Thomism Today: Europe
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Eudaldo Forment


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The philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas is alive and well today. Travel to Europe to meet four Thomist philosophers:

In Barcelona visit Eudaldo Forment, a metaphysician and a member of the Thomist School of Barcelona. (1996)

In Toulouse, long a stronghold of Thomist thought, meet Yves Floucat, a metaphysician and Maritain scholar. (1993)

Travel to Italy to see the Dominican scholar, Abelardo Lobato of the Pontifical College of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome from where he directs the International Society of St. Thomas Aquinas. (1993)

And go to the Gregorian University to talk with Joseph de Finance, S.J., one of the rediscovers of the primary role of the act of existing in the philosophy of St. Thomas in the years before World War Il. (1990)

Visit, as well, Monte Cassino, Fossanova and Roccasecca where Thomas lived out his life in order to reflect on the future of Thomism.

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Yves Floucat


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Abelardo Lobato



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More about Yves Floucat

Among Yves Floucat's books are: Métaphysique et religion, Vers une sagesse Chrétienne; L'être et la mystique des Saints, Conditions d'une métaphysique thomiste; Jacques Maritain ou la fidélité à l'Eternel; Julien Green et Jacques Maritain, L'amour du vrai et la fidélité du coeur; and Liberté de l'amour et vérité de la loi, L'enseignement moral de Jean-Paul II.

Contact Yves Floucat at:
Centre Jacques Maritain De L'institut Catholique de Toulouse
58, Rue Achille-Viadieu
Bâtiment B
F-31400 Toulouse
Tel. 05. 61. 52.79.87

A Review of Yves Floucat's Vocation de l'homme et sagesse Chretienne, Editions Saint-Paul, 1989, 261pp.

The future of Thomism depends most of all on the best fruits of the 20th century Thomistic revival being transmitted to a new post-conciliar generation. And this cannot be simply an academic or historical transmission, but first and foremost a transmission of the inner lights or fundamental intuitions by which any genuine Thomism must live. Therefore, it is particularly encouraging to see Yves Floucat show such a mastery of the central themes of the Thomism of Jacques Maritain and of Louis Gardet - to whom this book is dedicated - and of Olivier Lacombe, who has supplied a preface to it.

Floucat, like the men in whose footsteps he is following, does not restrict himself to philosophical matters in the narrow sense of the term, but brings before us a panorama of the various degrees of Christian wisdom, starting with metaphysics and culminating in an examination of Christian mystical experience, and an examination of how these various wisdoms can live harmoniously within us.

Particularly noteworthy is the attention that he has given to the mysticism of the Self. This is a current of thought that originated in discussions between Olivier Lacombe and Jacques Maritain about the mysticism of India, and had first seen the light of day in Appendix V of Maritain's The Degrees of Knowledge, and later in more detail in his essay, "Natural Mysticism and the Void." Lacombe and Gardet had then devoted a great deal of energy to exploring the path that Maritain had opened up, and their work culminated in a jointly written volume, L'Experience de Soi. Unfortunately, these developments, which are of the greatest importance for the growing dialogue between Christianity and Eastern religions, have received virtually no attention in the English-speaking world. Therefore, it is heartening that this work is continuing, at least in France.

Floucat, the author of Pour une philosophie chretienne and a collaborator of the Revue Thomiste, has left us with a fine work. If there is any difficulty with it, it is the one pointed out by Louis Chamming's, another vigorous post-conciliar Maritain Thomist, in a French review of this volume. Will its message, in virtue of its condensed but lucid Thomistic language, be restricted to those who already know? Or will it make new friends for a philosophy that has much to say about contemporary problems?

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Online Transcript:

What has happened to the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, long the mainstay of the Catholic Church? I’m Jim Arraj, and my wife Tyra and I are in Europe to find out.

Come with us as we visit Thomist philosophers in Barcelona, Toulouse and Rome, and finally go back to some of the places where Thomas Aquinas lived out his life in order to reflect on the future of Thomism.

Our first stop is the bustling city of Barcelona where we have come to visit Eudaldo Forment, a metaphysician and professor of philosophy at the University of Barcelona, and a member of the Thomist School of Barcelona housed at the Balmesiana. The Thomist School of Barcelona owes much to its present dean, the Jesuit philosopher Francisco Canals Vidal, and to its dynamic young members.


