From Dionysius, 16 (1998), 157-188. Text reformat-ted from
here. A communication delivered to a
colloque at the Collège de France, October 12, 1992: La Réception de la pensée
d'Étienne Gilson dans la philosophe contemporaine en France. “I am grateful to
Guiseppi Conticello, who made my participation possible, and to Alain de Libera,
Jean-Luc Marion and Olivier Boulnois, for helpful comments on my text.”
Carnegie Professor of Classics and Chair of the Department at
Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia.
From Metaphysics to History, from Exodus to Neoplatonism, from Scholasticism to
Pluralism: the Fate of Gilsonian Thomism in English-speaking North America
Wayne John Hankey
Gilson in North
Étienne Gilson deeply loved North America. His retirement from the Collège de
France in 1951 for the sake of his work at the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval
Studies in Toronto is evidence enough. When, to the astonishment of his
colleagues, he left behind that institution which is the very summit of the
French university system, Gilson said that he “fled” to Canada.
Though the circumstances of the 1951 flight indicate that North American
attractions as well as European conflicts and disappointments drove him across
the Atlantic, Henri de Lubac described him as “at home in Toronto . . . where he
According to his official biographer, Lawrence Shook at the Toronto Institute,
Professor Gilson preferred to have his life story written in North America
because there he had “established viable institutions for the advancement of
These were the institutes founded at Toronto and Ottawa in 1929, and at Notre
Dame, Indiana in 1946, where a Toronto colleague and brother in the
philosophical cause of existential Thomism, Gerald Phelan, became the first
president. In Toronto he realized what he conceived in France. His exposé de
titres for his chair in the Collège de France may be viewed as “a commentary on
the programme of medieval studies he was planning to establish in Toronto.” He
chose Toronto over Harvard or Montreal “partly because of its willingness to
comply with his plans.” His special requirements were that medieval thought be
taught within “the whole range of medieval culture” and that the students “be
able to read medieval texts.”
Gilson, the historian, who opposed the texts of St. Thomas and other medievals
to the received scholastic tradition, is the founding father.
In his own writing, however, history is the servant of philosophy and both are
ancillae theologiae. History is used to create dialectical experiments
leading toward, if never producing, his Thomistic metaphysics of esse
derived from Exodus 3:14.
Ironically, except for Father Joseph Owens, there are no longer protagonists of
Gilsonian Thomism at the Toronto Institute nor at Notre Dame. There, as in
other major centers, the study of mediaeval philosophy is no longer directed to
the inculcation of Thomism. Still worse, such Thomism as remains has made its
peace with personalist or other perspectives accommodating themselves to aspects
of the modern subjectivity of which Gilson was the relentless opponent.
These philosophical and theological perspectives cohere with the results of the
Second Vatican Council which is authoritatively represented as having a
personalist philosophy like that of the reigning Roman Pontiff.
The Council also moved the Catholic Church away from Scholasticism generally and
toward a recentering of theology in Biblical and Patristic studies. Evidently,
then, there was a change in the ecclesiastical purposes and circumstances which
Thomism, as Gilson understood it, served. But, in fact, the reversal was
external neither to the conflicting dynamic of Gilson’s own thought, nor to the
internal dynamic of the Thomist revival more generally. The interplay is
between history—no one was more aware than Gilson that Thomism is based in the
thought of an historical figure and is conveyed by traditions—and philosophical
and theological reflection, as well as ecclesiastical life and purposes. In
English North America, historical study and the Heideggerian critique of
metaphysical ontology have combined to draw Thomism away from both Aristotle and
metaphysics toward neoplatonism and the good beyond being. Moreover, this
appears appropriate to much in the current state of the Catholic Church. What
is the character of this reversal?
The reversal was not for want of industry, powers of communication, nor because
of uncertainty or confusion on the part of Professor Gilson or of his
disciples. Neither was it because of the obscurity or complexity of Gilson’s
doctrine as a philosophical position, nor was it for lack of important
opportunities for prominent public exposition and of access to the popular or
academic press. Nor yet was it for a deficiency in the number or the loyalty of
English-speaking North America felt the full benefit of Professor Gilson’s
teaching. All of his major works written in French were translated into
English, an enterprise still continuing for correspondence, early and minor
Indeed, some of his clearest, strongest, most loved and most polemical books
were originally published in English. Some were the texts of lectures delivered
from celebrated philosophical and theological podiums in the English-speaking
One of his first North American students, Anton Pegis, later professor and
President of the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies in Toronto, edited
for many years an important series of Catholic books for Doubleday. But it was
not just on this account that Pegis could claim in 1957 that two of Gilson’s
books “rank among the best-selling serious works on philosophy in publishing
Professor Gilson’s thought entered the English North American intellectual world
when it was ripe for popular exposition. He began to deliver his message in
English at the same time as its main lines were becoming fixed.
He had survived the European battles over his notion of Christian philosophy and
his self-consciously dogmatic realism—even if some suggest that it was partly
from these conflicts that he fled to Canada.
His views on the history of philosophy, the place and character of metaphysics
in that history, were all achieving final formulation, and he was about to call
Thomas’ metaphysics of esse “existential.” Existential Thomism seemed
philosophically timely and yet claimed to be genuinely historical. It was also
wonderfully simple conceptually and easily taught, even to undergraduates. It
was the right thing at the right time. When this was combined with Gilson’s
attractive public personality and energy, his North American success seems to
have been inevitable.
At Toronto he educated a gifted, outstandingly hard-working group of students,
mostly from the United States, some of whom became colleagues. These spread the
gospel of existential Thomism, wrote text-books expositing it, extended its
analysis and deepened the historical study on which it in part depended.
A. C. Pegis wrote on nature and grace in Aquinas, confirming that the state of
pure nature was an invention of the neo-scholastics.
Armand Maurer showed that Cajetan and Aquinas differed on the constitution of
Joseph Owens, in what is the greatest book to come from the disciples,
reconstructed the doctrine of being in Aristotle’s Metaphysics in order
to demonstrate the difference which Gilson asserted between Aristotle and
Aquinas, a difference absolutely essential to the Gilsonian representation of
the history of philosophy and to the dialectical experiments by which he would
lead us to the recognition of the philosophical necessity of the metaphysic of
Of course, the students denied that they were a philosophical school. When so
identified, they protested that the master only taught them to read the texts
and that the results were irreducibly diverse. Joseph Owens declared: “The
notion of a ‘Gilsonian School’ can only be amusing to the master of the
historical approach to philosophical texts. After three decades of training
American students to analyze each text in its proper setting, it would indeed be
frustrating for him to end as the head of a school of particular doctrinal
But, when T. C. O’Brien published a series of articles in 1960, entitled
“Reflexion on the Question of God’s Existence in Contemporary Thomistic
and John M. Quinn published, in 1971, The Thomism of Étienne Gilson. A
Critical Study, both enormously respectful, although sharply critical of
Gilson’s doctrine, the disciples rose in hurt and immoderate wrath. Reviews by
Joseph Owens, Armand Maurer and others were so violent, patronizing and dogmatic
that outsiders were forced to intervene to defend the embattled authors and to
ensure that the profound problems of North American Thomism, so widely and
publicly Gilsonian, were faced.
It appeared that for the “sworn followers” not “one single line of his doctrinal
deposit . . . [could] be called into question.”
Nonetheless, respect and admiration were universal. Professor Gilson’s books
were called “landmarks.”
He and Jacques Maritain appeared in Time and Newsweek. “To the
lay mind he [Gilson] is recognized as a kind of official spokesman of Thomism.”
He became “the interpreter par excellence of historical Thomism to non-Thomists”
and was credited with “changing the climate” in North America by replacing
essentialist neo-scholasticism with the metaphysics of the actus essendi.
A. C. Pegis asserted: “More than any other historian, Gilson brought to an end
the notion of a scholastic synthesis, medieval or modern.”
Though this deconstruction is, in fact, his surviving legacy in North America,
it was not Professor Gilson’s ruling purpose. Rather, to continue with Pegis:
“Gilson came out of the Middle Ages . . . not to rejoin modern philosophy, but
to help build a new philosophy in the wake of the death of rationalism and
The aim of his historical work was metaphysical. But history serving
metaphysics is distorted by lifting weights beyond its strength. As Jean-Luc
Marion, puts it, Gilson chose “to deny the ‘end of metaphysics’” by a deforming
reconstruction of Thomas “against the unanimous tradition that claims him as its
Gilson said that he found this new philosophy by a textual study of Aquinas.
And since the Thomistic metaphysics of esse began with a simple seeing,
he would lead thinkers to this philosophy by means of dialectical experiments
with the alternative philosophical beginnings and methods he found in history.
Though, fatally, Gilson’s dialectical reasoning and the act of existence as the
object of metaphysics were kept apart, the mixture of history and philosophy was
essential to his philosophical position. For, in the end, Gilson needed to
persuade us to attend to something simply given. We must believe that all
philosophy before Aquinas had misunderstood not only the act of existence, but a
fact of revelation and so missed the philosophy which these facts give.
Further, we must be convinced that the tradition since Thomas had almost totally
distorted his teaching. Thus, the praise Gilson received, even if some of it is
astonishing, was, rightly and necessarily, both for the historian and the
philosopher. For example, The Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas,
where his doctrine is called existential, was said to be “a humble historical
In an editorial, he was called both “one of the leading historians of
philosophy” and also “simply a philosopher.”
Again, Being and Some Philosophers, was named “a turning point in the
philosophical speculation of our time” and its author “a great master of
contemporary metaphysical thought.”
We are surprised that accounts of history which are so evidently determined by
contemporary philosophic categories can be praised, but, in the philosophical
world which defined and congratulated, and to some extent still defines and
congratulates, itself as English-speaking (versus “Continental”) even to attempt
to do history and philosophy together was extraordinary. In that world these
are generally separated, and philosophy proceeds by, and is sometimes said to
depend upon, historical ignorance. This is what he discovered at Harvard:
Professor Gilson reported: “As for the history of philosophy, they don’t see
any use for it. Perry is quite upset. He thinks that too much studying of the
systems of others prevents young people from finding one of their own.”
Yet surely Gilson was right to unite them. How else shall we think
philosophically in an intellectual world which has Hegel and Heidegger as its
poles? And how else could one attach oneself to an historical tradition in
philosophy? The alternatives are hermeneutical naïveté in history and
philosophy as self-projection. Still the historical account and the
philosophical understanding must be adequate to one another. Above all they
must not be confused. Else history will imprison, and indeed prevent, thought,
and philosophy will falsify, and hide, history. Gilsonian Thomism seemed
finally to North Americans to do both. The courageous endeavour to unite them
turned against him, as indeed, given his antimodern purposes, it must have
done. There cannot be an antimodern retrieval of medieval metaphysics by means
of modern critical scholarship.
But, before imitating Gilson, the historical dialectician, by following the
self-destruction of his metaphysical edifice, we must discover its North
American boundaries. We do this because the logic which made foundations out of
these limits is the logic also of the destruction of the edifice.
Thomism for Catholics Only
Thomism in the English-speaking world generally was for Roman Catholics only.
Despite the wide diffusion of Étienne Gilson’s thought, this remained true for
his existential Thomism. An observer reported in 1948: “Historical realities
of the recent past seem to justify the conclusion that, aside from the
activities of the group at the University of Virginia, and perhaps St. John’s
College at Annapolis, this Thomistic revival has taken place in exclusively
Catholic circles despite much boast of its influence elsewhere in the American
In the United Kingdom, the established churches continued teaching theology as
if the Middle Ages did not exist. The philosophers also carried on defining an
English-speaking way of philosophizing which closed them not only to a great
part of the history of philosophy, but even to much of the work of their
contemporaries. My arrival at Oxford in 1978 to write a thesis on Aquinas was
preceded by the abolition of the single position in medieval philosophy upon the
retirement of the sole occupant of the readership, L. Minio-Paluello. However,
the Anglo-Catholic party of the Church of England possessed two Thomist
academics: Austin Farrer at Oxford, who was not a Gilsonian,
and Eric Mascall at the University of London, a Gilsonian ne plus ultra.
