Cessario on Cajetan and the Communio School

The Communio school of theology, taken globally, and not as it plays out under the influence of the American edition, is more difficult to define than Thomism. Thomists are those who read Aquinas, and so may be distinguished from those who read and adhere to other major Christian thinkers such as Scotus or St. Bonaventure or Ockham. Partisans of the Communio school, on the other hand, study many authors; their return to the sources embraces a wide range of both ancient and recent theologians and philosophers, and even includes consulting social scientists.

[Tracey] Rowland identifies many of these figures in her chapters. Suffice it to remark that a common feature of Communio school theology is that its adherents subscribe without hesitation to a viewpoint that lately has been set forth by Nicholas M. Healy in his Thomas Aquinas: Theologian of the Christian Life: “In his commentary on the Summa theologiae, Cajetan so separates nature from grace that humanity now has two ends, natural and supernatural. . . .” Healy of course repeats an assertion that was set forth with remarkable success in the twentieth century by Jesuit Father Henri de Lubac, later Cardinal of the Roman Church.

It has always struck me as odd that so many good-willed theologians accept the view that a twentieth-century French Jesuit whose intellectual interests were wide-ranging occupied a better position to understand what St.Thomas Aquinas taught about the finalities of the human person than did a sixteenth-century Italian humanist, who had represented Catholic doctrine in person to no less imposing a figure than Martin Luther and whose commentary on the entire Summa theologiae appears by order of Pope Leo XIII in the critical edition of Aquinas’s opera omnia that bears that Pope’s name, the still incomplete Leonine edition. But they do. Many sincere people, including Tracey Rowland, accept the proposition that de Lubac laid bare a huge historical mistake about how to construe the relationship between nature and grace, and they seemingly consider his critique of Cardinal Cajetan and the Thomists who follow him a non-gainsayable principle of all future Catholic theology. What Cajetan obscured, de Lubac grasped with clarté. Nicholas Healy illustrates this conviction:“[T]he influence of the two-tier conception of reality became widespread and was understood by many theologians as a reasonable development of Thomas’s thought.” One could infer from remarks such as these that Tommaso De Vio, Cardinal Cajetan (1469–1534) should be known as the great betrayer of Aquinas instead of his papal approved interpreter. Prima facie, the proposition seems primitive.

Those who want to understand more about this golden apple of twentieth-century theological discord should consult the work of Professor Steven A. Long. His essays on topics such as the obediential potency and other related theological theses repay careful study. Long’s articles reveal the way that theologians have attempted to handle the difficult question of describing adequately the differentiation of finalities that the gratuitous bestowal of divine friendship on the members of the human race introduces into Catholic theology. Because of the centrality that this issue holds in the thought of many of the theologians that Rowland presents to her readers, I think it is important to alert those who will read her book, especially beginners in the discipline, that they should make up their own minds about de Lubac’s critique, and not assume that one eminent French Jesuit and 100,000 Communio followers can’t be wrong.
The fact of the matter is that the differentiation of finalities that a Catholic theologian must consider in the human person remains a topic that has been ill served during the period after the Second Vatican Council.

Let me conclude this section with a word of advice to beginners: You can embrace Gaudium et Spes 22 and still follow Cardinal Cajetan.

Romanus Cessario, OP.
Nova et Vetera Vol. 2, No. 2 (2004).

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Incidentally, today is Romanus Cessario’s 73rd birthday. You may view more of his articles online here, his full CV here.

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