Barcelona – Eudaldo Forment

The Thomist School of Barcelona was founded some years ago, in fact in the 1930s by the Jesuit priest Ramón Orlandiz. This holy and wise man, who died some years ago in 1958, had formed a group of young people here in Barcelona in order to foster in them, above all, a devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. But he understood that this did not have to be only a pious thing, but also that the students had to study deeply the doctrine of the Church, its history, but above all, its philosophy.

From this group emerged young men like Jaime Bothil, who were formed in philosophy. Padre Orlandiz had studied the works of St. Thomas directly from his texts, and he was teaching them the philosophy of St. Thomas. Jaime Bothil formed another group within the university, and within this group was Prof. Francisco Canals Vidal who has been, and has remained, the driving force of the Thomist School of Barcelona. In fact, I knew this school. I was formed in it, and continue being formed in it, thanks to Prof. Canals.

The school is very united, very cohesive, it publishes a lot, and the young people, above all the students, listen to us, follow St. Thomas, study St. Thomas, and at this time we have a lot of young people who are being formed, women as well as men.

I was motivated to continue studying what is man, what is the human person, this great mystery who is the human being. I believe that I have studied philosophy precisely to respond to these very difficult questions: Who am I? What is my origin? What is my destiny? Why do I have to do good?

The Thomist School of Barcelona became involved in this house where are now, the Balmesiana Foundation, which was formed by Fr. Ignacio Casanovas, also a Jesuit, with the intention of creating an institution that would be a base for Christian thought, but above all the thought of St. Thomas. The Balmesiana Foundation wanted to become a type of Catholic university like the University of the Sacred Heart of Milan, a place where philosophy for the lay man is taught, Thomist philosophy, also theology – all this around the year 1930. The name Balmesiana refers to a Catalonian philosopher, Jamie Balmes, a philosopher in the first half of the 19th century, who promoted Christian philosophy and cooperated in the birth of neo-scholasticism; it is very logical that it attracted this group of Fr. Orlandiz, Bothi, and Canals, and there was a very extensive collaboration between the Balmesiana Foundation and the Thomist School of Barcelona.

The most beautiful thing about the Thomist School is that its members are all from the university, but they do not have to be philosophers. There are many who have other careers, architects, engineers, and even people who like St. Thomas and who have no direct connection with the Church.

For many years it has been said that St. Thomas’ philosophy is a thing of the past, that it is a thing that is already dead, but it is not true. When this philosophy is offered disinterestedly and clearly, and when St. Thomas is read, when there are conferences and congresses, or simple meetings like we have here, people come, above all young people. They understand it very well and they get enthusiastic about it.

Metaphysics, like any science or academic subject or the subject matter of some university course, could be considered difficult, and because of this difficulty it does not get a good press. People can be afraid of the material that we metaphysicians present. But in reality if one thinks about it, metaphysics is about the total person. Everyone who has understanding, everyone who has the use of reason, is a metaphysician because everyone is not limited to knowing or believing only about the surface of things, the external aspect of things, but he wants to penetrate into their interiors to see what is behind the surface, what is its foundation; not only material reality, but everything that is beyond. Everyone is a metaphysician who asks ultimate questions, who looks for or wants to arrive at the limit, or even further than the limit, of our knowledge. There is a natural metaphysics, a spontaneous metaphysics, that everyone has, including even those who say there is no metaphysics. They have a natural metaphysics. What happens is that this natural metaphysics can be cultivated, developed, by culture and by science, and there also exists a scientific metaphysics, a philosophical metaphysics, a metaphysics that is not different from the spontaneous metaphysics of common sense. But it is a metaphysics that goes beyond these same basics, with some methods, some refined techniques, based on a tradition that comes from the time of the Greeks, with all this technical apparatus, and tries to present the problems of common sense, the problems of natural metaphysics, in a more precise and correct manner, and to offer solutions, as well. Thus there is no division between man and metaphysics. Everyone is a metaphysician. What happens is that we dedicate ourselves, almost exclusively as a profession, to metaphysics, and we treat the same problems and we do the same as the rest of mankind, but with a complete scientific apparatus that allows us, if not to resolve, at least to understand better the problems and the roads that lead to solutions. What happens is that, as in all of life, it requires an effort. Metaphysics, or mathematics, or physics, requires study. At times what happens is that the people who begin to read and study philosophy want to do it very fast. Philosophy is like a good wine. We are in a country of wines – here in Spain – that require time, require time and require effort. Therefore, like understanding mathematics or physics, when one studies metaphysics one has to have patience, and spend many years. What one person does, another can do. It is a question of having a lot of enthusiasm, of having good teachers, having a strong will, and one can learn, and not only learn, but go forward within this metaphysical field; that is, I say, not different than what most people have. What happens is that it is more elaborate, more precise. But there is no division.