These Anglo-Catholic exceptions prove the rule, as the precipitous decline
within the Church of England of the party to which they once belonged now makes
In North America two distinguished Lutheran theologians, both at Yale,
acknowledged great intellectual debts to Professor Gilson: Yaroslav Pelikan,
the celebrated historian of Christian doctrine, and George Lindbeck. Professor
Pekikan, in fact, once planned to study under Gilson in Toronto, but both he and
Gilson were prevented by the aftermath of the Second World War.
Professor Lindbeck, whose book on The Nature of Doctrine develops a
‘post-liberal’ or ‘post-modern’ Thomism, began as a student of the theology of
Duns Scotus and played an important early role in the criticism of Gilsonian
It is significant that what initially moved Professor Lindbeck’s criticism was
the sense that Gilson’s standard of judgment was inappropriate and distorting
when he was treating mediaeval Augustinians like Bonaventure and Duns Scotus.
After criticizing the perspective of judgment in Gilson’s Jean Duns Scot,
he went on to show in 1957, following Cornelio Fabro and explicitly against
that: “It is more enlightening to characterize the philosophy of being in
Aquinas as basically participationist rather than existential . . . the actus
essendi is best viewed as resulting from a combination of participationist,
creationist and Aristotelian presuppositions.” Professor Lindbeck supposed that
his freedom as a non-Catholic from any of the Thomistic schools helped him to
see that to which Gilson was blind: “From a non-Thomistic perspective, original
Thomism is not existential in such a way as to generate an historically
meaningful contrast with ‘various degrees of de-existentialized metaphysics’.”
As the youngest of a trio of Canadian academics, who learned or derived our St.
Thomas from Gilson, but within an Anglo-Catholic rather than a neoscholastic
tradition, I feel a kinship with Lindbeck.
Not being committed to one of the Catholic schools with their usual hostility to
Thomas’ neoplatonism, I arrived at views like Lindbeck’s. However, what
influenced me has been different: the historical scholarship of Pierre Hadot,
Jean Trouillard and H.-D. Saffrey. This scholarship belongs together with the
flight from metaphysical ontology of French philosophers and theologians like
Pierre Aubenque, Stanislas Breton, and Jean-Luc Marion urged by the whip of
Heidegger’s critique of onto-theology.
As we shall see, the result of a later point of departure from Gilsonian
orthodoxy, as compared to Professor Lindbeck’s, is that the inadequacy of
“existential” Thomism to the Proclean and pseudo-Dionysian side of Thomas’
thought, rather than to its Augustinian side, is more strongly perceived.
The Thomist revival initiated by Leo XIII had generally no effect on non-Roman
Catholic philosophers in North America. They were glad to hear from Gilson that
Thomism and its medieval alternatives were Christian philosophies created for,
to be carried on within, and according to the order of, Christian theology.
This was not their philosophies’ prevailing, desired, or possible situation.
So, at Harvard, Cornell, Berkeley, and the rest, having cordially thanked the
distinguished medieval historian for his learned discourse, they congratulated
themselves for their liberality in giving him a hearing. Rejoicing that he had
released them from any need to take medieval philosophy seriously, the
philosophers went back, undisturbed, to their world.
C. A. Hart judged that the invitations of Gilson and other Thomists to Harvard
and the like were “with a view to demonstrating their reputation for
broadmindedness.” He complains that none but neoscholastics attended the
meetings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association. There is evidence
that he was right in thinking that Gilson had not been taken very seriously by
the American philosophical establishment, and that it, with its faith in
autonomous secularity, the positive sciences, and technological progress, was
incapable of doing so.
review of The Unity of Philosophical Experience in The Yale Review
agreed with Gilson that modern philosophy has been self-destructively skeptical,
but continues: “for all its inadequacy the modern world has at least moved on,
and in the process it has tremendously increased its positive knowledge and its
technical skill.” As a result, “the possibility is again open of reason
developing the logical consequences of the positive knowledge of empirical
science without destroying itself in the process.” Richard McKeon in the same
journal, when reviewing The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy, concluded: “.
. . the exposition of a Christian philosophy, based on a religious foundation,
which Professor Gilson himself recognizes . . . will not again, in the absence
of that religious spirit, serve for unification for mankind . . . Most modern
readers . . . will find little in the doctrines of the Middle Ages . . . which
can be recognized as directly relevant to modern problems. For the
justification of philosophy is by the reason it employs, not the faith which it
may seek to understand.”
Gilson’s antimodernism had no power over this American confidence in modernity.
We wait to see whether a postmodern skepticism, some of whose accounts of
history derive from Gilson, will be more effective.
However, there was another world in North America, an enormous system of
education administered by the Roman Catholic Church. As opposed to the France
from which he departed, Gilson discovered that, in the United States, the most
distinguished universities were frequently private institutions, often with
religious origins and connections. Moreover, the constitutionally required
separation of church and state prevented the assimilation of public and
religiously organized education.
In Canada, there was no constitutionally required separation of church and
state. The country was more than fifty percent Roman Catholic, and that Church
had actually been formally established in Québec. Further, for a time after the
conquest of Québec by the British, in the last third of the eighteenth century,
until the Canadian Confederation, one hundred years later, the Protestant
English Crown paid the salaries of Catholic bishops in that Province. Some
Canadian provinces fund the universities, seminaries and other educational
institutions of the churches. During Gilson’s time in Toronto, only secular
educational institutions were directly funded by the Ontario government.
Nonetheless, St. Michael’s College, in which the Pontifical Institute is
contained, is owned and administered by the Congregation of St. Basil and is
also a constituent part of the greatest of the provincial secular universities,
the University of Toronto. So, despite the Canadian contradictions, and her
difference from the United States, the result was the same. Throughout North
America, there was a vast Roman Catholic system of education at all levels ready
to receive the gospel of Thomism as Christian philosophy, which, for Gilson,
really meant Roman Catholic philosophy.
There was, therein, also an obstacle, overcome for a time, but later reasserting
its force. Many of the Catholic institutions and journals for advanced
philosophical work were in the control of religious orders, notably the Jesuits,
the Dominicans, the Augustinians and the Franciscans. The natural bias of these
orders, with their own Scholastic traditions, was against a Thomism which
claimed to be the first to have been correctly established historically and the
first to reproduce Thomas’ original metaphysic. By finally understanding this
metaphysic, this “existential” Thomism asserted itself to possess the key to
Thomas’ philosophy, and claimed to occupy the place where philosophy, theology
and revelation meet. Gilson demolished the common scholastic philosophia
perennis which would embrace the Franciscan doctors, and he sharply
distinguished authentic Thomism from that of the great Dominican and Jesuit
commentators. So, it is not surprising that the original center in Toronto from
which Gilson’s Thomism was disseminated, as well as one of its last remaining
North American citadels, St. Thomas University in Houston, Texas, are both
Basilian foundations. The Basilians have no scholastic tradition of their own.
Significantly, Transcendental Thomism, declaring itself triumphant in North
America après Gilson, is a Jesuit phenomenon.
The Jesuits and
the Problem of Christian Philosophy
The Jesuits controlled four major American Catholic reviews for philosophy and
theology, as well as contributing extensively to the others. There were
America, Thought, from Fordham University, The Modern Schoolman, from
St. Louis University, and Theological Studies. In 1961, they founded the
International Philosophical Quarterly, jointly edited at Fordham and
Louvain. This journal aimed to restore philosophical communication between
Europe and America, which some supposed had been arrested by the dominance of
Gilsonian Thomism in the new world. In 1974, J. Donceél, S.J., an editor of the
quarterly complained: “Gilson’s enormous influence on American Thomists
explains why the latter, until quite recently, have never taken to
The Jesuits also controlled universities important for American Catholic
philosophy: besides Fordham and St. Louis, there were Georgetown and Marquette.
Gilson always opposed Transcendental Thomism, though one critic convincingly
maintained both that he never understood its relations to Kant, and had also
learned what he knew about Kant and Hume from it.
Some Jesuit disciples copied his most dogmatic positions. For example, one
wrote: Gilson’s books “are a date, ante Gilson, post Gilson, in
the history of epistemology.” “If idealists persist in demanding how we know
all this we must hasten to assure them with M. Gilson that we do not know any of
this without the evidence of sensation, and if one still seeks the evidence of
the evident, res sunt, we must resolutely refuse to pursue the inquiry.”
And they did.
But others thought that Gilson was not at his best in epistemological debates.
When engaged against Marechal he refused to see differences, when debating Noël
he created them where none existed. At least that is how things appeared to
some American historians after the battles in Europe were over.
C. A. Fay wrote about the controversy with Leon Noël: “In 1940 their
epistemological differences have lost substance. And after reading On Being
and Some Philosophers (1949), one may well ask how deep is the remaining
difference . . . Gilson asserts that the being of things is sensibly and
intellectually evident, a position indistinguishable in substance from that of
Domet de Vorges and Leon Noël . . . Perhaps Gilson will have been the last major
scholastic to attempt to maintain that a critique of knowledge is impossible. .
. . One refuses to involve oneself in a discussion with modern idealism. [And
maintains that] For hundreds of years modern philosophy has been asking ‘foolish
questions’ and scholastics have been trying to give them answers, or actually
giving foolish answers.” This is the position of the “old dogmatism” with which
Fay associates Gilson.
Bernard Lonergan, the Canadian Jesuit, whose Transcendental writings are the
only creative philosophical work undoubtedly of the first class to come out of
North American Thomism, was sharply critical of the dogmatic realism at which
Gilson had arrived. It was philosophically inadequate. He judged: “. . . if
Professor Gilson agrees with Kant in holding that de facto we have
perceptions of reality, one must not think that he attempts to refute Kant by
appealing to a fact that Kant overlooked. Professor Gilson’s realism is
dogmatic: the course he advocates is . . . the blunt affirmation of the
dogmatic realism whose validity was denied by Kant’s critique.”
At first, however, the Jesuits were prepared to concede the historical ground to
Gilson. Their Thomism was not textual and did not reproduce St. Thomas’
doctrinal positions, rather, within their own tradition of interpretation, it
carried forward what they believed to be fundamental in his approaches and
directions and adapted them to contemporary philosophical, human and
ecclesiastical realities. So, at the beginning, those who wrote from Jesuit
universities accepted the Gilsonian position on Thomas’ philosophy of esse.
Later, especially under the influence of W. Norris Clarke, S.J., at Fordham, who
in 1952 had come to conclusions like those of George Lindbeck, they judged that
Gilson’s blindness to the neoplatonic and participationist character of esse
in Aquinas made him an unreliable historical guide.
They judged, equally, that Gilson’s Thomism was not suited to the needs of
Catholic theology in the second half of the twentieth century. Consistently
with the Jesuit approach, this judgment could not in the end be separated from
their evaluation of his historical scholarship.
Gilson’s teaching on Thomism as Christian philosophy, and its consequences for
the relation of historical and philosophical studies, they could never abide.
Here the Jesuits, who were working to justify American democracy in terms of
Catholic political teaching, thus making John F. Kennedy’s election as President
possible, grasped what was necessary to the Catholic Church and Catholic
intellectuals in this period. True to their own evangelical tradition, the
Jesuits were leading Catholics out of their religious ghettos into the general
stream of American life. Gilson’s notion of Christian philosophy arose out of
the conditions of French intellectual life in the first third of this century.
It matched the institutional circumstances of North American Catholic education
which he discovered when he arrived. These conditions did not endure. The
institutional problematic revealed itself intellectually in the debate about
“Christian philosophy.” This notion presented as much a problem for Catholic
Thomists as it had for Professor Gilson’s auditors among Ivy League
The criticism of Gilson on the questions of whether there was a “Christian
philosophy,” and whether Thomas’ teaching should be placed in that category, was
early and persistent. In 1946, Elizabeth Salmon of Fordham, reacting in
Thought to the fourth edition of Le Thomisme, rejoiced to learn that
“the chief characteristic of Thomistic metaphysics is its existentialism.”
