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On Saturday, 13 th September, 1980, the Holy Father received in audience the participants in the Eighth International Thomistic Congress, dedicated to the study of the origin and contents of the Encyclical Aeterni Patris, of its implementation by the successors of Leo XIII, and of the Thomistic renewal that brought the pontifical document to maturity at the turn of the century. After an address by Cardinal Luigi Ciappi, President of the Pontifical Roman Academy of St Thomas Aquinas, the Pope delivered the following message.

* *

Venerated and very dear Brothers!

I am truly glad to be able to welcome in a cordial meeting today the participants in the Eighth International Thomistic Congress held on the occasion of the centenary of the Encyclical Aeterni Patris of Leo XIII, and likewise of the foundation at the bidding of the same Supreme Pontiff of the Pontifical Roman Academy of St Thomas Aquinas.

I greet those present with all my affection, and in particular, the venerated Brother Cardinal Luigi Ciappi, President of the Academy, and Mgr Antonio Piolanti, Vice President.

1. The holding of the Eighth International Thomistic Congress, organised by the Pontifical Roman Academy of St Thomas Aquinas and of Catholic Religion, concludes the commemorative celebration of the centenary of the Encyclical Aeterni Patris, issued on 4 th August 1879, and the Foundation of the Academy itself by the great Pontiff Leo XIII, which occurred on 13 th October 1879.

From the first meeting held in the University of St Thomas Aquinas in November last year up to today, the celebrations multiplied in Europe and other continents. These closing academic sessions, which saw illustrious qualified teachers meeting in Rome from every part of the world in the name of Pope Leo XIII and St Thomas Aquinas, were able simultaneously to strike a balance between the celebrations held this year and those of the centenary of the Encyclical.

Since the beginning of my Pontificate I have not let pass a propitious occasion without recalling the sublime figure of St Thomas, as, for example, on my visits to the Pontifical Angelicum University and the Catholic Institute in Paris, in the address to UNESCO, in an explicit and implicit manner, in my meetings with the Superiors, Lecturers and students of the Pontifical Gregorian and Lateran Universities.

2. The hundred years of the Encyclical Aeterni Patris have not passed in vain, nor has that celebrated Document of Pontifical Teaching gone out of date. The Encyclical is based on a fundamental principle which lends it a profound inner organic unity: it is the principle of harmony between the truths of reason and those of faith. It is this that was uppermost in the heart of Leo XIII. This principle, always consequential and relevant, has made considerable progress in the last hundred years. Suffice it to consider the consistent Magisterium of the Church from Pope Leo XIII to Paul VI and what was completed in Vatican Council II, especially in the documents Optatam Totius, Gravissimum Educationis and Gaudium et Spes.

In the light of Vatican Council II, we see, perhaps better than a century ago, the unity and continuity between authentic humanism and authentic Christianity, between reason and faith, thanks to the directives of Aeterni Patris of Leo XIII, who with this document subtitled De Philosophia christiana… ad mentem Sancti Thomae… in scholis catholicis instauranda[2], showed awareness that a crisis, a rupture, a conflict, or at least an obscuration in the relationship between reason and faith had occurred.

Within the culture of the 19 th century two extreme attitudes in fact can be singled out: rationalism (reason without faith) and fideism (faith without reason). Christian culture moves between these two extremes, swinging from one part or the other. Vatican Council I had already had its say on the matter. It was then time to mark out a new course to the internal studies of the Church. Leo XIII farsightedly prepared for this task, presenting again—in the sense of establishing—the perennial thought of the Church in the clear, deep methodology of the Angelic Doctor.

