Praeambula Fidei: Thomism and the God of the Philosophers, by Ralph McInerny.
With his latest book, Praeambula Fidei: Thomism and the God of the Philosophers, Professor Ralph McInerny of the University of Notre Dame takes issue with several prominent 20th-century Neo-Thomists, especially Étienne Gilson, Henri de Lubac, and Marie-Dominique Chenu. His charge is that these three French scholars and their associates have smudged the line between philosophy and theology and have thus undermined the very cornerstone of Thomas Aquinas's intellectual project. Gilson, the principal culprit, suggests that Aquinas's supposedly philosophical insights were really drawn from biblical revelation and were thus based on faith, making it impossible for Thomistic philosophy to address itself to non-Christians and pushing it into something resembling fideism.
But Aquinas, says McInerny, was very careful to distinguish properly between the realms of reason and revelation. The implication of the Thomistic position is that, while philosophy can never understand the essence of God, it can offer demonstrative arguments for the existence of God and for a few of the basic divine attributes, such as eternity, infinity, and simplicity. These are not articles of faith, such as one would find in a Christian creed, but they do constitute the praeambula fidei, the preambles of faith.
Although McInerny's criticism of the French Neo-Thomists at times borders on the ad hominem, he also has plenty of evidence to convict them of getting Aquinas's crucial distinction quite wrong. The book does not spin out the implications of its argument for ethics and politics, but it is easy to see that neither Aquinas's natural-law theory nor his thoughts on the cardinal virtues can survive scrutiny unless the integrity of Thomistic philosophy is upheld. Both believers and non-believers who think that modernity needs to be tempered by antiquity's wisdom will sympathize.
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This article appeared in the Spring 2007 issue of the Claremont Review of Books