a real distinction between the essentia (essence) and the existentia (existence); between the essentia and the subsistentia; between the real relation and its foundation; between the soul and its faculties; between the several faculties. There can be no medium between a distinctio realis and a distinctio rationis, or conceptual distinction; hence the distinctio formalis a parte rei of Scotus cannot be admitted. For Thomistic doctrines on free will, God's knowledge, etc., see below.

In theology

  1. In the beatific vision God's essence takes the place not only of the species impressa, but also of the species expressa.
  2. All moral virtues, the acquired as well as the infused, in their perfect state, are interconnected.
  3. According to Billuart (De pecc., diss. vii, a. 6), it has been a matter of controversy between Thomists whether the malice of a mortal sin is absolutely infinite.
  4. In choosing a medium between Rigorism and Laxism, the Thomistic school has been Antiprobabilistic and generally has adopted Probabiliorism. Some defended Equiprobabilism, or Probabilism cum compensatione. Medina and St. Antoninus are claimed by the Probabilists.
  5. Thomistic theologians generally, whilst they defended the infallibility of the Roman pontiff, denied that the pope had the power to dissolve a matrimonium ratum or to dispense from a solemn vow made to God. When it was urged that some popes had granted such favours, they cited other pontiffs who declared that they could not grant them (cf. Billuart, "De matrim.", Diss. v, a. 2), and said, with Dominic Soto, "Factum pontificium non facit articulum fidei" (The action of a pope does not constitute an article of faith, in 4 dist., 27, Q. i, a. 4). Thomists of today are of a different mind, owing to the practice of the Church.
  6. The hypostatic union, without any additional grace, rendered Christ impeccable. The Word was hypostatically united to the blood of Christ and remained united to it, even during the interval between His death and resurrection (Denzinger-Bannwart, n. 718). During that same interval the Body of Christ had a transitory form, called forma cadaverica (Zigliara, P. 16, 17, IV).
  7. The sacraments of the New Law cause grace not only as instrumental moral causes, but by a mode of causality which should be called instrumental and physical. In the attrition required in the Sacrament of Penance there should be at least a beginning of the love of God; sorrow for sin springing solely from the fear of hell will not suffice.
  8. Many theologians of the Thomistic School, especially before the Council of Trent, opposed the doctrine of Mary's Immaculate Conception, claiming that in this they were following St. Thomas. This, however, has not been the opinion either of the entire school or of the Dominican Order as a body. Father Rouard de Card, in his book "L'ordre des freres precheurs et l'Immaculée Conception "(Brussels, 1864), called attention to the fact that ten thousand professors of the order defended Mary's great privilege. At the Council of Trent twenty-five Dominican bishops signed a petition for the definition of the dogma. Thousands of Dominicans, in taking degrees at the University of Paris, solemnly pledged themselves to defend the Immaculate Conception.
  9. The Thomistic School is distinguished from other schools of theology chiefly by its doctrines on the difficult questions relating to God's action on the free will of man, God's foreknowledge, grace, and predestination. In the articles on these subjects will be found an exposition of the different theories advanced by the different schools in their effort to explain these mysteries, for such they are in reality. As to the value of these theories the following points should be borne in mind:
    • No theory has as yet been proposed which avoids all difficulties and solves all doubts;
    • on the main and most difficult of these questions some who are at times listed as Molinists — notably Bellarmine, Francisco Suárez, Francis de Lugo, and, in our own days, Cardinal Billot ("De deo uno et trino", Rome, 1902, Th. XXXII) — agree with the Thomists in defending predestination ante praevisa merita. Bossuet, after a long study of the question of physical premotion, adapted the Thomistic opinion ("Du libre arbitre", c. viii).
    • Thomists do not claim to be able to explain, except by a general reference to God's omnipotence, how man remains free under the action of God, which they consider necessary in order to preserve and explain the universality of God's causality and the independent certainty of His foreknowledge. No man can explain, except by a reference to God's infinite power, how the world was created out of nothing, yet we do not on this account deny creation, for we know that it must be admitted. In like manner the main question put to Thomists in this controversy should be not "How will you explain man's liberty?" but "What are your reasons for claiming so much for God's action?" If the reasons assigned are insufficient, then one great difficulty is removed, but there remains to be solved the problem of God's foreknowledge of man's free acts. If they are valid, then we must accept them with their necessary consequences and humbly confess our inability fully to explain how wisdom "reacheth . . . from end to end mightily, and ordereth all things sweetly" (Wisdom 8:1).
    • Most important of all, it must be clearly understood and remembered that the Thomistic system on predestination neither saves fewer nor sends to perdition more souls than any other system held by Catholic theologians. In regard to the number of the elect there is no unanimity on either side; this is not the question in dispute between the Molinists and the Thomists. The discussions, too often animated and needlessly sharp, turned on this point: How does it happen that, although God sincerely desires the salvation of all men, some are to be saved, and must thank God for whatever merits they may have amassed, whilst others will be lost, and will know that they themselves, and not God, are to be blamed? — The facts in the case are admitted by all Catholic theologians. The Thomists, appealing to the authority of St. Augustine and St. Thomas, defend a system which follows the admitted facts to their logical conclusions. The elect are saved by the grace of God, which operates on their wills efficaciously and infallibly without detriment to their liberty; and since God sincerely desires the salvation of all men, He is prepared to grant that same grace to others, if they do not, by a free act, render themselves unworthy of it. The faculty of placing obstacles to Divine grace is the unhappy faculty of sinning; and the existence of moral evil in the world is a problem to be solved by all, not by the Thomists alone. The fundamental difficulties in this mysterious question are the existence of evil and the non-salvation of some, be they few or be they many, under the rule of an omnipotent, all-wise, and all-merciful God, and they miss the point of the controversy who suppose that these difficulties exist only for the Thomists. The truth is known to lie somewhere between Calvinism and Jansenism on the one hand, and Semipelagianism on the other. The efforts made by theologians and the various explanations offered by Augustinians, Thomists, Molinists, and Congruists show how difficult of solution are the questions involved. Perhaps we shall never know, in this world, how a just and merciful God provides in some special manner for the elect and yet sincerely loves all men. The celebrated Congregatio de Auxiliis did not forever put an end to the controversies, and the question is not yet settled.