The dualism setting reason and faith in opposition, not at all modern, constituted a renewal of the medieval doctrine of the ‘double truth’, which threatened from within the intimate unity of the man-Christian (cf. Paul VI, Lumen Ecclesiae[3], n.12). It was the great Scholastic Doctors of the 13 th century that put Christian culture on the right road again. As Paul VI stated, In accomplishing the work signalling the culmination of medieval Christian thought, St Thomas was not alone. Before and after him many other illustrious doctors worked toward the same goal: among whom St Bonaventure and St Albert the Great, Alexander of Hales and Duns Scotus are to be recalled. But without a doubt, St Thomas, as willed by Divine Providence, reached the height of all ‘scholastic’ theology and philosophy, as it is usually called, and set the central pivot in the Church around which, at that time and since, Christian thought could be developed with sure progress (Lumen Ecclesiae, n.13).

It is for this reason that the Church has given preference to the method and doctrine of the Angelic Doctor. Quite other than exclusive preference, this deals with an exemplary preference that permitted Leo XIII to declare him to be inter Scholasticos Doctores, omnium princeps et magister[4] (Aeterni Patris, n.17). And truly such is St Thomas Aquinas, not only for the completeness, balance, depth and clarity of his style, but still more for his keen sense of fidelity to the truth which can also be called realism: fidelity to the voice of created things so as to construct the edifice of philosophy; fidelity to the voice of the Church so as to construct the edifice of theology.

3. In philosophic scholarship, before listening to what humanity’s sages say, St Thomas’s opinion is that it is necessary to listen to and question things. Tunc homo creaturas interrogat, quando eas diligenter considerat; sed tunc interrogata respondent.[5] (Super Job. II, Lect. I) True philosophy should faithfully mirror the order of things themselves, otherwise it ends by being reduced to an arbitrary subjective opinion. Ordo principalius invenitur in ipsis rebus et ex eis derivatur ad cognitionem nostram.[6] (Summa Theologiae II II, q.26, a.1, ad 2) Philosophy does not consist in a subjective system put together at the pleasure of the philosopher, but must be the faithful reflection of the order of things in the human mind.

In this sense St Thomas can be considered a true pioneer of modern scientific realism which has things speak by means of empirical data even if its interest does not consider having them speak from the philosophical point of view[7]. It is rather to be questioned if it is not precisely philosophical realism that historically has stimulated the realism of the empirical sciences in all their branches.

This realism, far from excluding the historic meaning, creates bases for the historicity of knowledge without letting it decline into the fragile circumstance of historicism, widespread today. Therefore, after having given precedence to the voice of things, St Thomas then pays respectful attention to what the philosophers have said, and say, in order to evaluate and compare them with the concrete reality. Ut videatur quid veritatis sit in singulis opinionibus et in quo deficiant. Omnes enim opiniones secundum quid aliquid verum dicunt.[8] (I Dist. 23, q.1, a.3). It is impossible to think that human knowledge and the opinion of men are completely without every truth. It is a principle that St Thomas borrows from St Augustine and makes his own: Nulla est falsa doctrina quae non vera falsis intermisceat.[9](Summa Theologiae I II, q.102, a.5, ad 4). Impossibile est aliquem cognitionem esse totaliter falsam, sine alique veritatem[10] (Summa Theologiae II II, q.172, q.6; cf Summa Theologiae I, q.11, a.2, ad 1).

This presence of truth even if it be incomplete and imperfect and at times distorted is a bridge uniting every man to other men and makes understanding possible when there is good will.

In this view, St Thomas has always given respectful attention to all authors, even when he could not entirely share their opinions; even when pre-Christian and non-Christian authors are concerned, as for example the Arab commentators on Greek philosophy. This leads to his invitation to approach with human optimism even the early Greek philosophers whose language is not always clear and precise, trying to go beyond linguistic expression, still rudimentary, in order to scrutinise their deep intentions and spirit, not heeding ad ea quae exterius ex eorum verbis apparet but the intentio[11] (De Coelo et Mundo, III, lect. 2, n.552) that guides and encourages him. When it comes to the great Fathers and Doctors of the Church, he then always tries to find a point of agreement, more in the completeness of the truth that they possess as Christians, than in the way, apparently different from his, with which they express themselves. It is well known, for example, that he tries to attenuate and almost make every divergence with St Augustine disappear as long as the right method is used: profundius intentionem Augustini scrutari[12] (De Spirit. Creaturis, a.10, ad 8).

Furthermore, the basis of his attitude, sympathetic towards everyone, but without failing to be openly critical every time he felt he had to—and he did it courageously in many cases—is in the very concept of truth. Licet sint multae veritates participatae, est una sapientia absoluta supra omnia elevata, scilicet sapientia divina, per cuius participationem omnes sapientes sunt sapientes.[13](Super Job, I, Lect. 1, n.33) This supreme wisdom, which glows in creation, does not always find the human mind disposed to receive it, for very many reasons. Licet enim aliquae mentes sint tenebrosae, id est sapida et lucida sapientia privatae, nulla tamen adea tenebrosa est quin aliquid divinae lucis participet… quia omne verum, a quocumque dicatur, a Spiritu Sancto est.[14] (ibid., Lect. 3, n.103) Hence the hope of conversion for every man, however intellectually and morally misled.

This realistic and historic method, fundamentally optimistic and open, makes St Thomas not only the Doctor Communis Ecclesiae, as Paul VI calls him in his beautiful Letter Lumen Ecclesiae, but the Doctor Humanitatis, because he is always ready and available to receive the human values of all cultures. The Angelic One can rightly state: Veritas in seipsa fortis est et nulla impugnatione convellitur[15] (Contra Gentiles, IV, c.10, n.3460b). Truth, like Jesus Christ, can be denied, persecuted, fought, wounded, martyred, crucified; but it always comes back to life and rises again and can never be uprooted from the human heart. St Thomas put all the strength of his genius at the exclusive service of the truth, behind which he seems to want to disappear almost for fear of disturbing its brightness so that truth and not he may shine in all its brilliance.

4. Faithfulness to the voice of things in philosophy, corresponds, according to St Thomas, to faithfulness to the voice of the word of God transmitted by the Church in theology. And its rule, which never fails, is the principle: Magis standum est auctoritati Ecclesiae… quam cuiuscumque Doctoris (Summa Theologiae[16], II II, q.10, a. 12). Truth, suggested by the authority of the Church assisted by the Holy Spirit, is therefore the measure of truth as expressed by all the theologians and doctors—past, present and future. The authority of St Thomas’s doctrine is here resolved and replenished in the authority of the Church’s Doctrine. That is why the Church has proposed it as an exemplary model of theological research.

In theology, too, St Thomas therefore prefers not the voice of the Doctors or his own voice, but that of the Universal Church, almost anticipating what Vatican II says: The totality of the faithful who have received the unction of the Holy Spirit cannot be mistaken in believing (Lumen Gentium n.12); When both the Roman Pontiff and the body of the Bishops with him define a doctrinal point, they do it in accordance with revelation itself, which everyone must stay with and conform to (Lumen Gentium n.25).

It is not possible to review all the reasons that induced the Magisterium of the Church to choose St Thomas as a sure guide in theological and philosophical disciplines; but one is doubtless this: his having set forth the universal principles which bear out the relationship between reason and faith. Faith contains the values of human wisdom in a superior, different and eminent way: therefore it is impossible for reason to be in disagreement with faith, and if in disagreement, it is necessary to look at and reconsider the conclusions of philosophy. In this sense faith itself becomes a priceless aid for philosophy.

The recommendation of Leo XIII is still valid: Quapropter qui philosophiae studium cum obsequio fidei christianae coniungunt, ii optime philosophantur: Quandoquidem divinarum veritatum splendor, animo exceptus, ipsam juvat intelligentiam; cui non modo nihil de dignitate detrahit, sed nobilitatis, acuminis, firmitatis plurimum addit[17] (Aeterni Patris, n.9).

Philosophical and theological truth converge into a single truth. Truth of reason goes back from creatures to God; truth of faith descends directly from God to man. But this diversity of method and origin does not detract from their fundamental unity, because there is a single identical Author of truth manifested through creation, and truth communicated personally to man by means of His Word. Philosophical research and theological research are two different directions of movement of a single truth, destined to meet, but not collide, on the same road, in order to help each other. Thus reason, illuminated, strengthened and guaranteed by faith, becomes a faithful companion of faith itself and faith immensely widens the limited horizon of human reason. On this point St Thomas is truly an enlightening Teacher: Quia vero naturalis ratio per creaturas in Deo cognitionem ascendit; fidei vero in nos, e converso, divina revelatione descendit, est autem eadem via ascensus et descensus, oportet eadem via procedere in his quae supra rationem credentur, qua in superioribus processum est circa ea quae ratione investigantur de Deo[18] (Contra Gentiles, IV, 1, n.3349).

The difference in method and instruments of research greatly differentiates philosophical knowledge from theological. Even the best philosophy, which is of the Thomist style, and which Paul VI has so well defined as natural philosophy of the human mind, flexible in listening and faithful in expressing the truth of things, is always conditioned by the limits of intelligence and human language. However, the Angelic One does not hesitate to declare: Locus ab auctoritate quae fundatur super ratione humana est infirmissimus[19] (Summa Theologiae I, q.1, a.8, ad 2). Any philosophy, in that it is a product of man, has man’s limits. On the contrary, locus ab auctoritate quae fundator super revelatione divina est efficacissimus[20](ibid.). Divine authority is absolute, therefore faith enjoys the solidity and security of God Himself; human science always has man’s weakness in as much as it is founded upon man. Yet, even in philosophy there is something absolutely true, unfailing and necessary, namely, its first principles, the foundation of all knowledge.

A correct or honest philosophy raises man to God, as Revelation brings God closer to man. For St Augustine: verus philosophus est amator Dei[21] (De Civitate Dei, VIII, 1: P 1. 41, 225). St Thomas in echoing him says the same thing in other words: Fere totius philosophiae consideratio ad Dei cognitionem ordinatur[22] (Contra Gentiles, I, c.4, n.23). Sapientia est veritatem praecipue de primo principio meditari[23]" (ibid. I, c.1, n.6). When they are authentic, love of truth and love of good go together always. The idea, advanced by some, of St Thomas as a cold intellectual is disproved by the fact that the Angelic One reduces knowledge itself to love of truth when he puts as a principle of every knowledge: verum est bonum intellectus[24] (Ethic. I, lect. 12, n. 139; cf. Ethic. VI, n.1143; Summa Theologiae, … q.5, a.1, ad 4; I II, q.8, a.1). Hence the intellect is made for truth and loves it as its innate good. If the intellect is not satisfied with some partial truth it reaches beyond it; so does the intellect reach naturally beyond every particular truth until it reaches Total and Absolute Truth which can really be none other than God.[25] Desire for truth is transfigured into a natural desire for God and finds its clarification only in the light of Christ, Truth made man.

Thus all of St Thomas’s philosophy and theology are not posited without, but within, St Augustine’s famous aphorism fecisti nos ad te; et inquietum est cor nostrum, donec requiescat in te[26] (Confessions, I, 1). And when St Thomas passed from the inherent tendency of man towards the true and the good to the order of grace and redemption, he is transformed, not less than St Augustine, St Bonaventure and St Bernard, into a supreme poet of charity: Caritas est mater et radix omnium virtutum in quantum est omnium virtutum fo rma[27] (Summa Theologiae I II, q.62, a.4; cf. I II, q.65, a.2; I II, q.65, a.3; I II, q.68, a.5).

5. There are still other reasons that make St Thomas timely: his very deep sense of man tam nobilis creatura[28] (Contra Gentiles, IV, 1, n.3337). The idea he has of this nobilis creatura, the image of God, is easy to observe every time he begins to talk of the Incarnation and Redemption. From his first great and youthful work, the Commentary on the Sentences of Peter the Lombard, in the prologue to the Third Book, in which he starts to deal with the Incarnation of the Word, he does not hesitate to compare man to ‘the sea’, in that he collects, unifies, and elevates in himself the less than human world as the sea collects all the waters of the rivers which flow into it.

In the same prologue he defines man as the horizon of creation in which sky and land join, like a link between time and eternity, like a synthesis of creation. In the last years of his life, when beginning the treatise on the Incarnation in the Third Part of the Summa Theologiae, still inspired by St Augustine, he affirms that by merely taking on human nature, the Word could show quanta sit dignitas humanae naturae ne eam inquinemus peccando[29] (Summa Theologiae III, a. 1, a. 2). And, immediately after, he adds that by being incarnated and taking on human nature God was able to show quam excelsum locum inter creaturas habeat humana natura[30] (ibid.).

6. In the meetings of your Congress it has been observed inter alia that the the great principles set forth by St Thomas in his philosophy and theology have not perhaps been utilised in the area of morals as much as the times have demanded and that such use of his principles would have provided a metaphysical base giving greater organic unity and vigour[31]. More has been done in the social area, but there is still a great gap to be bridged so as to meet the deepest and most urgent problems of man today.

It is possible that this is something to be taken up by the Pontifical Roman Academy of St Thomas Aquinas for the immediate future, staying alert to the signs of the times, to the demands of greater organic unity and penetration, in accordance with the directives of Vatican II (cf. Optatam Totius, n.16; Gravissimum Educationis, n. 10), and the currents of thought of the contemporary world where not a few aspects differ from those of St Thomas’s times and also from the period in which the Encyclical Aeterni Patris was issued by Leo XIII.

St Thomas has pointed out a path that can and should be followed and updated without betraying its spirit and fundamental principles while also keeping in mind modern scientific conquests. Science’s true progress can never contradict philosophy just as philosophy can never contradict faith. The new scientific contributions can have a cleansing and liberating function in the face of the limits imposed on philosophical research by medieval backwardness, not to speak of the non-existence of a science such as we possess today. Light can never be dimmed but only strengthened by light. Science and philosophy can and should work together so that both remain faithful to their own method. Philosophy can illuminate science and free it from its limits as, in its turn, science can throw new light on philosophy itself and open new roads to it. This is the teaching of the Master of Aquinas, the Word of Truth itself, Jesus Christ, who assures us: Veritas liberabit vos[32] (John 8:32).

As is well known, Leo XIII, rich in wisdom and pastoral experience, did not content himself with issuing theoretical directives. He exhorted the Bishops to create academies and Thomistic study centres, and he himself gave them the first example by establishing here in Rome, the Pontifical Academy of St Thomas Aquinas to which was then joined in 1934 the older Academy of Catholic Religion. The Congress meeting in these days also had the purpose of celebrating the centenary of your own Academy—and with good reason, because famous personages, illustrious Cardinals, many of the best talents and teachers of the sacred sciences of Rome and the world, are its members as Presidents and Associates. It is an Academy that was always especially dear to all my Predecessors up to Paul VI who received it twice in audience on the occasion of the previous Congresses, addressing them and giving them memorable directives.

It is impossible to pass over in silence the principal characteristics that have permitted your Academy to be faithful to the commitments assigned to them from time to time by the Supreme Pontiffs: its Catholic universality because of which it has always had among its Associates personalities residing in Rome and outside of Rome—how can Jacques Maritain and Etienne Gilson not be remembered?––members of the diocesan clergy and religious of every Order and Congregation; its timeliness in making the study of contemporary problems the subjects of analysis in the light of Church doctrine: Ecclesiae Doctorum, praesertim Sancti Thomae vestigia premendo[33] (Gravissimum Educationis, n.10), almost as a prelude to Vatican Council II. The most convincing evidence is the works of the Academy; the numerous cycles of conferences, the publications, the periodic Congresses requested by Pope Pius XI and carried out with exemplary precision and great profit to Catholic studies.

Nor can I fail to recall among the students who obtained their degrees from the Pontifical Roman Academy of St Thomas Aquinas two of my illustrious predecessors, Pius XI and Paul VI.

Dear, venerated Brothers!

Vatican Council II, which gave new impetus to Catholic studies with its decree on priestly training and Catholic education along the lines of the teaching of St Thomas (S. Thoma magistro: cf. Optatam Totius, n.16), serves as a stimulus and omen for a renewed life and more abundant fruits in the near future for the good of the Church!

In expressing to you my deep pleasure in the International Thomistic Congress that in these days has truly made a notable scientific contribution both because of the qualifications of its participants and rapporteurs, and the careful preparation of the various historical and philosophical problems, I urge you to continue, with great commitment and seriousness, to accomplish the goals of your Academy so that it can be a living, pulsing, modern centre in which the method and doctrine of St Thomas can be put into continuous contact and serene dialogue with the complex leavens of contemporary culture in which we live and are immersed.

With these wishes, I renew my sincere kind feelings and heartily bestow my Apostolic Blessing.

John Paul II

[1] This is a transcription of the Address published in L’Osservatore Romano, English Edition, 20.10.1980, pp.9-11, with slight textual amendment by me. The translations of the various Latin texts in the footnotes are mine unless indicated to the contrary. MJB

[2]Concerning the restoration of Christian philosophy in Catholic schools according to the mind of Saint Thomas

[3]Lumen Ecclesiae [5th December 1974] is the title of the Apostolic letter of Paul VI addressed to the Master General of the Dominican Order during the celebrations of the 7th centenary of the death of St Thomas Aquinas in 1274.

[4]among Scholastic Doctors the chief and master of all

[5]When man questions creatures and considers them carefully, then do they respond.

[6]Order is found in things themselves and flows from them into our knowledge. [Translation, Fathers of the English Dominican Province.]

[7] My rendering of the expression of this sentence differs from that appearing in L’Osservatore Romano.

[8]So that it may be seen what of truth there may be in particular opinions and in what these are deficient.

[9]There is no false teaching which does not have some truth admixed in it.

[10]It is impossible for a particular opinion to be completely false and without any truth.

[11]the more outward things they may appear to say but their intention.

[12]to search the deeper intention of Augustine

[13]Although there may be many participated truths, there is one absolute wisdom over all, in fact, the divine wisdom through participation in which all the wise are wise.

[14]For although some minds may be dark, that is deprived of prudent and bright wisdom, yet there is no darkness which does not participate in some measure in the divine light… for every truth, whoever may utter it, is of the Holy Spirit.

[15]Truth is strong in itself and no attack can destroy it.

[16]The authority of the Church is greater than that of any teacher.

[17] Those, therefore, who to the study of philosophy unite obedience to the Christian faith, are philosophising in the best possible way; for the splendour of the divine truths, received into the mind, helps the understanding, and not only detracts in no wise from its dignity, but adds greatly to its nobility, keenness, and stability. [This translation from the English edition of the encyclical on the Vatican website.]

[18] Since natural reason ascends to a knowledge of God through creatures and, conversely, the knowledge of faith descends from God to us by a divine revelation –-since the way of ascent and descent is still the same –-we must proceed in the same way in the things above reason which are believed as we proceeded in the foregoing with the investigation of God by reason. [Translation, Charles J. O’Neill, Professor of Philosophy, Marquette University]

[19]that is most uncertain which is founded on human reason

[20] that is most certain which is founded on the authority of divine revelation

[21]the true philosopher is a lover of God

[22]Almost the whole consideration of philosophy is ordained to the knowledge of God

[23]Wisdom is especially the consideration of truth through first principles

[24]Truth is the intellectual good

[25] My rendering of the expression of this sentence differs from that in L’Osservatore Romano.

[26]Thou hast made us for Thyself and our hearts are not at rest until they rest in Thee.

[27]Charity is the mother and root of all virtues inasmuch as it is the form of them all. [Translation, Fathers of the English Dominican Province.]

[28]such a noble creature

[29]How great the dignity of human nature may be if we do not corrupt it through sin.

[30]How elevated is the place among creatures held by human nature.

[31] My rendering of the expression of this sentence differs from that in L’Osservatore Romano.

[32]the truth will make you free

[33]following the footsteps of the doctors of the Church, especially of St Thomas.