A Short History of Thomism

By Holmes, Jeremy | The Catholic Historical Review, April 2007 | Go to article overview

A Short History of Thomism


Holmes, Jeremy, The Catholic Historical Review


A Short History of Thomism. By Romanus Cessario. (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press. 2005. Pp. xiv, 106. $19.95 paperback.)

Originally published in French as Le Thomisme et les Thomistes, Romanus Cessario's A Short History of Thomism fills a gap in the history of philosophy and theology. As Cessario points out (p. 33), it is the first attempt at a complete history of the Thomistic movement since 1859. At the same time, he makes it clear that his purpose in writing is "provisional," i.e., to provide "a sketch of the history of Thomism that will be useful until that day when some scholar with the required time and resources undertakes to research and write the multi-volume history of Thomism that this important school of thought both merits and requires" (p. 34). He even expresses the hope that his short work might prompt the undertaking of such a full-length study.

This provisional purpose may explain why forty percent of the book is devoted to the questions of whether and how one should write a history of Thomism. After a rapid biography of Thomas Aquinas himself, the first chapter considers the objection that Thomism as a movement is too fragmented to constitute a unified subject of historical inquiry. Cessario responds by following J. A. Weisheipl's definition of Thomism as well as his distinction between "wide "Thomism and "eclectic" Thomism: wide Thomism includes anyone who claims to follow the spirit and basic insights of St. Thomas and manifests an evident dependence on his texts, while eclectic Thomism shows a willingness to import large portions of other philosophical and theological systems leading to the relativization of the principles and conclusions that constitute the Thomism of Thomas Aquinas. Finally, Cessario provides a summary of the philosophical tenets that distinguish a Thomist from adherents of other schools, according to most modern authors.

After reviewing various attempts to divide the history of Thomism, Cessario concludes that it is better not to identify intervals or periods within the larger history of Thomism. …

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