The Intellectual Context
The Intellectual Context
Central to the intellectual revival that dominated Catholic higher education between World War I and the Second Vatican Council was the recovery of Scholastic philosophy and theology, particularly that of St. Thomas Aquinas. The “Scholastic Revival,” as it was called, began in the middle decades of the nineteenth century and was officially endorsed by Pope Leo XIII in 1879. Although its influence was felt earlier, especially in seminaries, it did not affect American Catholic higher education in a really pervasive way until the 1920s. By the end of that decade, however, Neoscholasticism had become a “school philosophy” that served for Catholic colleges very much the same functions that Scottish common sense philosophy and Baconianism served for Protestant colleges in the first half of the nineteenth century. To understand how this came about, we must review the earlier phases of the revival and highlight the main features of Neoscholasticism as a system of thought, before attempting to link its popularization with other events and movements of the 1920s. The term Scholasticism refers broadly to the teaching and method of the “schoolmen,” that is, the philosophers and theologians who propounded their views at the medieval universities, especially at the University of Paris. St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-74) is generally regarded as the outstanding figure among the Scholastics, and the revival of the nineteenth century aimed primarily at recovering his ideas and drawing upon them to establish Catholic teaching on a solid intellectual foundation. This effort involved a process of gradual clarification because the full richness of Thomas’s thought emerged only in the course of the historical investigations set off by the revival. The same is true of its relation to the thinking of other schoolmen and of later commentators, especially post-Reformation Scholastics like the Spanish Jesuit Francisco Suarez, who died in 1617. The virtually interchangeable use of the terms “Neothomism” and “Neoscholasticism” reflected the ambiguity that persisted well into the twentieth century as to the precise relationship between the thought of St. Thomas himself and that of the larger school of which he was the acknowledged master.
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