But, she strongly opposed the idea that philosophy must be done within theology
and must follow its order. She protested: “Gilson admits that St. Thomas
himself assigns an order to philosophy and yet to seek that order in St. Thomas’
philosophy would be to denature his philosophy and theology.”
After all, are not the metaphysical principles the important things? she asked.
“Truth is not to be identified with the history of philosophy, yet, when the
most authentic expression of truth with its own specific philosophical character
is found, Gilson holds its philosophical meaning will be betrayed if it is given
an exposition according to a philosophical order . . . Gilson seems to
overemphasize history to the detriment of truth and its communication when he
tends to turn each expression of the truth into history.”
In 1958, James Collins of St. Louis University wrestled to escape from the
impossible situation of the contemporary Thomist philosopher created by Gilson’s
notion of how Christian philosophy must proceed. In an article entitled “Toward
a Philosophically Ordered Thomism,” he wrote: “The work of philosophizing is
never totally governed by the laws discovered by the historian of philosophy.”
Even one of Gilson’s Jesuit students, George Klubertanz at St. Louis University,
was by this time breaking away, if not explicitly from Gilson, at least from the
disciples. Reviewing Christian Philosophy in the Middle Ages, he urged
that: “Fidelity to our best Christian heritage is therefore not a mere aping of
any historical solution.” Our solutions must be open to “a wholly new mode of
knowing (modern science) and the technological advances it has brought about.”
In fact, of necessity in this Thomistic world where history, philosophy and
theology are always intertwined, Gilson’s historical judgments on Christian
philosophy in Aquinas were not universally accepted either. First, there was a
problem of reconciling Gilson’s assimilation of philosophy to theology with
Aquinas’ own statements about the order of philosophical reasoning. Thomas
contrasted, on the one hand, the order of the theology which was part of
philosophy (which moves from below, from sensible creatures to their cause), to
the order of reasoning in the theology which is sacred doctrine (which moves
from above, from God’s revelation to the apostles and prophets), on the other
hand. Second, the Gilsonians never adequately explained what Thomas was doing
in his commentaries on Aristotle’s works. John Beach, judged: “Gilson’s
theologism forced him into the odd unhistorical corollary that Aquinas does no
substantial philosophizing in the commentaries. . . . So . . . in the
commentaries Aquinas has to be ‘a polytheist’ who denies ‘divine providence in
respect of singulars’. Surely an historical blunder, for the merest perusal of
the commentaries suffices to prove the opposite.”
This was not, finally, a dispute about historical facts, Catholic philosophy
wanted to get beyond reading reality through past philosophies, or thinking
philosophically from within past theologies. American Catholics wished to
confront being directly, and to philosophize from the beginning. When Germain
G. Grisez at Jesuit Georgetown reviewed the Elements of Christian Philosophy
in 1960, he was no longer, like Collins and Salmon, prepared to detach Gilson’s
“interpretation on substantive points . . . from his thesis concerning the
relation between revelation and philosophy in Aquinas’ work.”
In Grisez’s judgment, we must not just receive what Thomas did, we must do what
he did. “One cannot know Aquinas’ philosophy without knowing things as he knew
them. . . . [H]istory is an insufficient discipline for learning philosophy. . .
. [T]he method of metaphysics is not a theological use of history.”
Gerald McCool, a Fordham Jesuit, has recently written the history of Thomism in
the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in order to demonstrate the victory of
the Transcendental variety. He brings home all the spoils from the battle with
Gilson. So Gilson’s demolition of the notion of a scholastic synthesis leaves
us not with his existential Thomism but with pluralism. In consequence, Thomism
cannot be identified with a doctrinal content or a given philosophical order,
instead, it is only an approach or direction.
Moreover, among the Thomisms, the Transcendental is demonstrably the authentic
continuation of the Jesuit tradition deriving from Suarez, a point which Gilson
would not wish to dispute, though for him it would be the opposite of praise.
The pluralism leaves them free and the Jesuits can congratulate themselves on
having remained faithful to themselves.
But we have skipped a step in the movement to such a position. Germain Grisez
thinks substance and form go together in Gilson: the metaphysics of esse
derived from Exodus follows from the form and order he gives to Christian
philosophy. Gerald McCool assumes that the Gilsonian metaphysic is not the only
one which might be developed from the texts. These criticisms were first
elaborated together by T. C. O’Brien, in 1960.
It appeared then already not only that philosophy was impossibly distorted by
being tied to history in the Gilsonian manner, but also that history had been
falsified by his philosophical use of it.
The History of
Philosophy and the Metaphysic of Esse
Some leading criticism of Gilson as historian of the philosophy of being came
from outside the American Catholic world. John Wild, the Harvard Aristotelian,
reviewing Being and Some Philosophers in 1949, said what would be
repeated and painstakingly demonstrated over the next forty years. Gilson was
unjust to Plato because Gilson’s “own view seems to require the distinction of
diverse modes of existence, some more perfect than others.”
But the treatment of Plato was not the only problem; Professor Wild judged that
the interpretation of Aristotle was “the weakest part of the book.” In sum:
“the careful reader must at least reserve judgement with respect to Gilson’s
thesis that both Plato and Aristotle were nothing but abstract essentialists,
and that the whole history of philosophy of existence, as developed by Aquinas,
was a unique creation with no background in Greek thought.”
Louis-Marie Régis, the Dominican head of the Ottawa medieval institute which had
united with the Dominicans at Albert le Grand in Montreal, also discovered
errors in the interpretation of Aristotle. The Dominicans were prominent in
this critique. T. C. O’Brien belonged to the Order of Preachers, his articles
were published in the Dominican journal, The Thomist, which was issued
from the Order’s Washington House of Studies. William Wallace, a Dominican
professor at The Catholic University of America came to O’Brien’s defense during
the Gilsonian counter-attack. Lawrence Dewan, a Canadian Dominican, is still
carrying on the war with Joseph Owens.
Just last year, a Dominican teaching at Notre Dame published a book on Aquinas
which gives a good short survey of the various Thomistic schools and indicates
where one might find critiques of Gilson by “the Dominican school.” It contains
this harsh criticism: “Gilson was uninformed about and excessively critical of
modern philosophy . . . he fashioned a theological context (one never accepted)
for metaphysics which was eccentric; he thought that insights on being were
derived from the revelation on Sinai . . .”
In 1951, Father Régis found it “impossible to admit that Aristotelianism is
nothing but a Platonism descended from the skies.”
Like many after him, he judged that the categories in which Gilson stated his
teaching, and the criteria he employed for his evaluations were anachronistic.
“It is impossible [he wrote] to find an Aristotelian solution to a Neoplatonic
problem . . . [Gilson’s] dilemma would be valid in Platonism but has no value in
A crucial point could not be supported from the texts. Gilson was wrong to
deny that the act of existence could be known because it is an act and so is
expressed in verbal form. Verbs also are concepts for Aquinas. Indeed, “the
truth in Thomism is that the verb is the predicate par excellence.”
Father Régis actually forced a concession on this point in Gilson’s second
edition. It did not augment Gilson’s reputation as an historian when it was
later shown that in subsequent works he covertly retracted this concession.
In 1952, Robert Crouse, a Canadian Anglo-Catholic who had studied under Wild at
Harvard, repeated his criticisms and raised questions about the appropriateness
of Gilson’s existentialist—essentialist categories for comparing Aquinas and the
In the next year, George Lindbeck developed these questions in the review of
Jean Duns Scot already mentioned. Franciscan Studies published Lindbeck’s
1957 criticism of the existential interpretation of being in Aquinas. He judged
that only attachment to a particular Thomist tradition, not accurate textual
study, could justify it.
In this context, an endeavour to do justice to the Augustinian tradition among
the Scholastics, the appreciation of the neoplatonic aspects of Thomas’ own
thought begins to be demanding.
In the 1940’s and 1950’s, Franciscan Studies and Laval Théologique et
Philosophique published a number of studies by Franciscan scholars rejecting
Gilson’s treatment of the Franciscan doctors.
Laval’s review prints articles in both French and English, and her School of
Philosophy, strongly influenced by Louvain, graduated both French and English
One of these, John Beach, who taught at Jesuit universities, was an important
In his review of Owen’s St. Thomas and the Future of Metaphysics (1957)
in The Thomist, Dr. Beach attacked the “quasi-collective effort” at the
Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies “to manifest the properly Thomistic
insight into reality.” Like T. C. O’Brien, Germain Grisez, and others, he
wanted both fidelity to texts in historical exposition and real philosophical
reasoning, not a new school hiding behind its master. In an article published
almost 20 years later, his judgment of Gilson himself was even more harsh. He
wrote: “Were metaphysical ideas of this character seriously proposed by a mind
of lesser gifts, they would probably be accorded scant attention. Only a talent
of Gilson’s power and dexterity could clothe them in a seeming cogency. But
such prestigiously endorsed ideas must in turn invite sound criticism, lest mere
promotion by so celebrated an historian and Thomist lend them automatic
authority and acceptance.” Another graduate of Laval, Ralph McInerny, hugely
influential at Notre Dame, helped build alternatives. His Thomism, as
antimodern of that of Gilson, followed Cornelio Fabro, who began in the 1960s to
provide another Thomistic philosophy to North Americans. Critical of Gilson in
particular and Existential Thomism in general, McInerny aligned himself, against
them, with the tradition of Cajetan and John of St. Thomas.
and Philosophical Pluralism
When John Beach entered the fray, Gilson’s torch had been passed to Joseph
Owens. For forty-five years he has defended characteristic positions of his
master not only on the understanding of being, and on the subjects of
metaphysics and theology in Aristotle and in Aquinas, but also on the
interpretation of Thomas’ proofs for God’s existence. As well, he has
developed and defended an exegesis of the argument of the De Ente et Essentia
necessary to these positions. He has maintained the Gilsonian representation of
Aristotle’s conception of efficient cause and of Thomas’ conception of creation
essential to these interpretations. Father Owens is remarkably tenacious and
painstaking. But the kind of criticism directed by Professor Beach against
Professor Gilson is now sent against Father Owens.
Notable is T. C. O’Brien’s long review of Owen’s collected papers in The
 He writes:
“This review has questioned the use of texts in support of fundamental elements
in the Owen’s version of St. Thomas’ thought. Acceptance of the texts as
supportive would seem to require ignorance of St. Thomas’ language, usage,
methodology, and epistemology, both philosophical and theological. . . . This
review does not dispute Owen’s right to philosophize inventively; but to expound
St. Thomas’ texts inventively hardly authenticates the resulting interpretation
of St. Thomas’ thought.” O’Brien had made similar charges in respect to Gilson
in his major series of articles. Gilson had prevented Thomas’ philosophy from
really functioning as philosophy and had at the same time misinterpreted the
texts: “it is not surprising that within the Gilsonian system there should be
an assumption and appropriation of truths not available to metaphysics at the
point of its employment of the quinque viae. Given the Gilsonian concept
of St. Thomas’ philosophy, such an assumption is inevitable. But the
misinterpretation, not of subtle nuances, but of the clear letter of texts, the
subversion of the order of discovery; the neutralization of much that is basic
in St. Thomas’ terminology—these indicate the questionable consequences both of
the total Gilsonian thesis, and of its application in the preconception of the
question of God’s existence in metaphysics, with its resultant interpretation of
the quinque viae.”
Despite his pains to defend the Gilsonian interpretations and philosophical
positions, Fr. Owens has conceded that Thomism must be plural and that these
disputed interpretations depend upon the interpreter’s idea of being.
Historical scholarship cannot be appealed to as an independent judge. In
treating the relation of Gilson’s existential Thomism to that of C. Fabro and
the Transcendental writers, he concludes that the differences are not merely
verbal and that “the metaphysical thinking in each interpreter is the key.” A
return to the texts is required, but its result is not already known.
Similarly, in his dispute with John F. Wippel about the interpretation of De
ente et essentia, he concedes that the differences about the meaning of the
text are philosophically determined. In “Aquinas on Being and Thing,” Fr. Owens
wrote: “Today, of course, the notion of ‘Christian philosophy,’ where admitted
at all, has to be recognized as radically pluralistic in nature.” He continued
to defend Gilson, but compromising with Fabro, he made this crucial concession:
“. . . it is correct to say that the distinction between essential being and
existential being is not found in Aquinas but originated in other thinkers.
