AETERNI PATRIS FILIUS
BULL OF LEO XIII
AUGUST 4, 1879
To all the Patriarchs, Primates, Archbishops, and Bishops of the Catholic world, in grace and communion with the Apostolic See.
VENERABLE BRETHREN,--Health and Apostolic Benediction. The only begotten Son of the Eternal Father, who appeared on earth to bring salvation and the light of wisdom to the human race, evidently conferred a great and wonderful benefit on the world when he bade His apostles, as He was again about to ascend into heaven, 'Going, teach ye all nations,' and left the Church which He had founded as the supreme ruler of all peoples. For those men whom truth had made free, had to be preserved in that truth; nor could it be expected that the fruits of the heavenly doctrines through which salvation comes to man should last long, unless Christ our Lord established a perpetual supreme teaching body to instruct the minds of men in the faith. The Church being, then, once built on the promises of its Divine Author, and imitating his charity, so fulfilled His behests as to continually keep in view, and desired chiefly to enforce religion and ceaselessly combat error. To this end, indeed, tend the ever-watchful labors of the bishops, the laws and decrees of councils, and, most of all, the daily solicitude of the Roman Pontiffs, whose right and office it is, as the lawful successors of the blessed Peter, prince of the Apostles, to teach and confirm their brethren in the faith. Hence, as the minds of Christians are mostly deceived, and the purity of faith corrupted in men by a vain and false philosophy, as the apostles tell us, it has become the pressing duty of the Supreme Pastors of the Church to promote true science with their every energy, and with more than ordinary foresight to take care that all human discipline conform to the rule of Catholic faith, and more especially philosophy, as on it alone depends, in great part, a correct knowledge of the other sciences. Of this, among other things, we ourselves briefly spoke when first, venerable brethren, we addressed you in our encyclical letters; but now the very weighty and growing importance of the matter, and the condition of the times, urge us again to consult with you about introducing a plan of philosophical studies which may fitly meet the wants of a sound faith, and be at the same time in harmony with the dignity of the human sciences.
If any one take pains to think a while on the bitterness of our age, and try to account in his mind for those things which occur around him in private and in public, he will assuredly find that the fruitful source of present and anticipated evil may be traced to a wrong knowledge of Divine and human things, which, originating in the schools of philosophy, crept gradually into every grade of society, and was afterwards adopted by a common consent. For, since it is innate in the nature of man to follow reason as his guide, if his intellect sin in any thing, his will easily yields thereto; whence it happens that pernicious opinions, whose root is in the intelligence, quickly control and pervert human actions. On the other hand, if the mind of man is sound and strongly imbued with true and solid principles, it is productive of many advantages, both for the individual and general good. Yet we do not attach that much power and authority to human philosophy as to judge it equal to a complete overthrowing and uprooting of every form of error, and for this reason: when, for instance, the Christian religion was first established, the world was restored to its primal dignity, not so much by spreading the admirable light of faith in the persuasive words of human wisdom, as in the showing of the spirit and power; so also now it is to be hoped, that, the darkness of error being removed by the omnipotent power and help of God, the minds of men may once more be disposed to repentance. Nor, in the accomplishment of this object, are these national means to be despised or set aside, with which, in disposing of all things fitly and sweetly, God, in his goodness, supplies the human race; and amongst these means the rightful use of philosophy holds the first place. For God did not impart to the human mind the right of reason in vain, nor has the light of faith either extinguished or diminished it: on the contrary, it has only perfected it, and by increasing its powers has made it capable of the greatest things. Wherefore it is, that, in recalling nations to faith and salvation, the plan of Divine Providence itself seeks the aid of human science; and to this day the monuments of antiquity bear witness to the wise and prudent care with which the most distinguished Fathers of the Church reduced it to practice. Nor were they wont to give reason the fewest and least important parts in the rule of science; as is very truly stated by the great Augustine, who says that by the aid of science a most healthful faith is begotten, nourished, defended, and strengthened.
In the first place, then, philosophy, if properly understood by scientists, does, in some manner, lead the way to the true faith, and quietly prepares the mind of the student for the reception of revelation. Hence it has not inaptly been called by the ancients the first step to Christian faith, the prelude and aid of Christianity, and teacher of the gospel.