The doctrine of being is the key, the constant, of the philosophy of St. Thomas. What happened, and here Heidegger was right in part, was a forgetting of being. There was a forgetfulness of being in the history of philosophy. But St. Thomas did not forget it. St. Thomas rediscovered "esse," being. But his disciples at times did not come to understand it, or didn’t give it much importance.

In reality it is always present in the philosophy of St. Thomas, thus it is a philosophy that has not forgotten being. In fact, there is a Spanish thinker, a Spanish Thomist Domingo Bañez who, in the 16th century, said that being is act, that it is the act of acts. What happens is that at times one does not want to understand, or one does not want to hear, what St. Thomas, as Bañez says, shouts loudly that being is act. It is a doctrine that is very profound, a doctrine that in our century, thanks to Fabro and Gilson, Maritain, de Finance, and Padre Garrigou-LaGrange, is a doctrine that perhaps in the 20th century has been more potent, or we Thomists have recognized its importance – above all in its dialogue with existentialism, in dialogue with Heidegger. But it is always present in Thomism because it is the key of its system. For example, it is the doctrine that allows an understanding of the difference between man and person; the human person, the singular concrete individual, participates directly in being. He is the only being that participates in this way, and for that reason is the most worthy. St. Thomas said that the human being is the most perfect being in all of nature – and it is the most perfect because he is the one who participates directly in being. I say this because the doctrine of being serves to explain in St. Thomas what is man, what is the human person, it serves to explain what is God, the divine essence, it serves also to explain the transcendentals: unity, truth, goodness, beauty. It is a brilliant discovery that Aristotle had not seen, and St. Thomas had not read in Aristotle, but in Avicenna, a Muslim philosopher. Avicenna distinguished between essence and existence – the fact of being present in reality. And he said that philosophy had to concern itself with the essences because existence is not part of essence. It is not, like Kant said, a real predicate, it was not a content that could be an essential content, and curiously, Avicenna rejected existence and created an essentialistic metaphysics. On the other hand, St. Thomas, taking advantage of this distinction of Avicenna between essence and existence, took existence as act.

The doctrine of St. Thomas is very profound, is the most profound that there is, because the intent of metaphysics is to go beyond the limits. St. Thomas’ is not only a metaphysics, but it is a metaphysics of being, which includes more than our understanding can reach because our understanding does not understand being. It understands entities. What he says is that when we think of God, we bump into the mysterious, and when we think of human beings, when we think of reality, we also bump into the mysterious. St. Thomas discerns something of this mystery. One of the advantages that St. Thomas’ philosophy and metaphysics has is that it can help man live in peace, in peace with himself, in peace with others, and in peace with God.


 Toulouse – Yves Floucat


Toulouse, located in southwestern France along the Garonne River has long been a center of Thomist thought. It is here that Thomas Aquinas is buried, and Jacques Maritain spent his last years. It is from Toulouse that Federic Ripoll recently mounted a fine photographic exhibit about the Maritains, and it is here we have come to visit Yves Floucat, a metaphysician and Maritain scholar.

You are here in Toulouse and I am Yves Floucat, an apprentice philosopher, and I have been teaching, up until now, at an independent center of philosophical research, CIREP, which is located near the Dominican priory where Jacques Maritain lived and died.

CIREP has been created in order to spread the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas in the spirit of Jacques Maritain. In Toulouse we also have the good fortune, through a Dominican priory, to have the editorial offices of the Revue Thomiste which is exactly 100 years old – we are celebrating officially the 100th anniversary of the Revue Thomiste in a meeting of four days at the Catholic Institute of Toulouse -–and which continues to spread the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas and tries to confront the most pressing problems.

Research work, in my mind, is complementary to teaching. I cannot keep alive my teaching if it is in effect cut off from profound research, from a research that accepts the confrontation with the ideas of others, and notably with the better known thinkers. Or that is to say, I know that my teaching and the research I complete each year reinforce each other.

Is Thomism actually alive in France? I would respond by saying that all depends on the conception we have of the vitality of thought. If it means that the vitality of our thought is bound up with a certain number of official structures that would permit the spreading of it, then from a certain point of view one could say that in France the official structures which are in the State university or are in the Catholic institutes do not favor actually a teaching of the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas. There is some sign of a certain renewal in these institutions and the Catholic institutes, but they are still very timid. Actually, the philosophical interest there goes rather to the history of thought, and notably to the history of medieval thought. So, one must try to rediscover St. Thomas and the great medieval theologians through historical studies. Presently there is an advantage and a disadvantage. The advantage is that we are told about St. Thomas, of St. Bonaventure, of Dons Scotus, William of Occam, of all the great thinkers of the Middle Ages. The disadvantage is that one has the temptation of not talking except in a very historical manner, which is to say, not considering things deeply enough, not considering that truth has a super historical and super temporal value, which one could say is more than being shut up in one century or another.

However, I am not a pessimist about these historical studies because they are strongly developed and can draw out the authentic thought of St. Thomas through a true return to the texts – from a certain overlay that has accumulated over time, in particular among the commentators of St. Thomas – who have said some excellent and very interesting things on many points – and at the very least asks that one read and reconnect – but from another point of view considerably modify the problematic which is that of St. Thomas. so, from that point of view, the historical studies could favor a return to the texts themselves of St. Thomas, and to the problematic which was truly his.

Therefore, if Thomism is alive, it s even more alive outside the official structures. I don’t know if it is suitable or not, but it is so, it is a fact, but I hope that the Catholic institutes will refine the true sense of their mission, above all to St. Thomas Aquinas and the place he is due, which is to say, the place of Common Doctor, and not just simply the place of a theologian among theologians, who would be like a picture on the wall of a museum next to other pictures, other great thinkers of the modern age or even of the Middle Ages.

It is true today that there is an enormous need for spirituality, and that the facility of communication today between cultures makes Eastern spirituality, or far Eastern spirituality, appear extremely seductive. In France we have the good fortune to have had a deep reflection on the distinction between properly Christian mysticism and the mysticism that Jacques Maritain has called natural mysticism, or the mysticism of the self. Actually, the considerable in-depth work has been done by Jacques Maritain on this subject, and it has been elaborated on by the work of Olivier Lacombe who has devoted his life to the study of Indian thought, and by Louis Gardet, an eminent Islamic scholar. It is very interesting for the question of comparative mysticism. I believe that their work is essential today for carrying out a necessary work of discernment by which one distinguishes one mysticism from another.

Also, there are not many people, intellectuals, philosophers, theologians, who devote themselves to this study of discerning among the different mysticisms along the same line opened up by Maritain, Lacombe and Gardet. The concept of natural mysticism, in particular, creates difficulties, and is not recognized either by the specialist in Indian thought, for example, or by certain Catholic theologians. Thus, I believe that this concept of natural mysticism (which Gardet says is a more valuable expression than the mysticism of the self because it avoids all equivocation), I believe that this concept is worth reflecting upon. For my part, I have devoted quite a bit of time to the question of comparative mysticism. I wrote my doctoral thesis on it, and afterwards published other books because I believe it is a very critical problem today. There are Christians who lose themselves in a syncretism of spirituality which does not respect either Christian spirituality or Indian spirituality.

Our next stop is Rome, one of Europe’s most beautiful cities, and another place where St. Thomas lived out part of his life. It is home to the Pontifical University of St. Thomas, and the Dominican scholar, Abelardo Lobato.


 Rome – Abelardo Lobato

I am a Dominican Father, Abelardo Lobato. I am from Spain, and I am a teacher in this unversity of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome. I am here for a long time, and I have studied Thomas Aquinas. I am a disciple. I was in Salamanca with a great Dominican teacher, Santiago Ramirez, and here I founded with other Dominicans an international society of Thomas Aquinas, CITA, and this society is now spread all over the world. Many countries have groups studying St. Thomas Aquinas. I am also a teacher of philosophy here, and Thomistic anthropology. At this moment I am a coordinator of a great book in three volumes. The title is The Thought of Thomas Aquinas for Our Times, and so the first volume is now in the editorial in Spain. It is about man. The second volume is a volume about man and God, and the third volume is man in the Catholic Church. All this work is about Thomas Aquinas, and the problems of our times. So my interest in Thomas Aquinas was not only because I am a Dominican and a teacher, but because I am very interested in the problems of our times – cultural, political, ethical – and so many problems that are in the background of these times. The most important problems are the relationship between immanence and transcendence with God. It is not possible to solve the great problems of man without a theory of transcendence. I think in our times we are very involved with the principle of immanence. Man thought that he is able to solve all the problems alone without a relationship with nature, a relationship with transcendence, with God, and that is not possible because man is only a finite being, not infinite.