Though that gladly registered acknowledgment leaves intact the real distinction
between being and thing that is present in the text of Aquinas himself, a
distinction that remains undiminished in its importance for metaphysical
Two decades earlier, Fr. Owens had used differences in the notion of being to
explain T. C. O’Brien’s criticism of Gilson. He judged that O’Brien’s notion
was “difficult to discover.” Supporting Owens, J. F. Anderson had been very
direct: “The real problem, as Father Owens observes in his review of Father
O’Brien’s book, lies in the notion of being with which the author is actually
operating.” Recently, Fr. Owens puts the plurality of Christian philosophies
(he had in mind particularly the Thomist and Augustinian), and their diverse
views of being together succinctly: “They all come into immediate contact with
being. But the way each conceives the starting point determines its whole
subsequent course. . . . Nothing in their procedure can make the one come to
grips with the other. The result is that the great Christian philosophies
continue to subsist side by side . . .”
this same approach is now taken by J. F. X. Knasas in his controversies. It
seems to escape Owens, Knasas, and the continuing defenders of Gilson, that
their way of using the hermeneutical circle polemically against their enemies
would also make it impossible to call Gilson’s, or any, Thomism historically
founded. One’s history of philosophy is a projection of one’s notion of being.
So even from within the school, the Gilsonian positions can no longer be
regarded as mere history. The history is the instrument of philosophy supposing
itself to be in the service of theology. The characteristic positions of the
school belong to Gilson’s conception of Thomism as Christian philosophy to which
they have been definitively linked by O’Brien and Quinn. This conception of the
relation of philosophy to church and world proved intolerable to many American
Catholic intellectuals as they worked out a new relation of church and world.
Their opposition to a Thomism conceived in these terms, and their determination
to think, as they said Aquinas did, from the beginning, logically, not
historically, was expressed in, and given impetus by, the Second Vatican
Gilson placed great value on the choice of Thomism as the official Christian
philosophy by the Roman magisterium; indeed, he spoke as if this choice belonged
to its infallible teaching. It was impossible both that the Church of Rome was
the true Church and also that it had made a error about the thinker it had
chosen to be its “common doctor.”
But, in fact, this choice by the Church and Gilson’s Thomistic philosophy tied
to revelation, disappeared into the flux of history together.
Since 1984, defences of Gilson by Pegis, Maurer, Owens and others have been
published by the Centre for Thomistic Studies at the Basilian university in
Houston, Texas. The present editor of Thomistic Papers, J. F. X. Knasas,
a Toronto graduate, has joined this defence.
He is strongly critical of the Transcendental Thomism which, in his view, has
prevailed in the Roman church since Vatican II. This continuation of the
essentialism of Suarez he supposes underlies what is, for him, the collapse of
grace into nature in Henri de Lubac which in turn lies, he supposes, behind
Liberation Theology. His contribution to Thomistic Papers VI directed
against Gerald McCool’s From Unity to Pluralism is an attempt to show
that the epistemological and ontological foundations of Transcendental Thomism
lack textual support in Aquinas. In general, the essays in the volume, which he
edited, oppose a pluralism which would allow Transcendental Thomism to stand
alongside a realist one of the Gilsonian kind and they certainly oppose a
pluralism on the Transcendental terms which include an opening to modern
Gilson opposed Transcendental Thomism, and what happened to Thomism, the liturgy
and much else after Vatican II provoked him to bitter outbursts. But, he was
the friend and supporter of M. D. Chenu, de Lubac and others whose historical
studies made them masters of the Council.
Perhaps here too the historian and the philosopher are in conflict.
The debate with Joseph Owens about Aristotle and Aquinas is a North American
Catholic affair. And in that world the question of Christian philosophy has its
own dynamic. But the criticisms which now prove fatal to Gilsonian Thomism
depend on European developments: the uncovering of Thomas’ neoplatonism and
Heidegger’s critique of onto-theology.
These developments are independent but related. Both criticisms have two
Neoplatonism of St. Thomas
W. Norris Clarke had been reading Cornelio Fabro, L. B. Geiger, Joseph de
Finance and others when he published, in 1952, the first of his studies of the
neoplatonic logic structuring Thomas’ metaphysical doctrines: “The Limitation
of Act by Potency: Aristotelianism or Neoplatonism?” Thus, it began to be
realized that one need not choose between Platonism, on the one hand, and
Thomas’ doctrine of being, on the other. Gerald McCool, pressing the
Transcendental cause, which proposes to be Platonic, Thomistic and contemporary
all at once, writes: “Rahner’s metaphysics of being’s self-expression in its
other is much closer to Neo-Platonism than St. Thomas’ metaphysics is usually
thought to be. . . . Thomas’ metaphysics of esse, at least in Gilson’s
understanding of it is considered to be distinct from and incompatible with the
Neo-Platonic metaphysics of the good.”
The Transcendental Thomism had more sympathy for some of the neoplatonic aspects
of Thomas’ thought than the Gilsonians had. Remarkably, this was just because
the Transcendental school was more open to modernity than Gilson was. Because
the school was not so dogmatically and narrowly realist in its epistemology, nor
so determined to establish being outside the self, the Transcendental Thomists
shared something of the neoplatonic assumption that the hierarchy of
intellectual forms and the hierarchy of being were the same. Karl Rahner took
into the center of his Thomism the equation from the Liber de causis
between the perfection of being and intellect’s complete self-return. Moreover,
because, like the neoplatonists, they came to being through the self, and, with
the neoplatonists, unified the cosmos in accord with the structure of the self,
the Transcendental Thomists did not deny that the summae were systems.
By the 1960’s Cornelio Fabro was writing in English for American Catholic
Mark Jordan at Notre Dame, who does not want to go down the Transcendental path,
finds this a way to continue what he regards as Thomas’ “anti-modern claim about
the domination of being over mind.”
Fabro and Jordan emphasize the Proclean and Dionysian character of Thomas’
neoplatonism. Fran O’Rourke, an Irish scholar published “Virtus Essendi:
Intensive Being in Pseudo-Dionysius and Aquinas” in a Canadian journal, and
followed it with a book from Brill on Aquinas and Dionysius.
In carrying forward Fabro’s thought, he was critical of Gilson.
have referred already to the second stage of the uncovering of Thomas’
neoplatonism: studies of Aquinas dependent on French neoplatonic scholarship
since the Second World War.
English-speaking scholars are conscious of the explicit criticism of Gilson’s
metaphysic of Exodus by Pierre Hadot, Emile zum Brunn and others.
We know that it makes Gilson’s account of the anti-Platonic, anti-essentialist
structure of Thomas’ metaphysic of esse historically untenable. With
these scholars there is a shift. Whereas the initial recognition of the
essentialist or neoplatonic aspect of Thomas’ thought involved appreciating his
positive relation to Augustine, and affirming the value of the Augustinian
tradition in mediaeval scholasticism, it is now the turn of the Proclean
neoplatonism and its Christian extension in the pseudo-Dionysius to have its
As in Europe, so in America, the confrontation of Thomism and Heidegger’s
critique of onto-theology has also had two stages. At first, Heidegger was
viewed from within a Thomist and metaphysical perspective. He seemed to provide
existential Thomism with its most profound confirmation in contemporary
thought. If only, Gilson and Maritain would say, if only Heidegger knew the
Aquinas we have discovered, and not the essentialist of decadent scholasticism.
When, however, the study of Heidegger deepened, and Thomism was regarded by
Catholics from his perspective, everything turned upside down. In fact, the
Christian philosophy of Thomas was profoundly understood by Heidegger and was
not exempt from his critique of Greek metaphysics, which is not saved from but
rather became more problematically onto-theological by union with Christianity.
Now those who accept Heidegger’s critique, but want to save something of
Thomism, endeavor to draw it together with the mystical theology of Denys,
theology above metaphysics.
Here too Cornelio Fabro provided guidance for those who do not wish to escape
Heidegger by the Transcendental route, because Fabro both appreciated the
Dionysian character of Thomas’ thought and had confronted Heidegger with greater
clarity than Gilson had.
Fr. Fabro was one of the first Thomists of the Leonine revival to notice and to
give positive attention to the role of a neoplatonic pattern of participation in
the thought of St. Thomas. Although he also paid great attention to developing
a Thomistic ontology and to working out the exact relation between essence and
existence in it, he was critical of Gilson. In general Fabro was much more
careful about how the construction of that ontology stood to philosophy both in
Thomas’ time and in our own. In respect to our circumstances, Fabro realized
that, in fact, Heidegger not only made no exception for Thomas in his history of
onto-theology, but also that this was not caused by a simple ignorance of
Thomas’ doctrine. Defending Thomas required a criticism of Heidegger. Further,
he was clear that the genuine engagement with contemporary philosophy which is
necessary for the construction and defense of Thomism in our time demanded that
the result be more than the representation of a past historical position.
What was true for our time was equally the case for the thirteenth century. The
philosophic logic Thomas gave to the metaphysic of Exodus 3.14 could not come
out of Scripture itself. Fabro did not hold with Gilson that Scripture revealed
a philosophical metaphysic which both was privileged as the true Christian
philosophy and was therefore protected against dissolution in the movement of
rational reflection. Not only was Thomas’ ontology a philosophical construction
related to his situation in history, but further, its particular matrix was
primarily neoplatonic and decisively Dionysian.
 Because of
this recognition, Fabro’s Thomism, unlike that of Gilson, has not been rendered
untenable by the historians’ discovery that Thomas’ ontology does not stand
against the so-called ‘essentialism’ of earlier pagan, Islamic and Christian
Neoplatonists, but rather is anticipated by their developments and is dependent
As a result both of its relation to contemporary and to medieval philosophy,
Fabro’s Thomistic ontology is not polemically anti-Platonic, the identity of
esse and essentia in the Divine simplicity is not interpreted, as in
Gilson, as if essentia had finally been squeezed out. Still, Fabro goes
far enough with Heidegger that his formulation of the hierarchy of being in
terms of ‘intensity’ is intended to meet something of the Heideggerian criticism
of onto-theology. The consequent interpretation of Thomas has just been
criticized by Rudi Te Velde for dividing being and form in a way foreign to
Aquinas. Te Velde is equally critical of Gilson.
Decisively for the future of Fabro’s position, given that the most recent
developments in the discovery of a neoplatonic Thomas have been made by those
whose relation to the history of philosophy is primarily determined by
Heidegger, negation, even the negative theology of the Pseudo-Dionysius, stands,
for Fabro, within ontology, not against it. Having followed the various
criticisms of Gilsonian Thomism in English—speaking North America, it is not
difficult to see why Fabro’s position provided a way of exit, even if it is only
transitional and temporary. Many do not now find Fabro radical enough:
metaphysics remains. But this is among the questions for the future. It is
indubitable that, in this situation, Gilson’s Thomism belongs to the past.
and the Dialectic of History
Gilson’s construction of Thomism as Christian philosophy rose out of the
historical conditions in France in which he created the study of the history of
medieval philosophy. He is clear about this and about the way in which these
intellectual circumstances determined his questions. His anger over the
diminution, by clerical authority, of the place of Thomas in the Catholic Church
pushed him to remark that he, Blondel, Maritain, and Marcel were products of the
state educational system. And, indeed, it was in that secular world, with its
intellectual norms and historical disciplines, that he sought to show the
positive, decisive, and necessary consequences for philosophy of thinking within
Catholic faith and theology. Historical scholarship, using modern norms and
methods, led toward Christian philosophy. Reasons for “Christian philosophy”
could be established.
Ultimately, however, the purposes of Leo XIII's Thomistic revival to which
Gilson was dedicated could not be carried out within the system of state
education. The Leonine revival was, after all, directed primarily to limiting
the modern state. So, in North America, where the system of Catholic education
was well adapted to the reception of his Thomistic Christian philosophy, Gilson
promoted “Christian schools.” He remarked that “our liberal societies persist
in considering as ‘separate’ the only schools which can provide them with the
very type of citizens they need, namely Christian schools . . . it is sheer
nonsense.” He saw in the new world a future for French Catholicism. However,
Catholicism in North America was not moving toward separation but in the
opposite direction, and most radically of all in the Province of Québec.
