The Catholic Thing
HOME        ARCHIVES        IN THE NEWS        COMMENTARY        NOTABLE        DONATE
Philosophia Perennis Print E-mail
By Ralph McInerny   
Monday, 24 August 2009

The first volume of the letters exchanged between Jacques Maritain and Yves Simon has just been published. To read it is to be reminded of Wordsworth on the French Revolution: bliss was it that day to be alive and very heaven to be young. There are readers, and I, Deo gratias, am among them, for whom these letters stir memories of the vibrant days of the Thomistic Revival and the foundational role that Maritain and Simon played in our thinking. Other readers will relate to the letters as vehicles of historical truth, which are not supplemented by personal memories. In either case, these letters provide an incomparable opportunity to share the thinking of two of the most important philosophers of the twentieth century.

In the post-Conciliar years bumptious readers of the Council documents have declared that the hegemony of Thomas Aquinas is over, that Thomism no longer plays a favored role for the Catholic philosopher and theologian. Nothing in the documents supports this claim, nor do the repeated endorsements of the popes, but that scarcely matters to a certain kind of Catholic. Having lived through the decades of this condescension toward Thomas, it is refreshing to turn to the letters of two men for whom Thomas Aquinas was the major inspiration and whose work developed ever new lines of relevance between the Thomistic text and modern times.

Something similar is to be found in the book of Aidan Nichols’ called Dominican Gallery, in which he puts before us seven English Dominicans whose works exhibited in delightfully different ways the impact that an early immersion in the texts of Aquinas had on them. Readers of a certain age will know these Dominicans and recall their books, which had such an influence on English and American Catholics. Victor White. Gerald Vann, Thomas Gilby, Sebastian Bullough, Gervase Mathew, Kenelm Foster, and Conrad Pepler. Several of them are still being read and a few, like Gilby, who edited a bilingual edition of the Summa theologiae, and Kenelm Foster, student of Dante, will be known to fellow professionals.

A similar gathering of Jesuit authors of the period could be made but not perhaps with so insistently common a Thomist background. It is that immersion, to be expected of members of the Order of Preachers, that links these men with Maritain and Simon, recalling a time when a recognized Catholic tradition and intellectual patrimony defined Catholic culture.

The Church’s centuries old and reiterated preference for Thomas Aquinas is sometimes looked upon as an untested hypothesis, a promissory note that might or might not be redeemable. That is why the concrete efforts of those who followed the Church’s advice and produced work of lasting interest is important. Here is variegated proof of the fruitfulness of turning to Thomas Aquinas as one’s principal guide in philosophy and theology.

Another complaint that one often heard is that by following the Church’s advice and turning to Thomas we would end up with a vast amount of homogeneous and repetitive work. Once more, the actual literary products of such men as Maritain and Simon and these seven Dominicans belie this fear. Simon was a student of Maritain’s and a deep admirer of his work and yet in these letters we see the two men disagreeing on many matters, not least the stages of practical reasoning with Simon rejecting an interpretation dear to Maritain’s heart. Of course philosophers will disagree. Of course there will be levels of intensity in their agreements.

It would not be too much to say that the passion for originality begins with modern philosophy. Each thinker is intent on developing his own system and contrasting it with previous efforts. One wants a personal stamp on what one proposes: the Bullwinkle theory of knowledge, the Basil Faulty account of moral evil. There is indeed a lot of originality in modern philosophy, a lot of novelty. Most of it has a very short shelf life, pushed aside by the new and improved. In philosophy, as in the arts, novelty is all too easily come by, but truth is neither new nor old.

Try to imagine a Thomas Aquinas regarding his own efforts as the attempt to produce Thomism. This would be suggestive of something true for him and not for others – in short, not true at all in any serious sense.

One of Maritain’s great achievements was to convince artists and poets that Thomas is as important to their work as he is to philosophy and theology. Flannery O’Connor was following that suggestion when she described herself as a hillbilly Thomist who read some of the Summa theologiae every day. But then she was one of the beneficiaries of the time when Maritain and Simon and Aidan Nichols’ gallery of Dominicans flourished.

 

Ralph McInerny is a writer of philosophy, fiction, and cultural criticism, who has taught at Notre Dame since 1955.

© 2009 The Catholic Thing. All rights reserved. For reprint rights, write to: info at thecatholicthing dot org

The Catholic Thing
is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

Rules for Commenting

The Catholic Thing welcomes comments, which should reflect a sense of brevity and a spirit of Christian civility, and which, as discretion indicates, we reserve the right to publish or not. And, please, do not include links to other websites; we simply haven't time to check them all.

