Saint Thomas Aquinas

General Information

Saint Thomas Aquinas, a Dominican theologian, met the challenge posed to Christian faith by the philosophical achievements of the Greeks and Arabs. He effected a philosophical synthesis of faith and reason that is one of the greatest achievements of medieval times.


Thomas's thought embodied the conviction that Christian revelation and human knowledge are facets of a single truth and cannot be in conflict with one another.

Humans know something when its truth is either immediately evident to them or can be made evident by appeal to immediately evident truths. They believe something when they accept its truth on authority. Religious faith is the acceptance of truths on the authority of God's Revelation of them. Despite the fact that this seems to make knowledge and faith two utterly distinct realms, Thomas held that some of the things God has revealed are in fact knowable. He called these "preambles of faith," including among them the existence of God and certain of his attributes, the immortality of the human soul, and some moral principles. The rest of what has been revealed he called "mysteries of faith," for example, the Trinity, the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ, the resurrection, and so on. He then argued that, if some of the things God has revealed can be known to be true, it is reasonable to accept the mysteries as true.

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Thomas's conviction that truth is ultimately one because it has its source in God explains the confidence with which he approached the writings of non - Christian thinkers: Aristotle, the Muslim Aristotelians Averroes and Avicenna, and the Jewish philosopher Maimonides. He strongly opposed the Latin Averroists who claimed that something can be true in natural knowledge and false for belief and vice versa.

Thomas was critical of the Platonic conception of humans as rational souls inhabiting powerless, material bodies that had been incorporated into the traditional Augustinianism. Like Aristotle, he saw the human being as a complete union of soul and body. Thus, in addition to the survival of the soul after death, the resurrection of the body seemed philosophically appropriate as well as religiously true to Thomas. His Aristotelianism also led to his defense of sense perception and the view that intellectual knowledge is derived by way of abstraction (concept formation) from sense data. Plato's doctrine of Forms, or Ideas, had become part of a traditional Realism with regard to Universals, part of a theory of knowledge that held that humans have direct knowledge of immaterial entities.

Thomas reinterpreted Ideas as divine creative patterns and Saint Augustine's theory of illumination, or the attainment of knowledge of the immaterial through intellectual insight, as a version of the Aristotelian active intellect, which he understood as the faculty of abstracting universal meanings from particular empirical data. Thomas argued that the existence of God can be proved by such reasoning from sense data. He further argued that human concepts and language can be extrapolated, by way of analogy, to speak of God's nature. This, however, is a difficult task, and it is fitting that revelation provides humans with that knowledge. Thomas also held that there are first principles of moral reasoning (Natural Law) that all humans grasp; many of them, however, have been revealed in the Ten Commandments.


Thomas's synthesis of natural and revealed knowledge, a goal sought by many other medieval thinkers, did not meet with wholehearted acceptance. In 1277 a number of Thomistic tenets were condemned by the bishop of Paris. Thomas met with a warmer reception in his own order, and in 1309 his doctrine was prescribed for the Dominicans. In 1323, Thomas was canonized, and since that time his thought has become more or less the official doctrine of the Roman Catholic church. He was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1567. In the 19th century, under Pope Leo XIII, the modern revival of Thomism began. Although uninspired adaptations of his thought have brought it into disrepute with many thinkers, Thomas himself continues to be held in high esteem.

Ralph Mcinerny

V J Bourke, Aquinas' Search for Wisdom (1965); M D Chenu, Toward Understanding Saint Thomas (1964); F C Copleston, Aquinas (1955); R McInerny, Saint Thomas Aquinas (1977) and, as ed., Thomism in an Age of Renewal (1966); J Maritain, The Angelic Doctor (1958); J Pieper, Guide to Saint Thomas Aquinas (1962).


Advanced Information

Thomism is the school of philosophy and theology following the thought of Thomas Aquinas. It developed in various phases and has experienced periods of support and neglect.

When Aquinas died he left no direct successor, but his system was adopted by various individuals, most notably by many of his confreres in the dominican order and by his own original teacher, the eclectic Albertus Magnus. Nonetheless there was still much opposition to his Aristotelianism on the part of church authorities, and in 1277 in Paris and Oxford several propositions derived from Thomas's teachings were condemned. It was primarily due to Dominican efforts that the system of Aquinas was not only eventually rehabilitated, but that he himself was canonized in 1323.