Neo-Thomism and the revival of Scholasticism

When the world in the first part of the nineteenth century began to enjoy a period of peace and rest after the disturbances caused by the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, closer attention was given to ecclesiastical studies and Scholasticism was revived. This movement eventually caused a revival of Thomism, because the great master and model proposed by Leo XIII in the encyclical "Aeterni Patris" (4 Aug., 1879) was St. Thomas Aquinas. . . . The Thomistic doctrine had received strong support from the older universities. Among these the Encyclical "Aeterni Patris" mentions Paris, Salamanca, Alcalá Douai, Toulouse, Louvain, Padua, Bologna, Naples, and Coimbra as "the homes of human wisdom where Thomas reigned supreme, and the minds of all, teachers as well as taught, rested in wonderful harmony under the shield and authority of the Angelic Doctor". In the universities established by the Dominicans at Lima (1551) and Manila (1645) St. Thomas always held sway. The same is true of the Minerva school at Rome (1255), which ranked as a university from the year 1580, and is now the international Collegio Angelico. Coming down to our own times and the results of the Encyclical, which gave a new impetus to the study of St. Thomas's works, the most important centres of activity are Rome, Louvain, Fribourg (Switzerland), and Washington. At Louvain the chair of Thomistic philosophy, established in 1880, became, in 1889-90, the "Institut supérieur de philosophie" or "Ecole St. Thomas d'Aquin," where Professor Mercier, now Cardinal Archbishop of Mechlin, ably and wisely directed the new Thomistic movement (see De Wulf, "Scholasticism Old and New", tr. Coffey, New York, 1907, append., p. 261; "Irish Ecel. Record", Jan. 1906). The theological department of the University of Fribourg, Switzerland, established in 1889, has been entrusted to the Dominicans. By the publication of the "Revue thomiste" the professors of that university have contributed greatly to a new knowledge and appreciation of St. Thomas. The Constitution of the Catholic University of America at Washington enjoins special veneration for St. Thomas; the School of Sacred Sciences must follow his leadership ("Const. Cath. Univ. Amer.", Rome, 1889, pp. 38, 43). The University of Ottawa and Laval University are the centres of Thomism in Canada. The appreciation of St. Thomas in our days, in Europe and in America, is well set forth in Perrier's excellent "Revival of Scholastic Philosophy in the Nineteenth Century" (New York, 1909).