Comments (10)Add Comment
0
A treasure for our times
written by linda smith, August 25, 2009
In "The Sources of Christian Ethics" by Fr. Servais Pinckaers (a work of extraordinary richness), we read: "Once we begin, with Luther, to separate faith and reason, theology and philosophy, or the Gospel and humanism, and to set up an opposition between them, we are no longer able to understand the harmonies portrayed by St. Thomas ... We must rebuild "a moral system that is both Christian and human, transcending the current crisis caused by the excessive influence of rationalism."
0
Maritain as Thomist?
written by John Lamont, August 26, 2009
I sympathise with Prof. McInerny's enthusiasm for a time when the thought of St. Thomas was at the centre of Catholic intellectual life, but do not agree with his identification of Jacques Maritain as an ideal of Thomist revival. Maritain's Integral Humanism and his writings on human rights were a disastrous embrace of secularism and Enlightenment thought. Catholics looking for great Thomist figures to emulate should choose Gilson and Michel Villey instead of Maritain.
0
RECOMMENDATIONS?
written by Graham Combs, August 27, 2009
As new Catholic (Easter Vigil this year), I pretend to little knowledge of St. Thomas Aquinas other than what I've come across in Church histories, Michael Novak, FIRST THINGS, and Msgr. Ronald Knox for example. Any recommendations for a somewhat intelligent general reader (I managed to bull my way through law school including, unfortunately, Roberto Unger and Duncan Kennedy) on St. Thomas's theology? Thank you.
0
New revival
written by J Yocum, August 27, 2009
There is a reanissance of interest in and appreciation of Thomas alive today as well. Scholars like Matthew Levering, Gilles Emery, Seth White, Tom Weinandy are stirring interest in Thomas among theologians. And even the wayward Anthony Kenny acknowledges him as a peerless philosopher of mind. Veritas vincit even sometimes in a sad and dishevelled age.
0
...
written by Garrett, September 08, 2009
Great post, but what happened to Scotism?

0
...
written by Christopher Blosser, September 13, 2009
Seeking recommendations for readings in Aquinas?

Try the RatzingerFanClub on the WorldWideWeb.
0
Yes, but...
written by Raphael Walker, September 27, 2009
I am delighted that some Simon-Maritain letters may be published. But- under what title, in what language, by which press? Nothing shows up via Amazon, nor by searching the sites of such usual suspects as St Augustine's Press, Ignatius, CUA, or Notre Dame.
0
...
written by Anthony O. Simon, November 01, 2009
He is some information regard recent Yves R. Simon publication:
Anthony O. Simon
Director, Yves R. Simon Institute
3921 Glenview Drive
South Bend, Indiana 46629
574-271-1187 aos1936@comcast.net

New Yves Simon books
The Ethiopian Campaign and French Political Thought
Edited by Anthony O. Simon
Translated by Robert Royal
Introduction by A. James McAdams
(Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2009), Pp. xxiii + 130
ISBN: 978-0-268-04130-4
Hit Link: http://undpress.nd.edu/book/P01310
0
reference
written by Michel, December 05, 2009
Florian Michel (ed.), Correspondance Jacques Maritain – Yves Simon, 1927-1940, Les années françaises, tome 1, CLD, Tours, décembre 2008, 471 p.
Voilà les références demandées par Raphael Walker.
0
...
written by mauro la spisa, November 22, 2012
TODAY THE GOOD REASONS OF THOMISM ARE SCHOVED ABOUT ECOLOGICAL AND HUMAN BRAIN AUTONOMIE TO RELATIONS CULTOROLOGICAL EMERGENCY. SO THOMISTIC PHILOSOPHY IT IS FUNDAMENTALLY AN COSMO ANTRHOPICAL ENHARMONIC ENHANCEMENT IN THE LIGTH OF POTENTIA-ACTUS RHYTHMYCAL RESONANCE.IN ANALOGICAL ACCORDANCE WITH VEDISM AND TAOISM COSMOVISION.SO PHILOSOPHICAL APPROACH OF ST.THOMAS THINKING IS VERY EURASIATIC VISION

Write comment
smaller | bigger

security code
Write the displayed characters


busy
 

Other Articles By This Author

CONTACT US FOR ADVERTISERS ABOUT US