The Mind That Is Catholic

Senior Editor’s note: Be sure to tune in tonight to EWTN’s “The World Over Live” with Raymond Arroyo (@RaymondArroyo). Raymond will interview Robert Royal (@RobertSRoyal) about Bob’s new book, the very one Prof. Dougherty reviews below. Be sure to tune in: 8:00 PM Eastern, check your local listings for the station in your area or click here for EWTN’s channel finder. -Brad Miner (@ABradfordMiner)

It is always hazardous to speak of “a” Catholic intellectual tradition. There are Augustinians, Thomists, Scotists, and perhaps some Ockhamists among the linguistic analysts, not to mention schools of personalism and phenomenology that arose in the twentieth century. Within each tradition some thinkers are primarily indebted to Aristotle, others more to Plato or to neo-Platonism. In his latest book, A Deeper Vision: The Catholic Intellectual Tradition in the Twentieth Century (just published by Ignatius Press), Robert Royal is aware of all of this as he identifies a “core intellectuality” that may be called Catholic. He brings to his work an exceptional erudition, perhaps unsurpassed by any contemporary author.

A Deeper Vision opens with a description of the nineteenth-century Thomistic revival in philosophy. Pope Leo XIII recognized that philosophy can only be fought by philosophy. So in his 1879 encyclical Aeterni Patris he recommended the philosophy of St. Thomas as an antidote to the then prevailing empiricisms and positivisms. In describing the extent of that movement Royal calls attention to the work of Jacques Maritain, Etienne Gilson, Maurice Blondel, Yves Simon, Joseph Pieper, Karl Rahner, and Bernard Lonergan, among many others.

At mid-twentieth century observers on the American scene could speak of Mid-West Thomism, comprised of disciples of Aquinas in university settings at Toronto, Milwaukee, Chicago, River Forest, Bloomington, St. Louis, Notre Dame, and Cincinnati. With the conclusion of Vatican II, the landscape changed. Royal devotes a chapter to, “Catholic Philosophy in a Time of Turmoil,” describing the shift from Thomas and the Scholastic tradition to the eclecticism that seems to prevail today. Interpreters of the Council who put pastoral needs above dogmatic ones in effect ignored the need to philosophically defend the truths on which the faith had always been understood to be based.

Special attention is devoted to the thought of Karol Wojytla. As Royal notes, for most of his life John Paul II did not primarily operate within the Thomistic tradition, even though he wrote a doctoral dissertation under one of the most prominent Thomists of the day, Réginald Garrigou-LaGrange (author of the still relevant, God His Existence and His Nature). Wojtyla’s dissertation was a theological examination of “Faith According to St. John of the Cross.” It was only late in his pontificate that John Paul II explicitly endorsed the study of St. Thomas.


From philosophy, Royal moves to discussions of theology before and after Vatican II. He speaks of theology in the throes of modernity, devotes attention to the shift in biblical studies, and to the impact of both on the liturgy. With constant accuracy and insight, Royal remains objective as he surveys the impact, for good and ill, of Vatican II.

One of the remarkable sections of the book is Royal’s description of the twentieth-century Catholic literary revival. He finds that in England, Christopher Dawson (among many others) played a significant role in fostering that revival. As an historian, and as a convert to Catholicism, Dawson challenged Edward Gibbon’s disparagement of Christianity in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire with his own studies, namely, The Age of the Gods: A study of the Origins of Culture in Prehistoric Europe and the Ancient Near East (1928), Progress and Religion (1929), and The Making of Europe (1931). Dawson was immediately recognized as a major cultural voice. T.S. Eliot spoke of him as “the most powerful influence in England.”

That influence extended to such literary figures as Gerard Manley Hopkins, Ronald Knox, Maurice Baring, G.K. Chesterton, Evelyn Waugh, Malcolm Muggeridge, and J.R.R. Tolkien. It must be said that all of Dawson’s works are worth revisiting. In a chapter entitled, “The Emergence of Culture as a Protagonist,” Royal finds a passage from Dawson, perhaps more relevant today than when he wrote it: “In the modern state the mind of the average citizen is molded by the government and the popular press, and these afford no genuine substitute for the profound spiritual guidance that was provided by the old religious traditions.”

Dawson is clearly one of Royal’s favorite authors, but another is Charles Péguy whose support he enlists throughout A Deeper Vision. He finds compelling Péguy’s insight when the poet discusses the de-Christianization of Europe. Péguy blamed it not on external forces, as many were inclined to do, but on the internal failure of the Church. Maritain would arrive at much the same conclusion: “the personnel of the Church.” A Deeper Vision ends with the reproduction of a few lines of poetry that Péguy wrote at the end of a pilgrimage in 1912 to Our Lady of Chartres.