The dependence of Thomas’ metaphysic on revelation belonged to the logic of
Gilson’s Christian philosophy. For him, this logic also determined that,
despite its coherence with French and German thought in the middle of this
century, the existentialism Gilson found in St. Thomas was free from the
vicissitudes of history. Exodus guaranteed Thomas’ metaphysic of esse.
Nothing philosophy or empirical science could discover could touch it. It was
both metaphysical and revealed. Other philosophies had their origin in the
natural tendency to error in man’s knowing of being, but this metaphysic was
founded on the eternal rock: God’s self-revelation.
In North America, at least, while the historical circumstances of Catholic
intellectual life initially favored Gilson’s Thomism, in time they turned
against it. The historical dialectic to which Gilson subjected all other
philosophies has now overwhelmed his own. Esse too has become
historical. Aristotle required of Parmenides, that Being and the way to Being
not be kept apart. The same necessity of metaphysics has imposed itself on
Gilson. The metaphysic of esse no longer has the Roman magisterium to
protect it from philosophical criticism, the formation of the concept now has a
history—fundamentally neoplatonic—and, ironically, in its more extreme Gilsonian
anti-essentialist characterizations, it moves toward flux.
Against Gilson, all except the self-consciously reactionary agree that Thomism’s
future requires it to recognize and embrace its neoplatonism. Most look to the
negative or mystical theology present there to enable an escape from the fate of
metaphysics. I and a few others look to the systematic relation of all which is
under the One in order to transcend historicism. But, let us pain the spirit of
our good master Gilson no further. I shall say nothing of modern idealism.
L.K. Shook, Étienne Gilson, The Étienne Gilson Series 6 (Toronto:
Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1984), 309 refers to Gilson’s own
apologia after his retirement from the Collège de France: Esprit, 19
(1951), 590-596. This was after 26 ‘flights’; there were about 40 in all,
ibid., ix. For Gilson’s relation to the Collège generally, see ibid.,
Letters of Étienne Gilson to Henri de Lubac,
with commentary by Henri de Lubac, translated by M.E. Hamilton (San Francisco:
Ignatius, 1988) [hereafter, Letters], 13; however, the personal recollections
of de Lubac must be taken cum grano salis: see F. Van Steenberghen,
Revue d’Histoire Ecclésiastique, 84, 2 (1989), 379-388; idem, Revue
Philosophique de Louvain, 87 (1989), 324-331 and 612-625, also 89 (1991),
Shook, Gilson, ix and 192-194; idem, Mediaeval Studies, 51 (1979),
xi-xv; G. B. Flahiff, C.S.B., Speculum, 24 (1949), 251-255. Mediaeval
Studies, 27 (1965) is dedicated to Gerald Bernard Phelan and contains
essential biography and bibliography.
A. A. Maurer, “Gilson’s Use of History in Philosophy,” with Appendix: E. Gilson,
“Remarks on Experience in Metaphysics,” translation of “Remarques sur
l’expérience en métaphysique,” Actes du XIe Congrès international de
philosophie, vol. 4 (Amsterdam and Louvain, 1953), 5-10 reprinted in
Thomistic Papers, V, ed. T. A. Russman (Houston: Center for Thomistic
Studies, 1990), 25-48. Also useful are Gilson, “Doctrinal History and its
Interpretation,” Speculum, 24 (1949), 483-492; idem, “Historical
Research and the Future of Scholasticism,” The Modern Schoolman, 29
(1951), 1-10 and Desmond J. Fitzgerald, “Etienne Gilson: From Historian to
Philosopher,” Thomistic Papers, II (Houston: Center for Thomistic
Studies, 1986), 29-58. Examples of the method, together with explanations, are
found in these works of Gilson: The Unity of Philosophical Experience,
The William James Lectures at Harvard, 1936-37 (New York: Scribners, 1937),
Reason and Revelation in the Middle Ages, The Richards Lectures in the
University of Virginia for 1937 (New York: Scribners, 1938), God and
Philosophy, Powell Lectures on Philosophy at Indiana University, 1939-40
(New Haven: Yale, 1941), Being and Some Philosophers (Toronto:
Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1949).
At Notre Dame one finds, among others, Ralph McInerny (see below), M. D. Jordan
(see below), David Burrell, and, until recently, Alasdair MacIntyre, Whose
Justice? Which Rationality? (Notre Dame, Indiana: Notre Dame, 1988);
idem, Three Rival Versions of Moral Inquiry: Encyclopaedia, Genealogy
and Tradition, The Gifford Lectures, 1988 (Notre Dame, Indiana: Notre Dame,
1990). MacIntyre’s defence of Thomism is significant. He is concerned to
ground ethics in natural law but is neither an historian of philosophy nor a
metaphysician. He is not concerned to produce an historically accurate
representation of the thought of Thomas and he defends Thomism, not
metaphysically, but as the best way to think within a tradition. On MacIntyre,
and on the Canadian Catholic philosopher, Charles Taylor, who is also concerned
to ground ethical and political discourse, see J. J. Buckley, “A Return to the
Subject: The Theological Significance of Charles Taylor’s Sources of the Self,”
The Thomist, 55 (1991), 497-509 and T. S. Hibbs, “MacIntyre, Tradition
and the Christian Philosophers,” The Modern Schoolman, 48 (1991),
For a Papal representation of the Second Vatican Council as thinking within a
personalist perspective, see the encyclical Splendor Veritatis; Martin
Rhonheimer, “‘Intrinsically Evil Acts’ and the Moral Viewpoint: Clarifying a
Central Teaching of Veritatis Splendor,” The Thomist, 58 (1994), 1-39 is
an example of the attempt to move Thomas in this direction. For a reaction
against these developments see below and Thomistic Papers, VI, ed. John F.X.
Knasas (Houston: Center for Thomistic Studies, 1994) generally.
Cf. M. McGrath, Étienne Gilson. A Bibliography. Une Bibliographie, The
Étienne Gilson Series 3 (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies,
1982); Étienne Gilson, Thomist Realism and the Critique of Knowledge (San
Francisco: Ignatius, 1986), idem, Linguistics and Philosophy: An essay on
the philosophical constants of language (Notre Dame, Indiana: Notre Dame,
1988) and notes 2 and 4 above. These provide an opportunity for some to replay
the old battles, see L. Patrick, “Review Article” for Thomist Realism, in New
Scholasticism, 63 (1989), 81-100.
The list of his lectureships is enormous. His Exposé de titres pour une
chaire d’histoire de la philosophie au moyen age au Collège de France (about
1930) gives for the English-speaking world among his “series de leçons ou de
conférences aux Universités”: Berkeley, Illinois, Columbia, Brown, Cornell,
Virginia, Chicago, London, Cambridge, Oxford, and he had just begun. Besides
those indicated in note 4 above, perhaps the most outstanding were the Gifford
lectures for 1931-32 at Aberdeen and the A. W. Mellon lectures for 1955 at
Princeton. The Gifford lectures became L’esprit de la philosophie médiéval
(1932, English: 1936). The Mellon lectures became Painting and Reality
(1957, French: 1958).
A. C. Pegis, ed., A Gilson Reader. Selections from the Writings of Étienne
Gilson (New York: Doubleday, 1957), 11. On Pegis at Doubleday, cf. Shook,
Gilson, 318; on his own work, there are J. R. O’Donnell, ed., Essays
in Honour of Anton Charles Pegis (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of
Mediaeval Studies, 1974) and Mediaeval Studies, 41 (1979), xvii-xix. Pegis
apparently persuaded Gilson to give up his opposition to textbooks.
See in M. Courtier, éd., Étienne Gilson et Nous: La philosophie et son
histoire (Paris: Vrin, 1980): Chenu, 45; Aubenque, 80; Beaufret, 93;
Marion, 13-34. Marion in note 34 judges that some of Gilson’s English
writings: “vifs et parfois polémiques, mais tres fins et souvent éclairants,
n’aient pas reçu, en France l’accueil qu’ils méritent.” In English there are
John Noonan, New Scholasticism, 24 (1950), 417-38; C. R. Fay, New
Scholasticism, 31 (1957), 172-188; N. J. Wells, New Scholasticism,
35 (1961), 172-190; H. LaPlante, The Thomist, 28 (1964), 307-337; Helen
James John, International Philosophical Quarterly, 2 (1962), 595-620; J.
M. Quinn, The Thomism of Étienne Gilson. A Critical Study (Villanova:
Villanova, 1971); G. A. McCool, S.J., From Unity to Pluralism: The Internal
Evolution of Thomism (New York: Fordham, 1989), 164ff.; idem, “Is Thomas’
Way of Philosophizing Still Viable Today,” The American Catholic
Philosophical Association Proceedings 64 (1990), 3-7 and A. A. Maurer, C.S.B.,
“The Legacy of Étienne Gilson,” in V. B. Brezik, C.S.B., ed., One Hundred
Years of Thomism. Aeterni Patris and Afterwards. A Symposium
(Houston: Center for Thomistic Studies, 1981), 28—44 [hereafter One Hundred
Shook, Gilson, 198-201 and 219-223; John, International Philosophical
Quarterly, 2 (1962), 613; Fay, New Scholasticism, 31 (1957), 172-188.
To be exhaustive is neither possible or necessary. One might begin with An
Étienne Gilson Tribute, Presented by his North American Students with a Response
by Étienne Gilson, C. J. O’Neil, editor (Milwaukee: Marquette University
Press, 1959) [hereafter. An Étienne Gilson Tribute]. While not all are
as thoroughly Gilsonian in doctrine as the first contributor, one might take him
as an example: J. F. Anderson, Toronto M.A. (1938) and Ph.D. (1940): The
Bond of Being (St. Louis: Herder, 1949), Reflections on the Analogy of
Being (The Hague: Nijhoff, 1967), St. Augustine and Being. A
Metaphysical Essay (The Hague: Nijhoff, 1965), New Scholasticism, 38
(1964), 435-444 and, in the war against O’Brien, “In Defense of Étienne Gilson:
Concerning a Recent Book about Thomistic Metaphysics,” The Thomist, 28
(1964), 373-380; Gerald Smith, S.J., see Letters, 186-202, with review
of his Natural Theology (New York, 1951) in New Scholasticism, 24
(1953), 205-209; the review is by C. J. O’Neil; for Smith on Gilson, see note
44 below. Three doctors of the University of Toronto write typical pieces in
New Scholasticism, 35 (1961): Wells, 172-190, Turner, 210-224, Miller,
311-337. In his Exposé de titres (note 8 above), Gilson writes that
Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies “est organisé sur le plan de notre
Ecole pratique des Hautes-Etudes pour fournir aux universités americaines les
professeurs d’histoire de la philosophie médiéval dont elles ont besoin.”
See McCool, From Unity, and K. D. Staley, “Happiness: the Natural End of
Man?” The Thomist, 53 (1989), 224—229, and Denis J. M. Bradley, “Aquinas
on the Twofold Human Good. Reason and the Human Happiness,” in Aquinas’s
Moral Science (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 1997),
whose work comes out of the Toronto school.
In his work on Thomas’ Commentary on Boethius De Trinitate: The Divisions
and Methods of the Sciences: Questions V and VI of the Commentary on the De
Trinitate (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1963),
xxvii-xxviii, on this see McCool, From Unity, 185; his attack on Quinn’s
study of Gilson’s Thomism is The Thomist 37 (1973), 389-91; he judged it
“worthless”; for late defences of the master, see notes 4 and 10 above.
The Doctrine of Being in the Aristotelian Metaphysics (Toronto:
Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1951), which Gilson’s preface salutes
as the first major fruit of his Toronto labours. For a bibliography see J. R.
