Review of Anton C. Pegis’ Edition of Basic Writings of Saint Thomas Aquinas

Review of Basic Writings of Saint Thomas Aquinas, ed. Anton C. Pegis, Social Research, Vol. 13, No. 2 (June 1946).  Reprinted in What is Political Philosophy?


Pegis’ summary account of the problem with which Thomas was confronted and of his solution is clear, sober and, on most points, convincing. H e observes that “the basic issue at stake” was “the nature of wisdom,” or, in other words,” the nature of philosophy itself,” and that Thomas’ achievement consisted in “freeing philosophy from the philosophers.” This is certainly true in the sense that Thomas, in order “to make the Philosopher a worthy vehicle of reason in Christian thought,” had to give to philosophy itself a meaning fundamentally different from its Aristotelian (or Platonic) meaning: in Thomas, as distinguished from the classical philosophers and certainly from their greatest follower in the Islamic world (Farabi), philosophy is divorced from the conviction that happiness can be achieved only by, or essentially consists in, philosophy.

Pegis repeatedly grants that Thomas did not merely add a teaching based on revelation to the Aristotelian teaching based on reason, but that he directly opposed important elements of the Aristotelian teaching on the plane of the latter. He believes, however, that as regards the central question–the question of creation–the Aristotelian doctrine is not opposed to the Biblical doctrine, because “there is a considerable difference between not knowing the idea of creation and denying it.” I fail to see the usefulness of this distinction in the case at hand. Is it made in order to suggest that one can reconcile the Aristotelian teaching with the Biblical teaching without abandoning the “spirit” of the former? But how can this be true in the light of the fact that Aristotle did not intend “to leave his explanation of the origin of the world unfinished,” and did not leave it unfinished? Aristotle did not leave room, intentionally or unintentionally, for a revealed teaching which could be added to his rational teaching.