Eminent Thomists

After the middle of the fourteenth century the vast majority of philosophical and theological writers either wrote commentaries on the works of St. Thomas or based their teachings on his writings. It is impossible, therefore, to give here a complete list of the Thomists: only the more important names can be given. Unless otherwise noted, the authors belonged to the Order of St. Dominic. Those marked (*) were devoted to Thomism in general, but were not of the Thomistic School. A more complete list will be found in the works cited at the end of this article.

Thirteenth century

Thomas de Cantimpré (1270); Hugh of St. Cher (1263); Vincent of Bauvais (1264); St. Raymond de Pennafort (1275); Peter of Tarentaise (Pope Innocent V — 1276); Giles de Lassines (1278); Reginald de Piperno (1279); William de Moerbeka (1286); Raymond Marti (1286); Bernard de Trilia (1292); Bernard of Hotun, Bishop of Dublin (1298); Theodoric of Apoldia (1299); Thomas Sutton (1300).

Fourteenth century

Peter of Auvergne (1301); Nicholas Boccasini, Benedict XI (1304); Godfrey of Fontaines (1304); Walter of Winterburn (1305); Ægidius Colonna (Aigidius Romanus), O.S.A (1243-1316); William of Paris (1314); Gerard of Bologna, Carmelite (1317); four biographers, viz Peter Calo (1310); William de Tocco (1324); Bartolommeo of Lucca (1327); Bernard Guidonis* (1331); Dante (1321); Natalis Hervieus (1323); Petrus de Palude (Paludanusi — 1342); Thomas Bradwardin, Archbishop of Canterbury (1349); Robert Holkott (1349); John Tauler (1361); Bl. Henry Suso (1365); Thomas of Strasburg, O.S.A. (1357); Jacobus Passavante (1357); Nicholas Roselli (1362); Durandus of Aurillac (1382), sometimes called Durandulus, because he wrote against Durandus a S. Portiano*, who was first a Thomist, afterwards an independent writer, attacking many of St. Thomas's doctrines; John Bromyard (1390); Nicholas Eymeric (1399).

Fifteenth century

Manuel Calecas (1410); St. Vincent Ferrer (1415); Bl. John Dominici (1419); John Gerson*, chancellor of the University of Paris (1429); Luis of Valladolid (1436); Raymond Sabunde (1437); John Nieder (1437); Capreolus (1444), called the "Prince of Thomists"; John de Montenegro (1445); Fra Angelico (1455); St. Antoninus (1459); Nicholas of Cusa*, of the Brothers of the Common Life (1464); John of Torquemada (de Turrecrematai, 1468); Bessarion, Basilian (1472); Alanus de Rupe (1475); John Faber (1477); Petrus Niger (1471); Peter of Bergamo (1482); Jerome Savonarola (1498).