Caton, ed., St. Thomas Aquinas on the Existence of God. Collected Papers of
Joseph Owens, C.Ss.R. (Albany, N.Y., 1980). He has continued to
publish since 1980, for example in Thomistic Papers (Houston: Center for
Thomistic Studies): I (1984), III (1987), VI (1994); New Scholasticism,
60 (1986), 454-470. His harsh review of T. C. O’Brien is New Scholasticism,
36 (1962), 250-253; he responds to criticism New Scholasticism, 37
(1963), 359-363. In The Thomist, 45 (1981), 99-123, one finds exegesis
of Gilson; interpreting the master succeeds interpreting Aquinas.
Owens, New Scholasticism, 36 (1962), 252; see also, Owens, New
Scholasticism, 37 (1963), 360-361.
The Thomist 23(1960), 1-89, 211-285, 362-447; collected, the articles
appeared as Metaphysics and the Existence of God which Owens reviewed
(note 15 above).
For reviews see notes 12, 14 and 15 above and L. A. Kennedy, C.S.B., New
Scholasticism, 49 (1975), 369-373; Father Kennedy became director of the
Center for Thomistic Studies in Houston, Texas editing and contributing to
Thomistic Papers volumes I to V. Defenders of the authors were William O.
Wallace, O.P., New Scholasticism, 36 (1962), 529-531 and John D. Beach,
The Thomist, 38 (1974), 187-191; New Scholasticism, 50 (1976),
522-528. O’Brien had an opportunity to continue his criticism in a review of
Owens in New Scholasticism, 38 (1964), 270-273.
Beach, New Scholasticism, 50 (1976), 522.
George Lindbeck, Review of Metaphysics, 422.
O’Brien, The Thomist, 23 (1960), 68, part of O’Brien’s evidence is
Time (January 31, 1955, 31), Newsweek (February 7, 1955, 30-31).
Johns, International Philosophical Quarterly, 2 (1962), 612.
Pegis, A Gilson Reader, 11.
Jean-Luc Marion, “Metaphysics and Phenomenology: A Relief for Theology,”
Critical Inquiry, 20 (1994), 578, note 10.
C. O’Neil, New Scholasticism, 32 (1958), 388.
J. Henle, S.J., “Gilson the Philosopher,” Thought, 24 (1949), 592-593;
one might compare the judgment of V. E. Smith reviewing L’Etre et l’essence
(1948), in The Thomist, 13 (1950), 106: “The reader not only learns
facts, he learns lessons,” and contrast that of W. Norris Clarke, S.J. in The
Modern Schoolman, 31 (1954), 235: “an excellent guide for the past, but not
an equally sure guide for the future.” Henle remained a faithful disciple and,
though a Jesuit, criticised Transcendental Thomism harshly; see One Hundred
L. M. Régis, O.P., The Modern Schoolman, 28 (1951), 111-112. One could
multiply such citations endlessly.
See Gilson in Shook, Gilson, 150: despite Gilson’s optimism about the
effect of his own work, the attitude continued, being deeply ingrained; see P.
G. Kuntz, “The Dialectic of Historicism and Anti-historicism,” Thomist,
53 (1969), 656-669 where Wittgenstein and Gilson are pitted against one
another. Both from continental Europe, Wittgenstein, not Gilson, became the
philosopher of the English-speaking world generally. Wittgenstein was,
nonetheless, probably, too big a thinker for the Anglo-American philosophy which
depended on his genius. See Robert C. Trundle, “Twentieth-Century Despair and
Thomas’ Sound Argument for God,” Laval Thêologique et philosophique, 52
(1996), 112 note 23, which says of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s “On Heidegger on Being
and Dread,” published in Heidegger & Modern Philosophy, Michael Murray,
ed. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1978, p. 80-83): “This little-known
article was preserved by Friedrich Waismann and first published in the
Philosophical Review (January 1965). However, it was a ‘sanitized’ version
in which Heidegger’s name was deleted to make it ‘acceptable’ to Wittgenstein’s
Anglo-American followers. Since the time of Rudolph Carnap’s “The Overcoming of
Metaphysics” (1931) and A.J. Ayer’s Language, Truth and Logic (1936),
Heidegger’s thought was held to be a ‘paradigm of the worst.”
On the problems in representing the premodern from anti- and post-modern
perspectives, see W.J. Hankey, “Denys and Aquinas: Antimodern Cold and
Postmodern Hot,” Christian Origins: Theology, Rhetoric and Community,
edited by Lewis Ayres and Gareth Jones, Studies in Christian Origins
(London and New York: Routledge, 1998), 139-184; idem, “Re-Christianizing
Augustine Postmodern Style: Readings by Jacques Derrida, Robert Dodaro,
Jean-Luc Marion, Rowan Williams, Lewis Ayes and John Milbank,” Animus 2
(1997) an electronic journal at
and idem, “Dionysian Hierarchy in St. Thomas Aquinas: Tradition and
Transformation,” Denys l’Aréopagite et sa postérité en Orient et en Occident,
Actes du Colloque International Paris, 21-24 septembre 1994, édités Ysabel de
Andia, Collection des Études Augustiniennes, Série Antiquité 151 (Paris:
Institut d’Études Augustiniennes, 1997), 405-438.
See C. A Hart, New Scholasticism, 22 (1948), 352; idem, New
Scholasticism, 25 (1951), 3-45. Hart adds at 42 a reference to efforts
directed to the University of Chicago “but with little real success.” There is
also a useful report of a communication by Jesse Mann in New Scholasticism,
33 (1959), 92-93. The histories of Thomism by G. A. McCool assume that
twentieth century Thomism is a Roman Catholic phenomenon bound up with the logic
of Aeterni Patris; on this see also: W. J. Hankey, God in Himself,
Aquinas’ Doctrine of God as Expounded in the Summa Theologiae (Oxford: OUP,
1987), 1-17 and idem, “Making Theology Practical: Thomas Aquinas and the
Nineteenth Century Religious Revival,” Dionysius, 9 (1985), 133-172;
idem, “Pope Leo’s Purposes and St. Thomas’ Platonism,” Atti del’ VIII
Congresso Tomistico Internazionale sull’ Enciclica ‘Aeterni Patris’ e nel
centenario della fondazione dell’ Accademia S. Tommaso, Roma, 1980, ed. A.
Piolanti, 8 vols., Studi tomistici 17, viii (Vatican City, 1982), 39-52. By the
1950’s it seemed clear that Gilsonian Thomism would keep it there; see J.
Collins, New Scholasticism, 32 (1950), 301-326; Fay, New
Scholasticism, 31 (1957), 172-188; J. Bobik, New Scholasticism, 33
(1959), 68-85; G. Grisez, The Thomist, 23 (1960), 448-476; T. C.
O’Brien, The Thomist, 23 (1960), 53-85, 281-285, 370-374, 383-391,
Finite and Infinite (Westminster, 1943), on its place, see Hankey,
“Making,” 125-126 and W. M. Wilson, “A Different Method, A Different Case: The
Theological Program of Julian Hartt and Austin Farrer,” The Thomist, 53
He Who Is (London, 1943), Existence and Analogy (London, 1949),
The Openness of Being, Gifford Lectures 1970-71 (London, 1971); see his
review of Being and Some Philosophers in Journal of Theological
Studies, n.s.1 (1950), 227-29, where he simply repeats the doctrine of
Gilson, and also The Thomist, 38 (1974), 8-26. He is explicit about his
dependence on Gilson: He Who Is, xii. See Hankey, “Making,” 94-99,
Jaroslav Pelikan, The Spirit of Medieval Theology, The Étienne Gilson
Series 8 (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1985).
The Nature of Doctrine, Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age
(Philadelphia: Westminster, 1984), see Hankey, “Making,” 122-123 and the recent
discussion about Aquinas as a “post-liberal theologian” in The Thomist:
B. Marshall, 53 (1989), 352-402 and 56 (1992), 499-524; Lindbeck, 53 (1989),
403-406; L. Roy, 56 (1992), 473-480; F. J. Crosson, 56 (1992), 481-498;
Lindbeck’s review, “A Great Scotist Study,” is in Review of Metaphysics,
7 (1953), 422-435.
“Participation and Existence in the Interpretation of St. Thomas Aquinas,”
Franciscan Studies, 17 (1957), 1-22 and 107-125. On his following Fabro,
see Bradley, Aquinas on the Twofold Human Good, 122, note 95.
Ibid., he is quoting J. Collins, “History in the Service of Metaphysics,”
Review of Metaphysics, 2 (1949), 107.
The other two are my teachers, Robert D. Crouse (see below) and Eugene R.
Fairweather. Fairweather, like Crouse and Hankey, a Nova Scotian, published
A Scholastic Miscellany: Anselm to Ockham, Library of Christian Classics 10
(London, 1956) as well as some articles and reviews on medieval theology. He
was, from the beginning of the 1950’s for more than thirty years, Keble
Professor of Divinity at Trinity College, Toronto which is just across Queen’s
Park from the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies. To my questioning of
his Gilsonian orthodoxy, Dr. Fairweather responded that he saw no reason to go
further than across the park for his Thomism. The experience of being an
official Anglican observer at Vatican II had the same effect on him as on most
See notes 30 and 31 above and Hankey, “Aquinas, Pseudo-Denys, Proclus and Isaiah
VI.6,” Archives d’histoire doctrinale et littéraire du Moyen Âge, 64
C. A. Hart, New Scholasticism, 25 (1951), 42. The review of The Unity
of Philosophical Experience is in The Yale Review, 28 (1938),
203-205; Richard McKeon’s review is in The Yale Review, 26 (1936-37),
396-397. See also note 28 above.
See Hankey, “Denys and Aquinas,” 146; idem, “The Postmodern Retrieval of
Neoplatonism in Jean-Luc Marion and John Milbank and the Origins of Western
Subjectivity in Augustine and Eriugena,” Hermathena, 165 (Winter, 1998),
9-70; and idem, “Theoria versus Poesis: Neoplatonism and Trinitarian
Difference in Aquinas, John Milbank, Jean-Luc Marion and John Zizioulas,”
Modern Theology, 15:4 (October 1999), 387-415.
The Monist, 58 (1974), 70, note 4.
La Plante, The Thomist, 28 (1964), 308-315; de Lubac judges that Gilson
had not read Teilhard de Chardin before judging him, Letters, 64, note 1,
137, note 2 and 138-9, note 5.
G. Smith, S.J., “A Date in the History of Epistemology,” Thomist, 5
La Plant, The Thomist, 28 (1964), 308-315 and C. R. Fay, “The Possibility
of Critical Realism: Noël vs Gilson,” New Scholasticism, 31 (1957),
“Metaphysics as Horizon,” in E. Coreth, Metaphysics, ed. and trans. by J.
Donceel (New York, 1968), 207-209; see Hankey, “Making,” 94-98 and 117-121.
Lonergan’s most important work of Thomistic interpretation is Verbum: Word
and Idea in Aquinas, ed. D.B. Burrell (Notre Dame, Indiana: Notre Dame,
1967). He reviewed Being and Some Philosophers very favourably: Theological
Studies, 11 (1950), 122-125. But later he became very critical.
See E. G. Salmon, Thought, 21 (1946), 667-678; Henri Renard, S.J.,
New Scholasticism, 23 (1949), 62-70; J. Collins (St. Louis), New
Scholasticism, 32 (1958), 301-326 [reprinted in James Collins, Three
Paths in Philosophy (Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1962), 280-299]; idem,
Review of Metaphysics, 2 (1948), 105-125, idem, Philosophy and
Phenomenological Research, 11 (1950-51), 134-136 and Gerald Smith, S.J.,
notes 12 and 44 above; and R. J. Henle, S.J.