Royal’s literary landscape is vast. One will find discussions of authors ranging from, C.S. Lewis, Louis Carroll, and James Joyce to Nikolai Berdyaev and Sigrid Undset. Of Undset’s Kristin Lavansdatter he says it may be “best understood as a kind of modern day Divine Comedy, although one that unfolds wholly on earth, not as his journeys through earth, the mountain of purgatory and the heavens.” Royal recognizes James Joyce for his Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, which may be the most succinct exposition of St. Thomas philosophy of art that one is likely to find. Pages are devoted to Dante, of course and to the enormous poetic vitality of Paul Claudel who differentiates his own spontaneous outbursts from Dante’s “well-reasoned and orderly vision of the world.”

This review has only scratched the surface of this magnificent work, a volume that this writer believes is worthy of a place in the personal library of every serious Catholic.

Jude P. Dougherty

Jude P. Dougherty

Jude P. Dougherty, emeritus Dean of the School of Philosophy at the Catholic University of America, is the author, most recently, of Briefly Considered (St. Augustine’s Press, November 2015).

  • Manfred

    Robert: Congratulations on your new book. I wish you much success with it.
    Dr. Dougherty: Thank you for an excellent review of Robert’s book.
    It is interesting to be reminded that the Church had, at one time, a mind. Alas, all these brilliant writers could do nothing to forestall the Protestantization and secularization of the Church.

    As a businessman and one time reserve Army officer, I have always been an admirer of Saint Pius X who, with his close assistant Cdl Merry Del Val, pushed the modernists in the Church underground. While Pascendi and Lamentabili may not be pretty reading, they alerted the faithful to the modernist heresies, many of which persist to this day.

  • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

    After reading your list of credentials and breadth of learning of Dr Royal I realize my own want in these areas. My excuse is I started late but even then I doubt that otherwise I would have come close. I would only add to your description Dr Dougherty is John Paul II and phenomenology. As Fr Wojtyla he wrote Reevaluation of the Possibility of Founding a Catholic Ethic on the Ethical System of Max Scheler 1954. In it Saint Pope John Paul II acknowledge the dynamic of consciousness in understanding man which St Thomas Aquinas does not touch on to any extent. Man is reflexive in the consciousness of his own being in his apprehension of things which radically sets him apart from others creatures. It becomes an important element in ethical discernment.

  • Dave

    Bob Royal is one of the most gracious, urbane Catholic thinkers in the contemporary world, and this review indicates some of the reasons why. I make two observations
    today: first, and in continuance with my comments of the other day regarding the attack on fatherhood, it’s worth noting that the deeper vision to which Dr. Royal points is one in which men play aprominent role; and, second, the “personnel-in-the-Church” crisis comes about when bishops and other senior clergy see themselves as administrators first and pastors second, and, when pastors, pastors principally to their priests and not so much to the laity. Put another way,
    as long as bishops think the treasure they guard is comprised of the institutions, buildings, and investments in their care, as well as the people for whose livelihoods they are responsible; and in their social prestige with the great and the mighty, then this crisis will continue. Please give us bishops and priests who are pastors first and administrators second. Please allow (lay) men access to the doctoral programs when they are qualified, even if they do not spew the (anti-man) nostrums of the day.

    • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

      You are right Dave. Knowledge, credentials you imply means nothing if it does not refer us to the deeper truth of our existence evident in a man’s, although by nature I hesitate to name living persons, the author of A Deeper Vision’s opus.

  • Rick

    Time of Turmoil? I disagree. That chapter should be re-titled, “Catholic Philosophy in a Time of Excessive Materialism.” We live in a fat society, with fat people, supersized houses, big SUVs, free flowing pensions, no fault divorces, central air/heat, 50 inch TVs, video games, etc. Life couldn’t be better.

    People aren’t hungry and starving. I dare anyone to show me a case in the USA where someone has starved to death (that wasn’t anorexic or a severe drug addict). We don’t need food drives, we need spirituality drives.

    The USA is littered with casinos that are mostly run by our social justice minded hypocritical state governments. We live in a land of plenty, a land of gluttony, promiscuity, and greed. The truth is, people don’t need no stinking God. The people have their 401Ks, football teams, 4000 sq ft houses, and lake cabins to pray to. Catholic intellectuals better understand this before they go looking for more things to change/destroy about our time-honored Catholic traditions.

    • Dave

      Sir, if you don’t think we live in times of turmoil, you haven’t been paying attention: to what is happening in Europe and here with regard to The Religion That Must Not be Named; with the epidemic of pornography, the proliferation of divorce and contraception, and the utter ennui reported by millions of people who are surfeited by the deceptions of the materialism you are pointing out. Your key line is one that everyone who reads TCT agrees with: “we need spirituality drives.” But we also need philosophy and other intellectual drives, because the logic-traps and emotional hooks that are leading people to commit these mortal sins and also leading them right to hell.

      • Rick

        You are correct. Life is full of contradictions, so let me contradict myself. Beneath the facade of materialism and happiness, we are in turmoil. How does the Catholic church get us to focus inwardly, to examine our consciences, when there are a plethora escape mechanisms at our fingertips. How do we get people to drop the newest cell phone and reach for a rosary? I think only a real, genuine, 1920s-style hardship can do that. In the meantime, the Catholic church should not panic and make changes that make her unrecognizable to those looking for her when the “hardship hits the fan” (pun intended).