The "24 Theses" of Thomas Aquinas have always bothered me.

These theses, promulgated by the Sacred Congregation of Studies in 1914 during the pontificate of Pius X have traditionally (of course, in a neo-traditional sense) been given as the central theses of the philosophical teaching of Aquinas, especially in the metaphysical realm.

I can of course not fault the intention of The Church: "We admonish professors to bear well in mind that they cannot set aside St. Thomas, especially in metaphysical questions, without grave disadvantage". --Pope St. Pius X, Pascendi Dominici Gregis

(Please excuse the non-linearity of the following. I am past my bedtime.)

What I don't yet understand (though I do not deny) is this statement:
"eas (dictis thesibus) plane continere sancti Doctoris principia et pronuntiata maiora"

Quite a statement. My question is, what is the value or importance of attempting to identify 'eas'? (Also how are assured are we to know that the above is right? And are we bound to believe them?)

A philosophical objection: Philosophy is of reason. Metaphysics is the most difficult and highest attainment of such acts of reason. Therefore it is unfitting most of all to assert metaphysical principles as statements and self-evident.

...I found this comment on a post on "Moreover, the tradition to express his thought by way of formulating principles and building on them like for instance Antonin R├ęginald (+ 1676) or more recently Norberto del Prado is an effective way to master Aquinas's thought and to receive an intellectual framework. Manuals like Gredt and others did precisely that."

My problem with this is that maxim-memorizing is that it neither follows the order of learning in coming-to-know a science, nor does it follow the order of being whereby those things known in science are intrinsically governed. Hence it seem to me memorizing metaphysical tenants would not be a "an effective way to master Aquinas's thought," but a sign of a lack of mastery-- especially if one were to think that by knowing the tenants one had mastered the thought of Thomas!! Therefore, it seems especially unfitting that the theses be promulgated amongst the "professors" which Pius X was above admonishing (who, by professing, claim at least some real mastery).

I've grown to really dislike the manual tradition because it seems to destroy the order which Thomas proceeds from himself (and therefore something quite central to the thought of Thomas). If it's a concession, it's conceding too much.

So, if I need to be a manualist in order to be a Thomist, I am not a Thomist.

Your comments and clarification are most welcome.


  1. Frater Asinus said...
    As you seem to be pointing at Ho Mathetes, Thomist can be said in many ways; some of which seem to be opposed to the very spirit of St. Thomas. This seems to be the case here. It seems abundantly evident that memorizing theses which are purported to be in St. Thomas' thought does not make one a Thomist. However, I wonder how many people actually have done that. If people have done so, then they merely add another shovel full of the intellectual refuse that I spoke about in my comment on your last post.
    Another breed of Thomist are those who study his thought for its own sake. Isti scholarii rarely contribute to the growth of philosophy. What is worse, they often approach the thought of St. Thomas with some agenda and try to impose their views upon the text. It seems that these would use those theses in a bad way; as qualifying marks to prove that they are Thomists, much the way heretics try to acknowledge the minimum articles of faith in such a way as to still cling to their error. This is also a reprehensible usage.
    Finally, there seems to be another sense of being a Thomist, and that takes the form of discipleship. One is a disciple insofar as he follows the teachings of another because they are the closest to the truth, or are in fact the truth. St. Peter seems to sum it up well in the gospel of John when he says to Our Lord, "To whom else should we go? You have the words of eternal life." This is discipleship par excellence, because the master is God himself. Our discipleship to St. Thomas is obviously of a lesser sort. We follow him insofar as we have grown to trust him as a master who can guide us in the way of philosophical and theological truth. We are keenly aware of his limited humanity, and at the same time we are aware of the monumental achievement that is the corpus of his works.
    A Thomist of this ilk could use these theses well. He would use them as good philosopher would, that is as an example of the common opinion of the wise. So also he could use the manuals, not as a substitute for traversing the rigorous paths of philosophy, but perhaps as something to return to as an example of common opinion on a matter that is troubling him. In this way, I see nothing problematic with the use of manuals. Therefore, if a manualist (as you put it) is merely one who uses a manual, that may not be a problem, given that he is being attentive to the concerns you so rightfully brought up.
    ho mathetes said...
    This comment has been removed by the author.
    ho mathetes said...
    I deleted my previous comment b/c of some egregious grammar mistakes.