W. Norris Clarke, S.J., “The Limitation of Act by Potency: Aristotelianism or
Neoplatonism?” New Scholasticism, 26 (1952), 167-194; in the same issue
are M. Annice, “Historical Sketch of the Theory of Participation,” New
Scholasticism, 26 (1952), 49-79 and C. A. Hart, “Participation and the
Thomistic Five Ways,” New Scholasticism, 26 (1952), 267-282. See also:
W. Norris Clarke, New Scholasticism, 32 (1958), 264-66; idem,
New Scholasticism, 48 (1974), 19-39; idem, International Philosophical
Quarterly, 14 (1974), 411-434. Two Jesuit students of Gilson play different
roles in this development: R. J. Henle’s, Saint Thomas and Platonism: A Study
of the Plato and Platonic Texts in the Writings of Saint Thomas (The Hague: Nijhoff,
1956) diminishes the Platonic influence by understanding Platonism narrowly, but
L. Sweeney’s studies of the Liber de Causis move the argument
forward: see “Doctrine of Creation in Liber de Causis,” in An Étienne
Gilson Tribute, 274-289; idem, “Esse Primum Creatum in Albert the
Great’s Liber de Causis et Processu Universitatis,” The Thomist,
44 (1980), 599-646, especially note 80 at 644-645.
Salmon, “Theological Order and the Philosophy of St. Thomas,” Thought, 21
Ibid., 675-677. Salmon’s review of La philosophe et la théologie
and Introduction à la philosophie chretienne, in the International
Philosophical Quarterly, 1 (1961), 697-713 continues her original critique.
James Collins, New Scholasticism, 32 (1958), 317; George Klubertanz,
New Scholasticism, 30 (1956), 110.
John Beach, New Scholasticism, 50 (1976), 524. Louvain and Gilson
battled about this ceaselessly. Leo Elders does not accept Gilson’s views on
the commentaries; his analysis may be found in “Le Commentaire sur le quatrième
livre de la Métaphysique,” Atti del Congresso Internazionale Tommaso d’Aquino
nel suo settimo centenario, 9 vols., i (Naples, 1975), 203-214 and in The
Philosophical Theology of St. Thomas Aquinas (Leiden: Brill, 1990). In the
North American literature, there are, for example, T. R. Heath, New
Scholasticism 34 (1960) and 35 (1961), 525-526 and the literature on T. C.
O’Brien’s criticism and those of Quinn (see notes 12ff. above).
The Thomist, 23 (1960), 473, he said that it would be “a sign of
disrespect for Gilson’s competence.”
McCool, From Unity, 226-229; Thomistic Papers, VI (1994) is
directed against McCool’s analysis.
McCool, “Why St. Thomas Stays Alive,” International Philosophical Quarterly,
30 (1990), 275-287, especially 286-287 and idem, The Modern Schoolman, 65
See notes 17ff. above.
Speculum, 24 (1949), 575; other objections to Gilson’s treatment of Plato
are in K. F. Doherty, S.J., New Scholasticism, 30 (1956), 441-60.
Speculum, 24, 576.
Examples of Father Dewan’s elegant and careful essays are: “St. Thomas and the
Causality of God’s Goodness,” Laval Théologique et Philosophique, 34
(1978), 291-304; “St. Thomas and the Divine Names,” Science et esprit, 32
(1980), 19-33; “Objectum. Notes on the Invention of a Word,” AHDLM, 48
(1981), 37-96, which traces the Platonist transformations of Aristotle that
result in Aquinas’ understanding of the object of science; “St. Thomas, Joseph
Owens, and Existence,” New Scholasticism, 56 (1982), 399-441, which shows
that existence deprived of form in Owens is reduced to a flux and that this does
not have support in the texts of St. Thomas: “I see, then, in the texts on
conservation, with the rigourous use of form as form as the approach to absolute
existence, an antidote to Father Owen’s tendency to allow existence a peculiar
visibility of its own, as a flux contrasted with essential stability (440); “St.
Thomas, Metaphysical Procedure, and the Formal Cause,” New Scholasticism,
63 (1989), 173-182 continues the criticism of the division of form and esse
in Owen’s interpretation of Aquinas; “St. Thomas, Aristotle, and Creation,”
Dionysius, 15 (1991), 81-90 which defends St. Thomas’ own understanding of
Aristotle against that of Gilson and Owens.
T. F. O’Meara, O.P., Thomas Aquinas Theologian (Notre Dame: U. of Notre
Dame Press, 1997), p. 277, note 36 and 181.
The Modern Schoolman, 28 (1951), 119.
Ibid., 120, one might compare D. Aubenque in M. Courtier, éd., Étienne
Gilson et Nous, 87.
H. La Plante, “Étienne Gilson and the Concept of Existence,” The Thomist,
28 (1964), 307-337.
Dr. Crouse, the reviewer of The Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas
in Canadian Journal of Theology, 4 (1952), 61-63, acquired his Thomism
subversively at King’s College in Halifax and at Harvard from the Society of the
Catholic Commonwealth, a community of Anglo-Catholic socialists who revered Karl
Marx and Thomas Aquinas equally. After studies and teaching at Harvard, Trinity
and Bishop’s College, P.Q., he returned to Dalhousie University and King’s
College in 1963 where he taught until his retirement in 1996.
See notes 35 and 36 above.
P. Robert, O.F.M., “St. Bonaventure, Defender of Christian Wisdom,”
Franciscan Studies, 24 (1943), 159-179; idem, “Le problème de la
philosophie bonaventurienne,” Laval Théologique et Philosophique, 6
(1950), 145-163, 7 (1951), 9-58; A. Nemetz, “What Saint Bonaventure has given
to Philosophers Today,” Franciscan Studies, 19 (1959), 1-12; R. J. Roch,
S.J., “The Philosophy of St. Bonaventure—A Controversy,” Franciscan Studies,
19 (1959), 209-226: treats Gilson, Van Steenberghen and Patrick Robert. There
was criticism of this kind from outside Franciscan circles; see, e.g., J. F.
Quinn, The Historical Constitution of St. Bonaventure’s Philosophy
(Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1973); T. A. Fay,
“Bonaventure and Aquinas on God’s Existence: Points of Conversion,” The
Thomist, 41 (1977), 585-595.
The review is in The Thomist, 21 (1958), 215-220; the later judgment is
in New Scholasticism, 50 (1976), 528; his “Separate Entity as the Subject
of Aristotle’s Metaphysics,” The Thomist, 20 (1957), 75-95 and
“Aristotle’s notion of Being,” The Thomist, 21 (1958), 29-43 are
important attacks on the textual evidence provided by Gilson and Owens. See
also note 17 above
McInerny’s “The Logic of Analogy,” New Scholasticism, 31 (1957), note 36,
167-168, finds Gilson rather than the text being used as an authority. His
Thomism in an Age of Renewal (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1966), 7,
arises out of admiration of an article of Fabro and begins with reference to a
visit by Fabro to Notre Dame in 1965. He makes his difference from Gilsonian
metaphysical fundamentals clear in “Being and Predication,” Being and
Predication: Thomistic Interpretations, ed. Jude P. Dougherty (Washington:
Catholic University of America Press, 1986), 173-228.
T. C. O’Brien, The Thomist, 46 (1982), at 653 and The Thomist, 23 (1960),
445. See also notes 15 to 19, 53, 61 and 69 above for Owens and his combatants.
Beside O’Brien, Beach and Dewan, there were other critics of the Gilson-Owens’
line: e.g., Joseph Bobik, New Scholasticism, 37 (1963), 59-63 and
411-430; J. F. Wippel, “Aquinas’ Route to the Real Distinction: A Note on
De ente et essentia,” The Thomist, 43 (1979), 279-295 and A.
McNicholl, O.P., “On Judging Existence,” Thomist, 43 (1979), 507-580,
especially 555-557. More recently, criticism comes also from outside the
Thomist philosophical world: S. MacDonald, “The Esse/Essentia Argument in
Aquinas’ De ente et essentia,” Journal of the History of Philosophy,
22 (1984), 157-172 finds in Owens “a confusion about the structure and nature of
the argument.” W. Pattin “Aquinas’s Real Distinction and Some Interpretations,”
New Scholasticism, 62 (1988), 1-29 surveyed the Wippel-Owens dispute and
attempted to resolve it; M.B. Ewbank, sympathetic to Gilsonian position, has
surveyed criticisms of Owens by O’Brien and L. Azar and how Owens responded to
them in New Scholasticism, 62 (1988), 474-479.
J. Owens, “Aquinas on Being and Thing,” Thomistic Papers, III (1987), 21
and “Deo Intus Pandente,” The Modern Schoolman, 69 (1992), 376; see
idem, “Aquinas on Knowing Existence,” Review of Metaphysics, 29
(1976), 670-690; idem, “Stages and Distinction in De ente: A
Rejoinder,” The Thomist, 45 (1981), 99-123; his review of T. C. O’Brien
is in New Scholasticism, 36 (1962), 250-253; J.F. Anderson’s remarks are
in The Thomist, 28 (1964), 378.
É. Gilson, Le philosophe et la théologie (Paris: Fayard, 1960), 61: “Il
était improbable que l’Église se fût trompée à ce point dans le choix d’un
docteur commun et d’un patron de toutes les écoles catholiques. Trois
propositions s’offraient ensemble à notre esprit: l’Église de Rome est la
véritable Église; Thomas d’Aquin, comme le disait parfois le P. Laberthonnière,
a fait à cette Église plus de mal que ne lui en a fait Luther; en philosophie
comme en théologie, la norme de l’enseignement de l’Église est la doctrine de
saint Thomas d’Aquin. L’une ou l’autre de ces propositions pouvait être vraie,
elles ne pouvaient être vraies toutes à la fois.” There is much else of a
similar kind in the book, see 94-95, 142-143, 191 ff. The pluralism of
Christian philosophies identified by Gilson makes a choice by authority
For Thomism and the Second Vatican Council and Gilson’s reaction to the effects
of the Council, see Le philosophe, passim; Gilson, Les Tribulations de
Sophie (Paris: Vrin, 1967), 35-54, 139 ff.; Gilson and Maritain,
Correspondance, 1923-1971, ed. G. Prouvost (Paris: Vrin, 1991), 214-252;
Letter of 14 August, 1965 in G. Kalinowski, L’Impossible métaphysique
(Paris: Beauchesne, 1981), 247-248, Letters, 12-19, 80 ff., J.
Kalinowski et S. Swiezawaki, La philosophie a l’heure du Councile
(Paris: Editions Internationales, 1965)—this analysis is Gilsonian; there are
also Shook, Gilson, 367 ff., idem, Mediaeval Studies, 51 (1979), xiii.
J. F. X. Knasas, “Esse as the Target of Judgement in Rahner and Aquinas,”
The Thomist, 51 (1987), 222-245; idem, “Aquinas and the
Liberationist Critique of Maritain’s New Christendom,” The Thomist, 52
(1988), 247-267; idem, “Transcendental Thomism and the Thomistic Texts,”
The Thomist, 54 (1990), 81-95; idem, “Does Gilson Theologize
Thomistic Metaphysics?” Thomistic Papers, V (1990), 3-19; idem,
“Transcendental Thomism and De Veritate I, 9,” Thomistic Papers,
VI (1994), 229-50; idem, “Thomistic Existentialism and the Proofs Ex
Motu at Contra Gentiles I, c.13,” The Thomist, 59 (1995),
591-615. On the Houston establishment, there is V. J. Bourke, “The New Center
and the Intellectualism of St. Thomas,” in One Hundred Years, 165-172.
Its first president was A. C. Pegis; Bourke, a faithful disciple of Gilson,
was the second. For his relation to Gilson, see The Modern Schoolman, 52
(1974), 49-52. For Bourke’s intellectual biography and bibliography, see The
Modern Schoolman, 69 (March/May, 1992) presented to him. His contribution
to Thomistic Papers, VI is significantly entitled “Thomistic Philosophy
is not Pluralistic.”
On Chenu: see Letters 74, note 11, 164-165, note 5; L’hommage différé
au Père Chenu (Paris: Cerf, 1990), 263-264; Chenu in M. Courtier, éd.,
Étienne Gilson et Nous, 43-48. On Thomism and “the ‘New Theology’ crisis,”
see McCool in ACPA Proceedings, note 10 above, 7.
See M. Courtier, éd., Étienne Gilson et Nous: the articles by Aubenque,
Beaufret, Courtine, Hadot, Marion and also Vignaux, Hadot, zum Brunn in
Centre d’Études des Religious du Livre, Dieu et l’être, Exégèses d’Exode 3,
14 et de Coran 20, 11-24 (Paris: Études augustiniennes, 1978) and Hankey,
“Dionysian Hierarchy,” 405-16; idem, “Denys and Aquinas,” 143ff.