And, in every thing appertaining to Divine things, a most benign God has wisely disclosed, by the light of faith, not only such truths as are beyond the reach of the human intellect, but has even revealed some which are not at all impervious to reason, so that, God's authority assisting, they might readily be known by every one, without any admixture of error; whence it is that some truths which are either divinely proposed to our belief, or are clearly knit together with the doctrine of faith, have been known to the pagan philosophers by the light of reason, and by them elucidated and defended by fitting arguments. 'For the invisible things of Him, from the creation of the world, are,' as the apostle says, 'clearly seen, being understood by the things which are made; His eternal power also, and divinity; and the Gentiles, not having a law, show, nevertheless, the work of the law written in their hearts.' Now, it is exceedingly opportune to turn, as is plain, these truths to the use and advantage of revealed doctrine, although discovered by the pagan philosophers themselves, and make human wisdom and the testimony of our enemies contribute to the support of Christian faith; and this method of argument is not new, but very old, and has been often used by the holy Fathers of the Church. Nay, more: even the venerable witnesses and preservers of religious traditions recognize a certain form and figure of this thing in the fact that the Hebrews, when leaving Egypt, were ordered to take with them the vessels of silver and gold and precious vestments, that, changing the object of their use, these articles, which had hitherto subserved the purposes of superstition and the most degraded rites, might be dedicated to the religion of the true Deity. Under this head, Gregory of Neocaesarea praises Origen for having ingeniously availed himself of the choicest pagan writings, which, as so many weapons snatched from the enemy, he turned with a rare skilfulness to the patronage of Christian learning and the overthrow of superstition. And this same line of argument is admired and approved of in the works of Basil the Great, both by Gregory Nazianzen and Gregory of Nyssa; Jerome commends it very much in Quadratus, a disciple of the apostles, and in Aristides, Justin, Irenaeus, and several others. 'Do we not see,' says Augustine, 'what a surfeit of gold, silver, and apparel Cyprian, the mildest of doctors and most blessed of martyrs, carried out of Egypt? How much did Lactantius, Victorinus, Optatus, and Hilary accomplish? And, not to speak of the living, see what so many Greeks. have achieved in the same direction.' But if natural reason so extended this rich field of learning before it had been fertilized by the power of Christ, how much more fruitful will it be after the grace of the Saviour has renewed and increased the powers of the human mind? Who is it, therefore, who cannot see how plainly and feasibly this method of reasoning opens the way to faith?
Nor is the benefit accruing from this style of argumentation confined to these limits; and, indeed, in the language of Divine wisdom, the folly of those men is severely reprehended, who 'by these good things that are seen could not understand Him that is, nor by attending to the works have acknowledged who was the workman.' In the first place, then, one great and glorious result of human reason is, that it demonstrates there is a God; 'for by the greatness and the beauty of the creature the Creator in them may be seen, so as to be known thereby.' Next, it shows that God excels in each and in every degree of perfection. First of all, in infinite wisdom, from which nothing lies hidden, and in perfect justice, which no evil propensity can ever overcome; and, therefore, God is not only truth, but the very truth that cannot be deceived nor deceive; from which it clearly follows, that human reason reconciles the fullest faith and authority with the Word of God. In like manner it declares that the doctrine of the gospel was distinguished, even from the beginning, by some wonderful signs as sure guaranties of a certain truth; and accordingly every one who attaches faith to the gospel does not attach it rashly thereto, as one would to well-known fables, but gives up to Divine authority his intelligence and judgment with a submission which is altogether reasonable. Nor must we be understood to esteem as of little importance the fact that reason, as the Vatican Synod declares, sets up conspicuously the establishment of the Church of Christ ' on account of its wonderful propagation, its renowned sanctity, its inexhaustible fruitfulness in all places, its Catholic unity, and its invincible stability, which is a great and continual motive of its credibility, and an unanswerable proof of its Divine mission.'
A solid basis is thus established; yet a steady and varied practice of philosophy is needed to enable sacred theology to take up and put on the nature, habit, and quality of a true science. For in this noblest of sciences, there is a pressing need that the many and divers parts of heavenly doctrine be collected together so as to form one body, and that each part be nicely fitted to its own place, and, being deduced from special principles, all be linked together by an appropriate bond; finally, that each and singular be confirmed by its own arguments, and those such as could not be gainsaid. Nor is it meet to pass over in silence, or make little or no account of that more accurate and deeper knowledge of things which are believed, and of that somewhat keener insight of the mysteries of faith, which St. Augustine and other Fathers praised and endeavored to acquire, and which the Vatican Synod declared to be most beneficent. And, in fact, it is certain that this knowledge and insight are more easily and fully acquired by those who unite to integrity of life and faith a mind for study which has been cultured by philosophic discipline; and the more particularly so is this evident, as the same Vatican Synod teaches, when the thorough understanding of the sacred dogmas must be looked for, on the one hand, 'from the analogy of those things which are known naturally, and, on the other hand, from the mutual relation of the sacred mysteries to each other and to the last end of man.'