Now in the study of Thomas are two fields of interest. The first perhaps is historic interest, the study of history in the time of Thomas Aquinas of the Middle Ages, and an interest in the culture and its influence in our times. In this field are many scholars that are investigating and doing research, and have discovered St. Thomas in his reality, in his cultural context, and it is very interesting because Thomas had all the fields of the Christian culture in his hands like the Bible and the Fathers of the Church. He also had the scientific culture. He was a disciple of Albertus Magnus who was a great, great scientist. And also the philosophical culture like the works of Aristotle, and the Greeks, and Thomas knew well the contributions of Arabs of Islam, and he had many interesting dialogues with that culture. He wrote books like the Summa contra gentiles for a dialogue with the Muslim people.

This field is very interesting. Now the Middle Ages is interesting for everyone, and another field that is very interesting is the doctrinal field, which is the doctrine of St. Thomas Aquinas. In this is the history of Thomas. Thomas Aquinas was a great teacher. He had made a revolution. He had a personal view on many points in theology, in philosophy, in a vision of man, and he had many disciples. But he also had a great opposition. One part was the disciples of Averroës and the Aristotelian current extremists. On the other hand was medieval Augustinianism. And Thomas was in the middle, with Aristotle, but not with Averroës. With Augustine, but not with the Augustinians and the Franciscans, and so many others. And so three years after his death he was condemned. The bishop of Paris made a condemnation of many propositions of St. Thomas Aquinas, and so from this year of ‘77 until the next century of ‘23, when St. Thomas Aquinas was canonized, he was without disciples, with no school.

Then a movement began of St. Thomas’ doctrines because Pope John XXII said that Thomas made as many miracles as he wrote articles, and so he is a very great man in the Church. Then he has no disciples until the 16th century. In the 16th century was the discovery of America, and there was a Renaissance of Thomas Aquinas in Salamanca, in Spain, in Valladolid, Sevilla, where many disciples with the great master whose name is Francisco de Victoria. He made a school in Salamanca for the solution of problems of his time: human rights, justice in the world, the possibility of making one power over all the nations, and he wrote about communitas ordis – all the world was only a community. All the nations were mankind. And so began this great development of St. Thomas Aquinas’ doctrine.

Then in the 18th century, 19th century, there were fewer disciples of St. Thomas Aquinas. At the end of the last century with Leo XIII was the last renaissance with the encyclical Aeternis patris in the year’79, and was a great success. In the Church universities were founded, faculties, there were many reviews, and many more scholars and professors studied St. Thomas. Also there was a commission for the publishing of the books of St. Thomas Aquinas, the Leonine commission.