From this time period on, Thomism became one of the several competing schools of medieval philosophy. In particular, it set itself off against classical Augustinianism with its reliance on Aristotle, most eminently by insisting on a unified anthropology whereby the soul is the form of the body. What St. Thomas was to the Dominicans, Duns Scotus became to the Franciscans, and Scotism debated with Thomism on such issues as freedom of the will and the analogy of being. Finally, Thomism, along with the other two schools mentioned, maintained a moderate realism in contrast to nominalism. At the same time, the followers of St. Thomas did not remain uniform, but took on individual traits with particular commentators and in terms of national movements. This tendency is illustrated most interestingly by the Dominican Meister Eckhart (c. 1260 - 1328), who developed a mysticism that was to become characteristic of German theological life for more than a century.

A central figure of developing Thomism was Thomas de Vio Cardinal Cajetan (1469 - 1534). His high ecclesiastical standing contributed to the authoritativeness of his expositions of Aquinas. Cajetan's brand of thomism bears several distinctives. Among these is his analysis of analogy; he argues that this concept is best understood as the proportionality of an attribute to two essences rather than as the predication of an attribute primary in one essence derived in a second. Further, Cajetan thought more in terms of abstract essences than his predecessors, who majored on existing substances. Third, he raised doubt concerning the provability of both God's existence and the immortality of the soul.

Thomism became the leading school of Catholic thought in the sixteenth century. Several factors contributed to its ascendancy. The Jesuit order (approved in 1540), known for its aggressive teaching, aligned itself with Aquinas; also, the Council of Trent (first convened in 1545), swhich self - consciosly styled many of its pronouncements in Thomistic phraseology.

Thomism entered the seventeenth century triumphantly, but exited void of power and originality. John of St. Thomas (1589 - 1644) is a good representative of the early century. He was a creative teacher and interpreter of Aquinas's thought; he was a careful and compassionate official of the Spanish Inquisition; and he was an intimate advisor to King Philip IV. Thus in him the intellectual, theological, and political machinations of Thomism are brought to a focus. But Thomism's primacy bore the seeds of its own demise. Due to lack of competition Thomism became too self - contained to cope with the rise of rationalism and empirical science on their own ground. Thomism would not adapt itself; and so the alternatives left were obscurantism or non - Thomistic philosophy. Consequently, though Thomism was still alive, primarily in Dominican circles, in the eighteenth century, it was essentially a spent force.

But the early nineteenth century saw another abrupt change in the fortunes of Thomism. Catholic thinkers increasingly began to see that in Thomashs works there were viable responses to topical questions not answered elsewhere. Particularly the questions of human dignity in the face of rising industrialism revived Thomism. Dramatically the schools returned to the authority of Aquinas. By the time of Vatican I (1869 / 70), Thomistic principles were again in vogue. And Thomism triumphed in 1879 when Pope Leo XIII in Aeterni Patris recalled the church to St. Thomas. The result was the movement known as neo - Thomism which has persisted well past the middle of the twentieth century.

W Corduan
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

V J Bourke, Thomistic Bibliography: 1920 - 1940; E Gilson, The Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas; H John, Thomist Spectrum; T L Miethe and V J Bourke, Thomistic Bibliography: 1940 - 1978.


Catholic Information

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.

To Thomism in the first sense are opposed, e.g., the Scotists, who deny that satisfaction is a part of the proximate matter (materia proxima) of the Sacrament of Penance. Anti-Thomists, in this sense of the word, reject opinions admittedly taught by St. Thomas.

To Thomism in the second sense are opposed, e.g. the Molinists, as well as all who defend the moral instrumental causality of the sacraments in producing grace against the system of physical instrumental causality, the latter being a doctrine of the Thomistic School.

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. Baflez 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


A. 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 Thom~", 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.

B. 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.

C. 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 dietion 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.

D. Distinctive Doctrines of Thomism in General

(1) In Philosophy

The angels and human souls are without matter, but every material composite being (compositum) has two parts, prime matter and substantial form. In a composite being which has substantial unity and is not merely an aggregate of distinct units, there can be but one substantial form. The substantial form of man is his soul (anima rationalis) to the exclusion of any other soul and of any other substantial form. The principle of individuation, for material composites, is matter with its dimensions: without this there can be no merely numerical multiplication: distinction in the form makes specific distinction: hence there cannot be two angels of the same species. The essences of things do not depend on the free will of God, but on His intellect, and ultimately on His essence, which is immutable. The natural law, being derived from the eternal law, depends on the mind of God, ultimately on the essence of God; hence it is intrinsically immutable. Some actions are forbidden by God because they are bad: they are not bad simply because He forbids them [see Zigliara, "Sum. phil." (3 vols., Paris, 1889), ccx, xi, II, M. 23, 24, 25].