It is, moreover, the office of philosophic study to guard religiously truths divinely transmitted to us, and to resist those who dare to oppose them. Hence it is the greatest honor for philosophy to be called the bulwark of faith and the stronghold of religion. 'Verily it is,' as Clement of Alexandria testifies, 'in itself a perfect doctrine, and needs no patron, inasmuch as it is the power and wisdom of God. The aid of Greek philosophy did not strengthen truth, but only weakened the arguments of sophists, and repelled their cunningly devised subtleties, so that it is aptly called the ditch and rampart of truth.' In reality, as the enemies of the Catholic name, in their attack on religion, borrow much of their arsenal of philosophy, so in turn the champions of the Divine sciences help themselves plentifully from the stores of philosophy with such means as may enable them to defend the dogmas of Revelation. Nor is it any small triumph for Christian faith if we consider that the same weapons which human reason had artificially designed to do mischief are by the same human reason powerfully and skilfully wielded to the discomfiture of the enemy. St. Hilary relates, writing to Magnics, that this species of religious warfare was adopted even by the Apostle of the Gentiles: 'Paul, the leader and irrepressible orator of the Christian army, pleading in the interests of Christ, artfully twists a casual inscription into an argument for the faith; for he had learned from the true David how to wrench the sword from the hand of the enemy, and cut off with its blade the head of the haughty Goliah.' And the Church itself not only persuades but commands the doctors of Christianity to seek this assistance from philosophy. In latter times, the fifth council of Lateran decided 'as wholly false every assertion contrary to the truth of enlightened faith, for the reason that truth never contradicts truth,' and instructed the teachers of philosophy to give their closest attention to the study and solution of dangerous problems. S. Augustine justly remarks, that 'if reason turn against the authority of the Divine Scriptures, however keen it be, it fails in its likeness to truth, it cannot be true.'
But in order that philosophy may be found equal to the task of producing the precious fruits we have mentioned, it is important that there be no defection from that path entered upon by the ancient Fathers, and which the Vatican Council indorsed by the solemn voice of authority; when, for example, it is distinctly understood that very many truths of the supernatural order are to be accepted which far transcend the acumen of the greatest minds. Human reason, sensible of its own weakness, must not dare to essay any thing greater than itself; nor deny these truths, nor measure them by its own power, nor interpret them at will; but rather accept them with an entire and humble faith, gain the highest place of honor it is possible for it to attain, and by its fidelity, even as a handmaid and servant to the heavenly doctrines, attain them in the goodness of God by some means or other. But in all these leading doctrines which the human intelligence can naturally apprehend, it is only meet that philosophy use its own method, principles, and arguments,--not in a way, however, which may seem to boldly under--value Divine authority. Nay, when it is plain that these truths which became known by revelation have a fixed force in truth, and those which are hostile to faith are opposed to right reason, then the Catholic philosopher should understand that he violates the rights of faith and reason if he draws any conclusion opposed to revealed doctrine.
Indeed, we know there are some who, extolling the powers of human nature extravagantly, maintain that the intelligence of man loses its native dignity once it submits to Divine authority, and bowing itself down, as it were, to the yoke of slavery, is stayed and hampered in its march to the summit of truth and excellence. Such opinions as these are full of error and deception, and at length only lead men to the height of their folly and criminal ingratitude to spurn the more sublime truths, and willingly reject the Divine favor of faith which is the source of every good. that permeates civil society. For the human mind is hemmed in by certain lines, and these exceedingly straitened: it is prone to a multitude of errors, and to an ignorance of many things. On the contrary, the Christian faith, resting on Divine authority, is the surest mistress of truth; and whoever follows it falls not into the snares of error, 'nor is tossed about on the waves of doubtful opinions.' For this reason it is, that those who bring to the study of philosophy a dutiful submission to Christian faith are the best philosophers; since the splendor of Divine truths taken into the mind assists the intelligence, and, instead of lessening in any degree its dignity, only imparts to it much more of nobility, acumen, and solidity. Whenever brilliancy of talent is directed to the refutation of errors adverse to faith, and in supporting whatever is in unison with it, the reason is fittingly exercised, and with the greatest advantage: for in the former the causes of error are pointed out, and the faulty arguments which bolster them up readily discovered; whilst in the latter the value of every reason in proof of faith is duly weighed, so as to carry persuasion to every sincere mind. To deny that the industry and practice acquired by this method of disputation does not increase the wealth of the mind and expand its faculties, or to maintain that the distinction between truth and falsehood contributes nothing to the development of the mind, is in itself necessarily absurd. Deservedly, therefore, does the Vatican Synod note, in these words, the exalted benefits bestowed on reason through the instrumentality of faith: 'Faith frees and protects reason from errors, and supplies it with diverse knowledge.' Therefore it is the duty of man, if he is wise, not to be fault-finding with faith, as inimical to reason and natural truths; but be more than ever grateful to God, and heartily delighted that, amid so many sources of ignorance and waves of error, a most holy faith shines upon him, which will lead him, as a friendly star, beyond all fear of wandering, and safely conduct him to the harbor of truth.