Sixteenth century

Felix Faber (1502); Vincent Bandelli (1506); John Tetzel (1519); Diego de Deza (1523); Sylvester Mazzolini (1523); Francesco Silvestro di Ferrara (1528); Thomas de Vio Cajetan (1534) (commentaries by these two are published in the Leonine edition of the works of St. Thomas); Conrad Koellin (1536); Chrysostom Javelli (1538); Santes Pagnino (1541); Francisco de Vitoria (1546); Franc. Romseus (1552); Ambrosius Catherinus* (Lancelot Politi, 1553); St. Ignatius of Loyola (1556) enjoined devotion to St. Thomas; Matthew Ory (1557); Dominic Soto (1560); Melchior Cano (1560); Ambrose Pelargus (1561); Peter Soto (1563); Sixtus of Siena (1569); John Faber (1570); St. Pius V (1572); Bartholomew Medina (1581); Vincent Justiniani (1582); Maldonatus* (Juan Maldonado, 1583); St. Charles Borromeo* (1584); Salmerón* (1585); Ven. Louis of Granada (1588); Bartholomew of Braga (1590); Toletus* (1596); Bl. Peter Canisius* (1597); Thomas Stapleton*, Doctor of Louvain (1598); Fonseca (1599); Molina* (1600).

Seventeenth century

Valentia* (1603); Domingo Bañez (1604); Vásquez* (1604); Bart. Ledesma (1604); Sánchez* (1610); Baronius * (1607); Capponi a Porrecta (1614); Aur. Menochio * (1615); Petr. Ledesma (1616); Francisco Suárez* (1617); Du Perron, a converted Calvinist, cardinal (1618); Bellarmine* (1621); St. Francis de Sales* (1622); Hieronymus Medices (1622); Lessius* (1623); Becanus* (1624); Malvenda (1628); Thomas de Lemos (1629); Alvarez; Laymann* (1635); Joann. Wiggers*, doctor of Louvain (1639); Gravina (1643); John of St. Thomas (1644); Serra (1647); Ripalda*, S.J.* (1648); Sylvius (Du Bois), doctor of Douai (1649); Petavius* (1652); Goar (1625); Steph. Menochio, S.J.* (1655); Franc. Pignatelli* (1656); De Lugo* (1660); Bollandus* (1665); Jammy (1665); Vallgornera (1665); Labbe* (1667); Pallavicini* (1667); Busenbaum* (1668); Nicolni* (1673); Contenson (1674); Jac. Pignatelli* (1675); Passerini* (1677); Gonet (1681); Bancel (1685); Thomassin* (1695); Goudin (1695); Sfrondati* (1696); Quetif (1698); Rocaberti (1699); Casanate (1700). To this period belong the Carmelite Salmanticenses, authors of the "Cursus theologicus" (1631-72).

Eighteenth century

Guerinois (1703); Bossuet, Bishop of Meaux; Norisins, O.S.A. (1704); Diana (1705); Thyrsus González* (1705); Massoulié (1706); Du hamel* (1706); Wigandt (1708); Piny (1709); Lacroix* (1714); Carrières* (1717); Natalis Alexander (1724); Echard (1724); Tourney*, doctor of the Sorbonne (1729); Livarius de Meyer* (1730); Benedict XIII* (1730); Graveson (1733); Th. du Jardin (1733); Hyacintha Serry (1738); Duplessis d'Argentré* (1740); Gotti (1742); Drouin* (1742); Antoine* (1743); Lallemant* (1748); Milante* (1749); Preingue (1752); Concina (1759); Billuart (1757); Benedict XIV* (1758); Cuiliati (1759); Orsi (1761); Charlevoix* (1761); Reuter* (1762); Baumgartner* (1764); Berti* (1766); Patuzzi (1769); De Rubeis (1775); Touron (1775); Thomas de Burgo (1776); Gener* (1781); Roselli (1783); St. Alphonsus Liguori (1787); Mamachi (1792); Richard (1794).

Nineteenth century

In this century there are few names to be recorded outside of those who were connected with the Thomistic revival either as the forerunners, the promoters, or the writers of the Neo-Scholastic period.

About this page

APA citation. Kennedy, D. (1912). Thomism. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Kennedy, Daniel. "Thomism." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Kevin Cawley.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. July 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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