The will moves the intellect quoad exercitium, i.e. in its actual operation: the intellect moves the will quoad specificationem, i.e. by presenting objects to it: nil volitum nisi praecognitum. The beginning of all our acts is the apprehension and desire of good in general (bonum in communi). We desire happiness (bonum in communi) naturally and necessarily, not by a free deliberate act. Particular goods (bona particularia) we choose freely; and the will is a blind faculty, always following the last practical judgment of the intellect (Zigliara, 51).

The senses and the intellect are passive, i.e. recipient, faculties; they do not create, but receive (i.e. perceive) their objects (St. Thomas, I, Q. lxxviii, a. 3; Q. lxxix, a. 2; Zigliara, 26, 27). If this principle is borne in mind there is no reason for Kant's "Critique of Pure Reason". On the other hand those faculties are not like wax, or the sensitive plate used by photog raphers, in the sense that they are inert and receive impressions unconsciously. The will controls the exercise of the faculties, and the process of acquiring knowledge is a vital process: the moving cause is always within the living agent.

The Peripatetic axiom: "Nihil est in intellectu quod non prius in sensu" (Nothing is in the intellect that was not first in the senses), is admitted; but St. Thomas modifies it by saying: first, that, once the sense objects have been perceived, the intellect ascends to the knowledge of higher things, even of God; and, secondly, that the soul knows its own existence by itself (i.e. by its own act), although it knows its own nature only by refiection on its acts. Knowledge begins by sense perception, but the range of the intellect is far beyond that of the senses. In the soul as soon as it begins to act are found the first principles (prima principia) of all knowledge, not in the form of an objective illumination, but in the form of a subjective inclination to admit them on account of their evidence. As soon as they are proposed we see that they are true; there is no more reason for doubting them than there is for denying the existence of the sun when we see it shining (see Zigliara, op. cit., pp. 32-42).

The direct and primary object of the intellect is the universal, which is prepared and presented to the passive intellect (intellectus possibilis) by the active intellect (intellectus agens) which illuminates the phantasmata, or mental images, received through the senses, and divests them of all individuating conditions. This is called abstracting the universal idea from the phantasmata, but the term must not be taken in a matrialistic sense. Abstraction is not a transferring of something from one place to another; the illumination causes all material and individuating conditions to disappear, then the universal alone shines out and is perceived by the vital action of the intellect (Q. lxxxiv, a. 4; Q. lxxxv, a. 1, ad lum, 3um, 4um). The process throughout is so vital, and so far elevated above material conditions and modes of action, that the nature of the acts and of the objects apprehended proves the soul to be immaterial and spiritual. The soul, by its very nature, is immortal. Not only is it true that God will not annihilate the soul, but from its very nature it will always continue to exist, there being in it no principle of disintegration (Zigliara, p. 9). Hence human reason can prove the incorruptibility (i.e. immortality) of the soul.

The existence of God is not known by an innate idea, it cannot be proved by arguments a priori or a simultaneo; but it can be demonstrated by a posteriori arguments. Ontologism was never taught by St. Thomas or by Thomists (see Lepidi, "Exam. phil. theol. de ontologismo", Louvain, 1874, c. 19; Zigliara, Theses I, VIII).

There are no human (i.e. deliberate) acts indifferent in individuo.

(2) In Theology

Faith and science, i.e. knowledge by demonstration, cannot co-exist in the same subject with regard to the same object (Zigliara, O, 32, VII); and the same is true of knowledge and opinion.

The metaphysical essence of God consists, according to some Thomists, in the intelligere actualissimum, i.e. fulness of pure intellection, according to others in the perfection of aseitas, i.e. in dependent existence (Zigliara, Th. VIII, IX).

The happiness of heaven, formally and in the ultimate analysis, consists in the vision, not in the fruition, of God.

The Divine attributes are distinguished from the Divine nature and from each other by a virtual distinction, i.e. by a distinctio rationis cum fundamento a parte rei. The distinctio actualis formalis of Scotus is rejected. In attempting to explain the mystery of the Trinity -- in as far as man can conceive it -- the relations must be considered perfectiones simpliciter simplices, i.e. excluding all imperfection. The Holy Ghost would not be distinct from the Son if He did not proceed from the Son as well as from the Father.