    "He would use them as good philosopher would, that is as an example of the common opinion of the wise. So also he could use the manuals, not as a substitute for traversing the rigorous paths of philosophy, but perhaps as something to return to as an example of common opinion on a matter that is troubling him."

    What makes you think the theses, precisely formulated as such, are the "common opinion of the wise?" If anything, the papal pronouncement has to be with regard to the matter and not the mode of expression (which as far as I can tell is misleading) of the doctrine behind the 24 theses.

    Moreover, if the wise man had done his work, why wouldn't he just return to the more excellent original text which he (presumably) is more familiar with?

    Also, considering the situation when this scholar was "troubled," it seems like it would be particulary unfitting to turn to the "common opinion," and not the great mastery of Aquinas, to ease his troubles! If anything, it seems the manuals are valuable only after one has mastery of some doctrine. Then one may scrutinizingly judge the adequacy of the manualistic formulation.

    This didn't occur to me when I was writing the post, but many of the serious errors in moral theology presently have some root in the manual tradition.

    For example, manualist have consistently misinterpreted St. Thomas' teaching on double effect reasoning in many ways. A brief case I can here mention the proliferation of diverse vocabularies when identifying what the principles of double effect are! I've seen double effect reasoning has been diversely called (1) the Principle of Double Effect (2) the Doctrine of Double Effect, (3) the Rule of Double Effect,(4) the Schema of Double Effect. (Just goggle "double effect" and see the results)

    There are lots of arguments that double effect reasoning is the fitting manner to describe St. Thomas' thought, but are people considering this issue even alerted of this when they flip open their moral theology handbook and see "the schema of double effect??"

    I don't mean to blame Babel on manuals; my point is that manuals do what textbooks do: they frame a priori a question or subject such that it's formulation is not well disposed to be freely considered. This has lead to serious msunderstandings in the intellectual heritage of The Church. At best manuals do the work of a catechism.
    Frater Asinus said...
    I still think that you are taking the manuals far too seriously.
    The reason I conjectured that they are the common opinion of the wise is that the were thus promulgated. It is not as though the holy father put these theses together himself. They were put together by scholars whom he thought worthy, or who were recommended to him. You may have very serious disagreements with them, but that does not provide reason to exclude them from the dialectic.
    The manuals, as misused have caused problems. That is not the fault of the manuals, but of the poor minds that used them.
    Frater Edmund said...
    It seems to me that the Sacred Congregation of Studies was led up the garden by a rather common trick; they were forced to answer the wrong question. I imagine the dialogue as going something like this:

    Various Popes say: “Ite ad Thomam! The luminous doctrine of the angelic doctor is the remedy to the errors of the age.”

    At which point Catholic theologians are supposed to say, “Great! How do we start learning from this great teacher?” Instead they say: “Hell! How many and which of that dinosaurs out-of-date ideas is the Church going to make us swallow?” At which point the Holy See ought to have said, “Fools for you have no far-seeing minds! That’s the wrong question.” But instead the Congregation draws up a list of theses – theses which cannot fail to look totally bizarre and unintelligible to any one whose mind has not been led to them in the normal way - and says: “well you had better hold at least these things – or else!”

    That is of course an exaggeration, but the basic point holds, and in fact, if I remember correctly, the Holy See had to later give a “clarification.”

    There was a somewhat interesting controversy about these things at Franciscan University of Steubenville some years ago that can be read about here:,2,2-27-1996/delaPrada.htm,4,3-26-1996/cc/Waldstein.htm,2,10-2-1996/Waldstein.htm

    The last article has a passage which gave me the idea for what I said above:

    “I find it extremely unfortunate that the debate carried on last semester in the Concourse about the role of St. Thomas as a teacher has been dominated by the question whether or to what extent one is free to disagree with him […] Clearly, if he is to be a teacher, the first question is not "Must I agree with him?" but "How can I learn from him?"
    Vincentius said...
    I find support for FA's summary of the historical situation in Pope St. Pius X's great Motu Proprio, Doctoris Angelici. He first summarizes the actions he had already taken:

    No true Catholic has ever ventured to call in question the opinion of the Angelic Doctor that: The regulation of studies is the special concern of the authority of the Holy See by which the universal Church is governed and the need is met by the establishment of Universities (Opusc. Contra impugnantes Dei cultum et religionem, iii). We have already discharged this great duty of Our office elsewhere, and more particularly on the 1st September, 1910, when in the Letter Sacrorum Antistitum, addressed to all Bishops and Superiors of Religious Orders duly charged with the duty of educating young men for the priesthood, We counselled them in the first place as follows: "So far as studies are concerned, it is Our will and We hereby explicitly ordain that the Scholastic philosophy be considered as the basis of sacred studies. . . . And what is of capital importance in prescribing that Scholastic philosophy is to be followed, We have in mind particularly the philosophy which has been transmitted to us by St. Thomas Aquinas. It is Our desire that all the enactments of Our Predecessor in respect thereto be maintained in full force; and, where need be, We renew and confirm them and order them to be strictly observed by all concerned. Let Bishops urge and compel their observance in future in any Seminary in which they may have been neglected. The same injunction applies also to Superiors of Religious Orders."

    He then describes a wild misinterpretation of this seemingly straightforward prescription:

    Now because the word We used in the text of that letter recommending the philosophy of Aquinas was 'particularly,' and not 'exclusively,' certain persons persuaded themselves that they were acting in conformity to Our Will or at any rate not actively opposing it, in adopting indiscriminately and adhering to the philosophical opinions of any other Doctor of the School, even though such opinions were contrary to the principles of St. Thomas.

    This error is corrected in short order, in a way that seems conducive to having the Congregation specify a list of principles:

    They were greatly deceived. In recommending St. Thomas to Our subjects as supreme guide in the Scholastic philosophy, it goes without saying that Our intention was to be understood as referring above all to those principles upon which that philosophy is based as its foundation.

    Given that the list seems to have been published in response to teachers trying to get away with the minimum daily allowance of St. Thomas, it stands to reason that we shouldn't be learning philosophy from such lists. The Magisterium here is trying to tell philosophy teachers what their students should be learning; it is not trying to teach philosophy. And since Pius X specifically renews the enactments of his predecessor Leo XIII, it is safe to say that the intention is still to "be ye watchful that the doctrine of Thomas be drawn from his own fountains, or at least from those rivulets which, derived from the very fount, have thus far flowed, according to the established agreement of learned men, pure and clear".
    Vincentius said...
    * And by "FA's summary", of course I mean "Frater Edmund's summary".
    Frater Asinus said...
    I appreciate the research gentlemen. It is helpful to see the source of these theses to fully appreciate their proper use and how they might be abused. I might be imposing on what has been said, but it seems the the statements by FE and Vince fit in nicely with the position I was attempting to hold regarding the theses.
    Mr. Henry said...
    "I've grown to really dislike the manual tradition because it seems to destroy the order which Thomas proceeds from himself (and therefore something quite central to the thought of Thomas). If it's a concession, it's conceding too much."

    You might be right about this, but it is hard to see that everyone who should learn the basics of St. Thomas should do it by reading St. Thomas. I look around me at most people in the world and they're not so well prepared to do something like that. Perhaps in some cases, you can give up the order of St. Thomas to give some people a basic idea of what he thought. If you can grant that there are people who should know the basic ideas of St. Thomas without spending years studying him, I don't see why you'd have a huge problem with manuals. You're right that the people who learn this way aren't going to be masters of Thomistic thought, but not everyone can be or even should be.
    Frater Asinus said...
    I don't know if anyone will look at this post, since it is so far down now, but I thought I would give it a try.
    Mr. Henry brings up a good point. Perhaps we can find some sort of middle ground between the strict manualist tradition and an indepth reading of St. Thomas. Perhaps something like St. Thomas' Compendium of Theology would be more appropriate for most people, or something like it.
    However, I think that Ho_Mathetes was speaking more in the context of philosophers and theologians. In which case, they should all go to St. Thomas directly and study him carefully if they want to pursue their field faithfully. This seems to be the direction the church has been directing us.

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