At this moment the movement of post-modernity thinks that Thomas Aquinas has no answers to these questions. So perhaps in the time of the Council many have thought that Thomas is in the past, and that in the new times we need another master. But after these 30 years we have discovered that the doctrine of the Church about man, about society, about persons, about being is not possible without this great acquisition of the culture of the past and the tradition of the Church. And Thomas is proclaimed by our Pope, Pope John Paul II, Dr. Humanitatis. At this moment St. Thomas Aquinas is perhaps the only master for all the world, for the cultures, for the people, because he has the voice of reality, the voice of the tradition, the voice of being, and this is a great grace of St. Thomas Aquinas. The greatest work of St. Thomas Aquinas is the critical edition of the group whose name is Commisio Leonina. It is mostly a Dominican group, but not only Dominicans. A part is here in Rome at Grotta Ferrata, a part is in the United States in Washington, another part is in Paris, also in Leuven in Belgium, and so perhaps these 30 or 40 men work in the Commisio Leonina. It is very difficult to found the text of St. Thomas Aquinas because we have manuscripts. St. Thomas did the writing, himself, at the beginning of his life, and so we have the Summa contra gentilis, we also have his commentaries on the Sentences, also they are very difficult to read because he made personal revisions. There is now a psychological study of these writings about his personality, his temperament. The other part of his books were written by copyists, and we have many of the first incunabula books. And then the first complete edition which Pius V printed (who founded this university). And now the Commisio Leonina has finished half of the works which are critical editions, but for one text they must go through perhaps 200 manuscripts. They have to look at 200 manuscripts just to do one work, and this is a very, very slow process. Now there are not many Dominicans who are able and disposed for this work. Now we have not only all the editions in the books, but also a great index. Fr. Busa, who is a Jesuit, made a great work with the cooperation of IBM. For perhaps 30 years with a group he made an abstraction of all the words of St. Thomas Aquinas on disk, and so he made an Index Thomsticus. There are 52 volumes of this work. Every word, every expression, in alphabetical order, is published. This work on so many discs is now in the computer on a compact disc of only 12", and there are 10 million words. And so you can read St. Thomas Aquinas’ every word, and so it contains all the books of St. Thomas Aquinas. At this university in ’74 we made half of the International Congress about St. Thomas Aquinas. At that time the pope was Paul VI. He came here at the end of the Congress on Saturday and was surprised. He said, "This is a very impressive Congress. I wonder how is that made because it is not expected. It is formidable. This is very interesting." And so we have half here in Rome of this Congress, and the other half in Naples for three days. There were perhaps 2,000 people from all around the world, teachers from five continents, mostly from Europe, but a very great number from America, North America and Latin America, because in Latin America Christian philosophy is very evolved, and now it is perhaps the best field of St. Thomas Aquinas – in Argentina, in Chile, also in Columbia, also in Mexico. We have many groups of St. Thomas Aquinas students. Not so many here in Europe, but there are some. At the end of the Congress we have this idea. It is better to continue this movement. We founded the International Society of St. Thomas Aquinas. Perhaps we now have 1,000 members around the world.


Down the block from Rome’s Trevi Fountain is the Jesuit-run Gregorian University where we spent a few minutes with Joseph de Finance whose philosophical work around the time of World War II helped bring about a rediscovery of the central role of existence in the metaphysics of St. Thomas.


Rome – Joseph de Finance

I was captured by the ability of Thomism to answer the great questions, and to procure a more profound vision of the world, of man, and the supernatural reality. When I was in scholasticate of philosophy in the south of France, my teachers were not Thomists, but Suarezians, but they left me free. Yes, I was. In the second year of philosophy – there were three years – I started under the suggestion of my Provincial, I started my doctoral thesis for the French university. This thesis was about St. Thomas. The first idea was very, very ambitious. Immense. It was the relation between the intellect and will in St. Thomas and St. Bonaventure. My first director was Gilson. He was in Paris. Gilson said to give up St. Bonaventure. It was enough with St. Thomas. Good. I have no special time for this. I thought that to study the relation of intellect and will we must perhaps first of all study the notion of activity in general in St. Thomas, and the relation between being and activity. When some years after I proposed my first scheme, he said that with this introduction we have the matter of the whole thing. I did finally after I started the first idea in ’27 – ’27! – and the thesis was finished in ’38, but I have no special time for that.

Except when I went to Rome in ’36 to visit the Gregorian University, but it was another thesis which I used for a secondary at that time for the French University for the doctorate. There were two things. The principle one and the secondary one. The secondary one was Descartes and St. Thomas at some point.

As I have said, in the early ‘40s I was working on my thesis when France was invaded, and finally I could defend my thesis in ’43. The theme was being and acting in St. Thomas. Most of the ideas found in the thesis I have developed in successive works. Not all of them, but some of them. I say the first value I have found in Thomism is the deep things of the existing individual. Because God is for St. Thomas the pure act of being. The proper operation of God, the incommunicable operation of God, is giving ipsum esse, the esse, the ACT of existing. He communicates directly this act of existing. That is absolutely proper, incommunicable. Creatures have in themselves an image of God not only in their essence, but in their very existence, act of existence. I have found this in St. Thomas. It is not in the other even Christian philosophers. It is a pure act of being beyond the distinction of spirit and sensible things. He is not a sensible thing, of course. He is being. Yes. He is beyond the distinction of the sensible and the spiritual. At the root the scope of the work is to determine to find out the essential of Thomism. What is the source, the roots, of the doctrine, and what is the most personal, most, most original contribution of St. Thomas. Where St. Thomas is mostly himself. There are some doctrines that are not very deeply rooted in St. Thomas I think like when he speaks of the ideas, perhaps the ideas of God, it is an Avicennian notion. On the contrary, there are doctrines which are very personal to St. Thomas, and the doctrine of the actus essendi is the most personal doctrine of St. Thomas. St. Thomas uses very frequently the word "esse, ipsum esse." On the contrary, he uses very rarely the word "existence." When he speaks of existence, this word has no special meaning for him, very ordinary meaning. The proper word of St. Thomas to designate that the most intimate act of the existing thing is esse, ipsum esse. Hoc quod dico esse, that which I call esse. This expression is very interesting because it shows that St. Thomas gives new meaning to the word esse. That which I call esse. Ah. Interesting.