The angels, being pure spirits, are not, properly speaking, in any place; they are said to be in the place, or in the places, where they exercise their activity (Summa, I, Q. lii, a. 1). Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as an angel passing from place to place; but if an angel wishes to exercise its activity first in Japan and afterwards in America, it can do so in two instants (of angelic time), and need not pass through the intervening space (Q. liii). St. Thomas does not discuss the question "How many angels can dance on the point of a needle?" He reminds us that we must not think of angels as if they were corporeal, and that, for an angel, it makes no difference whether the sphere of his activity be the point of a needle or a continent (Q. lii, a. 2). Many angels cannot be said to be in the same place at the same time, for this would mean that whilst one angel is producing an effect others could be producing the same effect at the same time. There can be but one angel in the same place at the same time (Q. lii, a. 3). The knowledge of the angels comes through ideas (species) infused by God (QQ. lv, a.2, lvii, a.2, lviii, a.7). They do not naturally know future contingents, the secrets of souls, or the mysteries of grace (Q. lvii, aa. 3, 45). The angels choose either good or evil instantly, and with full knowledge; hence their judgment is naturally final and irrevocable (Q. lxiv, a. 2).

Man was created in the state of sanctifying grace. Grace was not due to his nature, but God granted it to him from the beginning (I, Q. xcv, a. 1). So great was the per fection of man in the state of original justice, and so perfect the subjection of his lower faculties to the higher, that his first sin could not have been a venia] sin (I-II, Q. lxxxix, a. 3).

It is more probable that the Incarnation would not have taken place had man not sinned (III, Q. i, a. 3). In Christ there were three kinds of knowledge: the scientia beata, i.e. the knowledge of things in the Divine Essence; the scientia infusa, i.e. the knowledge of things through infused ideas (species), and the scientia acquisita, i.e. acquired or experimental knowledge, which was nothing more than the actual experience of things which he already knew. On this last point St. Thomas, in the "Summa" (Q. ix, a. 4), explicitly retracts an opinion which he had once held (III Sent., d. 14, Q. iii, a. 3).

All sacraments of the New Law, including confirmation and extreme unction, were instituted immediately by Christ. Circumcision was a sacrament of the Old Law and conferred grace which removed the stain of original sin. The children of Jews or of other unbelievers may not be baptized without the consent of their parents (III, Q. lxviii, a. 10; 11-Il, Q. x, a. 12; Denzinger-Bannwart, n. 1481). Contrition, confession, and satisfaction are the proximate matter (materia proxima) of the Sacrament of Penance. Thomists hold, against the Scotists, that when Transubstantiation takes place in the Mass the Body of Christ is not made present per modum adduclionis, i.e. is not brought to the altar, but they do not agree in selecting the term which should be used to express this action (cf. Billuart, "De Euchar.", Diss. i, a. 7). Cardinal Billot holds ("Dc cccl. sacr.", Rome, 1900, Th. XI, "Dc euchar.", p. 379) that the best, and the only possible, explanation is the one given by St. Thomas himself: Christ becomes present by transubstantiation, i.e. by the conversion of the substance of bread into the substance of His body (III, Q. lxxv, a. 4; Sent., d. XI, Q. i, a. 1, q. 1). After the consecration the accidents (accidentia) of the bread and wine are preserved by Almighty God without a subject (Q. lxxxvii, a. 1). It was on this question that the doctors of Paris sought enlightenment from St. Thomas (see Vaughan, "Life and Labours of St. Thomas", London, 1872, II, p. 544). The earlier Thomists, following St. Thomas (Suppl., Q. xxxvii, a. 2), taught that the sub-diaconate and the four minor orders were partial sacraments. Some recent Thomists -- e.g., Billot (op. cit., p. 282) and Tanquerey (De ordine, n. 16) -- defend this opinion as more probable and more in conformity with the definitions of the councils. The giving of the chalice with wine and of the paten with bread Thomists generally held to be an essential part of ordination to the priesthood. Some, however, taught that the imposition of hands was at least necessary. On the question of divorce under the Mosaic Law the disciples of St. Thomas, like the saint himself (Suppl., Q. lxvii, a. 3), wavered, some holding that a dispensation was granted, others teaching that divorce was merely tolerated in order to avoid greater evils.


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

A. In Philosophy

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).

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.

B. In Theology

In the beatific vision God's essence takes the place not only of the species impressa, but also of the species expressa.

All moral virtues, the acquired as well as the infused, in their perfect state, are interconneted.

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.

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.

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.

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).

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.

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.

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.


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).


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 Baflez (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. Aiphonsus 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.

Publication information Written by D.J. Kennedy. Transcribed by Kevin Cawley. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XIV. Published 1912. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, July 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York

Also, see:
Summa Theologiae


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