But if you examine, venerable brethren, the history of philosophy, you will find that all we have said above is sustained by fact. And, indeed, many of the ancient philosophers, who lacked the boon of faith, even those who were esteemed the wisest amongst them, grossly erred in many things. To mention only a few, you are aware how often they taught doctrines as false and unsound as they were uncertain and doubtful: concerning the true nature of the Divinity; the primal origin of things; the government of the world; the Divine knowledge of future events; the cause and principle of evil; the last end of man; eternal happiness; the virtues and the vices; and like doctrines, a true and perfect knowledge of which was indispensable to the human race. On the other hand, the Doctors and Fathers of the Church, clearly understanding from the counsel of the
Divine will that Christ, who was 'the power of God and the wisdom of God,' and in whom 'are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,' was to restore human science, began to examine the books of the old philosophers, and to compare their teaching with revealed doctrines; and whenever they met any truth in word or wisdom in thought, this they culled with most prudent care, and either corrected or rejected every thing else. For as God in His providence raised up brave martyrs, prodigal of life, to defend the Church against the tyranny of its persecutors, so, too, He matches with false philosophers and heretics men distinguished for their learning, and who guarded the treasury of revealed truths by the very aid of human reason. From the very beginning of the Church, therefore, the Catholic doctrine overcame the very bitterest of its enemies, who, scouting the dogmas and institutes of the early Christians, taught a plurality of gods; that the world lacked a first cause and principle; that the tide of events was directed by a blind power or chance necessity, and not regulated by the wisdom of Divine Providence. At this very moment, learned men, known as 'apologists,' quickly grappled with the teachers of these irrational doctrines, and, with faith leaching the advance, constructed arguments from human reason to prove that only one God, excelling in every perfection, was to be worshiped; that all things were made from nothing, by Omnipotent Power; and that every thing was sustained, directed, and moved towards its proper end, by Omnipotent Wisdom. As chief amongst these 'apologists,' St. Justin, martyr, holds the first rank. He it was who critically examined the most celebrated academies of Greece to ripen his experience, and at a later day made open confession; who, when he foresaw that truth could only be drawn from revealed doctrine, embraced it with such earnestness of soul as to remove calumnies, to defend it with vigor and fluency, and reconcile to it many of the arguments of the Greek philosophers.
Quadratus, Aristides, Hermas, and Athenagoras distinguished themselves in this department much about the same time. Nor had Irenaeus, the hero-martyr and Bishop of Lyons, achieved less glory in the cause. His is the honor of having vigorously refuted the preposterous opinions of the Orientals, and of having explained the Gnostic doctrines then spread throughout the Roman Empire, and, as Jerome testifies, 'defined the origin of all heresies, and from what schools of philosophy they emanated.' And who is not acquainted with the controversies of Clement of Alexandria, whom Jerome, already quoted, thus honorably mentions? 'What is it,' he asks, 'that is untaught in these controversies? Nay, is not philosophy itself rent in twain?' Indeed, he wrote on an incredible variety of subjects, with a view to establish the history of philosophy, the practice of the art of dialectics, and to effect a long-wished-for harmony between reason and faith. Next to him came Origen, a man renowned as a teacher in the schools of Alexandria, and deeply versed in the learning of the Greeks and Orientals, and the indefatigable author of many voluminous works explanatory of sacred literature, and remarkably opportune in their illustration of the sacred dogmas. And although these works, as now extant, are not altogether free of error, yet they embrace a large range of subjects which, in number and solidity, tend to advance the natural truths. Tertullian combats the heretics by the authority of the sacred writings, and, changing the weapons of attack, confounds the philosophers by philosophy, and so ingeniously and learnedly outwits them as to be able to confront them openly and boldly in these words: 'We are not surpassed, as you imagine, either in science or controversy.' Arnobius also, in his published books against the Gentiles, and Lactantius, chiefly in his 'Divine Institutions,' strive, with like eloquence and power, to rationally persuade men of the dogmas and precepts of Catholic wisdom, and to win them back, not by the overthrow of philosophy, as was the wont of the academicians, but partly by using their own arms, and partly by taking advantage of the mutual differences between the philosophers themselves. In their writings, as left us, on the human soul, and the Divine attributes, and other questions of great moment, the great Athanasius and Chrysostom, the prince of orators, are, in the judgment of every one, so excellent, that little or any thing needs to be added to their subtility and copiousness. And if, in recounting each one, we weary not, we will add to the number of the truly great men already mentioned the names of Basil the Great and the two Gregories, who left Athens, the home of the sciences, thoroughly versed in the intricacies of the schools of philosophy, only to use this wealth of learning, thus fashioned by each one to his own purpose, when fired with zeal, in the refutation of heresy and defence of Christianity. But from all these apologists, Augustine appears to have deservedly carried off the palm of excellence, as one of unusually powerful endowments, and, skilled in its fulness in sacred and profane science, warred bitterly against all the errors of his time with a like profound faith and learning. What point in philosophy has he not reached,--yea, rather, that he has most carefully investigated,--whether in disclosing to the faithful the greatest mysteries of faith, and defending them against the vain attacks of the enemy; or when, after wiping out the devices of the academicians and Manicheans, he lays in safety the base and superstructure of human science, or traces out the manner, origin, and cause of the evils which afflict man? How much has he written on angels, the soul, the human mind, free will, religion, beatitude, time and eternity, and discussed with subtility the nature of mutable bodies! After this time, John Damascene, in the East, follows in the footsteps of Basil and Gregory Nazianzen; and in the West, Boetius and Anselm profess the doctrines of Augustine, and greatly enrich and extend the domain of philosophy.