Jim: When you were writing your thesis under the direction of Gilson, was there any special moment when you discovered this meaning of esse in St. Thomas, or did it happen gradually?

de Finance: Rather gradually. I don’t remember the exact moment, you see. I feel very much indebted to a friend of mine who said once to me, "For St. Thomas existence is not a state of being, it is an act." Literally this is not so because literally for St. Thomas the word existence is very, very rare. It signifies precisely a state of things. But what the word St. Thomas uses to imply is esse. The formula for the distinction between essence and existence I have used in my thesis, but it is not a good formula. It is not a Thomistic formula, it is a post-Thomistic formula. This formula is to be found in the later scholastics, but not in St. Thomas, himself. After St. Thomas. Already it is a deviation from the Thomistic mind because even the word existence is a kind of essence. So I prefer to use the word of St. Thomas even in the Latin form, esse. So I have tried to understand this expression, and organize my thesis in the function of this affirmation of the notion of esse as an act, not an action because the difficulty was to distinguish between act and action, operation, but I see a profound affinity between the act of existence and the activity, operation. It is the same line. On the contrary, essence is in another form. I think that time has an affinity with the order of the act. Space with the order of form.

Jim: When you were writing your thesis, what Thomist most influenced you?

de Finance: There was Maritain, there was Sertillange, a Dominican Father, Gilson, then one very important man I have not admitted all of his ideas, Fr. Rousselot, Marichal, a Belgian. In the time in France Thomism was really a la mode, important. A book had even been written, The Law of Scouts (Boyscouts) according to St. Thomas.

Jim: Did you ever meet Maritain?

de Finance: Meet Maritain? No. I have two letters from him, yes, because I wrote to him, but personally I never met him. I have heard him in some context, but I have no occasion of contacting him because when he wrote to me he was in Princeton. Gilson, yes, I met sometimes because he was the director of my thesis. The last time I saw him in ’58 in Venice. There was an international conference in philosophy in Venice.


Jim: The old Thomist philosophy was swept away at the time of the Second Vatican Council, and for good reasons. All too often it had been imposed from above and taught as a series of propositions to be passively accepted rather than as a rich tradition of wisdom that its students would probe with their deepest questions and concerns. This poor pedagogy insured that most of them, when allowed the freedom, would turn away from it.

The hills south of Rome where St. Thomas grew up and died are crowned with monasteries, castles, and little towns, and we have come here to reflect on the future of Thomism. Many of these picturesque towns are all but empty, frozen in time, their young people fled. Is this an image of the fate of Thomism? Is it a historical relic, fit only for the attention of medieval scholars?

Here in the ancient Benedictine monastery of Monte Cassino Thomas spent part of his childhood. After the monastery’s destruction in World War II by allied bombs it was rebuilt in a rather grandiose fashion that almost seems to dwarf the people who come to visit it. Is this another image of what Thomism has become – a large and imposing system but with no real relevance in daily life?

Not long before Thomas died he had an experience in which he saw that all that he had written seemed as straw compared to the reality that was now revealed to him. He was never to write again. Soon after this he was injured as he traveled, and was brought here to the monastery of Fossanova to die.

After his death it seemed that his thought had died with him, but it came back. Then it faded away again, only to be revived once more at the end of the 19th century. Now it has faded from view again. Thomism dies because of poor teaching. It revives because of the revolutionary insight Thomas had into being, into esse, the act of existing. It was here at Roccasecca that he was born in the family castle, and later imprisoned by his parents for trying to run away and join the Dominicans, and it was here, I like to think, that while he gazed out at the mountains that he had that deep intuition into the nature of being. As long as Thomists seek that same insight and try to find ways to lead their students to it, Thomism will be alive and well.


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