“Is St. Thomas’ ‘Science of God’ Still Relevant Today,” International
Philosophical Quarterly, 14 (1974), 453. In fact I think he is right, but
the contemporary position to which Transcendental Thomism most nearly conforms
is Heidegger's, see Luis Cortest, “Was St. Thomas Aquinas a Platonist?” The
Thomist 52 (1988), 209-19; W. J. Hankey, “Aquinas’ First Principle, Being or
Unity?” Dionysius, 4 (1980), 133-172; idem, “Making,” 101-122;
idem, “Dionysian Hierarchy,” 404-406; idem, “Denys and Aquinas,”
144-45; J. M. McDermott, S.J., “The Analogy of Knowing in Karl Rahner,”
International Philosophical Quarterly, XXXVI, 2 (June, 1996), 201-216;
idem, “The Analogy of Human Knowing in the Prima Pars,” Gregorianum
77, 2&3 (1996), 284-85. I refer only to literature in English.
“The Problem of Being and the Destiny of Man,” International Philosophical
Quarterly, 1 (1961), 407-436; “The Transcendentality of Ens-Esse and
the Ground of Metaphysics,” International Philosophical Quarterly, 6
(1966), 389-427; “Platonism, Neoplatonism and Thomism: Convergencies and
Divergencies,” New Scholasticism, 44 (1970), 69-100 [essential: critical
of Gilson but also of Kremer's treatment of Gilson and of neoplatonism]; “The
Intensive Hermeneutics of Thomistic Philosophy. The Notion of Participation,”
Review of Metaphysics, 27 (1974), 449-491 [like New Scholasticism,
44, but more extensive, includes agreement with Lindbeck (Franciscan Studies,
17) and works out his strong difference from Transcendental Thomism]. There
were Gilsonian responses, e.g., J. Owens, Review of Metaphysics, 29
(1976), 670-690, which accepts that the plurality of Thomism is well founded
philosophically, and F. D. Wilhelmsen, “Existence and Esse,” New
Scholasticism, 50 (1976), 20-45. For a recent collection of the work of
this follower of Gilsonian Existential Thomism, see F. D. Wilhelmsen, Being
and Knowing: Reflections of a Thomist (Albany, N.Y.: Preserving Christian
“The Grammar of Esse: Re-Reading Thomas on the Transcendentals,” The
Thomist, 44 (1980), 17; he goes on to write that his position “tries to
discover the grounds for the possibility of ens as ordinable, insisting
that such order is inherent in ens. The starting point is not with the
possibility for human experience, but with the foundation for the hierarchy
within which human experience will stand.” On the question of Thomas’
Aristotelianism, see Mark D. Jordan, The Alleged Aristotelianism of Thomas
Aquinas, The Etienne Gilson Series 15 (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of
Medieval Studies, 1992), and idem, “Aquinas in Aristotle’s Ethics,” Ad
Litteram. Authoritative Texts and Their Medieval Readers,” ed. Mark D.
Jordan and Kent Emery, Notre Dame Conferences in Medieval Studies 3 (Notre
Dame: Notre Dame University Press, 1992), 242-245.
Dionysius, 15 (1991), 31-80; on Gilson, see 44-46; Pseudo-Dionysius
and the Metaphysics of Aquinas, Studien und Texte zur Geistesgeschichte des
Mittelalters 32 (Leiden: Brill, 1992).
See E. Booth, O.P., Aristotelian Aporetic Ontology in Islamic and Christian
Thinkers (Cambridge: Cambridge U.P., 1983); Hankey, God; idem,
“Aquinas' First Principle”; idem, “Making”; idem, “‘Dionysius
dixit, Lex divinitatis est ultima per media reducere’: Aquinas, hierocracy and
the ‘augustinisme politique’,” Tommaso D’Aquino: proposte nuove di letture.
Festscrift Antonio Tognolo, ed. Ilario Tolomio, Medioevo. Rivista di Storia
della Filosofia Medievale; 18 (Padova: Editrice Antenore, 1992), 119-150; idem,
“Dionysian Hierarchy;” idem, “Denys and Aquinas.” Hankey and Booth are
treated at length in “Was Thomas Aquinas a Platonist?” The Thomist, 52
(1988), 209-219 and placed within the context of earlier studies in this
century. Recently there are M. B. Ewbank, “Diverse Orderings of Dionysius'
Triplex via by St. Thomas Aquinas,” Mediaeval Studies, 52 (1990), 82-109
and idem, “Remarks on Being in St. Thomas Aquinas’ Expositio de
divinis nominibus,” AHDLM, 56 (1989), 123-149; Eileen C. Sweeney, “Thomas
Aquinas’ Double Metaphysics of Simplicity and Infinity,” International
Philosophical Quarterly, XXXIII (1993), 297-317; Rudi A. Te Velde,
Participation and Substantiality in Thomas Aquinas (Leiden: E. J. Brill,
1995); Vivian Boland, OP, Ideas in God According to St Thomas
Aquinas: Sources and Synthesis, Studies in the History of Christian Thought
LXIX (Leiden: Brill, 1996); Patrick Quinn, “Aquinas’s Model of Mind,” New
Blackfriars, 77 (1996), idem, Aquinas, Platonism and the
Knowledge of God (Aldershot: Avebury, 1996).
See Hankey, God, and “Dionysian Hierarchy,” 408-13 for bibliography, and
P. Hadot, “Dieu comme acte d'être. A propos des théories d’Étienne Gilson sur
la ‘metaphysique’,” Étienne Gilson et nous, 117-121 with the “boomerang”
demonstrated by E. zum Brunn, “Le Dieu de Platon et le Dieu le Moïse,” Saint
Augustin, ed. P. Ranson, Les Dossiers H (Giromagny: L'Age d'homme,
1988), 38, 281-284.
E.g. Les Tribulations de Sophie, 69-72, and “Sur les vicissitudes des
principes,” Mélanges offert a M.D. Chenu, maître en théologie, Bibliothéque
thomiste 37 (Paris: Vrin, 1967), 281-284. On the relation to Heidegger see,
Shook, Gilson, 227-228, 334-335, 359-360; Hankey, “Making,” 94-100;
Aubenque, Beaufret and Courtine in Gilson et nous; J. Beaufret,
Dialogue avec Heidegger, I. Philosophie grecque (Paris: Minuit,
1974), 109-112, 130, 141-144; idem, Dialogue avec Heidegger, 2. Philosophie
moderne (Paris: Minuit, 1973), 9-27, 123; G. Prouvost, Correspondence,
292-295. For the first stage in North America one might consider J. D. Caputo,
“The Problem of Being in Heidegger and the Scholastics,” The Thomist, 41
(1977), 62-91, especially 84 and 88 to which corresponds “Document: M.
Heidegger, ‘Le retour au fondement de la metaphysique’” Revue des Sciences
Philosophiques et Theologiques, 43 (1959), 401-433.
Hankey, “Making,” 100-110; idem, God, 13-15; idem,
“Dionysian Hierarchy;” 413-16; idem, “Denys and Aquinas,” passim.
Examples of the second stage in North America are J. D. Jones, “The Ontological
Difference for St. Thomas and Pseudo-Dionysius,” Dionysius, 4 (1980),
133-172; idem, “A Non-Entitative Understanding of Be-ing and Unity:
Heidegger and Neoplatonism,” Dionysius, 6 (1982), 94-110; J. D. Caputo,
Heidegger and Aquinas: An Essay in Overcoming Metaphysics (New York:
Fordham, 1980). There are those who concede the content of metaphysics to the
Heideggerian critique and attempt a Transcendental retrieval of theology, e.g.
R. L. Hurd, “Heidegger and Aquinas: A Rahnerian Bridge,” Philosophy Today,
28 (1984), 105-37; idem, “Being is Being—Present—to—Self: Rahner's Key
to Aquinas' Metaphysics,” The Thomist, 52 (1988), 63-78. There is also a
thoughtful reaction, e.g. O. Blanchette, “Are There Two Questions of Being,”
Review of Metaphysics, 45 (1992), 259-287.
E.g.: “Il nuovo problema dell’essere e la fondazione della metafisica,” St.
Thomas Aquinas, 1274-1974: Commemorative Studies, ed. A. A. Maurer, 2
vols., ii (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1974), 423-457;
idem, “L’interpretazione dell’atto in S. Tommaso e Heidegger,” Atti
del Congresso Internazionale Tommaso d’Aquino nel suo settimo centenario, 9
vols., i (Naples, 1975), 119-128.
On Fabro in contrast to Gilson, see Andrea Robiglio, “Gilson e Fabro. Appunti
per un confronto,” Divus Thomas, 17/2 (1997), 75 and against both of
them, Te Velde, Participation and Substantiality in Thomas Aquinas,
184-6, 221-6, 252, and Hankey, “Denys and Aquinas,” 147-8 and 171-2.
See particularly in La philosophe et la théologie. His anger was
expressed thus: “Après avoir enseigné leurs thomismes à la place de saint
Thomas d'Aquin, ils veulent à présent exclure de l'enseignement le vrai thomisme
pour se délivrer des faux qu'ils y ont installés de force à sa place.” He went
on “incidentment, Blondel, Maritain, Marcel et moi-même (moi, seulement pour
l'enseignement supérieur,) sommes des produits de l'enseignement de l'Etat.”
(Letter of 14 August, 1965 reproduced in Kalinowski, L’impossible, 248).
The quotation on Christian schools is from: The Breakdown of Morals and
Christian Education, A lecture in the Adult Education Program of St. Michael's
College, University of Toronto (Toronto: St. Michael's College,
1952), 9; on French Canada: “Les armes de la France n'y sont plus, mais ses arts
et ses lois y sont encore, et la croix plantée par Jacques Cartier voit croître
sans cesse la foule de ses adorateurs. Rien n'est perdu de ce qui méritait
d'être sauvé.” —from Gilson’s Préface in J. Bruchési, Canada. Réalités d'hier
et aujourd'hui (Montreal: Éditions variétés, 1948), 13.
See, for example, “Historical Research,” and much else. I follow Paul Vignaux
in thinking this is “quasi-Barthian,” see Hankey, “Making,” 96, note 44 and
idem, “Denys and Aquinas,” 150.
See note 61 above. There is a development of existential Thomism inspired by
Gilson's anti-essentialism which is too extreme even for Joseph Owens: W. E.
Carlo, “The Role of Essence in Existential Metaphysics: A Reappraisal,”
International Philosophical Quarterly, 2 (1962), 557-590; for a judgment and
bibliography, see W. Norris Clarke, International Philosophical Quarterly,
14 (1974), 424.
The movement toward a revaluation of the relations between Thomism and Hegelian
idealism may be indicted by the following: Hankey, God, 155-161; idem,
“Tradition and Development of Doctrine,” Tradition; Received and Handed On,
ed. D. A. Petley (Charlottetown: St. Peter Publications, 1994), 32-38; E.
Booth, O.P., “A Confrontation between the Neoplatonism of St. Thomas Aquinas and
Hegel,” Angelicum, 63 (1986), 57-89; idem, Saint Augustine and
the Western Tradition of Self-Knowing, The Saint Augustine Lecture 1986
(Villanova: Augustinian Institute, Villanova University, 1989); E. Brito,
Dieu et l'être d'après Thomas d'Aquin et Hegel (Paris: PUF, 1991); McCool,
Nineteenth-Century Scholasticism; idem, From Unity; McDermott,
“The Analogy of Human Knowing,” 520, n. 17. On the anti-idealist biases of the
Thomist revival, see Thomas F. O’Meara, Romantic Idealism and Roman
Catholicism: Schelling and the Theologians (Notre Dame: University of Notre
Dame Press, 1982) and Church and Culture: German Catholic Theology,
1860-1914 (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1991). The recent
series of issues devoted to individual philosophers in The American Catholic
Philosophical Quarterly are worth noting; Kenneth L. Schmitz edited lxiv, #4
(1990) dealing with Hegel. It includes an article in English by Emilio Brito.