Next came the doctors of the Middle Ages, the 'scholastics,' who began a work of the greatest magnitude; namely, to gather together the rich and abundant harvest of learning found scattered in the huge tomes of the Fathers, and, thus garnered, to lay them aside in one place for the use and convenience of posterity. And here, venerable brethren, it is pleasing to open out more in detail, and in the words of a most learned man, our predecessor, Sixtus V., the origin, growth, and excellence of scholastic training: 'By a Divine dispensation of Him who alone bestows the spirit of wisdom and of understanding, and who, throughout the long chain of ages, endows and provides His Church, as needs be, with new graces and new helps, a system of scholastic theology has been devised by a large number of our most learned men, and which two doctors have especially distinguished,--the angelic S. Thomas, and the seraphic S. Bonaventure, highly renowned professors of this faculty, cultivated and adorned by a high order of talent, patient study, great labor and care, and, having well arranged and clearly explained it, left it to posterity. And the knowledge of so salutary a science, flowing as it does from the exuberant fountains of sacred literature, of the Sovereign Pontiffs, of the Fathers and Councils, must always assuredly be the greatest help to the Church, whether it be in the wisely understanding and truly interpreting the Scriptures, or in usefully reading and safely explaining the Fathers, in detecting and refuting the various errors and heresies; but in these latter days in which we have fallen, or those dangerous times described by the apostle, when proud and impious men, seducers wandering away from truth, rush into every excess, leading others into error, it is a pre-eminent duty to strengthen the dogmas of Catholic faith, and combat heresy.' And although these words seem to point only to scholastic theology, it is clear they have a bearing, too, on philosophy and its praises. Indeed, these very characteristics which cause scholastic theology to be so dreadfully feared by the enemies of truth, namely, as the same Pontiff adds, 'that fitness and mutual connection of things between themselves; that cohesiveness of causes; that order and plan as of soldiers in battle-array; that solidity of argument; these sharp controversies, and pellucid distinctions and definitions, through which light is distinguished from darkness, and truth from falsehood, and the lies of heresy covered up under countless cunning tricks and delusions,--are, as a vesture rent in pieces, exposed and laid bare.' Now, we say that all these admirable and wonderful prophecies are only to be found in a correct use of that philosophy which the scholastic masters, after much pains-taking and wise counsel, were accustomed to adopt even in theological controversies. Besides, when you consider that it is the singular privilege and province of scholastic theologians to unite, in closest ties, human and Divine science, it is certain that theology, in which they excelled, will not obtain its due meed of honor and attention in the opinions of men if it betrays a lame, imperfect, and superficial philosophy.
Now, as prince and master, Thomas Aquinas far outshines every one of the scholastic doctors. 'For, whilst he had,' as Cajetan remarks, 'the deepest veneration for the holy doctors of antiquity, he shared, so to speak, the intellect of all of them.' Thomas gathered together their doctrines, scattered about like the members of a body, enlarged them, put them in methodical order, and made such copious additions to them that he may be rightly and deservedly regarded as the glory and matchless defender of the Catholic Church. Of a docile disposition, his memory pliable and retentive, his life perfect, an intense love of truth, very rich in Divine and human sciences, he nourished like the sun the whole universe by the warmth of virtue, and filled it with the lustre of his learning. There is no part of philosophy that he has not handled fully and thoroughly. He has treated so clearly of the laws of reasoning, of God and incorporeal substances, of man and the senses, of human acts and their principles, that nothing is wanting under these heads, neither in his ample store of questions, nor in his neat arrangement of the parts, nor in his choice method of proceeding, nor in the solidity of his principles, nor in the strength of his arguments, nor in the perspicuity and propriety of his diction, nor in his peculiar faculty of explaining the most abstruse things.
