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Thomistic Renaissance - The Natural Moral Law

The Reawakening of Scholasticism in Catholic Teaching as Evidenced by Pope John Paul II in Veritatis Splendor

by Rev. John Trigilio


Pub date: 2004
Pages: 139
ISBN-10: 1581122233
ISBN-13: 9781581122237
Categories: Philosophy & TheologyPhilosophy, & TheologyPhilosophy, & Theology


This dissertation seeks to establish that there is a renaissance of Thomistic Philosophy in the Post-Conciliar Catholic Church, specifically a reawakening of Scholasticism, as evidenced by Pope John Paul II in his encyclical Veritatis Splendor. The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) ushered in a new era for the Roman Catholic religion prompted by the desire of Pope John XXIII to have the 2,000 year old institution catch up with the modern world and address current problems as well as present the ancient faith in contemporary ways. Prior to Vatican II, there was a monolithic way to explain faith and reason. Theology and Philosophy were rigidly taught via textbook manuals according to a norm established under Pope Pius X who vigorously denounced the errors of Modernism in his encyclical Pascendi (1907). His immediate predecessor, Pope Leo XIII had issued Aeterni Patris (1879) which directed a restoration of the pre-eminence of Thomistic philosophy. Unfortunately, the neo-Thomism of the Leonine papacy was not as resilient as the classical Thomism before it.

The staunch Thomism which existed from 1879 to 1965 had been preceded by an era of anti-Scholasticism among the European centers of learning during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The Protestant Reformation, the advent of Humanism and the chaos of the French Revolution proved to be formidable foes for Thomistic philosophy. Scholastic reasoning alone could not address the Biblical questions being posed by Luther and the other Reformers. Logical distinctions which are the hallmark of Thomism were too complicated for world which at times violently left the Mediaeval era behind it.

Leo XIII after the conclusion of the Napoleonic wars and while Europe was relatively at peace, saw the need to resurrect the philosophy he deemed perennially valid to combat religious and political errors which he saw as the causes for the wars and discord among peoples and nations. Leonine strategy was to aggressively promote and proliferate a centralized control over Catholic education, especially at the seminary and university levels. The first half of the twentieth century ironically experienced the horrors of two world wars and demonstrated the depth of human depravity and capacity for evil. No one, however, in 1879 could have envisioned the wars, hot and cold, which would define global existence.

Just as Aquinas was originally suspected and rejected by many of his contemporaries in the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries and later vindicated in glory, so, too, Thomistic Philosophy would wax and wane through the centuries. The aftermath of Vatican II when the Latin Mass was replaced with the vernacular and ecumenical dialogue was sought with the non-Catholic religions, Thomism again took a back seat. Post-Conciliar scholars of philosophy and theology wanted to break the chains of manual style textbooks. Existentialism and Phenomenology were the predominant philosophies. Thomistic Philosophy and Scholasticism were viewed as relics of the past.

Thirty years after the Second Vatican Council, Pope John Paul II, known for his penchant for Phenomenology and Personalism, issues Veritatis Splendor which in essence restores the pride of place the Natural Moral Law doctrine once held before. A true student and subscriber to the moral reasoning used in Humanae Vitae (1967) by Pope Paul VI, John Paul II shakes the dust in Catholic intelligentsia by canonizing the Natural Moral Law as the only valid means to do good moral theology. Veritatis Splendor ignited a firestorm of debate, essays, discussions and dissertations on the age old principle known as the Natural Law.

This paper intends to show the development of the Natural Moral Law doctrine from its beginnings to its most famous herald followed by a systematic review of Veritatis Splendor in order to show that Thomism is indeed alive and well in Catholic thought and has once again captured the imprimatur of Papal endorsement. While there are many non-Catholic theologians and moralists who dispute some or all of the major tenets and propositions of the Natural Law as the means to discern ethical behavior, Pope John Paul II makes it clear where he wants to shepherd the Roman Catholic religion in terms of morality, faith and reason.

Chapter One sets the scene as it were by giving a brief description of the principal players in this dissertation: the Natural Law itself, Thomism in general, Leo XIII and John Paul II. Chapter Two describes the historical development of the Natural Law and Thomism, from Aristotle to Maritain. Chapter Three examines the pertinent text of Veritatis Splendor itself. Chapter Four discusses the critical role Natural Law played in the nomination confirmation hearing for the U.S. Supreme Court. Chapter Five looks at contemporary Thomists and their views on the Natural Law. Chapter Six, examines reaction to the Encyclical, Veritatis Splendor, and its impact.

About the Author

B.A. in 1983 from Gannon University; M.Div. in 1987 from Mary Immaculate Seminary; Ordained in 1988 for the Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg; President of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy; Member of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars