- A Short History of Thomism
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 [End Page 393] 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. Thomists have engaged too great a variety of issues and worked in too many geographical areas to allow for such simplification. Moreover, the periods of decline that might seem to mark off an era within Thomism are usually explainable in terms of outside influences such as the Black Death or the French Revolution that affected intellectual endeavor generally rather than Thomism in particular. Consequently, Cessario gives his account of the history of Thomism in the second chapter as a continuous narrative without subheadings.
However, Cessario's emphasis on continuity does not mean that he fails to structure his account in any way. The swift-paced narrative slows down to emphasize the importance of Capreolus, Princeps Thomistarum, and then stops altogether at the dawn of the Reformation while Cessario offers a summary of the theological tenets that distinguish Thomists from adherents of other theological traditions. Then the pace picks up again, and the reader encounters a rich variety of names and accomplishments leading up to the French Revolution. Chapter three, titled "After the French Revolution," traces the events leading up to the Church's strong endorsement of Thomism under Leo XIII and describes the major figures in the Thomistic revival from that point to the present.
Beginners in Thomistic thought will find in A Short History of Thomism an easily understandable guide that identifies major figures such as Capreolus and Cajetan and important resources for research, as well as minor figures like [End Page 394] Peter of La Palu. The index of names makes this information all the more accessible. Experienced Thomists will find Cessario's rapid summary helpful for achieving a unified view of the whole history, and may even discover here resources they had not known about. If Cessario's intention was to whet our appetites for a more thorough study, he has succeeded.