It may be further added, that the Angelic Doctor drew philosophical conclusions from the purport and principle of things, which he spread far and wide, and shut up, as in their own breasts, the seeds of almost infinite truths to be disclosed in an opportune time, and with happiest results, to more modern masters. The line of argument, also, which he used in the refutation of error, was his own; so that he warred single-handed against all the errors of former ages, and supplied the most invincible arms to scatter to the winds all those which in the course of time and change might spring up in the future. Moreover, in distinguishing reason especially from faith, as is proper, he acceptably harmonized one with the other, as to conserve the right, and consult the dignity of both to such an extent that reason was borne on the wings of Thomas so near the pinnacle of human perfection that it dare scarcely mount any higher, whilst faith cannot be honored by reason with any more valid arguments in its favor than it has secured through the instrumentality of Thomas.
Hence some most learned men, distinguished alike in the fields of theology and philosophy, and particularly those of earlier times, having sought out with invincible zeal the immortal works of Thomas, devoted themselves to their study, not so much for the purpose of acquiring a polished education, as to be interiorly nourished by his angelic wisdom. It is admitted that nearly all the founders and lawgivers of the religious orders have directed their subjects to study, and most conscientiously, the doctrines of S. Thomas, and with this warning, that no one depart with impunity one tittle from the foot steps of so great a man. To omit the Dominican family, who glory in this great master as by right their own, we find that Benedictines, Carmelites, Augustinians, the Society of Jesus, and many other holy orders, are bound by this law, as their statutes prove.
And here the mind turns with much pleasure to the celebrated schools and academies which once flourished in Europe; namely, at Paris, Salamanca, Alcala, Douai, Toulouse, Louvain, Padua, Bologna, Naples, Coimbra, and in other places. Every one knows how the great name of these academies increased in their clay, and how in matters of weightier moment they were consulted, and their decisions in most cases obeyed. It is, moreover, now known for certain, that in all these vast establishments Thomas reigned supreme as in his own kingdom; and the minds of all, both teachers and pupils, in wonderful unison, abided by the decision and authority of this one Angelic Doctor.
But what is of greater importance and to our purpose, the Roman Pontiffs, our predecessors, have discoursed on the wisdom of S. Thomas in the most flattering terms and commendations of praise. Clement VI., Nicholas V., Benedict XIII., and others, witness the fact that the Universal Church was enrolled by his admirable doctrines; S. Pius V. admits that by this same doctrine heresy, confounded and attainted, was sent adrift, and the world was freed daily from the most pestilential errors; others, with Clement XII., declared that the most abundant blessings were bestowed upon the Universal Church by his writings, and affirmed that he was to be honored with the very same honor which was paid to the greatest Doctors of the Church, as Gregory, Ambrose, Augustine, and Jerome; others, again, did not hesitate to propose S. Thomas as the great model to be followed in safety by academies and higher lyceums. And in this connection the words of the blessed Urban V. to the Academy of Toulouse are worthy of mention: 'We wish, and by the tenor of these presents enjoin, you to follow the doctrine of the blessed Thomas as most truthful and Catholic, and that you study to amplify it with all your might.' This example of Urban was followed by Innocent XII. in the Louvain University of Studies, and in the Dionysian College of Granda. To these verdicts of the Sovereign Pontiffs may be added, by way of accumulative evidence, the testimony of Innocent VI.: 'Except the canonical writings, his [Thomas's] has, above all others, a fitness of expression, a style of diction, an honesty of opinion, that those who hold to it are hardly ever found to have strayed away from the line of truth; and he who has impugned it has ever been looked upon as wanting in truth.'
Even the Œcumenical Councils, in which shone the most brilliant wisdom of the world, vied in doing honor to Thomas Aquinas. In the Councils of Lyons, Vienna, Florence, and that of the Vatican, Thomas assisted, and you might almost say presided, at the deliberations and decrees of the Fathers; contending with irresistible power and happiest results against the errors of the Greeks, heretics, and rationalists. But Thomas's chiefest and special honor, and one he shares not in common with any of the Catholic Doctors, is, that the Fridentine Fathers, in the midst of the conclave, for order's sake, desired to place the Summa of the Aquinate on the altar beside the books of Sacred Scripture, and the decrees of the Sovereign Pontiffs, that they might seek therein counsel, guidance, and light.
