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Does it Really Matter what Thomas Aquinas Said?

November 3, 2006

In his book, The Sacred Monster of Thomism: An Introduction to the Life and Legacy of Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., Richard Peddicord desribes how the Neo-Scholastics, with G.-L. as their leader, communicated and perpetuated the ‘teachings’ of Aquinas:

“As we have seen, the Dominican Neo-Thomists were not interested in what one might call ‘the quest for the historical Thomas’; they held that Thomism was a living–a tradition maintained and further energized by St. Thomas’ great commentators. The proper interpretation of St. Thomas is found not through historical erudition but through knowledge of the living tradition of Thomism. Focusing too minutely on what historiography can tell us concerning what the ‘historical Thomas’ did or not hold runs the risk of obscuring the fact that it is the truth of the various propositions that most matters–not the fact that they can be attributed with certainty to St. Thomas himself” (p. 84).

“Garrigou-Lagrange was the beneficiary of a living tradition of thought. It was founded expressly upon the works of St. Thomas, but it had been augmented by St. Thomas’ great Dominican commentators: John of St. Thomas, Cajetan and Bañez. This living tradition was most concerned with the truth claims of its various positions–not the historical accuracy of attributing everything to St. Thomas himself” (p. 109).

This certainly goes a long way in explaining why G.-L. so vehemently and mercilessly attacked the Ressourcement thinkers (especially Henri de Lubac, Henri Bouillard and Jean Daniélou)! It never once occured to G.-L. (nor to Peddicord, I might add) that the so-called “living tradition of Thomism” as emanating out of the works of Catjetan et al. might be flawed. Thus, when de Lubac and Bouillard (and Chenu and Gilson on the periphery) began returning to the sources, G.-L. did not recognize the real Thomas Aquinas. What also appears to be lost on G.-L. (and Peddicord) is that de Lubac et al. were not entrenched in historicism, as G.-L. claimed, but sought to redefine and reorient the living tradition of Thomism that is to be at once faithful to Thomas and attentive and adaptable to modern and contemporary concerns in philosophy and theology.

For more on the Neo-Scholastic/Ressourcement debate see my three posts on Per Caritatem: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

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