Finally, it seems that to this incomparable man was also reserved the honor of forcibly drawing from the very enemies of the Catholic name a dutiful submission, respect, and admiration. For it has been discovered that the leaders of heretical factions openly boasted that they would be a match for all the Catholic Doctors, 'and, entering into the contest, conquer and destroy the Church,' if only the works of Thomas Aquinas were removed out of reach. An empty boast, indeed, on their part, but not an empty admission. For these reasons and motives, venerable brethren, the oftener we look at the excellency, power, and signal advantages of his philosophical system, so highly esteemed by our elders, the more are we inclined to judge it an act of sheer rashness to have failed to give him his due meed of honor always and everywhere; and the more so, since daily experience, and the judgment of great men, and, lust of all, the suffrage of the Church, favored the study of scholastic philosophy. Therefore a new style of philosophy succeeded and supplanted, here and there, the old, lacking those desirable and salutary fruits so much needed by the Church and civil society. In the sixteenth century the Reformers undertook to philosophize without any respect to faiths, seeking and giving by turns the power of investigation, according to each one's will and caprice. Whence it happened, that all sorts of philosophies multiplied beyond measure, and a variety of opinions, adverse one to the other, sprang up, even on matters of greatest importance, in the realm of human knowledge; and from this multitude of opinions very often came hesitancy and doubt; and from doubt, as any one can see, the minds of men easily slipped into error. And as most men are carried away by example, this desire of innovation seized in some places on the minds of some Catholic philosophers, who with great ill-advice, and to the detriment of the sciences, so underrated their inheritance in the schools of ancient wisdom as to prefer to strive after the new rather than increase and perfect the old by the new. And as this many-sided doctrine rested on the will and authority of every teacher, its foundation was changeable, and for this very reason left us a weak and tottering philosophy, instead of one like the old, which was stable, firm, and strong; and, if found at any time unable to cope with its enemies, it had to admit the cause and fault was its own. In speaking thus, however, we do not intend to chide the ingenious and learned men who bring to the study of philosophy, industry, erudition, and a mine of new inventions; for we understand well that all this adds to the storehouse of knowledge. But great care must be taken that too much time and labor be not given to this industry and erudition. The same may be said of sacred theology: it can be illustrated and made to do good, as one likes, by the manifold help of erudition; but there is the greatest need of handling it after the severe method of the scholastics, so as to preserve in it the combined strength of revelation and reason, and make it 'the invincible shield of faith.'
With the very best of reason, therefore, have the many admirers of this philosophic system, when recently directing their attention to the introduction of a practical philosophy, restored the far-famed doctrine of Thomas Aquinas, and now study and have studied how to maintain it in all its pristine glory. With a like good-will, very many of your own order, venerable brethren, have entered on the same path, as we have learned to the great joy of our soul; and all of whom we heartily praise, and pray to persevere in their praiseworthy undertaking. Verily, we say to all of you individually, there is nothing for which we have a greater longing or desire than to see you help liberally and plentifully all classes of students to the purest streams of wisdom ever flowing from the rich perennial lore of the Angelic Doctor.
But how to accomplish this, as we wish with all our heart, many things must be attended to. First, as in these days, the Christian faith is usually opposed by the contrivances and cunning of a certain false philosophy. All our youth, and especially those hoping to enter the service of the Church, should for this reason be supplied with a strong, wholesome food of doctrine, that valiant in strength, and provided with sufficiency of armor, they may be early accustomed to bravely and learnedly defend the interests of religion, and be always ready, according to the advice of the Apostle, 'to give every one who seeks a satisfactory reason for the hope which is in us,' and to exhort in some doctrine and convince the gainsayers.'
Next, there are many men whose minds are alienated from the faith, who hate Catholic customs, and admit reason to be their only teacher and guide. Now, in order to cure such men, and bring them in favor with Catholic faith, there is nothing, it appears to us, more opportune, outside the help of God, than the solid doctrine of the Fathers and scholastics, who point out with such clearness and force the firm foundations of faith, its Divine origin, its unshaken truth, the arguments on which it rests, the benefits it conferred on the human race, its perfect harmony with reason, to bend the most unwilling and refractory minds to its yoke, as is abundantly proven. Again we see the great danger which now threatens domestic and civil society from the plague of perverse opinions, and how much more peaceable and secure would either be if a sounder doctrine were taught in the academies and schools, and one more in conformity with the general teaching of the Church, such as is found in the works of S. Thomas Aquinas; and then his treatises on the modern system of liberty, which, in our time, is tending to license on the Divine origin of authority, on the laws and their binding force, on the fatherly, just government of sovereign princes, on obedience to the higher powers, on mutual charity to all; these, to wit, and other subjects of a like nature, treated of by Thomas, have a great and invincible influence in rooting out these new principles of right, which are recognized as dangerous to order, peace, and public safety.
Lastly, there is every hope of much good resulting to every form of human culture, and the promise of many advantages from the following of the plan which we have proposed to ourselves; namely, the restoration of philosophical discipline to its former state. For the fine arts usually borrow their method and system from philosophy equally as from wisdom as a guide, and draw from it, as from a common fountain, the spirit of life. Fact and constant experience teach that the liberal arts flourished best when the honor of philosophy remained intact and its judgment revered; and they became neglected and almost forgotten only when philosophy tended to error, or was wrapped up in obscurities. So, too, the physical sciences, so much in vogue now, and which by their ingeniously contrived inventions have everywhere excited so much merited attention, will have not only nothing to lose, but much to gain, by the restoration of the ancient philosophy. For in their use and improvement, the mere consideration of facts and study of nature is not enough; but after the facts are established, it is needful to go a step higher, and sedulously employ every means in finding out the nature of corporeal things, investigating the laws and principles by which they are governed, and in tracing up their system, their unity in variety, and their mutual affinity in diversity. To all these investigations, scholastic philosophy, if handled with skilfulness, will bring power and light and empire.
And while on this subject, it is pertinent to remark that it is only after philosophy has been grossly and viciously perverted, that it sets itself up against the improvement and progress of the natural sciences. As soon as the scholastics, adopting the system of the early Fathers, found in their studies on anthropology that it is only through the medium of sensible things that the human intelligence is led to the knowledge of things without body and matter, this at once was understood,--that nothing was more useful to the philosopher than a careful investigation of the secrets of nature; and they devoted much time and labor to the study of physics. This they confirm by their own example: for S. Thomas, the blessed Albertus Magnus, and other great masters of scholasticism, did not give themselves up so entirely to the study of philosophy as not to devote much attention to the study of nature; nay, many of their writings and discoveries in this department are still extant, and which much later masters approve of and declare to be consonant to truth. Besides, at this very day many celebrated professors of the physical sciences admit that between the defined and accepted conclusions of modern physics, and the principles of philosophy, there is no opposition worthy the name.
Whilst, therefore, we plainly declare in advance, that whatever has been said to the purpose, or invented or developed to advantage, be accepted with a generous and grateful heart, we most earnestly beseech you, venerable brethren, to restore and extend far and wide the golden wisdom of S. Thomas for the glory and defence of the Catholic faith, the good of society, and the improvement of all the sciences. We say the wisdom of S. Thomas; for if there is any thing questioned with overmuch subtlety by the scholastic doctors, or treated of with too little consideration, or found less in harmony with the well-known doctrines of modern times, or, finally, in any sense not probable, it is not by any means our intention to offer any thing of this kind for imitation to the people of our age. Meantime, let the teachers intelligently chosen by you study the doctrine of S. Thomas Aquinas, with a view to gently instil it into the minds of their pupils, and, above all things, to set forth conspicuously its solidity and excellence; and that the academies, either now instituted or hereafter to be instituted by you, defend, explain, and use it in refutation of the hardiest and most wide-spreading errors. And, lest it happen that the counterfeit supplant the genuine, and the impure instead of the pure waters be drunken down, provide in time that the wisdom of Thomas he drawn from its own fountains, or from streamlets running directly from the fountain itself, and which are adjudged fresh and pure by the positive and unanimous verdict of learned men; but especially guard the minds of youth from those rivulets which are said to flow hence, but which, in reality, are swollen in volume by unpleasant and unwholesome waters.
We know, venerable brethren, by experience, that all our efforts will be in vain unless 'the God of all knowledge,' as he is styled in the Scriptures, bless our undertaking, and in which we are told, 'Every best gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of Lights;' and again, 'If any of you want wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to all men abundantly, and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him.' In this, also, we only follow the example of the Angelic Doctor, who never sat down to read or write until he had first propitiated God in prayer, and who freely confesses that whatever he knew is not to be attributed so much to his own study and labor as to the Divine goodness wherefore, with humble and united prayer, let us beg of God together, that he send down upon the children of his Church the spirit of science and knowledge, and open their minds to the understanding of wisdom. And in order to obtain the more abundant fruits of Divine goodness, let us employ with God the most efficacious patronage of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is called the Seat of Wisdom; and at the same time let us use, as intercessors, the most pure spouse of the Virgin, the blessed Joseph, and the great Apostles Peter and Paul, who renovated the whole world, corrupted by the impure state of error, and filled it with the light of their heavenly wisdom.
Finally, relying on the hope of the Divine assistance, and trusting to your pastoral zeal, we impart affectionately in the Lord the apostolic benediction, the harbinger of every heavenly gift, and test of our benevolence, to you, venerable brethren, and to all your clergy, and to the people intrusted to your care.